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Hidden Gems of the Delicious Kind 

For our Summer Guide, Jared heads to some of the off-the-beaten-path spots

As the frigid high desert nights fade and Bend finally lives up to the reputation of having perfect weather for weeks on end, the amount of time tourists and locals alike will spend at the ever-increasing number of food carts and food cart pods will grow. I'm not complaining, as I never want the booming food cart bubble in Bend to burst. Most of the truly exciting and innovative dishes in Bend are coming out of the most unassuming places.

  • Robert Marquez and Jared Rasic

The constant evolution and forward motion of the city is unsubtly and ironically replicated in the inhabitants also, as we are always on the prowl for the newer, sexier, more modern next thing. Over the last few years, so many local classics have gone away for good—not for lack of quality, but because there was always something newer and more exciting to try. In a way, the number of culinary choices in Bend is comparable to the amount of content being put out on all the streaming services: so many choices; how does one wade through the mediocre and terrible to find the gems?

click to enlarge Donuts, empanadas and Bahn Mi, Oh, My! - ROBERT MARQUEZ AND JARED RASIC
  • Robert Marquez and Jared Rasic
  • Donuts, empanadas and Bahn Mi, Oh, My!

I found so many gems—some I'd never heard of and some I'd taken for granted. Now I am full and content, once again amazed at the sheer breadth of choices.

Now, I know Bellatazza isn't a food cart, but they had a hidden gem that I found absolutely astounding, so I think it counts. The empanadas that they are so casually slinging are legit incredible, with Stewart Fritchman and team pushing the South American staple into new and bold fusion territories.

I tried four different empanadas and each was as different as the next. The jalapeño and cream cheese had some serious heat and felt like the next logical step of the Popper; the New Mexican Chicken was comforting and reminded me of my grandmother's soup when I was sick; the Ham and Cheese tasted like the best hot pocket I've ever had; and the Sweet Chili Carnitas took two completely different flavor profiles and created a Frankensteinian masterpiece. The smokey profile of the carnitas and the sweet Thai spice of the chili combine with such complexity that the flavors blend beautifully while managing to stay mouthwateringly distinct. These empanadas deserve to be a downtown snack staple.

  • Robert Marquez and Jared Rasic

For dessert, the trek over to the Bend Factory Outlet stores is the right choice, as Crave Mini Donuts managed to satisfy every single sweet tooth craving that I had without destroying me for the rest of the day and forcing me into a 4+ hour hibernation/food coma. What makes Crave so amazing (aside from the quality of the donuts), is that when you get a box of them, they're still warm and literally melt in your mouth after the first bite. The raspberry cheesecake is perfectly balanced, the Boston cream is actually flawless and the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup was everything I wanted from a donut/candy bar mashup. Even my least favorite donut flavor ever, Funfetti, wasn't sickly sweet at all, instead tasting like genuine thought and love went into crafting a flavor that was at once a throwback while also being post-modern in its profile. I had a dozen. Just me. Don't look at me.

For the deceptively simple delicacies, Bend Burgz N Dogz at The Lot has taken the age-old concept of a hot dog and hamburger cart and executed it without pretention, delivering what might have been the best hot dog I've had in years. The Reuben Dog made me so happy when I bit into the all-beef dog and it shot wonderfully melted Swiss cheese and sauerkraut into my mouth like children going down a waterslide. Poor children. Also, the Boss Burger hits the heat so perfectly with the jalapeño and pepperjack flavor combo that I was in a meaty/cheesy heaven for hours afterward.

For something a little more eclectic, Dinky Dau (tucked under the stairs on Irving in Downtown) nails casual Vietnamese food with precision and flair. From the tender and smoky Lemongrass Pork to the fantastic avocado & cucumber salad that completely avoids being a vinegar trap and then back to the spicy and complicated Dinky Kim Chi with shrimp, everything on the menu was an absolute treat. Find this place and eat there immediately.

So many dishes from so many carts deserve to be obscenely popular in the Bend food scene. The birria from Alebrije (behind Bunk and Brew) is to die for. The Beyond Beefy 5 Layer Burrito from Toasty at The Podski will make you forget that beef or Taco Bell ever existed. The insanely great artichoke toasted from A Broken Angel at Spoken Moto will change what you dream about. Make the trek to Kobold Brewing in Redmond to try Feast Food Co. and fall in love with the Pork Belly Salad Wrap. Head to the Midtown Yacht Club and experience the best shawarma in Central Oregon at Shim Shon. How about fajitas? OF COURSE THERE'S FAJITAS!!! The tenderest damn steak fajitas I've had in a long time await you at Queso in Your Face-O at Silver Moon. And don't even get me started on Kona Ice of Bend and the Tiger's Blood Shaved Ice that tastes like the memory of going to the swimming pool when you're 10.

I haven't even skimmed the surface of all the amazing hidden gems of Bend, let alone all of Central Oregon. There's just not enough time or room. Plus, some things are just for those of us who know, ya know?

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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