Favorite Menu Items from Local Chefs

Any artist will probably admit to a having personal favorite piece of work in their portfolio. It’s no different with chefs. We asked several of Bend’s established and respected restaurateurs to share their favorite items from their own menu, and why it’s special.


Kayo Oakley

We start with a legend in Bend fine dining, Kayo Oakley of Kayo’s, who’s been a restaurateur fixture here for more than three decades. After growing up washing dishes and baking pies in his grandmother’s Eastern Oregon café, Kayo moved to Bend in 1976 and was food and beverage manager at the Bend Riverhouse before opening the original Kayo’s in 1983 on Powers Road. He later expanded with a Redmond restaurant and two Roadhouses, then finally settled on his current location on Third Avenue just south of Franklin Street.

Kayo believes his long success is a product of originality and freshness. “Everything on our menu is made from scratch, except the water,” he says. “But if the water wasn’t any good, I would make that, too!” Kayo’s has always been about seafood, and he claims a number of firsts introduced to Bend, including sushi, Maine lobster and king crab. His love of seafood makes it no surprise that his favorite item on the Kayo’s menu comes from the ocean as well—fresh abalone (very large edible sea snail). Native abalone is extremely difficult to find, so Kayo buys farm-raised abalone off California’s Monterey coast at an eye-popping $94 a pound. “It’s the sweetness that makes abalone so distinctive,” he maintains. A serving is only six ounces, usually topped with a light almond butter sauce, and cooked no longer than 30 seconds on each side. “I tell my cooks not to get distracted when preparing abalone. It’s a muscle and if overcooked it’s going to tighten up and be tough,” he says.

5 Fusion

Joe Kim, Jr.

For someone who initially hated the restaurant business because it was “so much work,” 5 Fusion’s Joe Kim, Jr., clearly has changed his attitude about the kitchen. The La Pine High School graduate now admits that eventually, “I wanted a job I felt was honest and rewarding on multiple levels. I feel that if I got the best product and served it with creativity and care, and someone enjoyed it, it was a good day.” And a “good day” it has been for the two-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef of the Pacific Northwest, the only chef in Central Oregon to garner a nomination. After serving with several master chefs in Japan and the San Francisco Bay area, Kim returned to Central Oregon to be closer to family and started at 5 Fusion as a line cook. After the head sushi chef left, Kim was appointed executive chef and joined long-time Bend restaurateur Lilian Chu as a co-owner.

Fusion cuisine, a marriage of two culinary traditions, became popular in the 1970s and still ranks as a favorite with diners worldwide. 5 Fusion’s menu features not only Kim’s Asian culinary heritage (his father is Korean, Japanese-born), but also a distinctive creativity, demonstrated in Kim’s current menu favorite—Toro Truffle Caviar Nigiri. In Japan, a blue fin tuna is graded by the quality of its meat cuts; the most valuable cut is “toro,” taken from the underside of the fish. “The toro that we have been getting this summer is amazing,” Kim says. The piece of sushi is finished with caviar and truffle. “I love the salinity of the caviar and the earthiness of the truffle that both balance the bite.” The “Nigiri” enters Kim’s favorite as the small ball of rice that sets the foundation for the caviar, truffle and toro.

Jackalope Grill

Tim Garling

“When I reflect on my cooking, I think many of the dishes I have created are an attempt to give form to my memories,” says Jackalope Grill Executive Chef and General Manager Tim Garling. Inspired by his early years working on a salmon fishing boat out of La Push, Washington, Garling had little difficulty sharing his long-time menu favorite—Troll-caught Oregon King salmon. Garling’s mouth-watering menu dish is finished “with a lemon beurre blanc sauce over Castelveltrano olives, sautéed cherry tomatoes, roasted vegetables and crispy parmesan polenta.”

What makes troll-caught salmon so special? “Freshness and quality,” explains Garling. Unlike gill-net fishing—where the salmon are trapped in large nets, often bruised from thrashing, then tossed into a fish hold—trolling fishermen use a single line with multiple hooks. Once reeled on-board, each salmon is cleaned immediately then packed in ice to assure freshness.

After pursuing a number of career paths, including teaching high-school chemistry in Seattle, Garling spent nearly 20 years as executive chef and general manager at the Shallow Shaft Restaurant in Alta, Utah. He has been executive chef and a partner at Jackalope Grill since 2005.


Marcus Rodriguez

“Nuevo Latino,” where Mexico meets South America, has made Hola! one of the biggest success stories in Central Oregon cuisine. From its precarious start in 2007, just as the nation was slipping into recession, Hola! not only survived the economic downdraft but has since blossomed into a family of five restaurants: the original East Side Forum site, the Old Mill District, downtown Bend, Sunriver, and Redmond.

Overseeing the growth for Hola!’s owner, long-time Bendite Peter Lowes, is Executive Chef and Managing Partner Marcus Rodriguez. Raised in Eastern Oregon and a 20-years-plus restaurateur, Rodriquez admits his passion is Latin cuisine distinguished by its diversity of flavors and blends. He says Hola! is the only restaurant in Bend, and one of only a handful throughout the state, that offer a blend of Mexico and Peruvian cuisine. “In Mexico, corn and various peppers complement most of the dishes. In Peru it’s all about potatoes and bread,” he explains. As for his menu favorites, he has two—one an appetizer and the other a main dish. The appetizer is a traditional Peruvian ceviche using fresh ahi tuna marinated in citrus juices and yellow chilies and served with Peruvian corn and sweet yams. His other favorite is loma saltado, another Peruvian dish made with strips of beef tenderloin wok-fired with red onions, Roma tomatoes, simmered in a chili sauce, tossed with fried potatoes and served with rice. Both dishes, he says, “reflect the diversity of vegetable and fish flavors found between the ocean and jungles of Peru.”

900 Wall

Cliff Eslinger

Another inspiring story coming out of the financial crisis that devastated Central Oregon’s economy between 2008 and 2010 is the reincarnation of 900 Wall in downtown Bend. “We made a commitment to provide jobs and to support our local economy as much as possible,” recalls 900 Wall’s Executive Chef Cliff Eslinger. He was one of several employees who partnered to rescue the popular restaurant when it abruptly closed in early 2009. “One of the easiest ways for us to do this is to buy products from local ranches and farms,” he says.

A leader in the local sustainable-food movement, Eslinger grew up in upstate New York, surrounded by small farms and dairies. So his attraction to locally grown products comes quite naturally. He eventually ended up at the New York Culinary Institute of America, and then after hearing about all of Central Oregon’s quality of life attractions, moved to Bend in 2001. Eslinger had difficulty singling out a menu favorite. “Our menu is constantly changing to adjust to seasonal availability,” he explains. He named several local producers who have managed to provide 900 Wall with fresh, quality products since opening. “For example, we have always utilized Imperial Stock Ranch’s beef in our burgers and some cut of lamb on our menu since we opened.” A seasonal menu keeps Eslinger motivated to find new ways to utilize local products. “Building this relationship and keeping our business in Central Oregon is very rewarding, and ultimately makes our community much stronger,” he says.

Photos:  900 Wall’s Executive Chef Eslinger presents his Imperial Ranch lamb shank  –  Joe Kim, Jr. working on a Toro Truffle Caviar Nigiri at 5 Fusion  –  Abalone from Kayo Oakley of Kayo’s  –   Jackalope Grill’s troll-caught Oregon King salmon

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