Sometimes, the answer has been right next door all along. While visiting coffee pro Matt Milletto at Water Avenue Coffee, the topic of lunch came up. We intended on visiting a (relatively) far-flung cafe in Southeast Portland, and he said not to bother, that we’d be even better off at the adjacent Boke Bowl. Since his suggestions proved so successful in 2009, we scrapped our plans and stayed on site, which ended up being sage advice. Or possibly shiso is more apt, since we ate riffs on Japanese food.
Chef Brandon Riceci and front of house partner Patrick Fleming opened Boke Bowl nearly five months prior to our visit after sprouting a series of pop-ups around Portland. Their permanent location features modern industrial decor, including a deluxe ramen diagram on the wall. Order from a wood paneled menu near the counter and grab a number, which appears on wood board that slides into groove in a communal wood table or the kitchen bar. Fleming said that Boke is Japanese slang for jackass or knucklehead, but we didn’t see any in the vicinity.
We ordered an untraditional but still flavorful Pork Ramen Bowl ($9), making sure to add a Slow Poached Egg ($1) and luxurious slab of Pork Belly ($1.50) with caramelized edges. The house-made noodles were indeed good, and came with crunchy chunks of water chestnut, black and white sesame seeds, crisp gailan, and a savory pork miso broth.
Chicken Buns ($7) were a satisfying twist on the played out pork belly buns. which Boke also had. The golden, crisp-sheathed sheets were fairly juicy, and came topped with sweet, tangy bread-and-butter pickles, scallions, and whole grain mustard.
On Thursday nights, the only night they’re open for dinner, Boke becomes Boke Bird, featuring Korean fried chicken. Given that, we may have jumped the gun on our visit to 1028 SE Water Avenue. Then again, there’s never a bad time for nouveau ramen and chicken buns.