Double carbs! When we think about "Portlandia" — both the television show and the state of mind of the real city of Portland, Oregon, that spawned it — we think of the city’s unofficial motto: “Where the young go to retire.” We think of a Columbia sportswear-clad marathon enthusiast drinking a microbrew, or maybe a kombucha, or maybe a cup of organic single origin hand-roasted coffee. We do not think of sandwiches made of pork hash. But there really is a pork hash sandwich in that town, and it’s at Lardo, a former food cart and now a brick-and-mortar sandwich shop with two locations, one on either side of the Willamette River.
Lardo is no ordinary sandwich shop, and not just because almost all of the giant, messy-but-worth-it, expensive sandwiches (they start at $9 and top out around $13) are made with heaping amounts of pork in all its guises. It’s also because the chef and owner, Rick Gencarelli, is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who worked for years as a sous-chef for celebrity chef Todd English. Gencarelli relocated from the East Coast to Portland in 2009, launching Lardo as one of many, many entries in that city’s vibrant food truck scene. Gencarelli’s intentionally excessive sandwiches (“Lardo proudly celebrates its excesses,” he says) became habit-forming for the city’s food community, and he quickly moved into larger, permanent digs.
Back to that pork hash sandwich: You could almost miss it, hidden among seemingly more exciting offerings, as you scan the chalkboard. Yes, there is a banh mi (more than serviceable, this version stuffed with pork meatballs is suitably tangy and herbaceous if “new wave”); a very good pork belly gyro on a olive-oil grilled flatbed (excellent tzatziki, super fatty meat if you like that kind of thing — and who doesn’t); and an absolutely to-die-for platter of homemade French fries topped with hunks of sausage cuts and other well-seasoned pork scraps, vinegary peppers, fried herbs, and a large grate of parmesan cheese (these are called “dirty fries,” naturally).
Do not be distracted: The pork hash sandwich with Aardvark hot sauce, mayo, and spicy hashbrowns is one of the most decadent sandwiches you may ever encounter — not just because it’s a double-carb extravaganza in this era of Atkins and Paleo; not just because there’s a melting fried egg loving ladled atop the whole business; not just because the locally made Aardvark hot sauce is a habañero-heavy blend of Caribbean and Tex-Mex spices. Because of all of it, amalgamated. This is a sandwich that laughs at marathons.
- Hot Chili Mayo:
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)*
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)*
- 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
- 2 cups coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)**
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
- 4 10-inch-long individual baguettes or four 10-inch-long pieces French-bread baguette (cut from 2 baguettes)
- Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
- 16 large fresh cilantro sprigs
- Hot Chili Mayo:
- Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. do ahead Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
- Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
- Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
- Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops.
- *Available in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at Asian markets.
- **Available at some supermarkets and at Asian markets.
Nutritional analysis provided by Bon Appétit
The Sandwiches Bon Appetit Readers Would Board a Plane For
This month, we asked our editors to answer a simple question: What sandwich would you get on a plane for? And in honor of Sandwich Week , we asked you to do the same on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. As it turns out, there are lots of great combos out there, some of which have dedicated followings (we're talking Momofuku 's pork buns and Paseo 's pork sandwich). So, without further ado, here are some of your favorites:
@lydiabeebe : I have daily cravings for momofuku 's pork buns, a sandwich in a loose definition of the word.
@jadive01 : Primanti Bros.
@KamPatt : The Cubano at Steubens in Denver.
@ryder_amber : Puckett's Grocery 's fried green tomato with bacon on rye is a great Southern sandwich!
@christoutain : The Pork Meatball Banh Mi from Lardo is definitely a #SandwichWorthFlyingFor.
@GiggleChic : The sun-dried tomato burger from Beaver Street Brewery in Flagstaff Arizona!
@foxeslovelemons : A lobster roll from Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster is definitely a #SandwichWorthFlyingFor.
@BecomingRooks : The Pastrami Dip at The Hat .
@Jess_Cowan : The juicy, crisp, kale accessorized fried chicken sandwich at Skillet Street Food is definitely a #SandwichWorthFlyingFor.
@AnaNatalieBrors : The Reggie at Pine State Biscuits . If I didn't live near it Iɽ fly for it.
