Home, West End Restaurants

A Case For The Hole In The Wall

November 10, 2014

Hole in the wall: a place of solitary confinement; dungeon. (noun)

This is the loose definition of a “hole in the wall”. Not exactly accurate, but it certainly captures the negative connotation behind the words “a hole in the wall restaurant”. Now, many people have said and will continue to say that there is no such thing as a hole in the wall restaurant in Portland. Considering one of the reasons I started this blog was to find them, I disagree.

After all, if a restaurant is popular, then it can’t be a hole in the wall, right? Yes and no. Yes, because hole in the wall implies unknown, and that the restaurant in question is usually quiet or empty. No, because they could have a small cult following where people keep coming back to them, but they don’t share their “hidden gem” with their friends.

I have the perfect example. At my day job, I work next to a realtor who is quite passionate about food. This has lead to us having many interesting conversations about food in Portland. Usually, I’ll come into work the day after trying a new restaurant, and I’ll ask him if he’s been there yet. We then proceed to talk about the restaurant, and it’s not a bad way to start the day! Well, a few months ago, he recommended a restaurant to me that I had heard of, walked past, and almost been to, but I just hadn’t made it yet. He insisted I needed to try it, and I promised him I would.

If you guessed that this restaurant is Mi Sen, you’d be correct! To some, it’s the Thai place that you walk past on your way to the Old Port, but to him, it’s his go to Thai restaurant, without fail. And I honestly never would have tried it if he hadn’t recommended it to me.

However, every time I mention it to someone, I get a look of confusion because they just haven’t heard of Mi Sen. Which is where I come in. Hole in the wall restaurants are just begging to be found, but this doesn’t mean that every hole in the wall restaurant is a hidden gem. But having a recommendation from someone who loves food certainly does help!

There’s a certain stigma behind the quiet restaurant. The restaurants that have been in your area for years, and are maybe just down the block from your house. But they’ve never gotten a write up in the New York Times, or on eater.com, or won a best of Portland Phoenix award. I have such mixed feelings about these places. I’m always hopeful that the Indian restaurant on Congress Street might be really good (the one that’s near Speckled Ax) but I’ve never seen people inside of the restaurant. Is this because they are on the same street as the immensely popular Pom’s Thai? Or is it because people learned the hard way that eating there made them sick? I don’t know the answer, because I’m usually too distracted by the many restaurants in the area, most of which are maybe a five minute walk from where I work downtown.

The better question that I want to know the answer to is this: Where are the best hole in the wall restaurants in Portland? I’m definitely still going to try all the new places that open, and as quickly as my wallet will let me, but there are so many places that I’ve probably never even heard of, that are right under my nose. That makes me sad.

If you know the answer to my question, send me an email, mention @207foodie on Twitter, or comment on my Facebook page and tell me. I’m not a native Portlander, but I want the full food experience here, not just the popular one.