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Fearless Critic restaurant review

Mon–Thu 4:30pm–midnight
Fri 4:30pm–2:00am
Sat 5:00pm–2:00am
Sun 5:00pm–midnight

Features Date-friendly, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx


214 SW Broadway
Portland, OR
(503) 241-3393
Delicious cocktails paired with derivative, outdated food in a self-described swank-fest

Oh, Saucebox. What a troubling place. It’s considered both a Portland classic and a has-been; it’s been both a phenomenal bargain and a phenomenal disaster. It’s across the street from the iconic Mary’s strip club, but no one seems to make it over here to eat. Perhaps it’s hard to find—the neon sign of monkeys is on an office building that, if you’re trying to negotiate the traffic and find parking, might be deceiving and confusing. Or perhaps the word is out that Saucebox may have delivered once, but is now just a forgettable meal.

The place is self described as “sexy, delicious, swanky,” and indeed it’s all that—in a decidedly 1998 sort of way, which is also the year it was dubbed “Restaurant of the Year” by The Oregonian. Even amidst Portland’s cocktail revolution, Saucebox cocktails—if sometimes sweet—are standing tall. This is the only place where we’ve seen kaffir-lime-infused drinks that actually taste like kaffir lime leaf. Hallelujah!

Also stuck in the 20th century, though, is this menu of Pacific Rim snores. The highlights, lately, have been banh mi, although that term is used loosely, as they come on ciabatta; we like a version with juicy, fatty, tasty pork belly. Green papaya salad is a competent version, but without any of the heat of the chili peppers the dish is built around in authentic Thai versions. A burger is fine, but nothing more, and its fries have come oversalted to the point of inedibility.

Udon and a white miso soup are decent, but not among the best of their kind. Spring rolls are bland, and pad Thai is an insult to even the most mushy food-courty renditions around town. Whether you say it out loud or put it in your mouth, ahi tuna tataki has no ring to it whatsoever; it’s not much better than the sum of its parts and relies totally on the one-dimensional version of flavors made popular by better Japanese kitchens. Happy hour is popular, perhaps because people have figured out that paying full price for this food is just tragic, but even here, we aren’t feeling like it’s money well spent.

All this to the tune of thumping DJ-spun music, as if there were some sort of pretentiousness challenge going on. Admittedly, there are some great spinners, but we can’t in good conscience recommend combining a dance party here with a meal. And although the murals on the walls by local artist Daniel Duford are fantastic, we’d rather have Pacific Rim food at Thatch Tiki Bar, where at least the goofy cuisine isn’t trying to be taken seriously. The only two remaining reasons to come to Saucebox are the creative cocktails and late-night kitchen hours.

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