Eat and Run: For Fast Fusion, go Gogi

Hwamin Yi, co-owner of Gogi, plates a shiitake mushroom quesadilla.

By The Portland Press Herald

Hwamin Yi, co-owner of Gogi, plates a shiitake mushroom quesadilla.

On the minus side, the food needs some work. But the pluses include that it’s something (blessedly) new, and the hours make it perfect for a late-night bite.

Despite Portland’s reputation as a food-loving town, we’re usually quite a ways behind the curve on food trends.

The whole cupcake thing is over everywhere else but here, where people keep opening cupcake bakeries. Bless their hearts, I wish them well, but how many cupcakes can a town of 64,000 eat?

The food-truck craze may have jumped the shark too, before it even arrived on the Portland peninsula. Food trucks were the hippest thing on the West Coast until the Food Network built a show around them, and people who know nothing about food started their own, hoping to cash in on the trend. Now a lot of folks are declaring them over.


Sweet potato fries with aioli. Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

And you know when Denny’s starts making ice cream sundaes with bacon on them that the whole bacon thing is pretty much done.

Thankfully, Gogi, a Korean-Mexican fusion place that opened on Congress Street earlier this spring, is bringing a concept popular on the left coast to Portland before we’re all tired of hearing about it.

It’s not perfect — the food won’t blow you away — but at least someone is trying to do something different, with reasonable prices. And it gets big points for staying open until 2 a.m. a few nights a week. It’s great to have a place besides McDonald’s where you can get fast-food takeout at 1 a.m.

We paid two visits to Gogi and sampled a number of items on the menu. The small fried pork dumplings ($6 for six) were served crispy and hot, but the flavor was more about the dough than the meat filling inside. To really get a good taste of the meat, you have to pull the filling out and nibble it on its own. There are some outstanding pork dumplings in this town (think Pai Men Miyake), so while these were fine for what they were, they won’t knock your socks off.

Gogi’s tacos range from $2.50 to $3.50 each, and you can make a nice lunch out of two of them. We tried the BBQ pulled pork and the shrimp, but they also serve marinated chicken, marinated short beef, tofu and marinated shiitake mushroom fillings. The toppings are a mild mix of lettuce/cabbage, red onions, pickled cucumbers and bean sprouts, tomato and cilantro. Everything was wrapped in two small corn tortillas and served with a lime wedge.

The tacos can also be ordered in a lettuce or seaweed wrap.

On our second visit, we tried the fish taco ($3.50). I was hoping for flaky white fish, but what I got were two tiny squares of fried fish that tasted more of the crunchy fried outer coating than fish. This points out my main frustration with the tacos — too much kimchi/veg, not enough meat. Indeed, on our first visit, the kitchen got our order wrong and gave us two pulled pork tacos, and one of them had one lone chunk of meat in it.

It’s understood that Gogi probably can’t stuff their tacos to the brim with meat or they’d kill their bottom line. I get that there is an appropriate portion size.

But you shouldn’t have to pick through your taco with a fork to try to find out if the meat or fish has any flavor because it is so overwhelmed by the vegetables — especially in a place that is named Gogi, which means “meat” in Korean. The fish in the fish taco, especially, seemed a little miserly.

The shrimp taco, on the other hand, had plenty of shrimp and was spicier than the other tacos.

Gogi also serves quesadillas made with Monterey jack cheese and filled with marinated chicken, marinated beef, tofu, crabmeat, Maine shrimp, shiitake mushroom and kimchi. Prices range from $6 to $8.25 for the crabmeat quesadilla.

Also on the menu are fries ($3), fried shrimp dumplings ($6), kimchi fried rice ($4), and Maine scallop ceviche ($6).

Despite our criticisms, we recommend you give Gogi a try. They are trying to do something different, and it’s worth checking out. Would I eat there regularly? Probably not; at least not without some tweaking of the tacos. But I would go back for a late-night, early-morning meal.

Beats a Big Mac.

The features staff of The Portland Press Herald anonymously samples meals for about $7.