I recently returned from a visit to the East Coast with a renewed appreciation for all things ethnic - pastries, pastas, pashminas - the list was about 13.4 miles long (not coincidentally, the length of Manhattan). Meals became events worthy of excitement and picture taking. I ate an entire fried fish at a Thai spot in the Meatpacking District, drank a Lychee martini in Chinatown and shared a passion fruit donut in Brooklyn. I also trekked north to Montreal, where I dined on braised lamb at an Ethiopian place, scarfed a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's and noshed on the best bagels in the universe after midnight. It was with great resentment that I returned to Bend, vacation time all used up, summer not yet in sight. This was May. Not a month later, I'd revisited several ethnic food options in Bend and found a little piece of Manhattan, right here at home.
This is easily my number-one choice for ethnic food in Bend. Hummus on the Range ($11), a spiced hummus dish topped with seasoned elk meat and served with pita - epitomizes the restaurant's tagline - "Where Mezze meets the Mesa." Other items, including shish kebobs, roasted cauliflower, camel wings and lamb burgers are also big crowd pleasers. Even the cocktail list is unique. Guests can order a black licorice-scented Arak, a blood orange martini or imported beers from the Middle East, to name a few. Nightly happy hours from 4 to 9 p.m. give newcomers a great chance to get acquainted with all that Joolz has to offer.
For a quick bite, head to Kebaba for speedy service and mouthwatering dishes. Kebaba's specialties include rolled pita sandwiches (try the Chicken Schwarma ($9.25)), exotic salads (the Fattoush takes me back to my time in Tel Aviv) and many vegetarian options, including falafel. Kebaba makes their pita in-house along with a host of heart-healthy Mediterranean spreads.
In a town where chicken Caesars, BLTs and overstuffed burritos abound, Taj Palace offers some relief. Few can resist the lunch buffet ($7.95) that includes chicken marsala, lamb vindaloo, various curries, tandooris and a wide variety of flavorful vegetarian dishes, including aloo gobi. Lunch buffet items rotate often and include several meat and vegetarian options.
Pho Viet opened last fall with much anticipation and has not disappointed since. Located just outside of downtown on 3rd Street, Pho Viet focuses much of its attention on the pursuit of the perfect Pho, a Vietnamese treasure of long-simmered broth, premium meats, noodles and fresh garnishes like lime, chiles, basil and bean sprouts. The few times I've ordered Pho ($8-10), the Vietnamese soup has been nicely seasoned, flavorful and rich with generous portions of everything. The staff is attentive, funny and friendly. For a well-prepared Vietnamese sandwich or some piping hot Pad Thai, I can think of few better places to dine.
Every time I walk into Boken, I have an out-of-Bend experience not just because the staff is beautiful and hip, but also because the food preparation and presentation are so unique. I've enjoyed the Duck Leg Confit ($14), the sticky-sweet Laotion-style Chicken Wings ($9) and the Steamed Buns with pork belly and kimchee ($8). Outdoor seating and lunch hours make Boken even more desirable as we approach the much anticipated summer months.