OVER THE PAST DECADE, many of the big-city chefs and foodies who’ve helped to fuel Portland’s dining renaissance have found themselves perplexed. How could a city of Portland’s size and stature have so few decent late-night dining options?
During the day and into the evening, Portland’s ambitious culinary scene offers a cornucopia of fresh, imaginative food. But as the clock ticks toward 10 p.m., dining options shrink drastically—macaroni at Le Bistro Montage, or a “fourth meal” from the Taco Bell drive-through? Well, creatures of the night can now rejoice. Portland’s finest chefs are finally filling the void.
Nostrana, for instance, earned a faithful following with its bistecca alla Fiorentina, a porterhouse the size of your head, and its heavenly butterscotch budino (an Italian custard). But chef Cathy Whims’s newly minted late-night menu is luring a different crowd. From 9 to 11 p.m. on the weekends (9 to 10 p.m. on weeknights), you can savor this religiously seasonal Italian restaurant’s authentic thin-crusted Neapolitan-style pizza Margherita or pizza marinara ($5). Throw down another five-spot for Whims’s Insalata Nostrana, a fistful of radicchio tossed in an anchovy-rich, Caesar-esque dressing and addictive rosemary-sage croutons. Wash it all down with a Campari and soda ($4), offered every night of the week.
A few blocks away in the Central East Side, Biwa’s dimly lit dining room has long been the watering hole of choice for Portland’s off-duty chefs. Now, this Japanese-style pub has morphed into an alluring nighttime noshing destination. In June, chef Gabe Rosen extended Biwa’s hours until midnight and debuted a late-night menu that includes such staples as skewered chicken thighs ($3) and miso-drenched scallops grilled over an open flame ($8). You’ll also find the city’s best Hawaiian-style maguro poke ($11), cubes of crimson-colored raw tuna tossed in a punchy, ginger-spiked shoyu brine. The true stars of the show, though, are the yakionigiri ($2): hunks of white rice, the size and shape of soup cans, brushed with a teriyaki glaze and grilled to achieve the perfect level of crunch. Biwa’s four-dollar pints of Sapporo have few better friends.