What’s new at The Zipper food hall? Saucy Korean fried chicken wings and seriously good tacos. Plus a save-the-day vending machine.  

Pro tip: If Pop Rocks can help pull a disappointed 7-year-old out of her funk over not seeing her favorite graphic novelist speak at a book festival, then they can pretty much do anything. 

But to rewind a little bit. My family had planned to spend the morning at the Portland Book Festival, hoping to catch Raina Telgemeier’s panel. But the line for wristbands stretched two blocks long  and the panel filled before we got checked in. After everyone (unenthusiastically) checked out the children’s stage, we decided to head home. I hoped going out to lunch at The Zipper might salvage the remainder of the day. But my 7-year-old daughter, Adela, who had kept a stoic face at the book festival, dissolved into tears when we were about to exit the car to head into the food hall on Northeast Sandy Boulevard. After acknowledging her disappointment, we managed to lead her hiccuping into the building.

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She’s a big fan of quesadillas, and beans and rice. And luckily they were on the menu at Tight Tacos, one of the new additions to The Zipper. (Tight Tacos took over the Chickpeadx space in late September 2019.) The quesadilla was big enough for her to split with her little brother, Cruz. The sniffles stopped when she started eating her quesadilla even though her scowl remained. My husband also ordered from Tights Tacos — a trio of carne asada, carnitas and chorizo tacos on thick hand-pressed corn tortillas. He declared these the best tacos he’s eaten in Portland. (When we moved to Portland from Southern California 15 years ago, we missed the cheap, plentiful and authentic Mexican food found there. I’m Mexican American, and between family recipes and Cook’s Illustrated instructions, we’ve joked that the best Mexican food in Portland comes from our kitchen.) Tight Tacos’ corn tortillas really starred as the perfect taco base, but the meats shone as well.

I tried the other new establishment at The Zipper — Sari Ramyun, which took over the Wares space and serves up Korean-style ramen soup, bibimbap and Korean fried chicken. I ordered the mild version of the soup the restaurant is named after, and fried chicken wings doused in gochujang chile glaze. The wings were excellent — saucy, slightly spicy with still a great crunch when you bit into them. The bowl of sari ramyun consisted of noodles in a housemade chicken-beef broth topped with brisket, seaweed, a soft-cooked egg and bean sprouts. It was comforting and filling, but overall I realized I’m a bigger fan of pho than ramen. And it didn’t help that I had taco envy. But I’d absolutely order those addictive wings again.

After we’d finished eating, we noticed The Venderia vending machine stocked with trinkets such as a mystery “spirit animal” in a brown paper bag, earrings, playing cards and used books. Adela spotted the Pop Rocks in the vending machine. She and Cruz pleaded for them and I consented. Once we hit the car, I poured out the candy into their outstretched palms. Pouting is no match for Pop Rocks. Once the candy started cracking and fizzing in her mouth, Adela couldn’t help but giggle. Which caused the rest of us to laugh, too, as we split the packet all the way home.

The Zipper, 2705 NE Sandy Blvd. Tighttacos.com, facebook.com/sariportland, thevenderia.com.

Denise Castañon
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