The 34-year-old Lebanese spot Nicholas Restaurant moves to a spacious, more family-friendly location in Southeast Portland.
When my husband and I moved to Portland 16 years ago, Nicholas Restaurant was one of our favorite spots for satisfying Middle Eastern food — and huge portions at very reasonable prices. But once we had kids, we stopped going to the location on Southeast Grand Avenue. Although Nicholas is a family-run restaurant, the long wait time to snag a table and tightly packed dining room weren’t conducive to eating out with babies or young kids.
I was thrilled when I drove past a sign that proclaimed Nicholas would be coming soon to a spot on Southeast Madison Street with outdoor seating. When I checked the website, I found the new location had just opened. My family went a few days later.
We waited briefly inside to get a table on the patio. The new location feels downright airy with tall ceilings, large wooden booths and tables spread out — especially when compared with the old Southeast Grand Avenue location. (FYI: The restaurant has a state-of-the-art air-filtration system.)
The patio is large, with space heaters, but the breeze coming off the Willamette River was a bit strong. And that air-filtration system isn’t the only high-tech development at Nicholas. It is now menu-free, so we used a QR code to pull up the menu on our phones. And our friendly server entered our order on a handheld device.
So, what’s still the same? That big, pillowy pita bread that comes out of the oven piping hot and goes directly to your table. My 6-year-old son, Cruz, and 8-year-old daughter, Adela, were delighted by the giant flatbread and started gobbling it up while waiting for their kids’ meals of chicken kebabs. And the rest of the food still comes out quickly, too (about the time it took us to fill out and giggle over three pages of Mad Libs). And that’s especially impressive knowing they had opened only two days before. I ordered what used to be Stephen’s Chicken and is now the Nicholas Chicken Plate — breaded chicken atop nearly fluorescent-yellow saffron rice and piled with tzatziki and tomatoes ($16). My husband had the Meat Mezza, with smooth hummus, tzatziki and tangy tabbouleh perfect for piling on that pita, plus falafel, a mini chicken pizza, and beef kafta ($18). Both were as good as we remembered, even if we had slightly fewer leftovers than in the old days.
The kids’ plate was incredibly well-received by both kids. My son had just been talking about chicken kebabs — and some fruit-and-marshmallow kebabs he’d eaten several summers ago that still loomed large in his memory. The kids’ plate came with skewers of green grapes and oranges, and he was thrilled. The cucumber and cherry tomato on a stick also pleased my kids. Adela loves tomatoes, but not cucumbers, and conveniently Cruz likes cucumbers and not tomatoes, so they traded. But both said the slightly out-of-place s’more was their favorite part of the meal. However, they ate almost all of their chicken. Anytime a kids’ meal has actual fruit or veggies, I am won over. Fruit and vegetables and real food like grilled chicken and saffron rice — that’s a great value at $7.
Even though the kids had eaten s’mores, I ordered some baklava to go ($5). They had never had it before, and became just as charmed saying the name as they did biting into the crunchy, honey-laden layers of phyllo and nuts. We left Nicholas Restaurant full and happy, with the kids asking when we could go back.
If you go: 1109 SE Madison St. Additional locations at 3223 NE Broadway and 323 N Main Ave., Gresham. Nicholasrestaurant.com.