brunch OF the year || Interurban
Eat (Or Drink) This Now!
- Bloody Mary
- polenta and eggs
- Cowboy Rancheros
- salted caramel French toast
This summer, Interurban emerged as a dark horse in Portland’s brunch race, quietly wowing small crowds on a latticed deck each weekend between 10 a.m and 2 p.m. The short, simple menu, nearly half of it populated with cocktails, makes bleary-eyed decisions easy. A layered arrangement of spiced polenta, crispy speck, and over-easy eggs is served in a cast-iron skillet, along with a mouthwatering waft of the truffled provolone hidden within. The Cowboy Rancheros is a welcome study in texture with a stoner twist—a munch fest of eggs, cheese, chili, avocado salad, and Frito curls riding atop a crisped tortilla. The salted caramel French toast is the stuff of plate-licking daydreams, caramelized to golden perfection and dolloped with whipped cream and blueberry-maple compote. Even if sun-dappled mornings on the back deck are a rarity this time of year, brunch inside the cozy, timbered saloon is sure to brighten your day. —Rachel Ritchie
Best Sign of Life Beyond Pok Pok || PaaDee
Eat This Now!
- Fish cakes
- guay tiew kua gai
- hanger steak
- lump crab curry
- hot and sour prawn soup
Historically, in Portland’s universe of Thai food there is Pok Pok, and then there is everything else. But now there’s PaaDee, a haven of Thai comfort food and drinking snacks from the veterans behind popular spots Mee Sen and Kinara. The name means “to bring good things,” and PaaDee does just that. Teak tables lit by birdcage light fixtures invite convivial feasts fueled by classic cocktails gone Thai. The menu, meanwhile, invites exploration. Fried fish cakes come with a golden crisp and pleasant spring, sided by a slurp-worthy cucumber relish. Guay tiew kua gai is a pad Thai relative in its happiest form: a light, refreshing tangle of rice noodles sautéed with sprouts, salted radish, Draper Valley chicken, eggs, and romaine hearts. In the “comfort food” category, a simple grilled hanger steak arrives sliced thin, with a spicy tamarind dipping sauce. Crab is given the curry treatment, paired with Chinese celery, onions, and red peppers in a sumptuous dish that walks that elusive line between light and hearty. In the summer, windows fling open and tables spill onto the sidewalk for idyllic happy hours; in the winter, the space transforms into a sexy dining den. And no matter what the season, you won’t have to wait two hours for a seat. —Rachel Ritchie
UPSTARTS OF the year || Lardo & Sugar Cube
Eat This Now!
- Pork meatball banh mi
- griddled mortadella
- Lardo fries
- chocolate caramel potato chip cupcake
- panna cotta
Over the past two years, Lardo has lived the ultimate food-cart fantasy. In 2010, chef Rick Gencarelli migrated to Portland from Vermont and opened a sandwich cart on SE Belmont Street. His decadent creations landed at the very center of what could be described as a zeitgeist trifecta: local ingredients (broccoli raab, heirloom tomatoes, Tails and Trotters pork), traditional Italian meats (porchetta, mortadella), and thoughtful ethnic spins (pork meatball banh mi, coppa cubano). With a devoted following and a surplus of local buzz, Gencarelli stretched out into a brick-and-mortar location (fittingly, right across the street from pioneering cart pod Cartopia), adding more meaty sandwiches, 16 well-chosen taps, a full cocktail menu, and a smattering of sun-drenched picnic tables to his formula. Steps away, the food-cart spirit carries on with pastry pro (and former Good Food Here pod neighbor) Kir Jensen. Her Sugar Cube dessert wagon doles out lovely panna cottas topped with seasonal compotes, a legendary chocolate caramel potato chip cupcake, and thick milkshakes of all kinds. Sewn together as a ChefStable project, this is the double-punch of the year: a carnival of good eating, good drinking, and killer desserts. —Rachel Ritchie
FIND OF the year || Cedo’s Falafel & Gyros
Eat This Now!
- Falafel sandwich
- gyro sandwich
- baba ghanoush
- Cedo’s potatoes
Muffled sighs eke out of a lunch crowd huddled along the slender bar as falafel fanatics attempt to speak, nose deep in fried cumin spice and house-made yogurt. Last February, Cedo’s emerged on a busy strip of NE MLK Jr. Boulevard with hummus so creamy you could backstroke through it, and craggy orbs of falafel that could end the Mideast conflict. Chickpea perfectionist and Palestine native Sam Hazza soaks his garbanzo beans overnight, toasts and grinds his coriander by hand, and cultures his own yogurt to create the city’s best falafel, its nutty, cumin-dusted fissures doused in a lemony tahini sauce and packed in soft pita. At its core, this is a mom-and-pop shop with the feel of Old-City Jerusalem—and proof that Brunchtown, USA, is wading deeper into serious ethnic territory. —Benjamin Tepler
Best (Only?) Place to Feel Like a Grown-up || Noisette
Eat This Now!