@MrAdamHook : Alidoro NYC 's Michelangelo. Best sandwich in the world.
@JakeRNelson : Sliced chicken on wheat with house dressing from The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg, VA.
Arielle Coffin : That would be a tie between Paseo 's Pork Sandwich in Seattle and Bunk 's pork belly cuban or Italian sandiwch in Portland.
Genevieve Perreault : Paseo 's Midnight Cuban. Seattle. The messiest, bestest pork sandwich in the world.
Loves Food, Loves to Eat : Looks like it's been covered above, but yes, hands down: Seattle's Paseo ! Luckily I can walk there daily. Piles of juicy pork, thick layer of aioli, perfectly golden caramelized onions. best sandwich on earth.
Vanessa Glatz : Top Dog in Rockport, MA for a Man's best friend or a Boston Terrier. The perfect dog in a perfect grilled bun with your favorite toppings. Plus the clam strips and clam chowder are awesome too.
Lauren Greenwood : Don't even have to get on the plane. Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera in O'Hare serves up a mean Milanesa Torta. Serious goodness!
@daintydot : The tuna burger at Legal Harborside in Boston. The relish is amazing (need the recipe!). Luckily I live here so.
@wednesdaychef : 'wichcraft 's white-anchovy/soft-boiled-egg/frisee/salsa-verde-on-country-bread sandwich!
@faye_bakes : Roli Roti 's porchetta sandwich.
@mrsdlshields : Pitboss Chickwich at Beaver's in Houston and/or Smoked Salmon BLT from Union Market in DC.
@texredfeather : Town Hall Deli , South Orange, NJ--pastrami sloppy joe.
@kfarrin : The Rossi in Columbus, Ohio has a to-die-for peanut butter braised short rib sandwich - with fontina, caramelized shallots and roasted jalapeño aioli on ciabatta. Yum!
@grillerriver : The Godfather at Woodside Deli in Redwood City, CA!! Their veggie sando is pretty awesome too.
@ameliavottero : Surf and Turf poboy, from Parkway in NOLA.
@aliceqfoodie : Schnitzelwiches at Tabor in Portland & Pork buns at momofuku in NYC.
@alexandraannm : A pizza sandwich at Island Deli in Narragansett, RI.
@specialtycards : Lobster roll at Union Oyster House in Boston (that counts as a sandwich right?)
@amymc713 : Grahamwich . Chicago, IL.
@rachelmusicquiz : Tri-trip sandwich from Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo, CA!
@jshamill : Any of the wood fired tortas from XOCO in Chicago!
@guacamollyoc : Alidoro in NYC and Sandwich in Chapel Hill, NC.
@region_rant : Pepito torta at 1 of 2 Tortas Frontera stands at Chicago's O'Hare Airport--a sandwich you can eat on the plane!
@megando : Incredible sandwich at Baco Mercat . The Toron: oxtail hash, tater tot, cheddar, pickles, horseradish yogurt, arugula, sprouts.
Bhuna, Northwest Portland
Chef Deepak Kaul worked in noteworthy kitchens in both San Francisco and New York City before coming to Portland, but that’s not how the locals know him. Portland loves chef Kaul for the Indian soul food of his youth that he shares at his fast-casual restaurant. This is not your run-of-the-mill Indian restaurant, but don’t worry, you can expect a few traditional dishes with a twist.
There’s pork vindaloo with jaggery, a type of sugar often used in Asian cooking, and palak paneer with Kashmiri spices, fennel, and turmeric. Other favorites include Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh, mushroom naan, and fried calamari—their version famously dusted with chickpea batter. It’s these staples that created popular demand for chef Kaul’s cuisine. Before Bhuna’s brick and mortar opened in late 2018, chef Kaul was hosting pop-ups at spots like Culmination Brewing and Dick’s Kitchen. The people wanted more.
Bhuna is Kashmiri in genre, but local in preparation. No matter which menu item catches your eye, rest assured that the ingredients are sourced in the Pacific Northwest. The beer, wine, and cocktail menus feature collaborations with local brewers and winemakers to offer selections that best complement the cuisine, and fall seamlessly in line with the eclectic menu (think: an Old Fashioned with garam masala syrup). Cheers to that.
