Portland, Oregon – Pambiche

Restaurant: Pambiche
Cuisine: 
Cuban/Latin American/Caribbean/Tapas/Desserts
Last visited: 
August 18, 2011
Location: 
Portland, Oregon (Kerns)
Address: 
2811 NE Glisan Street
Price Range: 
$10-20

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Cuban owned/operated
  • Local & tourist favourite
  • Award winning
  • Extensive menu
  • Local/sustainable ingredients
  • Family friendly
  • Casual/lively
  • Good for sharing
  • Affordable
  • Patio seating
  • Breakfast Sat-Sun 8am-2pm
  • Lunch Weekdays 11am-5pm, Sat-Sun 2pm-5pm
  • Daily Dinner 5pm – close
  • Sun-Thur until 10pm, Fri & Sat until midnight
  • Happy Hour Weekdays 2pm-6pm, Fri & Sat 10pm-midnight

**Recommendations: The Happy Hour, Papa Rellena Croquetas, Masitas, Sandwich Cubano, Vaca Frita, Island Carrot Cake, Lime in the Coconut

Where to eat? Where to eat? Where to eat? I’m hungry! Hungry and crushed that my plan A to visit Pine State Biscuits for a late lunch was an epic fail. Well it closed at 2pm, but I eventually made my way there the next morning – see here. So what was plan B? Pambiche!

So why Pambiche? Well being from Vancouver, BC I wanted to try something new and different that isn’t as available up North. Cuban food or any Latin American cuisine for that matter is limited at home, so that’s why I wanted to check it out. It’s also a popular choice for locals, and the numerous awards it has won just made me that much more curious.

I know this isn’t Cuba, the Caribbean, Spain, Africa or anywhere close to South America or the Islands, so I’m not going to talk about “authenticity” too much. That, and I’m also not Latin, so I only know what I know and can only compare with what I’ve tried. However, Cuban cuisine is a fusion of all those cuisines from the places I listed, so what is “authentic” is debatable, and therefore I’ll mostly go by what I liked and what tasted good.

The owners, chefs and cooks are all Cuban, or of Latin decent, and they claim the food is authentic. Many of the recipes are ancient recipes from the chef/owner’s grandma and mother, and the ingredients used are all fresh, local and sustainable.

It was around 2:30pm and Happy Hour was in full force! Yes! My favourite! Tapas style dining and at very affordable prices… bonus! Keep the small plates coming and you bet I’ll order almost the whole menu. I strongly recommend coming for happy hour or lunch because it’s great value, but the dinner can get quite pricey at $17-20 for mains. Although dinner does offer bigger portions, it was essentially the same thing and I wouldn’t find it as worth it.

If you care about the touchy subject of “authenticity” though, I will say that even I could tell it was a bit more Cuban American in style than traditional. It’s not a bastardization of the cuisine, but the flavours were a bit muted at times and seemed catered to North American palates.

Beside the decor, there was just something a bit “Mickey Mouse” about the whole thing. I’m sure some dishes are true to the culture, but perhaps just not everything. I couldn’t help but to think “I bet you make this better at home”. It was an enjoyable experience though and nothing was disappointing, but perhaps just not as good as I was expecting at times.

The food was generally good, all house made with quality ingredients and the atmosphere is fun. It’s just not somewhere I’d put on my “must try” list for Portland if you’re visiting for a short time. I’d put it on a list, but just not as priority, however if you have time, it’s nice to check out.

On the table:Mango Milkshake (Batidos) - 4/6

  • $3.75 (Happy Hour $3.25)
  • It was very thick and creamy and quite sweet and milky, but there’s no ice cream in it.
  • I question if the mango was fresh mango though.
  • It wasn’t pulpy or fibrous or very strong with mango flavour, but I could taste it for sure.
  • It was more like a mango smoothie and not as rich as a traditional mango milkshake, and it was my favourite of the 3 drinks.
  • My favourite mango shake is the Mango Moo Shake from Phnom Penh.

Naran Mango Batido3/6

  • Orange and mango shake (Dairy free) $3.75 (Happy Hour $3.25)
  • I actually ordered the Mango Pineapple shake, but there was a mix up and I got this instead.
  • This was icy since there was no dairy, but it was still very thick and more tangy with orange flavour than sweet with mango.
  • It wasn’t pulpy, but stronger with orange juice and again I question if the mango was fresh or just a mix.

Mango Pina3.5/6

  • Mango and fresh pineapple shake (Dairy free) $3.75 (Happy Hour $3.25)
  • This is what I had originally ordered.
  • It was thick, but not creamy since there was no dairy, and I think it could have been fresh pineapple, but I question the mango again.
  • It was an icy drink and it didn’t make my throat scratchy. The acid in pineapples and fiber in mangoes can do that sometimes if you know what I mean (it’s not an allergy).

