CLEAN air, good schools, affordable housing and access to job opportunities are what most people think of first when it comes to determining the most livable cities across America. For me, the criterion is restaurants. They have to be good. More specifically, they have to serve poke. I can't live without the onion, limu, chile and soy-spattered raw fish.
reaches rainy Northwest
Thankfully, restaurants from Seattle to San Francisco, where I just ended a two-week vacation, are riding that cable car of Asia-Pacific food trends, and various forms of poke -- "tuna carpaccio" or "tartare" in mainland speak -- are everywhere.
Most encouraging is the growing diversity in Portland, which can be seen in the number of Thai restaurants downtown, and the emergence of such Pan-Asian restaurants as Saucebox, even though its interpretation of "Asian cuisine" seems to be "drown in soy sauce."
And Portland boasts proximity to at least two restaurants whose owners are homegrown and proud to be serving up a taste of the islands in the Northwest.
This plate-lunch paradise requires a 15-minute drive out of Portland and into Vancouver, Wash., where Herb Pacheco -- formerly of Waianae -- serves up bentos of Chicken Teriyaki ($4.25), Beef Teriyaki ($4.25) and Spicy Chicken ($4.25), all with off-the-hibachi charbroiled flavor. The meat is cut into bite-size morsels so you can dig in right away.
Plates at this mostly take-out eatery come with rice and a choice of namasu, kim chee or -- in a concession to Northwest palates -- corn.
Daily specials include Laulau (filled with chicken, pork and beef) and Lomi Salmon ($6.25) on Mondays, and Kalua Pig with Lomi Salmon ($5.45) Wednesdays, although you'd think that in the land of salmon they wouldn't be quite so manini about the portion of salmon offered.
Hawaiian CharbroilWhere: 3320 NE Plain Boulevard, Unit D, Vancouver, Wash. 98661
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays
Prices: About $12 for two
Call: (360) 696-1223
Even when it's gray outside, Local Boyz manages to bring a bit of sunshine to anyone who has grown up in the isles, as well as Oregonians who have yet to visit.
Local Boyz Hawaiian Cafe
The restaurant is housed in a charming wooden building just beyond the hipster Hawthorne neighborhood. There are small picnic benches outside for those who want a taste of the outdoors, when it's not raining, that is.
On the menu is plate-lunch fare with all its chop-suey influences. A hint of Chinese shows up in stir fries of ahi and mahi mahi (market prices), and a touch of Korean surfaces in the sesame-marinated ribs ($8.95 menehune portion, $10.95 normal portion, $12.95 blalah size with three scoops sticky rice), as well as the spicy marinade for Pan-Fried Chicken ($7.95/$9.95/$11.95).
The restaurant is doing its best to promote Hawaiian culture, with musical jam sessions every Friday and Sunday evening and the occasional luau.
Best of all, they have poke.
Local Boyz Hawaiian CafeWhere: 2525 SE Clinton St., Portland, 97202
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Prices: About $20 for two
Call: (503) 233-5301
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
-- excellent;To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.