Whipped Lardo: How to Make my Holy Grail
Whipped lardo is simply heavenly. A heavenly spread that was my holy grail of recipes. I’d eaten it at an underground restaurant type of meal and it stuck in my mind. Stuck so hard as one of the best bites I’d ever eaten that I scoured the internet, up, down and every which-way, without gaining even the first inkling of any idea how to make the dish. So it was taste and test time. For the last year I’ve made more attempts than I want to count, all equally failed, to recreate this dish.
It had been called ‘Whipped Lardo’ when I ate it, so yes, I began by making my own lardo. Good, yes, but was it making whipped lardo? No. So I kept going, rendering lard and whipping it, curing back fat right and left. Finally I had to give up. There was just no way I could figure it out without just a little hint from its creator.
Fate must have intervened, because a few weeks ago I took up a friend on an offer to attend that same underground restaurant type of meal. The cook was different, but luck would have it that the chef who made the whipped lardo, the wonderful and pretty darn cute Joel Cox, would be joining us in eating the dinner. So, fast forward to the car ride home, I’ve had a few glasses of wine and I finally feel courageous enough to ask “Joel, please tell me how you made that whipped lardo!”
And like a little child trying desperately to watch the beauty of the bubbles while also catching them in their hands, I listened as he told me the secret I had been missing. You grind the fat directly in the meat grinder. No actual lardo used, nor is there actual whipping. He told me the rest of the recipe, though I have to admit to having been so stuck on this part of the recipe that I only vaguely heard ingredients, so I improvised when I made it. He also explained that he had learned this recipe from the great Dario Cecchini, who you may have heard about in the book ‘Heat’ or seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
So what is the whipped lardo like? Like butter on overdrive, like meat in cream form, like flavor that is at once so simple and so complex that you must have another bite to figure out which one it is.
1/3 lb of pork back fat or leaf lard (Joel said back fat, I used leaf)
1 small clove of garlic, mashed into a paste
1 teaspoon of Sherry Vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Salt, pepper, rosemary to taste
Grind the fat through the smallest setting on your meat grinder. Add the garlic and vinegar and begin massaging air into it. As you work with the meat, folding in air using a motion like a back rub or milking a cow, it will get softer and softer. Add in salt and pepper and rosemary and begin to taste. It will need a decent amount of salt to bring out the full flavors, though go more sparsely on the pepper and rosemary for that big pig flavor. When you’re done, spread it on a cracker or piece of bread and enjoy.
Portland's Korean Food Scene Is on the Rise
Korean food is having a moment in Portland. The city currently holds over 40 traditional Korean and Korea-influenced restaurants and food trucks and counting. And that's not even including the handful of spots in Beaverton's nearby Koreatown. Some, like The Cameo Café's Sue Gee Lehn (of kimchi hash fame ), have been serving up Korean comfort food in Portland for decades, and others like Han Oak's celebrated Peter Cho, have recently arrived. Together, old and new have created the most exciting time for Korean food in the city's history.
So why now? Han Ly Hwang , chef-owner of the enormously popular Kim Jong Grillin' food cart, alludes to some high-profile chefs who have paved the way: "There are a lot more Korean celebrity chefs that are doing amazing things with food and bringing Korean culture to the mainstream: Roy Choi , David Chang , Chris Oh , Edward Lee , Hooni Kim , Deuki Hong ."
Kimchi is a gateway drug to Korean food.
Another piece in the wide-scale popularization of Korean flavors? Portland chefs have comfortably laced things like kimchi and gochujang into Western menus. If there were ever a Korean food gateway drug, kimchi would be it. Just look at the Korean Twist food cart, Koi Fusion, and Cameo Cafe's menus for many examples: kimchi tacos, kimchi quesadillas, kimchi hot dogs, kimchi cheesesteak, kimchi hash, kimchi omelette, etc.
"I have seen Korean-Hawaiian, Korean-Mexican, Korean-Italian, Korean-American, Korean-Japanese, and Korean-Chinese in Portland. I'm sure you can mix it with anything you wanted," says Irene Lee of Korean Twist food cart (SW 10th and Alder).
