Put it in your mouth: Crepe Soleil

Zooming down Williams Ave., the little storefront of Crepe Soleil (3120 N. Williams) is just a blip on the periphery. But if you actually stop instead of hurrying to beat the Fremont Street traffic light, you’ll find one of the best local businesses you’ve never heard of. Owned by Ali Hanni, Tanya Stagray and Andrew Hoeflin, the café offers French-style crepes along with Spanish and North African fare at reasonable prices.

The caf� stretches back from its unassuming entrance into a long, simply but warmly decorated dining room that seats 25. A hidden movie screen rolls down from the ceiling for showings of independent films. Hammis stresses that he wants Crepe Soleil to be a community-oriented venue, and encourages local filmmakers, musicians and artists to showcase their talents here. The friendly, welcoming attitude of the owners (who also serve as cooks, waiters and cashiers) seems genuine, not canned and perfunctory as at many chain establishments, and puts the customer instantly at ease, making the dining experience pleasant from the start. Despite the traffic, dining en plein air is quite pleasant thanks to the sidewalk greenery, and the steady stream of bicyclists adds to the European feel. If you go on a Thursday night, you might even catch a pack of runners bounding past the café – watch your toes!

The menu boasts an eclectic array of crepes, tapas, North African dishes, and café staples like soup of the day, at once reflecting the owners’ diverse backgrounds and accommodating Portlanders’ finicky palates. The dishes are simple but well balanced and caringly presented, with bold flavors coming more from the fruits, vegetables and cheeses themselves than from complicated sauces or spices. The mushrooms are really mushroomy, the mangoes are really juicy and the cheddar is exceptionally full-bodied.

In the Charnelle ($7), a savory crepe, spinach, succulent chunks of the aforementioned mushroomy mushrooms, cheddar and cr�me fraiche are layered on a delicately thin, airy crepe with only the edges folded in. Add the bruschetta (chunks of spiced, cooked tomatoes) that comes on the side, and it looks and tastes like a zesty crepe pizza. The Cadiz, a dessert crepe, wraps smooth mango chunks, sugared coconut flakes and whipped cream in a big, triangular crepe pocket with more lacy whipped cream and coconut decorating the seams. That the mango was jarred and the whipped cream seemed like Redi-Whip didn’t make us gobble it up any more slowly.

For a heartier meal, supplement your crepe(s) with a Spanish-style cheese plate ($6). Served with green olives, garlicky hummous, two dolmas and a whole bunch of crackers, the cheeses themselves are top: a smooth, smoky gouda, a refreshingly strong Irish cheddar that runs circles around the typical orange type, and a mild goat cheese with none of the unfortunate kitchen sponge flavor that often accompanies goat cheese.

Even if you inhale your crepes in five minutes, feel free to linger and chat after your meal – above all, the owners want to create a homey place where people can hang out and feel comfortable. And with the low-key atmosphere, low-attitude cuisine and low-stress prices, they certainly succeed.