- Seasonal soup
- smoked-trout mousse
- ancient grains and chanterelles
- duck liver with date and hazelnut butter
- Grand Marnier soufflé
In a city deeply entrenched in a DIY ethos, chef-owner Tony Demes has created the year’s most out-of-the-box experience: modern French cooking circa 1990 in Midtown Manhattan, with a pinch of grand theater. Tony Bennett rules the soundtrack. Chandeliers shoot bling across a little sea of white linen–covered tables and plush seats of marshmallow and chrome. At the three-seat bar, a gentleman vigorously shakes whatever you like from an unwritten list that is strictly “made to order.” Jackson Pollock sauce-squiggles, cubist cuts of rare tuna, abstract fans of elegantly seared duck meat, and towering soufflés—each a weightless joy of fluff in a golden crust—glide out of a kitchen staffed by white-jacketed men toiling with tweezers in utter silence. Each dish is meticulously arranged on ever-shifting plates of outsize scale holding tiny portions of contemporary food meant to feed your mind, not fill your gut. The mode is at once proper and impressionistic: an English tea party hosted by Alice in Wonderland. (The service is also a bit surreal, in a sweetly clueless way.) Half of the room has come to witness the evening-length tasting menu. But the à la carte options are a wicked indulgence of their own, especially on a school night. —Karen Brooks
best watering hole || The Woodsman Tavern
Drink This Now!
- Blackthorn Sour
- Judge, Jury and Executioner
- anything Zimmerman has up his sleeve
A constellation of Edison bulbs illuminates the corner of SE Division Street and 46th Avenue, the eastern terminus of Portland’s most vibrant culinary corridor. With the familiarity of Cheers and remarkable cocktail ingenuity, the Woodsman pulls double duty as the quintessential neighborhood bar and an überhip dining destination. Instead of a tufted Ted Danson, suspender-clad cocktail wizard Evan Zimmerman rules the bar, stirring macerated Sichuan flowers and cucumber essence into bourbon with an unflinching smile. If a Bloody Mary (aged for two weeks in supersecret spices and boosted with a hit of sherry) is too fussy, 14 curated copper taps flow strong, and an international wine list vies for best in the city. The food can lag behind, but it’s hard not to drink the Woodsman Kool-Aid: owner Duane Sorenson (of Stumptown Coffee fame) has pioneered a fresh vision of local drinking in a woodscape of tall booths, vintage Oregon panoramas, and Dungeness crab on ice. —Benjamin Tepler
BEST NEW SUSHI || Hokusei
Eat This Now!
- kuromame ginger crème brûlée
Among true sushi fanatics, the quest for Portland’s best is a raw topic. Variables are myriad—harmony, balance, the quality and cut of the fish, the seasoning of the rice—and opinions are passionately immovable. Argue as you like, but Hokusei, a warm, industrial space that surfaced quietly this spring, delivers the paramount sushi experience: a journey, doused in whimsy, steeped in discovery, and showcasing the best nigiri in the city. Head straight for the sushi bar and order up the omakase—a dizzying, five-course tasting menu that changes nightly according to the fresh sheet and the imagination of veteran, Tokyo-born sushi chef Kaoru Ishii. From one recent haul: steamed Japanese egg custard concealing buttery chunks of crab and scallop; an addictively rich bowl of nikudofu (a long-simmered mix of sliced beef belly, tofu, and Japanese green onion); a delicately rich, textured tower of shrimp, scallop, and fried eggplant topped with a velvety dollop of sautéed foie gras; black cod marinated in sweet soy and yuzu, crisped to perfection; and, the highlight, a fresh wave of nigiri featuring obscure fish from the Oregon coast and beyond. Yes, prices are steep, and you won’t find the hulking, cream cheese–stuffed rolls that have become de rigueur in American sushi—but you’ll leave feeling like you’ve gone somewhere. —Rachel Ritchie
CATCH OF THE YEAR || Riffle NW
Eat This Now!
- Beet-cured salmon carpaccio
- sea urchin and quail egg shot
- grilled octopus
- dockside chowder
- petrale sole
The story of Riffle NW begins with obsession—a deep respect for the ocean, the romance of Northwest fishing, and the simple joy of preparing and eating fresh fish. You can feel it in the bare bulbs hanging from weathered ropes and crab traps, the canvas sailcloth seatbacks, and reclaimed dock wood tables. It ripples through a menu that puts the Pacific on a pedestal: salmon appears as slivers of beet-cured delicacy, dockside chowder swims gracefully with the best of the sea, and a perfect petrale sole is honored from head to tail, its salty, deep-fried skeleton perched on top like a graceful sail. Filleting your fish front and center is chef-owner Ken Norris, a New York transplant and lifelong fisherman on a mission to show Portland what serious seafood looks like. A menu of dazzling cocktails led by the Riffle Collins—a bracing revelation of gin, absinthe, and celery juice—features enormous, hand-carved ices cubes. When night falls, the ambience swells—couples tuck away into dimly lit nooks, the bar becomes a symphony of clinking glasses, a raw seafood array glistens with drama—and it feels like Portland finally has the big-city seafood spot it’s been missing. —Rachel Ritchie
BEST SIGN OF A MEXICAN REVOLUTION || Xico
Eat This Now!