Non-Korean restaurants in Portland are showing their love to the trending cuisine on their menus, too. See John Gorham 's Bim Bop Bacon & Eggs and Korean fried chicken at eclectic brunch spot, Tasty n Alder, and Rick Gencarelli 's Korean pork shoulder with house kimchi at Lardo , the reputed sandwich shop known for drawing inspiration from cuisines around the world world .
While these chefs are using non-traditional foods and concepts as the launchpad for Korean flavors, there's plenty of real-deal Korean food to be found in Portland, too. Case in point: Peter Cho's hipper than hip — and elusively hidden — Han Oak.
A recently opened garage-style kitchen near the Ocean complex on NE 24th and Glisan, Han Oak has a sweet grassy courtyard with vintage furniture for hanging before or after your meal. Importantly, it's also a residence where Cho, his wife, and son live.
"Traditionally, many people are exposed to another culture's cuisine by being invited into a friend's home and tasting their country's or their parent's food. We want you to feel like you're trying authentic Korean food for the first time in our home," says Cho.
Han Oak's Peter Cho shares his traditional, authentic Korean dishes in his own home.
You can also find true-blue Korean flavor in the duk bo ki (soft rice and fish cake with sweet chili and gochujang) dished out at K-Town Korean BBQ the bibimbap (mixed rice and meat with assorted veggies) at Bibi2go and the soondae (Korean blood cake) at JCD Korean Restaurant in Beaverton.
There's also a slight possibility that the hottest thing to hit the Portland Korean food scene hasn't even happened yet. Enter Revelry , a late-night cocktail and DJ influenced restaurant with playful Korean "snacks" from James Beard-nominated chefs Rachel Yang ( Joule , Trove , and Revel ) and Seif Chirchi . After a bunch of anticipation, it'll open to the public on Tuesday, August 16. If you haven't already, it's probably time to get up close and smell the kimchi.
Burgers, Brew & 'Que
In Queens, N.Y., Michael Symon gets in touch with his Greek heritage with a classic lamb and feta cheeseburger, and then he sinks his teeth into an Italian-style burger stuffed with smoky mozzarella and prosciutto. In Houston, Texas, he finds a rabbit-meat hot dog with chile pepper toppings so spicy there's a release waiver to sign when ordering it. And finally, in Phoenix, Ariz., Michael places an order at a food truck that hitches up a custom smoker to deliver hot smoked meats inside inventive grilled cheese sandwiches across the Arizona desert.
Smoked Whole Hog
Michael Symon heads to Asheville, N.C., where he smokes a whole hog in traditional Carolina style for the juiciest, purest pulled pork sandwich around. Then in San Francisco, one chef is serving up the flavors of her hometown, New Orleans, with beignets stuffed with crawfish, shrimp and andouille sausage. Finally, in Atlanta a supremely spicy burger with Atomic Death sauce and Hell Relish has customers wading through fire for one delicious bite after another.
Mountains of Meat
Michael Symon meets a chef bringing the Indian street food flavors of his childhood to Asheville, N.C., with his own take on a sloppy joe that he calls a Sloppy Jai, with lamb hash and 30 Indian spices. Then, a burger spot in Seattle is serving up towers of Japanese-American fusion with katsu-style deep-fried burger patties. And finally, in Houston, Texas, Michael finds pastrami-spiced burnt ends pork belly and spicy, jalapeno-glazed lamb "pops" fresh out of the smoker.
In Charleston, S.C., Michael Symon smokes a whole hog and makes chorizo from scratch for a saucy BBQ brunch burrito with two different fire-roasted salsas. In Atlanta, an authentic Caribbean roasted pork sandwich has a dedicated local following, and in Dallas, the breakfast burger of champions with hash browns, bacon and a fried egg is the perfect way to start the day.
Smoked Smorgasbord for a Shark's Appetite
In Savannah, Ga., Michael Symon finds a food truck serving up two can't-miss creations: cheeseburger tacos with a house-made beer cheese sauce and a Jamaican jerk fried fish taco with mango salsa and cilantro sour cream. In Seattle, he tries an enormous bone-in pork chop brined for six hours and fired on a grill. Finally, in Phoenix, a smoked lamb sandwich with homemade mint sauce is made by a chef who loves her smoker so much that she's even smoking brownies.
