Spork

Food: () Eclectic international menu represents street food from five continents.

Service: () Casual counter orders, but service staff is very responsive to requests.

Atmosphere: () Spacious vibe reflects global values in music and decor.

More Info

Location: 937 NW Newport Ave., Bend

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: International

Price range: Small plates $2 to $5, entrees $10 to $14

Credit cards: Discover, ­Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Tacos, veggies, rice bowl $2 to $4

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Curries, rice bowls and most Mexican dishes can be made meat-free

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: Patio

Reservations: No

Contact: sporkbend.com or 541-390-0946

For more area restaurant reviews, visit bendbulletin.com/restaurants

In its five brick-and-mortar years on Bend’s west side, Spork has earned a reputation for its eclectic international menu — nurtured by locally sourced ingredients — and praise that has extended beyond Central Oregon and into national media.

Much of the credit for its continued success falls on the shoulders of executive chef and co-owner Jeff Hunt, whose continued world travels provide inspiration for a bill of fare that ranges from Mexican to Thai, West African to Korean to South American.

“It’s really just the stuff I like to eat,” said Hunt, 39, who in 2018 has visited Peru and Vietnam. “Nothing is authentic to a location, but I feel like we can execute the recipes really well, not disrespecting the roots of what we’re serving.”

Spork was launched nine years ago in a 1962 Airstream Tradewind trailer by Hunt, a veteran of several local kitchens, and partners Erica Reilly and Chris Lohrey, former owners of a downtown nightclub. “But given the economy, 2009 was not the time to put a big investment into a restaurant,” Hunt recalled. “We were able to do a trailer without assuming major risk.”

It quickly became a huge success, a ubiquitous presence at festivals and concerts throughout the region. Then in June 2013, with the economy on the upswing, the Spork team moved into a permanent space on Newport Avenue.

Even today, though, the menu reflects the restaurant’s origins. “A lot of it evolved from keeping things streamlined when we were doing the food cart thing,” Hunt said.

‘Bustling vibe’

A “spork” is a hybrid utensil that combines the scoop of a spoon with the tines of a fork. It is reflective of the cafe’s diverse offerings — many of which are consumed with neither spoon nor fork, but with chopsticks. A spork would not be an inappropriate vessel for dining here, either.

In this order-at-the-counter space, there’s a sense of street food moved inside. There’s also a feeling of community, where many neighborhood diners know or recognize one another and share tables in an atmosphere of world music, photos and decor as diverse as the food.

“I always wanted to create a bustling market vibe, even while putting hospitality first and foremost,” Hunt said.

An expansion in late 2015 addressed the complaints of some patrons that the space was noisy and table delivery of orders, especially during busy hours, was slow. “But not every dining experience has to be of the sit-down type,” Hunt said. “A lot of the food around the world is just coming off the street. And you can’t deny it keeps it a little bit cheaper.”

Eclectic fare

Indeed, nothing on the menu is priced higher than $14, the cost of grilled Korean short ribs, marinated in gochujang barbecue sauce. My dining companion and I saved that for another time. But on two recent visits, we’ve enjoyed these everyday dishes:

Pozole rojo (Mexican, $10), a delicious creamy stew of white corn kernels (hominy) in a chicken stock with tomatillos, cabbage, roasted guajillo peppers, radishes and other ingredients, including cilantro and cotija cheese. I find a dash of Cholula sauce goes a long way.

Lomo saltado (Peruvian, $12), a stir-fry of flank steak with red potatoes, sweet peppers, onions, grilled tomatoes and more, including a fried egg on a bed of rice.

Green curry (Thai, $13), with grilled seasonal vegetables in a coconut-milk stew. I enjoyed it with fried catfish, a change of pace from other options: chicken, pork belly and fried tofu.

As often as not, we will pass up the regular menu and order off the specials list, posted on a board suitable for a beach hut. These were some of our recent choices:

Agua chile (Latin American, $9), accorded the Spanish word for water (“agua”) because it features shrimp and sliced octopus. Similar to a ceviche, it featured cucumber, red onion and cilantro in a tongue-tingling verde (green chile) sauce.

Pork dan dan noodles (Szechuan Chinese, $10), tossed with minced pork and peanuts in a spicy chili oil.

Vegetable sides, including delicious grilled sweet corn ($5), wok-fried shiitake and straw mushrooms ($8) and Mala-fried cauliflower ($5).

Food culture

Hunt said his travels, to which he typically devotes several weeks in spring and fall, most typically take him to South and East Asia and to Latin America.

However, he’s looking forward to an October visit to Portugal, the Basque Country of Spain and northern Morocco.

“I travel mostly to recalibrate my palate,” Hunt said, suggesting that he doesn’t tinker much with his menu at Spork. “I’m a fan of watching the food culture, from the street to the high-end restaurants.”

To that end, he credits the late food journalist Anthony Bourdain with having led him in his career direction. “From ‘Kitchen Confidential’ to ‘Parts Unknown,’ I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all the things that he did,” Hunt said.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com .

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