¡Oba!, one of the first upscale restaurants in Portland’s Pearl district, opened its doors in 1997 and has remained an old and trusted friend to many Oregon and Southern Washington state diners. The interior is stunning, colorful, romantic and draws crowds both into the wood accented bar, and the cheerful rainbow-colored walls, vibrant decorative wall plates, and starry lighting lure them into the large dining room.
Owner Steve McLain and Chef Scott Neuman, considered the “father of Nuevo Latino cooking in the Pacific Northwest,” have been working together here for 16 years, beginning their professional association in California. They’ve created a fusion of dishes from Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean and across the Americas, taking the best features of each cuisine and giving them a distinctive Portland touch. So much so that the New York Times once wrote, “It’s THE place to eat in Portland.”
Their appetizers are tapas style, are mouthwatering to look at, delicious, and most unique, even in this very foodie city. One of their most popular appetizers is the “made-at-the-table guacamole,” with savvy diners asking for waiter Andres Pacheco, sometimes known as “Maestro Guacamole,” to prepare it for them. He sometimes makes as many as 50 on a busy day, and some customers come in just for drinks and his tableside artistry.
Two popular tapas are the Yucatan Pork Arepas, Columbian corn cakes topped with slow-braised pork, cabbage, onion and a habañero-garlic mojo sauce. And Divers scallops, perfectly seared , sitting on mashed Yukon Gold potatoes fused with basil purée, topped with chorizo salsa, drizzled with basil, olive and chorizo oils, and garnished with shredded green onion.
¡Oba! puts a distinctive spin on their a Caesar, a spinach salad with blackberry vinaigrette, and a butter lettuce plate enhanced with Spanish Bleu cheese. Even a standard like Chicken Tortilla soup is crafted in a unique way. Starting as a deconstructed soup of diced chicken, queso fresco, guacamole, and crisp tortilla strips in a bowl, then soup is poured in at tableside.
Entrees include chicken, steaks, pork chops, halibut and prawns, swordfish and prime rib. Customer favorites include a macadamia nut-crusted swordfish fillet that is pan-seared, rests on a bed of house-made jasmine rice, then is topped with a large scoop of cilantro pesto, bathed in a sherry glaze, and served with tangy sun dried tomatoes.
One of their more unusual items; Bife a Micalense, features an 8-oz. center-cut top sirloin steak, Yukon gold fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus spears, which are drizzled with a Dijon cream sauce, the steak then topped with sautéed caramelized bananas and bacon.
Desserts include a Citrus Flan, Pineapple Rum Cake, and a crowd favorite: a trio of warm Banana-Cheese Malassadas (Portugese style cream puffs) that are filled with banana cream cheese, served with a scoop of locally made (The Great NW Ice Cream Co.) vanilla ice cream on a pond of caramel. Then there’s the equally delightful Chocolate Semifreddo, a semi-frozen Columbian chocolate mousse doused with Patron XO-infused caramel, sprinkled with Spanish almonds, accented with a generous scoop of Chantilly cream.
Their serving staff and bartenders are as personable, professional and friendly as any in the city. Special kudos to Luke, who not only knows the menu backward and forward, is knowledgeable about the history of most items and the restaurant, and is a charming and gracious gentleman.
¡Oba!’s happy hour is legendary in a city where great happy hours are the norm. Their tapas style menu and oodles of fantastic fruity margaritas and clever martini’s, all for $5, lure in crowds. The Pisco Sour, Marionberry Caipirinha and Ketel One Burning Orange cocktails alone make it worth stopping by.
¡Oba! is a super spot for an assignation, clandestine affair, romantic cocktails, special anniversary or celebration, power dinner, or simply a perfect spot for a gentle, pleasant, memorable and pampered dinner for you and your spouse…especially after a couple of those Pisco Sours.
Note of caution – get there after 6pm and you can use the monthly parking lot across the street, before 6pm if you park there you’ll get an expensive tow, or you can play parking roulette on the Pearl’s busy streets.