Occasionally, it is necessary to leave the sleek aluminum and retro-styled furnishings of your average Portland coffeehouse or restaurant in search of something else. Something with less of a ‘mood,’ and more of a character. Heading North on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, one heads out of hipsterdom, past Alberta, where skinny pants-wearing bikers zip towards bars and tea houses. Finally, just before crossing perpetually doughnut-scented Lombard, a quick right turn pulls you into the parking lot of Teriyaki Heaven. A neon sign entices entry and red vinyl booths request one to stay.
It is quickly obvious, both from the lack of customers in the front and the never-ending stream of entrants who head to the back, that Teriyaki Heaven stays open due to its video slots. But don’t underestimate this cover restaurant. Korean soap operas play as the cashier takes your order. Come back more than once, and there’s a good chance you will be remembered and greeted upon arrival. The menu is displayed in fading laminated pictures on the wall. Food is cheap- less than $6.00 for many items-as is to be expected at such a place. Tea and water are self-serve next to the register, day-old papers await your glance, and food is brought to your booth with a smile and offer of chopsticks.
Besides the wonderful Chinese food Teriyaki Heaven offers, one of the real joys of the place is the people watching. You are safely outside of the shtick of Portland. Here is where you’ll find people who are not only musicians, artists, and activists, although you’ll see them as well. From the safety of your red vinyl booth , you can watch policemen mingle with day laborers and tired-looking moms order after paint-covered workers. Try to count the number of times a slot-player will come to the register to cash in on winnings or get change to try again. Strike up a conversation with the kind server who offers you more water. Teriyaki Heaven is truly an escape from what, in Portland, can occasionally be an overdose of hip. The vegetables are crisp, the sauce is excellent, and the rice has that perfect amount of stickiness. But the true reward is a mix of the various ingredients that combine to create Portland.
By: Celeste Roberts