339 Fore St., Portland
Mami is the latest example of what’s becoming a local trend: the food-truck business that expands by opening a brick-and-mortar location. Former East Ender chef Austin Miller and his partner, Hana Tamaki, daughter of a pioneering Portland sushi chef, got their black-and-white truck on the road two years ago. They opened the restaurant in a cozy brick space on Fore Street earlier this year and gave it a fun, casual atmosphere with colorful chairs and a lounge-like section with couches. You order at the counter and find seating on your own, though the food is delivered to your table and the friendly counterperson will check on you if she has a free moment.
Mami serves Japanese street food that’s portable and affordable. For example, the kushiyaki (skewers) start at $2 for shitake mushroom or asparagus and top out at $3 for chicken thigh or pork belly. No dish breaks the $15 mark.
The food is not infallible. The karaage (marinated and fried dark-meat chicken; $7) was perfectly crisp and juicy one evening, dry and chalky on another. Half of an order of takoyaki (fried balls of grilled octopus with pickled ginger, scallions, fermented fish flakes, and kewpie, a Japanese mayo; $7) was undercooked and gooey in the middle. But at these prices you can afford to order liberally, knowing any gaffes will be more than balanced out by Mami’s playful and delightful dishes.
The poke don ($13) is a generous heap of fresh, raw salmon atop white rice, accompanied by slices of cucumber and avocado and a bright citrus soy sauce with toasted sesame. The Big Mami burger ($10) is served on a brioche bun turned dark purple by squid ink. It’s a mash-up of American and Japanese influences: American cheese and katsuobushi (the dried fish flakes), ketchup and kewpie, ground beef spiked with miso. The okonomiyake ($12), a huge pancake containing pork belly, cabbage, seasonal vegetables and Japanese condiments and toppings, tended to be a bit undercooked, but was always worth a try.
In addition to sodas and sparkling water, Mami has a sizeable selection of local craft beer, plus the requisite Sapporo. In keeping with the eatery’s lighthearted approach, you can also order a 40 of PBR ($7). When the counterperson bussed our table, she topped off our pint glasses before whisking the bottle away.
— Hannah Joyce McCain