Slammin' Hot and Smoky
In Asheville, N.C., Michael Symon digs into a slammin' sandwich with three different cuts of pork smothered in triple-cheese sauce. In Phoenix, a flaming hot burger is stuffed with spicy jalapeno Jack cheese and covered in Buffalo sauce. And in Portland, Ore., a brewery's drunken chicken pot pie is so revolutionary, they're launching beer into space!
Smoking Meats and Summertime Eats
Michael Symon heads to Charleston, S.C., where he smokes a whole hog on a supersized indoor smoke pit and devours a slow-smoked rib-eye steak sandwich complete with melted cheddar and caramelized onions. Then, in Houston, Texas, he tries a double beef patty burger that gets the royal treatment with two bacon grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. And finally, in Phoenix, Michael finds that a coffee-braised beef taco with mango relish and a duck taco with fried brie and fire-roasted apricot compote are the perfect pairing with a crisp and refreshing local brew.
Sweet Treats and Savory Meats
Michael Symon starts in Boston with triple-processed pork belly that's cured, brined and smoked to meaty perfection. In Seattle, tender braised lamb shoulder amps up a traditional breakfast hash, while in Miami, they're using fresh, local cinnamon rolls as buns for an insanely sweet and savory burger.
Extra Meat Please
Michael Symon starts in Queens, New York, with a burger loaded to the max with beef, ham, bacon and sausage. A Korean-style smoked pork sandwich with miso-barbecue sauce makes Atlanta the frontier of barbecue fusion, and in Houston, Texas, a spicy, fried Cornish hen is one hot bird!
Super Smoked and Savory
In Queens, New York, Michael Symon dives into the juiciest, meatiest, triple-stacked burger with beef, lamb and turkey. Some of the most authentic Mexican lamb barbacoa this side of the border is found in Houston, Texas, where it's wrapped in fresh banana leaves and oven-roasted until the meat falls off the bone. And finally, in Atlanta, one barbecue joint is smoking everything from meatloaf to turkey tacos and even their guacamole.
Giant Meat and Habanero Heat
Michael Symon starts in Boston with a burger that originated as a late night, off-menu secret and accidentally became the talk of the town. Then, in Seattle, a beer hall serves a mammoth, pretzel-breaded, deep-fried pork shank, and in Miami, baby back ribs get a spicy, fruity makeover with a homemade guava-habanero glaze.
Michael Symon starts in Memphis with a triple-layered twist on regional dry-rub ribs and a succulent corned beef that's a 30-day labor of love. Then, in Phoenix, classic mac and cheese gets a boozy boost from a special in-house brew, and a San Francisco burger shop is turning classic favorites like pizza and PB&J into the city's best burgers.
Beef, Belly, Bacon and Bourbon
In Savannah, Ga., Michael Symon starts with sweet and savory pork belly sliders with bacon jam and bourbon sauce, nestled inside a fluffy doughnut bun. Then in Portland, Ore., eggs baked in a tomato and pepper stew make the best shakshuka in the city. And finally in Miami, alligator ribs smothered in honey mustard barbecue sauce are an exotic ode to uniquely Southern 'que.
Dangerously Good Eats
Chef Michael Symon sinks his teeth into a burger in Memphis, Tenn., that's so dangerously good, innocent bystanders had better beware! Then pizza gets a brunch makeover in Atlanta with creamy scrambled eggs and crispy pancetta. Finally, Thai-style fried chicken and Caribbean jerk smoked ribs pack Texas-sized flavor into Houston's delicious melting pot.
Chef Michael Symon gets things started in Boston where a whole smoked hog is getting the royal treatment with a marinade injection, a salt crust and a foil wrap for crispy skin. Then in Phoenix, a wolf of a burger gets topped with smoked pulled pork, bacon, a stout barbecue sauce and beer mustard. Finally, a whole game hen sitting on a beer can in Dallas makes for the juiciest chicken in all of Texas.
