Otho: Pioneers of Portland Avenue

The first fine-dining restaurant in a gentrifying neighborhood has its share of hits and misses

Right now, Otho seems to work best as a pre- or post-dinner hangout, as it has great drink and appetizer lists. The open-faced pork dumplings, garlic-and-ginger-heavy meatballs tucked into dumpling-wrapper cups, won me over as soon as the server set them on the table. Sprinkled with panko breadcrumbs, sesame seeds, and a tangle of sliced green onions, they looked as pretty as blossoming flowers and tasted better than the usual concealed versions. The cheeky cream-cheese-stuffed wontons, supplemented with goat cheese and black mission figs, were an innovative riff on a classic, the likes of which we haven't seen since the cranberry ones at Azia. I'd also recommend the salads I tried—one a vibrant papaya and green mango, the other with beets, pickled red onion, walnuts, and a fried plantain chip. The only appetizer I'd skip was the crab cake: I liked the crunchy additions of water chestnut, celery, and red onion, but the mushy gray result resembled the inside of a tuna sandwich—not what you want when you cut into a crab cake.

One of my favorite items on the lunch menu was a humble-seeming Korean barbecue pork sandwich. Stuffed with jalapeño, tomato, cucumber, pickled carrot, cilantro, and mayonnaise, it was like a báhn mì, but better, due to the crunchy grilled bread and superior meat filling, made from Fischer Farms pork shoulder. I'd love to see that same creativity applied to more of the traditional items. The green curry with black tiger shrimp was a suitable version, but not nearly as remarkable as its chef-driven cousin, the Massaman curry of black mushrooms, peas, potatoes, currants, and fried leeks topped with grilled pork tenderloin. Ironically, the pad Thai was one of the least appealing dishes, as it lacked the expected sweet-sour-hot-salty punch.

And the beets go on: Chef Otho Phanthavong and his roasted beet salad
Bill Kelley
And the beets go on: Chef Otho Phanthavong and his roasted beet salad

Location Info


Otho Restaurant and Street Lounge

949 Portland Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Category: Restaurant > Bar Food

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

But the restaurant itself seems to be about letting go of expectations. Just as the pad Thai was a letdown, the thoughtful pastry list was a pleasant surprise, particularly the cup of brandy-spiked chocolate and its assorted sweet dunkables—brownie, biscotti, and chocolate chip and coconut cookies. If Otho's owners had leased space on, say, Hennepin or Grand avenues, they might have felt compelled to play it safe. By pioneering upscale dining in Elliot Park, they have the freedom to define what that might be.

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