**Papa Rellena (Beef) Croquetas4.5/6

  • 4 crispy golden brown Cuban croquetas stuffed with mashed potatoes and ground Cuban beef served with ensalada $4 (Happy hour)
  • I love croquetas and I’m picky about them too because I was spoiled with home made ones in Spain. I make them at home as well.
  • I’m used to the ham or chicken version, but the beef was recommended so I went for it.

  • These were great! It was crispy and very lightly battered and fried with a saucy filling of beef and the creaminess of mashed potatoes.
  • It had more beef filling than potato and the ground beef was almost like crumbled meatballs with beans and bell peppers coated in gravy.
  • The beans were a bit nontraditional, but it tasted good and made it seem like a cream based chili, but it had no spice.
  • I think these ones usually have a cheese aspect to them, unless that’s American, but regardless they were delicious!

Pollo (Chicken) Croquetas - 4/6

  • 4 crispy golden brown croquetas stuffed with Creole chicken seasoned with Spanish chorizo sausage $4 (Happy hour)
  • The chicken croquetas were very good, but they didn’t have as much flavour as the beef ones.
  • It was very lightly battered and fried with a crispy exterior and then a very creamy and saucy filling of shredded chicken and bechamel sauce.
  • I couldn’t taste much chorizo, but it was still savoury and well seasoned.
  • These were very soft and moist it melted in my mouth, but at times there were some chewy chicken bits.
  • It was likely chicken tendons, and since they probably use the chicken scraps to make them I was bound to hit a couple, but most of it didn’t have any.

Tostones3/6

  • Fried green plantains, the French fries of the Caribbean $3.50 (Happy hour)
  • They were made quite authentically, but I’ve just never been a fan of tostones.
  • They’re fried plantains, pounded into a flat disk, and fried again.
  • They were crunchy and well seasoned with salt, but a bit dry at times. They naturally are a bit dry and starchy though since they are fried plantains.
  • If you want them in Vancouver, El Barrio does a great job with them – see here.

Yuca Con Mojo3.5/6

  • Fried cassava root served with Creole garlic mojo $4 (Happy hour)
  • This is a very typical and traditional item to order, but I’ve never really cared for this item either.
  • They’re firmer, starchier, thicker, and more fiberous yams or potatoes.
  • Some sticks were dry and some were moist and they were crispy, but a bit bland and could have been more seasoned.
  • What made this special was the creole garlic mojo dipping sauce. This is my first time trying that sauce and it’s amazing!
  • It was almost like a tangy vinaigrette, but it’s thin and almost watery, but it’s packed with flavour.
  • Mojo sauce is a cooked sauce made with pureed garlic, onions, cumin, salt and lime or orange and it was like a bright roasted garlic vinaigrette.
  • It’s garlicky, but the sour lime and zesty sweet orange cut through that garlic flavour so it’s not overpowering and it’s not spicy. I was addicted to it!

Frijoles Colorados3.5/6

  • Cuban red beans and pork served with arroz blanco (white rice) $3 (Happy hour)
  • The beans were a bit soft and they were missing that bite, but they did have flavour and it was a good deal.
  • It was smoky and stew like, and chunky but not hearty and more like a soup.
  • There wasn’t much pork, but lots of stewed tomatoes and onions, but it was missing spice, and there’s normally spice to this side dish.

**Masitas6/6

  • Creole fried pork served with garlic mojo $5 (Happy hour)
  • Anything served with a mojo is good!… Okay that sounded really bad, but in this case it’s true!
  • This is a must try! It was perhaps my favourite tapas and the portion was generous for the price. I’d come back for this alone!
  • It was lightly battered and fried cubes of ultra tender and moist pork shoulder or pork butt. It was crispy, yet soft inside and not chewy at all.
  • It really reminded me of Chinese roasted pork in flavour. I’m sure there was some soy sauce in the marinade or 5 spice action going on.
  • The pork pieces were excellent and well seasoned as is, but what made the dish even better was the garlic mojo sauce that it sat on.
  • It’s a traditional Cuban condiment and it’s watery, but has so much flavour.
  • As I mentioned above, Mojo sauce is a cooked sauce made with pureed garlic, onions, cumin, salt and lime or orange and it was like a bright roasted garlic vinaigrette.
  • It’s garlicky, but the sour lime and zesty sweet orange cut through that garlic flavour so it’s not overpowering and it’s not spicy. I was dipping everything in it.