Supremely Smoky and Dizzyingly Delicious
Michael Symon starts in Savannah, where fried chicken and pancake tacos are a delicious reinvention of classic chicken and waffles. In Seattle, a burger with a house-made chorizo patty brings serious Spanish flavor to the Pacific Northwest. And finally in Dallas, smoked pulled pork with a Kansas City-style barbecue rub is a dizzyingly delicious mashup of Midwestern and Southern barbecue traditions.
Triple Meat Trifecta
In Newport, R.I., Michael Symon dives into a triple meat-stacked sandwich with smoked pork belly, bologna and chicken liver pate. A decadent, ultra-crispy and deep-fried soft-shell crab patty in San Francisco will change the way you look at burgers, and jumbo, spicy, fried chicken wings zing with a fiery green Szechuan peppercorn sauce in Seattle.
In Memphis, Michael Symon sits down with four generations of barbecue royalty for the scoop on their most delicious family secrets, with a side of smoked turkey and sweet potato fried pie. In Portland, Ore., an insane burger is stacked over a foot tall with three beef patties, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, onion rings, bacon, ham, eggs and more! And finally, in Atlanta, chile-rubbed duck breast gets top billing as some of the best Latin food north of the border.
Life Returns to Indigo Building With Blue Star Donuts and LardoBlueberry-Bourbon-Basil glazed donut at Blue Star Donuts
This week has brought two new restaurants to the Indigo Building, which most recently housed the failed Corazon. First, Blue Star Donuts, the newest venture by Micha Camden of Little Big Burger fame. Blue Star, the first tenant in the SW corner of the building, features selections such as “strawberries & jalapeño, Cointreau crème brûlée (Micha gets extra points for all the diacritical marks), hard apple cider fritter, and real maple glazed & bacon”. Zounds! Anyone tried them? My doctor has added a switch that prevents me from turning the ignition off if I’m less than one block from a donut shop.
Next, the SW edition of Lardo, the sandwich shop and beer garden, which opened its original brick and mortar spot in SE Portland last July. They have a loyal following, not only for interesting selections such as a pig ear salad, and sandwiches like smoked coppa Cubano and pork belly, egg and cheese, but also for their large $5 beer selection. The new store is at SW 12th and Washington St., and is open daily from 11am to 10pm.
No word on when Ración the “modern tapas” restaurant from ChefStable and Anthony Cafiero will be opening.
Inside Rice Village’s New Gourmet Sandwich Haven — Everything You Need to Know About Mendocino Farms
Mendocino Farms is shaking up Houston's sandwich game.
Mendocino Farms teamed up with legendary chef Chris Shepherd to create a signature sandwich to benefit Southern Smoke.
Founders Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen opened the very first Mendocino Farms in Los Angeles in 2005.
The much-hyped Mendocino Farms is opening in Rice Village at long last.
Mendocino Farms is all about all-natural ingredients.
Mendocino Farms is brand new to the Houston scene.
Chef Chris Shepherd and Mendocino Farms' Mario Del Pero share a good neighbor policy and an ethos of community enrichment.
Mendocino Farms boasts artisan partners providing fresh, locally sourced meats and bread.
Mendocino Farms will offer classics like BLTs and tuna melts alongside pork belly Bahn mi.
Mendocino Farms brings an extensive menu to Houston.
The interior is charming and cozy.
B y now, you’ve probably heard of Mendocino Farms. The one-stop shop for complex gourmet sandwiches and salads opened in Rice Village today with much fanfare after all. But you’ve likely heard it described as a “California-inspired” eatery.
And that’s not the whole picture. It’s more like a snapshot.
Mendocino Farms was indeed born in Los Angeles back in 2005, but the inspiration behind this chef-driven-yet-fast-casual concept comes from all over the country, and all over the globe.
It’s just as fair to say the dishes were inspired by Napa Valley as Mexico, by Asia as Seattle. And for the very first time, the sandwich haven is opening outside California. With Houston as the chosen spot.
And over the coming months, Mendocino Farms will continue its Houston expansion, with new shops planned for The Heights, Uptown and Downtown too.
It’s got a global-meets-local vibe, internationally skewed eats made with goods from nearby purveyors.
