Meet The St. Johns Restaurant Where East Meets South

THE NEIGHBORHOOD: St. Johns

THE PLACE: Fusion cuisine reigns among Portland’s foodie culture. But there’s only one place in St. Johns you can eat southern collard greens and korean kimchi harmoniously: Mama San Soul Shack.

St. Johns has been historically lower income and more ethnically diverse than other parts of Portland. Mama San Soul Shack embraces St. Johns cultural diversity through the union of different cuisines: southern food and Asian food.

Owners Christopher Hopkins and Andy Boggs wanted to convey the cuisine they were serving in the name. “Mama San” is the Asian matriarch of a family — “one who usually owns a tavern or a shop,” Hopkins said. The “Soul” represents its connection to the South.

Christopher grew up cooking southern food with his grandmother. Most notably, he remembers the chitlins and collard greens dinner every New Year’s Eve. However, it was a culinary externship in Hawaii that sparked Hopkins’ love of Asian food. A Korean family “took him in” and showed him how to cook authentic Korean cuisine such as homemade kimchi. He found the pickling in Asian food and the bold flavors of southern food “just made sense” when paired together. He wanted to share the “happy marriage” with other Portlanders.

The proof is in the “Shack”: banana-braised pork in a bowl of homemade kimchi fulfills noodle and meat lovers alike. Mama San also offers vegetarian and vegan dishes such as the House-Made Seitan Bowl or the Lemongrass/Ginger Salad.

FUN FACT: Mama San Soul Shack was born out of  a skateboarding session between Hopkins and New-York transplant Andy Boggs. Hopkins was working at another restaurant in town, biding time until he could open up his own restaurant and Boggs was behind the bar. They discovered they were both skateboarders and a skate session up to Pier Park sparked their friendship. Soon after, they became partners and started the St. Johns staple.

QUOTABLE: “If I wouldn’t serve it to my mom or my grandma, I probably won’t serve it to anybody else.” —Christopher Hopkins

CHECK IT OUT: Visit Mama San Soul Shack to feed your craving for real Asian and soul food from banana-braised pork to chitlins and ramen.