Austin Miller always loved to cook, but it wasn’t until he met his partner Hana that he found a cuisine he wanted to stick with. Hana’s family is Japanese, and she schooled Austin early on to some staples of that country’s diverse street food. “She was the catalyst. We were both working restaurants. We were at the Eastender, and when that sold we were both in a weird ‘what do we do now’ phase?”
Hana had been cooking the food she grew up on, at home, throughout their relationship. They decided on starting a food truck because there wasn’t anybody else doing Japanese street cuisine in Portland. “Most of these dishes are something you can find on the street in Japan,” Miller said. The food pulls from various strains of Japanese quick eats, but is most deeply indebted to the Osaka style, where dishes like Takoyaki were born (grilled balls of batter, filled with diced octopus, scallions, pickled ginger, and katsuobushi). Takoyaki ($7), along with many other staples of the truck can be found on the menu at the new restaurant located on Fore Street, next to Vena’s Fizz house and across the street from Rosie’s.
I recently attended Mami’s soft opening. They had a full menu available and it was a good introduction to how the restaurant will operate. Mami will not have table service. There is a counter for ordering food, along with three rotating draft beer options or one of the many cans in the cooler (there are also 40oz of malt liquor, because one should be prepared for anything). There are tables in the upper part of the split level front-of-house space, along with a lounge area near the entrance.
Many menu items will be familiar to regulars of the truck, and everything is reasonably priced. Yakisoba ($10), thin soba noodles with seasonal vegetables in a nuanced, umami sauce, has long been one of the most satisfying dishes Portland’s food trucks have had on offer, and it’s nice to see it on the restaurant’s menu as well.
Yaki Onigiri ($4) is a traditional grilled rice ball with a soy miso glaze (umami city), scallions, and furikake (a fascinating granulated seasoning made from extracts of seaweed, sesame seeds, and dried roe). The menu version at the moment is filled with braised eggplant, but Miller said that filling will often rotate, along with the seasonal veggies in the Yakisoba.
The Big Mami Burger ($10) is something to behold, and is another item that was initially a special on the truck. “It was indicative because it sold out in like twenty minutes,” Miller said, “but it was kind of hard to do that in the space we had. So as soon as we were opening a restaurant it was an obvious choice for the menu.” The patty itself is blended with curry powder and dried nori, along with togarashi, a red chili flake. The brioche bun is made in-house with squid ink, which turns it black, and let me tell you, it is a sexy burger. Topped with a rich American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and kewpie, it perfectly encapsulates the simultaneously nuanced and satisfying nature of the entire Mami menu.
Food trucks have become a staple of the Portland food scene, but not having to search has its perks. Baharat, a brick and mortar evolution of the CN Shawarma truck, recently opened along with Mami. Both serve food that is simultaneously elegant and comforting, no small thing to pull off. Mami’s permanent location is a worthy addition to an already sprawling food scene in the Old Port. The counter service and short-order nature of Mami make for a quick stop for lunch, but the inviting beer selection and limited seating make it a good spot for a cheap and filling dinner as well. I’ll be back soon.