Portland’s chillest culinary power couple, James Beard Award-nominated chef Peter Cho and Sun Young Park, will open their third restaurant this year, specializing in whole-animal Korean barbecue. The restaurant will move into the Renata space this June, barring any delays.
Food influencer and Cho-Park family friend Gary Okazaki, also known as Gary the Foodie, announced the incoming restaurant on Instagram today, noting that the project has yet to be named. Okazaki has broken news related to the Han Oak owners for years, including the opening details for the couple’s second restaurant, Toki.
At the new restaurant, Cho will lean heavily on wood fire, utilizing Renata’s hearth and pizza oven. Whole animals from Oregon ranches — Pat-n-Tam’s beef, Cattail Creek lamb — will end up in various cuts, marinated and un-marinated, served alongside a wide selection of banchan made with Oregon produce.
“We’re excited to look at different cuts of beef in Korean cuisine,” he says. “It’s not the same as the way that American cuts are butchered. … A lot of it will be cooked in the hearth, it’s the centerpiece of that space, and the pizza oven will be our secret weapon.”
Cho and Park opened Han Oak in 2016, within the Ocean building on Northeast Glisan. The restaurant, hidden behind a seafoam green door, was initially pitched as a “prix fixe Korean barbecue” restaurant, but Han Oak shifted and evolved over time. Over the years, meals have involved steaming bo ssam, hand-pulled noodles, crackly fried chicken tossed in an “essence of instant ramen” dry spice, and “Nashville buldak,” a dish that lands between both the Korean and Southern spicy chicken dishes. The endlessly creative, refreshingly casual restaurant accrued a huge amount of national praise, including features in publications, television appearances, and award nominations. Still, Cho has always fantasized about growing Han Oak’s wood-fired Korean barbecue program, since the restaurant’s early days.
“Back in 2016 probably, we built an eight-foot hearth in the side yard, back when Andrew Mace was working with us. We called it Heartha Stewart,” Cho says. “We’ve always played around with some version of wood-fired cooking, but by the time the dumpling and noodle nights started happening, it was put on the back-burner.”
During the first year of the pandemic, the restaurant closed, and eventually Cho and Park decided to open brunch-and-dinner spot Toki in the former Tasty N Alder space. When Han Oak reopened, it offered a prix fixe hot pot service, with individual courses of shabu-shabu-esque meats and vegetables, noodles and dumplings, and juk-style rice porridge. In the summer, however, Han Oak offered a little taste of what was next for the team: #HotGrillSummer, where service at the restaurant transitioned into Korean barbecue meats like dry-aged New York strip and koji-rubbed pork coppa. “#HotGrillSummer was really fun, but that was still the butane grills,” Cho says. “To do tableside, it’s a whole other ballgame.”
While Cho and Park prepare to open their new restaurant, Han Oak will take a breather for renovations, while Toki chef de cuisine Scott Iijima shifts the restaurant to reflect more of his personal culinary style. As their kids get older, Cho and Park feel ready to let their tiny restaurant group grow. “A lot up in the air, a lot is transitioning,” Cho says. “I’ve always shied away from the expansion, trying to keep us small and mom-and-pop, but as soon as you do a third, the fourth becomes a little easier. All the infrastructure is set, buying power is greater. It seems like it’s a lot, because it’s more than we’ve been doing, but it makes it easier.”
The incoming Korean barbecue restaurant will open at 626 SE Main Street.