Think twists on the classic Vietnamese sandwich, Mendo’s Original Pork Belly Bahn Mi with braised, caramelized pork, housemade pickle daikon and carrots and chili aioli. Or the Peruvian Steak Sandwich, composed of spicy aiji amarillo-marinated steak with Oaxacan cheese and red onions.
You’ll also find contemporary twists on classics, like a club with smashed avocado, a BLT with habanero honey and a chicken salad sandwich with jicama succotash.
“It was a lot of R&D, a lot of travel,” Mario Del Pero, one half of the husband-wife Mendocino ownership duo, laughs. His wife, Ellen Chen, smiles.
“If I was going to pull the greatest inspiration for Mendo, it’s wine country. It was always this ideal to create — if a fine-dining chef wanted to open a kind of roadside sandwich shop in wine country, what would it look and feel like?”
Founders Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen opened the very first Mendocino Farms in Los Angeles in 2005.
Del Pero and Chen sit side-by-side against a booth at the far back wall of Rice Village’s new Mendocino Farms, to the left of the dedicated playful Kid’s Corner area.
Mendocino employees are hustling and bustling in the background, prepping. The room is all white with robin’s egg blue accents — the decor fittingly modeled after a farmhouse in Napa Valley.
Del Pero and Chen are both decked out in gingham button downs, his a dark navy with small checks, hers more of an indigo with small ones and blue jeans.
“It’s our uniform, checks, plaids,” Chen says. Each employee gets to put their own spin on the pattern and color scheme.
Chen’s inspiration for the menu came from Oakville Grocery, with its huge, vibrant deli case. Del Pero points to the now-closed David Berkley’s in his hometown, Sacramento. He also points to Lardo in Portland, Oregon.
“The menu’s from kind of all over. It’s taking fine dining items, deconstructing them and putting them between a sandwich, it’s a real flavor profile,” Chen tells PaperCity.
Mendocino Farms teamed up with legendary chef Chris Shepherd to create a signature sandwich to benefit Southern Smoke.
Before Mendocino grew to 28 restaurants, this duo played around with ingredients like duck confit.
“It’s a great way to introduce an item that most people wouldn’t eat, and make it pretty approachable,” Chen says. “I think that’s one of the things we love. It’s introducing approachably adventurous foods.
“We’re going to continue to push the envelope.”
The mission statement is simple. Mendocino Farms revolves around a happy eating ethos.
“We sell happy,” Chen laughs. “Our product is not selling good sandwiches and salads. We sell happy. It’s the whole experience, it’s how you feel. It’s important because life is way too short. You’ve got to enjoy yourself.”
They try to pass the happiness onto diners through a combo of 17 sandwiches, some of them seasonal, and eight salads.
And their philosophy is built on building partnerships with local and artisanal purveyors and vendors. So far in Houston, they’ve signed on Pure Luck for goat cheese, Slow Dough for breads and Cake and Bacon for pastries.
Lindsay Schecter of Houston Dairymaids is playing tour guide for Del Pero and Chen, connecting them with vendors.
“As we start growing roots here and finding other relationships, we want them to be real and genuine,” Chen says.
Del Pero views Mendocino Farms as a neighborhood gathering place.
“I grew up in a town that had a town square, and a main street that was actually called Main Street,” Del Pero laughs. “How do we accentuate that, that kind of gathering place? We really saw that opportunity.”
And they saw it in Houston.
“Houston — we love the foodie culture here, such a great food scene,” Chen says. “And we really wanted a place that makes sense, a place the aligns. The neighborhoods are rich, and I don’t just mean wealth, but rich in diversity and different types of people. I feel like it’s very similar to what we see in California.”
The couple has spent more time in The Bayou City this summer than their native California, and the Mendocino Farm menus right here and throughout California might just reflect that pretty soon.
One of the most popular menu items, The Impossible Taco Salad, with plant-based Impossible chorizo, was created after a previous trip to Texas.
“I’ve spent so much time in Houston, eating around Houston that I actually have some meetings with smokers. We’re thinking of doing some smoked meat sandwiches. For California, too. We’re around here, living it. Why not share that? Maybe a smoked carnitas sorta or smoked brisket club,” Del Pero says.
