If not for a chance encounter at a mutual friend’s birthday party 30 years ago, Hani and Hoda Khouri may have never met. This would’ve been a serious bummer for the rest of us. For if they hadn’t met, the Sunnyside neighborhood wouldn’t have been home for the past 23 years to what is quite possibly the best Lebanese restaurant in the country.
Located at SE 34th and Belmont, Hoda’s Middle Eastern Cuisine & Catering builds on a rich and storied family tradition of delicious food and warm hospitality.
Hoda, co-owner and culinary master, is a second-generation Portland restaurateur who grew up in Beirut on the highest quality Lebanese cuisine. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1984 she attended Portland State while her parents opened the now-legendary Nicholas Restaurant which still operates two locations. Hani, also from Lebanon, came to Portland around the same time and also attended Portland State.
Nicholas ultimately passed his family business on to one of his other daughters to run. Lucky for us Sunnysiders, this freed up Hoda and Hani to create Hoda’s Middle Eastern Cuisine, which they opened in 1999. Hoda’s received Rising Star recognition from the Oregonian in 2000. Since then, Hoda’s Middle Eastern Cuisine has been featured in Sunset Magazine, Plate, and Willamette Week.
When you visit, start with the grilled halloumi spinach salad with pine nuts and the Sambousek—three crescent-shaped pies stuffed with seasoned grass-fed beef, onions and toasted almonds with feta. The Vegetarian Mezza—tabouleh, hummus, falafel, spinach pie, baba ghanouj and zaatar—makes a fantastic entrée. You will not be disappointed.
Hani and Hoda also own and operate Cape Horn Estate, a stunning wedding and event venue in the Columbia Gorge (www.capehornestate.com).
What did you first think when you saw Hoda 30 years ago at your friend’s birthday party?
Hani: I thought, I’m interested in this young lady so I asked one of her friends for her number. I called soon after.
Well, that worked out! When you landed in Portland to attend PSU, what did you think of the town?
Hani: When I got here in 1984, I was studying marketing and management and lived on the PSU campus. My first impression of Portland? It was nice. It was a smaller and cleaner town. I thought that the people were nice.
What did you think of the food scene at that time?
Hani: Back then, there weren’t many options, but there were a lot of Chinese food restaurants.
Why did you two start Hoda’s?
Hani: We always wanted to do something on our own. In 1999 we were driving up Belmont Street and saw the “For Lease” sign. It was meant to be.
I also started and helped run my family’s small business. It’s often torture. What keeps you going when things are tough? What keeps you from quitting?
Hani: We’re blessed to have good staff, and it’s survival mode for us. If you quit, you are admitting that you lost. I’m not being philosophical about this.
What do you like about the Sunnyside neighborhood?
Hani: It’s a great area. It’s probably one of the few neighborhoods left in Portland. We have customers that have been coming here for 23 years—since we opened. Our family lives in Happy Valley. We can’t afford this area.
What’s a fun fact about you and Hoda?
Hani: Well, she’s the more serious type—I don’t think that is necessarily fun. I’m serious, but not that serious. I really like to have fun. Another fun fact, when someone visits Hoda’s, they’ll pretty much always be able to see one of us two owners at the restaurant. So you can nearly always visit with the owner when you come in.
* Go support Hoda’s restaurant by getting a meal or by ordering catering from them! Hoda’s is located at 3401 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214