Caffe Mingo makes make me feel like I’ve taken a wrong turn into the Twilight Zone and walked off the streets of PDX and into a cozy Italian trattoria, and I’d believe it too if not for all the Americans everywhere. From the moment you pass through the striped curtains separating the tiny entryway from the tiny dining room, Caffe Mingo is like a big edible sigh of blissful relaxation, served with wine, bread and olive oil.
…a beautiful Insalata Caprese that will undoubtedly remind you of your childhood summers in Naples, or the childhood summer you wish you’d had in Naples.
The low-lit, colorful and eclectically decorated dining room frames the bar and semi-open kitchen, where cooks are slicing blood-red heirloom tomatoes just plucked off the vine and layering them with fresh mozzarella and basil for a beautiful Insalata Caprese that will undoubtedly remind you of your childhood summers in Naples, or the childhood summer you wish you’d had in Naples.
The dozen or so entrees range from a tender, brined Carlton Farms pork chop with crispy polenta, to a thin fresh mozzarella and garlic topped Pizza Napoletana, to a selection of rustic pasta dishes like the homemade lamb and pork sausage tossed with orecchiette and rapini, just like your little Italian grandmother used to make-a.
This all sounds well and good, after all, who doesn’t love a hearty Italian meal? Well, there-in lies a dilemma. Since everyone and their little Italian grandmother loves a good Italian meal at Caffe Mingo, you might want to arrive early to claim your table in the compact dining room. For a waiting-to-eat-aphobic like me, trying to get in during rush hour (which at Mingo, is pretty much 6pm on) requires two Xanax and a snack in my pocket. Providentially, the Mingo people opened Bar Mingo next door, so now you have an orange sidewalk chair with your name on it* where you can while away the wait in style, with a bottle of Verdicchio (my tranquilizer of choice) and little lamb meatballs, until your friendly Caffe Mingo host comes to welcome you into the family.
And once you’ve claimed your table or bar seat at Caffe Mingo and ordered your favorite bottle of Barbera d’Asti, a plate of San Danielle proscuitto and sweet honeydew melon, and the risotto of the day or gnocchi tossed with butter and parmesan in salsa rossa, you’re free to clasp hands with your lovey dovey and discuss the details of your upcoming trip to Capri. Or, if talk of a trip abroad makes your wallet fall out of your pocket laughing, just plan your next trip to Caffe Mingo.
*There is not an actual chair with your name on it, but it is orange.
Atmosphere: Homey little Portland trattoria that makes you want to hop the next flight to Italy
Outdoor seating: Yes, in fair weather Mingo puts tables outside on the sidewalk overlooking NW 21st. Passing foot traffic can be quite heavy so be prepared to have a lot of people ogling your gnocchi.
Best Seat: At the end of the bar, tucked into the corner against the wall, you have great views of the kitchen and the dining room
Noise Level: The space is small and can get pretty jolly when at capacity, but you should be able to converse normally
Dress Code: Dressy Casual
Bathrooms: Yes, in the back, behind the curtains, just like the wizard
Parking: Free but difficult to find, valet is available around the corner on NW Kearney in between 21st & 22nd
Wine: Yes, an Italian-centric list of reds and whites (and one Prosecco) by the glass ($7-$13) and bottle ($30-$100)
Corkage: $15 per 750mL bottle
Ideal Meal: Insalata caprese, penne with Chianti and espresso-braised beef, chocolate budino
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Vegan Friendly: Yes, with modifications
Good for the following occasions: Romantic Date, Family Meal, Dinner With Friends
Group/Private Party Details: Caffe Mingo will rent the restaurant out for the evening for your private party with advance arrangements, and can accommodate up to 40 guests.
Take-Out: Yes, if possible