Editor’s note: Akira is scheduled to reopen in late February.
Many book a table at Eugene’s acclaimed sushi restaurant Akira for exquisite sushi, steamed buns and a decadent multi-course chef’s-choice menu. But those in the know head to the Japanese comic book-themed cocktail lounge upstairs — where no reservations are needed.
Voted Best Bartender by the Eugene Weekly newspaper, Freeman Thor Slaughter – known as Thor – presides over the lounge, pouring what he calls “extravagantly minimalist” concoctions like a Japanese whisky tamarind sour or another made with cinnamon-scented sake, mezcal and tea.
Visitors come in part for his drinks and in part to chat with this Eugene native who’s become a larger-than-life personality. With interests in filmmaking, weightlifting, music and philosophy (he studied the latter and DJ’d for the campus station while at the University of Oregon), Slaughter recently started his own YouTube series, “Crawlin’ With Thor.” The series highlights BIPOC-owned and globally-influenced Eugene eateries, from Indian food to cocktails to breakfast treats.
Slaughter, who is of Italian, African and Norwegian ancestry, was drawn to bartending for its creative freedom. “I really geek out on making new stuff or finding someone’s perfect cocktail,” he says. “My regulars are responsible for half the drinks on the menu.” Insiders know that the bartender’s choice is the way to order.
Here are Slaughter’s recommendations for great food and drink in the Eugene area that represent a flowering of all kinds of food carts and humble restaurants in the Eugene-area restaurant scene.
Thai, Hawaiian and Vietnamese Spots
For Thai food, Slaughter recommends Krob Krua, a Thai- and woman-owned restaurant in a warm, exposed-wood building just west of Skinner Butte. It serves “some of the most flavorful and spicy food you can get in Eugene,” he says. Try lemongrass chicken wings or crispy duck legs served with basil sauce.
For classic Hawaiian dishes prepared by an island-raised brother-and-sister team, check out Chacha’s Hawaiian Grill. The restaurant, which transitioned from a food truck in 2022, turns out loco moco, ahi tuna poke and even a fried-eggplant katsu plate.
Owned and operated by a Vietnamese family for many decades, Yi Shen is a cozy pan-Asian deli and market west of downtown. Owner Phung Tu has since passed the kitchen down to Brian Luck, who has introduced more Japanese and Hong Kong-style dishes to the Vietnamese favorites. Shop the well-stocked shelves for Asian grocery items while you wait for freshly roasted barbecue pork.
Coffee, Omelets and Brunch Bubbles
Having established itself in Eugene for serving breakfast all day, Brails’ two locations have cemented it as a Eugene institution, say residents. The diner has won “best hangover food” in Eugene Weekly’s reader poll for 18 years running, a testament to dishes like Korean-style spicy-pork omelets and Joy’s Special — a cheesy hash brown, vegetable and sausage gravy platter that commemorates the beloved owner, matriarch and community leader, who passed away in 2022.
For a morning pick-me-up, stop in for a latte at Tailored Coffee Roasters — owned by the same Korean-American family as Brails — and Equiano Coffee, a specialty roaster that focuses on single-varietal espresso, a Black-owned business shepherded by Okon and Gloria Udoseneta. Order it to go or enjoy the outdoor seating.
For upscale brunch in downtown Eugene, visit Lion & Owl, which earned a James Beard award nomination in 2023. Co-owned by a Eugene restaurant power couple, chef Crystal Platt and Kirsten Hansen, look for inventive farm-to-table cuisine for brunch and special dinners on weekends, including a robust wine list and some luxuries not often seen on local menus. “For Eugene to have a really high-end bubbles-and-caviar menu is pretty crazy to think about,” says Slaughter.
Caribbean, Mexican, Japanese and Indian Food Carts
Owned by New York-trained chef Isaiah Martinez — who came to Eugene to work at Marché with Rocky Maselli (now of the Pizzeria DOP food cart) — Caribbean and soul-food cart Yardy has been making big waves in the city. Partnering with area farmers for his market-driven West Indian fare, the cart serves favorites like skillet fried chicken and turmeric flatbread with curried chickpeas known as Trinidadian “doubles.”
When the urge for tacos hits, try Slaughter’s must-visit spot La Paisanita Taqueria, a Mexican food cart with a seating enclosure, located on the far-west side of Eugene. Pro tip from Slaughter: “Get there before or after the lunch rush, when it gets flooded with construction workers.”
In Springfield, just minutes west of Eugene, Slaughter recommends Japanese street-food cart Dozo, which a former chef at popular Whiteaker spot Izakaya Meiji opened in 2022. You can’t go wrong with the takoyaki (a fried octopus fritter) and okonomiyaki (a savory pancake). Nearby Sardarni’s Kitchen food cart is another favorite. With a nice selection of chaat (Indian snacks) and vegan options galore, some of its Indian classics like chicken tikka masala are extraordinary, notes Slaughter.