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Miho Izakaya not skimping taste

Bread and Brew • It's Japanese food, minus the sushi at Overlook eatery
by: L.E. BASKOW, Miho Izakaya taking root in the Overlook neighborhood features Japanese food geared toward American tastes. The menu includes pork belly and sweet egg dish being prepared with flame (pork to come).

The opening of Miho Izakaya on North Interstate Avenue was a stroke of luck for the residents of the Overlook neighborhood. Miho is friendly, it's affordable, and the food is not only good, but also varied enough that you could come here often without feeling like you were in a rut.

Start with a warm, dark cup of miso soup or a plate of spicy, crisp pieces of Napa cabbage, and sake served in a water glass. The house sake is $4 for a hefty pour. The man at the counter, however, recommends the Ban Ryu and he's right - it's clean and bright and a good foil for the rich, savory food to follow.

You order at the front counter, and the only menu is the one written on a chalkboard by the cash register. It can get crowded right there, with people trying to make up their minds while others are ordering or paying their bills. Co-owner Michael Carothers keeps things rolling, though, and radiates a southern-accented good cheer. He's originally from Tennessee, and met co-owner and chef Michael Miho in Portland, while both were working at a downtown hotel.

Dishes are listed by price - from $2 to $10 - and you can more or less assume that the price guide also doubles as a size guide.

Donburi are filling rice bowls topped with beef or lotus root or tofu. There are vegetarian options on the board and quite a few marked with a chalk 'V,' for vegan.

In general, this is Japanese food, minus the sushi, and geared toward American tastes. In other words, no duck hearts. Instead, there are dumplings stuffed with a mixture of shrimp and chicken, a fairly standard filling, but with the wrappers tasting particularly fresh and chewy.

A bowl of greens and tofu is full of porous cubes of fried tofu mixed with peas, flavorful green beans and crisp grilled bok choy with nicely seared leaves. Grilled zucchini on skewers is fresh and slightly smoky, salty, and shiny with a touch of oil. A plate of yakisoba noodles is big and chewy, flavored with grilled yellow onions and fresh green onions and a complex combination of spices that keep the noodles interesting, bite after bite.

Unless you're a vegetarian, don't skip the pork meatballs, which are practically radioactive with garlic. They're sweet, charred and lacquered on the outside, and not too dense within, with little pops of sesame seed all through.

There's also luau pork, cooked Hawaiian style in a taro leaf with a little taro root alongside the meat. Also ramen with roasted pork, in a broth made, says Carothers, of 'a day's worth of boiled down pig's bones.'

The broth is slightly eggy tasting, not too salty, and full of kinky egg noodles, with slices of pork, slices of fish cake, and a hard-boiled egg. It's not quite big enough to be a full meal, which is good, because there are lots of other dishes to try.

The desserts I had - a Japanese cheesecake with strawberry and a cake with fig jam - were just OK. I'd rather have ordered a few more savory things, instead, for the same $4.

You may have to fetch your own chopsticks at Miho, and they never answer their phone, but they don't cut corners where it matters. The result is a really satisfying dinner for two, with drinks, for under $40. I wish they'd opened in my neighborhood.

4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday-Sunday 4027 N. Interstate Ave., 503-719-6152, www.miho pdx.com, small plates $2 to $10

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