Portland’s best-kept food secret hides behind a chain-link fence next to Güero, Northeast Portland’s colorful cake shop. Here, in a former auto shop that once held priceless vintage cars, a chef with a three-Michelin-star restaurant background is whipping up food that reminds him of home—specifically, the Mexican-style seafood popular in the neighborhood. Los Angeles where he grew up. from now until October.
Paradise Seafood, as the parking lot pop-up is called, has no phone or website. He has an Instagram, the most essential of modern marketing tools, but as of early August, the account had no posts and only recently added business hours to his timeline. Google it and you’ll find almost nothing of the typically ravenous local food media, aside from a brief mention in a guide to the best patios in Portland.
But chef Adán Fausto’s demanding takes on tuna tostadas, black cod flautas, and pambazo sandwiches with octopus and chorizo feel perfectly suited to Portland right now, with a haute-cuisine technique put to the service of familiar dishes, all served in a cheery old parking lot now hung with shade plants and a cool mister spraying overhead.
Before we get to what makes Paradise special, let’s break down how it got here in the first place:
Megan Sanchez and Alec Morrison, the sandwich-tossing duo who catapulted Güero from a food cart to one of the hottest spots in Portland’s upscale restaurant row, had long kept an eye on the lot behind their restaurant, which previously housed an automobile store. and vintage car collection. When the opportunity to purchase the property arose during the pandemic, they did not debate for long.
“That lot would not be as valuable to anyone else as it is to us,” says Sánchez. “It’s the only way to expand our business here.”
Last year, picnic tables added to the parking lot acted as extra seating for Güero, who already had a green patio built across the street but had yet to reopen for indoor dining.
Yet Sánchez already dreamed of turning the space into a more formal seafood restaurant, a place with pastel-painted walls and plants that evoke old Los Angeles, where her father’s family is from. Sanchez planned to run the kitchen herself. She then she met Faust.
An abbreviated version of Fausto’s resume: At one of his first jobs, a bistro near his home in South Gate, a fellow cook gave him a copy of “The French Laundry” cookbook, opening his eyes to the world of high-end cooking. kitchen. From there, he landed jobs at a string of upscale restaurants on both coasts: Sona in Los Angeles, Daniel in New York, Sons & Daughters in San Francisco. In 2014, he decided to test the corporate chef waters and sent out emails to five prominent CEOs. He got an interview with Apple and then he cooked for Tim Cook for two and a half years.
That resume is reflected in Paradise’s menu. The tuna and avocado toast is a riff on the famous version at chef Gabriela Camara’s Cala de San Francisco restaurant, closed since then, where Fausto worked. Here it’s topped with a smoked morita aioli, tender sliced albacore, and fried curly leeks, and it’s as flavorful a version of the dish as I’ve had in Oregon. Chefs in fine dining restaurants often advise against combining fish and cheese (unless it’s a seafood risotto with grated Parm). Flautas de Fausto, a recurring special worthy of being part of the full menu, breaks that rule, combining black cod and Oaxacan cheese in a fried tortilla for a double touch of richness.
Although he grew up surrounded by seafood restaurants southeast of downtown Los Angeles, Fausto didn’t try ceviche until he was 16, on a family trip to Baja California. He now prepares two variants of cured seafood. First, minced shrimp and fish drenched in habanero and lime, served under two fried tortillas dipped in a matcha-colored green onion powder that Sánchez likens to “Dorito powder.” Second, marinated shrimp, chilled mussels and rhubarb carefully arranged on a plate with marinade and pinto beans borrowed from Güero’s kitchen. He prefers the dish, with tender shrimp and creamy beans topped with a tortilla chip, but both have their selling points.
Other Güero ingredients find their way onto the Paradise menu, including creamy guacamole flecked with pickled jalapeno slices, drizzled with an herb oil, and served with the same Juanita fries used on the side (just making tostadas has restaurant fryers full). The pambazo, a brushed potato and chorizo sandwich with guajillo chili sauce, was a Sánchez special that Fausto modified with candied potato and koji-marinated octopus. (Customers can still be seen bringing tortas de Güero, though that’s not recommended when Paradise is busy.)
Oysters from the Mexican-owned Carbajal Oyster Farm in Washington also come two ways, freshly shelled with fermented rhubarb and habanero liqueur, and grilled with a not-decadent-enough chorizo butter, the latter served in gold foil with a last minute squeeze. of lime
Fausto has found another collaborator in Güero’s long-time bartender, Ben Skiba, whose refreshing cocktails combine agave liqueurs and fresh waters: a pico de agua from the kitchen could be turned into a cocktail, while a fresh mezcal martini would be border with the same green onion powder that is used. to sprinkle the ceviche toast. You will also find natural wines and Mexican beer in 12, 24 and 32 ounce bottles.
Sánchez and Fausto have toyed with the idea of adding a whole grilled trout or other main course to the Paradise menu. It is not a bad idea. A meal of oysters, a few small plates, and two cocktails can fetch up to $100 and, depending on Juanita’s intake, may not fill you up. For now, it’s probably best to think of Paradise as a tapas bar, a place to hang out, sip a green mezcal cocktail with avocado and lime, appreciate the technique behind an ingenious seafood platter, and immerse yourself in decor that looks like a slice. from Tulum fell into Northeast Portland (just no swim-up bar, sadly).
“We really considered doing a year of construction on that site,” says Sánchez. “And then we met Adam, and he said, let’s focus on food, build what we want now and move faster. He really liked the idea of doing something rudimentary. But it’s funny that this is the slap-dash version, because every time someone walks into the lot, he’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, it feels like I’m on vacation.
“With the year we’ve all had, a little escapism is just what the doctor ordered.”
Visit Paradise Seafood from 4-10 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, now through October at 2821 NE Davis St.