His dying meal would be smoked brisket, the self-declared “smoked meat geek” says, and he even has his own smokehouse in California.
“It’s the biggest smokehouse in the area. Which means it’s probably the smallest one in Houston,” Del Pero laughs.
Mendocino Farms is now open in Houston, and Del Pero and Chen hope it makes its mark.
“I think that we would be absolutely honored if new were just mentioned in the lexicon of the incredible food that exists in this town,” Del Pero says. “There are so many great chefs in this city. And if someone just kind of mentioned us in that dialogue, that would be an incredible honor.
The 10 Seattle Pork Plates You Cannot Miss
Sure, the term “Bucket List” is hackneyed. But in this case it’s the only term that will do, as enjoying these 10 legendary pork dishes not only has to be done before the end of your life—it may very well hasten it.
I kid! Just don't go eating all this other white meat in one week and you'll be fine.
As ever, call first these restaurants are known for these dishes but no one serves everything every night.
So without further ado, and in no particular order…
Cochon Olsen Farms “Phat Ass” Pork Chop
It’s $34-worth of bone-in loin, flavor-rich throughout and shockingly moist considering its one-and-a-half-inch.thickness. Generally chef Derek Ronspies will serve this over grits and seasonal embellishments, but this porker works best as dinner-for-two, along with a salad or starter to split.
Among the many pork plates at this Harbor Steps standby is pork tenderloin wrapped in pork belly, plated this time of year with all kinds of stewy seasonal things. Sometimes they’ll slap it between grilled ciabatta with onion marmalade and aioli and call it lunch.
Cascina Spinasse Maiale Della Sera
Every night brings a new preparation of heritage pork at Capitol Hill’s Piedmontese treasure. One evening a few weeks ago, chunks of milk-braised shoulder, tender as love itself, arrived atop a trio of lemony kales. Perfect.
Marination Ma Kai Pork Katsu Sandwich
The pork katsu sandwich at this beach shack at the West Seattle water taxi terminus is a large panko-crusted pork cutlet flapping out the sides of a Macrina ciabatta roll, slathered with tonkatsu sauce and tangy slaw. Best flippin’ laundry emergency you’ve ever licked off the front of your shirt.
Boat Street Cafe Carlton Farms Roasted Pork Rib Chop
Those who revere Renee Erickson’s original dinnerhouse know that the Carlton Farms chop and the Mad Hatcher chicken represent two menu mainstays prepared with different embellishments every night. Once, memorably, the tender chop came with roasted padrone peppers over a nutty Romesco with walnuts and fingerlings. Reliably killer.
Paseo Caribbean Roast Sandwich
Well of course it’s on here: It’s only the most cultishly beloved sandwich in town. Marinated, slow-roasted pork morsels fall out of the bread in equal measure with fat caramelized onions, jalepenos, cilantro sprigs, and blops of garlicky mayo. Worth the guaranteed wait.
Radiator Whiskey Fried Pork Shank
The rest of that menu description reads: “…with herb aioli and Mama Lil’s pickled goat horn peppers.” The pork is fantastic, with a nice fatty crackle, wedged between its herby base and hot pepper crown. Vivid, both flavorfully and texturally. (And visually! See photo above.)
Jack’s BBQ St. Louis Ribs
Jack Timmons's new joint down Georgetown way is all about the brisket—but miss the ribs at your peril. They’re moist, smoky, and glazed with a shy little sauce that adds tang without getting in the way of the sublime pork flavor.
Bar del Corso Tonno del Chianti
Olive oil-braised pork shoulder chunks have become a mainstay among the small plates at Beacon Hill’s beloved neighborhood pizzeria, served perhaps over controne beans with arugula and cherry tomatoes. You won’t believe how tender.
John Howie Steak Tempura Fried Kurobuta Bacon
At Bellevue's fave steakhouse, five thick slices of exquisite bacon are cloaked in a featherweight tempura, then fried to a satisfying crunch. You think that’s decadent: Dip it into the accompanying maple sambal sauce. Obscenely delectable.
Watch the video: The Greatest BBQ Pork Sandwich American BBQ vs Korean Style (September 2021).