Ropa Vieja4/6

  • “Old Clothes”. A typical Cuban dish of Cascade Natural shredded beef slow simmered in a garlicky tomato herb broth, with yellow onions and green peppers and garnished with petit pois. Served with pan frito $4 (Happy hour)
  • It was pretty much a braised beef stew and the flavour didn’t come across as Cuban, but it is a popular Cuban dish.
  • I prefer the beef to be more soppy, finely shredded and falling apart tender, and although it was saucy, the meat itself was a bit dry.
  • It was quite home style and cooked in a tomato broth made of tomato paste rather than fresh tomatoes, as it should be.
  • It was very good, but I didn’t find it as unique to the restaurant, but for $4, just order it.

Lengua en Salsa - 4/6

  • The highest reward to ever come out of  Mama Ivonne’s kitchen! Carlton Farms pork simmered tender in a rich red sauce, built with bacon sofrito and scented with plump raisins and toasted almonds! A real chef’s favourite! Served with arroz blanco (white rice) $4.50 (Happy hour)
  • Apparently this was the dish I couldn’t leave without trying, so I had to try it!
  • Lengua means tongue in Spanish, so when I read “pork” I was pretty disappointed.
  • This is the kind of “Mickey Mouse”and “Cuban American” thing I was referring to in the introduction.
  • This would have been so much better with tongue, but I guess it wasn’t appreciated by diners. So unfortunate!
  • For being pork the dish was still pretty good, but the flavours again seemed mild and lacked spice or Cuban flare.
  • It was basically a roasted pimento, tomato, and bell pepper stew with chunks of very tender pork and crunchy almonds, but the raisins were so cooked that I couldn’t tell they were raisins and they almost dissipated into the sauce.
  • It was almost Italian meets Spanish in flavour and the stew was savoury, sweet, and tangy, but I found the description more exciting than the outcome.
  • This is something I’d put my money on that they make better at home.

**Sandwich Cubano6/6

  • A Cuban classic! Roast pork and smoked ham with Swiss cheese and dill pickle pressed together inside a fresh Cuban roll. Available on whole wheat or white. All sandwiches served with tostones $10
  • I had to order something from the lunch menu and the Happy Hour tapas don’t always offer the good stuff.
  • I had to try the Cubano sandwich as typical as the choice was, just because Cubanos tend to suck in Vancouver.
  • It’s basically a “grilled ham and cheese sandwich”, but way better.

  • If this is what a Cubano sandwich is supposed to taste like, then I’ve never had one until today.
  • Drool! This is the best Cubano sandwich I’ve had to date, but being that I haven’t had many, it didn’t have much competition. However my Cubano fan friend was equally as impressed.
  • The bread was ultra thin and crunchy and crispy and the pork was plentiful, tender, juicy and incredibly moist.
  • I could taste the layers of ham, melted ooey gooey cheese and tang of pickles and each layer was well represented.
  • It was saucy without being saucy and I could taste the natural pork juices and the meat was melt in your mouth tender and soppy.
  • I loved everything about this sandwich and I wanted to pack it home and share it with Vancouver.

**Vaca Frita5/6

  • “Fried Cow”. Citrus marinade Cascade Natural beef, shredded and char grilled with garlic and onions. A humble Cuban classic that characterizes Creole cookery. Served with your choice of Cuban beans (negros or colorados) and arroz blanco (white rice) or Moros Cristianos $11
  • Geez, the name sounds so vulgar… but “fried cow”… yes please!
  • This was from the regular lunch menu, and the portion isn’t that big, but it’s enough for one.
  • Yum! This was great!
  • The beef almost tasted like pulled beef and it was a pretty fatty, but not obvious. There’s no chewy or gelatinous fat.
  • It was full of beef flavour and bursting with beef juices and I could taste the subtle hint of what seemed like orange in the marinade.
  • The beef was a bit crispy and smoky and also sweet, salty, tangy, and quite garlicky.
  • Since the beef is quite heavy and greasy, the extra mojo sauce on the side was the perfect accompaniment.
  • The mojo sauce just cut through the oil and made the beef come alive, even though it was already marinated in the sauce as well. It’s a magical sauce!
  • The rice was stellar and the side of red beet salad was very good too.
  • The rice was a bit mushy and creamed with beans, onions and chunks of pork and it was incredibly flavourful although it looked regular.
  • The red beet salad is a Cuban staple. It’s fresh beets, watercress, diced red onion and extra virgin olive oil and sour orange vinaigrette.

Desserts

The Chef and owner John Connell-Maribona is also the executive Pastry Chef at Pambiche. Being the “dessert queen” I am, I immediately took notice of their display of baked goods and cakes at the front of the restaurant. They were all quite fancy and professional and the offerings are traditional and modern Cuban/Latin desserts. Many were made with contemporary and gourmet twists.

