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Looking for a way to escape to Japan without the hassle of actually hopping on a plane to cross the Pacific?  Portland not only has the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan (The Portland Japanese Garden), but it is also home to bona fide Japanese restaurants run by Japanese expats who now call Portland home.  If you can’t make it to Japan, then settle for the next best option by trying a taste of Portland’s authentic Japanese food.

Tokyo Food Truck Vibe

When Tokyo Sando’s Chef Taiki Nakajima says he wants to take you to Tokyo, he means it.  As the son of renowned Tokyo restaurateurs, he creates “sandos” in the style of his native Tokyo.  Chef Nakajima lovingly prepares all of his sandwiches fresh upon order and uses special Japanese bread called “shokupan” for that authentic, fluffy texture.  The chicken katsu sandwich is the truck staple, but the vegetarians out there can enjoy the velvety egg salad sandwich loaded with just as much flavor, minus the meat.

Japan Farm to Table Vibe

Chef Naoko’s handcrafted bento boxes are so legendary in Portland that they caught the attention of renowned architect Kengo Kuma (of the Portland Japanese Garden and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Stadium fame), who then offered to remodel her shop.  The end result is Shizuku, a minimalist restaurant draped in golden, bamboo-made sudare screens that give the sensation that you’ve been transported to a dinner table in the clouds.  Shizuku offers Japanese meals prepared with local Oregon ingredients, like grilled cheese tonkatsu made with Tillamook cheese melted on locally sourced pork loin.

*Shizuku is only hosting dinner for private events until further notice.  Shizuku bento boxes, however, are available for same-day delivery via online order.

Curry Cafe Vibe

Nothing is more fulfilling than a hearty spoonful of rich Japanese curry poured over a bed of white rice.  Chef Makoto Yoshino was missing that certain comfort food from his native Japan and decided to fill the gap by opening his own curry restaurant, Kalé, right in the heart of Portland.  Kalé’s decor is simple in design, but the mellow ambiance of the shop will bring a calm to even the most hectic of days.  Try the standard curry, made fresh from scratch daily, and top it with katsu chicken to bring that extra crunch to your plate.

The Authentic Japanese Experience Vibe

Although Murata looks unassuming at first, Japanese expats and connected locals whisper this is one of the most authentic Japanese restaurants in the city.  Murata provides a wide selection of teishoku set meals and the freshest of sushi and nigiri.  For the best vibe at Murata, however, reserve your meal in advance and request the restaurant’s Japanese tatami room.  If you’re seeking the ultimate authentic Japanese experience, Murata also offers a high-end kaiseki ryori dinner prepared by head chef Ryoshiro Murata.

*The kaiseki ryori meal at Murata requires two days advance notice with reservations.

Japanese Ice Cream Shop Vibe

Matcha Cafe Maiko is a dessert chain from Japan that specializes in matcha green tea flavored soft-serve ice cream.  In addition to ice cream, the menu also contains shaved ice, boba drinks, and even edible gold.  The real show stopper?  A teddy bear carved out of matcha flavored ice as a cute topping to your ice cream or smoothie.   The creamy goodness of matcha soft serve topped with mochi balls and sweet red beans will make for an ideal finish on your journey through Japan in Portland.

About the Author:

Mary Halloran

Mary Halloran is a global traveler with roots in the mountains of Utah, but now calls Portland, Oregon home. She is an expert in all things Japan and China and spent nearly seven years living in Beijing, Shanghai, and rural Japan. When Mary isn’t updating her blog The Ruby Ronin, you can find her watching foreign films, practicing Chinese calligraphy, slurping down a bowl of pho, or hiking the forests and valleys of the Pacific Northwest.