932 SE Morrison St. 503.477.6303 vivopdx.com Mon – Fri (Closed weekends) Espresso & Pastries 7:30 am. – 5 pm ($4 and under) Lunch 11 am. – 3:30 pm ($8 and under)
Vivo chef Marisa Monteverde likes terrariums and fresh flowers, feeding people, and cooking Southeast Asian comfort food. She recently partnered up with owner Thu Thi (say “too-tee”) Nguyen when Nguyen expanded Vivo and started serving a full lunch menu earlier this year.
Nguyen, who grew up in a restaurant family and has 15 years of barista experience, champions the espresso machine (Blue Star Coffee), dispenses morning pastries, and dishes with customers while Monteverde presides over the light-filled kitchen.
With her attention occasionally tuned to what’s going on at Sassy’s across the street, Monteverde cranks out Banh Mi (Vietnamese-style sandwiches), sweet and savory puff pastries, and your choice of seven Asian lunch dishes, including Khao Soi, Pra Ram, Chicken Satay and Salad, Fried Rice, and an exemplary Vermicelli Noodle Bowl with Grilled Pork.
All the portions are more than ample but the Fried Rice alone is so generous, says Monteverde, that she and Nguyen joke about instituting a fried rice club and posting names of customers who manage to finish the dish in one sitting.
“It’s a good working lunch and usually enough to take home for dinner,” Monteverde says. “I love giving people a bang for the buck.”
The Vivo menu is small and consistently well-executed. Monteverde delivers the freshness, and sweet and salty complexity one wants from Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s just enough variety to handle in the kitchen and to satisfy lunchtime appetites.
“It’s not the same old lunch thing,” says Nguyen. “It’s a little different and it doesn’t leave you too full.”
Monteverde and Nguyen love their customers — an eclectic mix of people from local businesses which includes auto mechanics and industrial designers; naturopaths and massage therapists; Jay from Jay’s Auto Body; OBT dancers and dancers from Sassy’s.
Monteverde recalls a customer who told her that Vivo’s home-style Long Bean and Squash Stew was so good that it reminded him of a stew his Filipina mom used to make and he remembered that he needed to call her. Monteverde and Nguyen and the writer from The Southeast Examiner tear up. It’s a sweet reminder of the powerful trifecta of people, food and place.
Vivo sells Monteverde’s hand-made terrariums, notecards by a local artist, and the occasional furniture piece crafted by one of their industrial design customers.
If you haven’t visited Vivo, it’s at the corner of SE 10th and Morrison in a picturesque red brick building with two ginkgo trees in front and a red and purple coleus in the box on the window sill.