- Chips and chile de arbol salsa
- quesadillas rojas
- vegetable-powered street-style enchiladas
- Idaho trout pozole
- cocada (coconut-chocolate bar)
- pastel borracho (rum-soaked brioche cake)
Holy white candles, pewter pitchers bursting with happy flowers, and fresh tortillas paper-wrapped like bonbons stand as a promising welcome to Xico. So does a small menu blistering with 17 varieties of chiles, canteloupe-honey paletas (ice pops), and a drinking plan possessed by Italian Lambrusco and mezcal flights. Oaxaca is in the house—but so is Oregon. In a year of surging Latin flavors and approaches, wine maven Liz Davis and chef Kelly Myers have reconsidered Mexican cuisine for Portland: playful notes, purist notions, handmade rigor, and fresh-ground masa fill out a room that feels like a beach hut with pearls. Consistency and decent service will take time, but the kitchen is already producing dishes destined for iconic status. That includes a crispy, smoldering mass of chile-glazed chips with cotija cheese (you can’t eat it fast enough) and a pozole makeover, starring a whole grilled trout (in place of the usual pig’s head) and a broth you’d be happy to swim in. Among the desserts is a dark chocolate–dipped oblong of coconut, almonds, and raisins that would make the Mounds folks blush. With a little work, Xico could take us places. —Karen Brooks
best kept secret || Olympic Provisions Southeast
Eat This Now!
- Baby octopus
- shrimp and chevre
- roasted half chicken
- mixed-bean pistachio pesto
Since chef Jason Barwikowski left the kitchen two years ago, OP Southeast chef Alex Yoder has quietly unleashed an exciting voice drawn from years in the trenches of Castagna and Clyde Common. With sharp focus, Yoder swims in Mediterranean waters, fixating on sardines and anchovies, putting corona beans through the paces, and experimenting with the textures of baby octopus as if his life depended upon its perfection. Rather than breaking rules, Yoder seeks to elevate Olympic Provisions’ renowned meat craft. Look past the curtains of fat saucisson and whole cured pigs on public display—there’s much more than charcuterie to be discovered here. —Benjamin Tepler
phenom of the year || Salt & Straw
Eat This Now!
- Sea salt with caramel ribbons
- Stumptown coffee and bourbon
- Chef’s Series creations
- four-flavor “tasting flights”
In Portland, home of the food crazed, nothing trumps duck s’mores ice cream with toasted foie gras marshmallows ... for breakfast. We’re serious: that’s when culinary hunters begin the all-day frenzy at Salt & Straw, lining up like rock-concert hopefuls for a taste of something that confounds expectations of what a scoop shop can be. Cousins Kim and Tyler Malek inhabit their own orbit of cold fusion. Each scoop is wildly different, bulging with extreme seasonal riffs and locally made everything, beers to charcuterie. Even pinot noir gets into the act. So do local chefs, who star in ever-changing limited-batch creations, like Boke Bowl’s head rush of cream, kaffir lime, and fish sauce–singing caramel. It’s ice cream, a strangely wonderful taste of place, and the next frontier of food-world collaborations in scoop form. Does everything work? Of course not. The wildest flavors are better as small licks of amusements in the “tasting flight.” But the fresh-off-the-griddle cones are a marvel, and the honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper is already the stuff of cult dreams; queen Oprah and GQ’s cranky critic Alan Richman both love it. Like most things here, it will leave you dazzled and giggling. —Karen Brooks
best taste of eccentric pdx || Ned Ludd
Eat This Now!
- Seasonal salads, any and all
- roasted lamb (available every other week)
- whole-roasted trout
- chocolate chip cookie in a skillet
- wood-fired “griddle” muffin (brunch)
With his I-did-it-my-way bluster, ceramic-chicken fetish, and locavore intensity (think chanterelle vodka), Jason French embodies everything to love—and parody—about Portland’s food scene. The playful depth of his homesteader’s cabin gone mad never lets up, from the name Ned Ludd (after the loom–smashing, anti-industrial 19th-century British folk hero) to the restaurant’s lone stove, a six-foot-high fireplace fueled by gnarly logs stacked everywhere. But after four years as Portland’s quirky command center, Ned Ludd has found its food groove and served some of the year’s best meals. Dishes inspired by Old World recipes, campfire odes, and French’s imagination change daily (or even midmeal) as supplies ebb and flow. Among the surprises tumbling out of the open kitchen’s 750-degree cavern: a plate-size chocolate chip cookie, rising in a cast-iron skillet, its salt-crunching surface emerging one lucky degree shy of torched. Served warm with a spoon and the suggestion to douse each bite with cold milk, it’s the sum total of Ned Ludd’s reward: a sweet, demented pleasure. —Karen Brooks
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