**Island Carrot Cake - 4.5/6

  • A true Pambiche classic, unlike any carrot cake you’ve ever tasted! Superbly enhanced with a rainbow of tropical fruits. Bacardi Select dark rum and guava cream cheese $6.75
  • Wow! The description sounds good, but I don’t remember it tasting that good! I mean it was good, but the description was a bit more exciting.
  • This is their signature and most popular dessert, but obviously it’s not traditional Cuban.
  • The cake itself is light and moist, but with the alternating layers of rich and creamy cream cheese icing, it became quite dense.
  • It was a bit sweet for me and very cheesy, but there wasn’t much shredded carrot, and I could have used less icing and more cake.
  • I could taste a hint of cinnamon, but it’s not strong at all and there was some dried coconut crumbs as well, but the flavour doesn’t really come through.
  • I actually couldn’t taste much guava or rum and I was missing my “rainbow of tropical fruits” too.
  • It was a very good cake, and it’s definitely a non-traditional carrot cake, but it wasn’t a must try dessert for me.

**Lime in the Coconut5/6

  • A tropical variation of the tres leches cake. Lime sponge cake drenched with saoco (sweet coconut milk, fresh lime + Bacardi Superior rum), filled with coconut custard cream and dressed with crema chantilly $7
  • I had my eye on this one. I love lime and coconut and this was also recommended.
  • The cake was bursting with lime zest and it was more sweet than tangy, but still not too sweet.
  • It was almost like a coconut cream pie meets a key lime pie, but milder versions of both and in cake form.
  • It was a very light and moist cake and I could have used more coconut flavour and shredded coconut for texture.
  • The coconut custard was a bit eggy and I couldn’t taste the rum or a strong tang from the saoco.
  • I could have used some vanilla to enhance the overall flavour of the cake, but I would order this again.
  • Looking back, it’s not as memorable as I thought it would be, but I did enjoy it.

Cuban Cigarn/a

  • Dense chocolate truffle cake rolled in the shape of a Cuban cigar and covered in dark chocolate and cocoa. Served with Strawberry Daiquiri salsa and macaroon coconut $5.50
  • As much as I don’t want to encourage unhealthy habits for a younger audience, this dessert was so cute and creative!
  • I didn’t order one, but I sure wanted to! Next time!

[geotag]

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10 Comments

  • Linda says:

    i really wish one day we’d get a really good cuban/lation restaurant here in vancouver.. after reading so many reviews of cuban sandwiches, itd be really nice to find a good one here! the fact that you had a 6/6 one in portland makes me one very jealous girl!

    i love the colors of this building – makes for a very caribbean feel :) i’ve always wanted to try tostones and those croquettes look great! i love them too! the ropa vieja looks yummy although i’d probably need more bread :)

    haha that carrot on the carrot cake made me smile – so cute! :)

  • Linda says:

    ps – have a great trip to nyc! i look forward to your posts :)

  • vivian says:

    If you want to try something different that you can’t get here in van, definitely try Toro Bravas next time in Portland. I have still yet to find something comparable anywhere (other than spain of course:))

  • Sherman Chan says:

    I don’t care what others think about the authenticity, I like Pambiche and would gladly eat there again while down in Portland!

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – Oh yeah! I forgot to mention the cute little carrot! But yes that Cubano was yummy! I miss it already!! We’ll I missed it as soon as I finished it lol! I have no idea how to attack the NYC posts… I’ll be glued to my computer for a month lol! Excited!

    @Vivan – I just posted on their new restaurant Tasty n Sons yesterday! I missed Toros Bravos because I ran out of time though! Next time!

    @Sherman Chan – lol *high five*

  • KimHo says:

    Cuban food or any Latin American cuisine for that matter is limited at home, so that’s why I wanted to check it out.

    To be more specific non-Mexican Latin American. Even then, the Mexican stuff is skewed somewhat with US influenced.

    However, Cuban cuisine is a fusion of all those cuisines from the places I listed, so what is “authentic” is debatable

    Hence my preference of the word “traditional” rather than authentic. Realistically speaking, borderline none of the cuisines in the Americas are “authentic”, as it is not really applicable if consider the Columbian Exchange. Instead, it is the influence of the culture of people who migrated from other countries (voluntary or not), as well as what was available to them. Partially as a result of Spanish influence, most countries in LAC will have similar dishes, yet, you have localized regional dishes. For example, ceviche and tamal are spread around in several countries in LAC, yet you have tacos in Mexico, pupusas in El Salvador, arepas in Venezuela and so on.

    But, back to Pambiche. In my case, I wasn’t as enthusiastic as you about the restaurant but that is because I have a different set of expectations. I am certain some of the dishes will always be good (Cuban sandwich is always a winner if you have the correct ingredients available); however, I went with a more “traditional” perspective. And that’s where I noticed the bastardization to cater those who are not used to the cuisine. Or, to paraphrase my waitress the night I was there “people like things fried”. That sort of told me everything… :-/

    If I didn’t have that perspective, I would have definitely liked it. Alas, that wasn’t the case…

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