FOR RESTAURANTS (and just about everything else), the past 12 months have been more challenging than any in decades. But here in Portland, 2009 might well be remembered as the greatest year yet for eating out.

Even as many high-profile eateries shuttered their doors, a new generation of foodie entrepreneurs showed us (along with the national and international press) that a memorable meal still can and should be savored in many places and ways: whether served in a boutique shopping district on candlelit, linen-topped tables or handed through a trailer window, wrapped in butcher paper snapped with a colorful rubber band.

Picking the 10 “best” restaurants from this rich stew seems somehow beside the point when menus change weekly—indeed, sometimes hourly—and food carts and sandwich shops casually compete (and even share chefs) with the city’s most refined eateries. So we took a different path, selecting 10 venues that best embody the diverse creativity at work, from the traditional downtown dining establishment to the coveted strip-mall find to the humble parking-lot food cart. We also scoured the metropolitan region for great meals to be found for $20 or less. And we discovered an unexplored dimension of Portland’s historic love for the Great Sandwich: an uncanny resemblance to Great Architecture. The result is a worthy sampling of eateries from a moment when, despite the toughest of economic droughts, Portland’s dining scene boldly blossomed.