Portland’s next food chapter has arrived: Modern cuisine meets DIY culture, breakfast gets several makeovers, rebel bakers find new sweet spots, and fish has a hook, at last. Everyone, it seems, has a turntable. We’ve curated the ultimate menu of the year: 10 spots ushering in a new era of eating.
Pull up a seat and dig in!
1. Restaurant of the Year: Ava Gene's
Every 10 years or so, a restaurant comes along that raises the stakes and alters the plot forever. In the 1980s, Genoa refracted Italy through the passions of a team of farm-fresh fanatics, taking Portland way off the decade’s flashy, yuppified script into a realm of eccentric, demanding, personal passion. Zefiro stamped its mark on the ’90s by making Portland dining serious but sexy (arguably for the first time). The ’00s emergence of the semi-underground Ripe supper club set the stage for all the do-it-yourself, handcrafting rebels to come.
Now, with Ava Gene’s, Portland grows up. But rock and roll never dies.
Last November, Duane Sorenson opened a marble-clad mash note to Italy near the birthplace of his Stumptown Coffee Roasters, bundling local sensibilities like muscle fiber. Ava Gene’s is the place where the city’s beloved but familiar food tropes—the exactingly sourced ingredients, the cultural collision of garage-rock scruffiness and shameless Europhilia, the sly reimagining of fine dining’s rituals—are reconfigured into a new standard of excellence. The room swings like an indie brasserie beneath light tubes that swarm and glow like fireflies. It’s a place to indulge everything that makes Portland tick, with an unstoppable parade of inspired food, religious seasonality, and what sounds like a director’s cut of iconic rock, rare and uncut. From the bar comes the bright, smoky surprise of cedar-steeped Campari, and a unique enthusiasm for little-known grappas. Even the Italian wine list gets personal—nothing clever, just an awesome library of great finds from great vintages, some dug out of collectors’ basements.
3377 SE Division St
Traditional limitations of “rustic” food are erased two bites into thick, wood-charred bread holding chicken livers and red plums, or agnolottipasta plumped with polenta, corn stock, and raw corn. This is not safe, letter-perfect Italy—it’s Duane’s world, nostalgic but open-minded, channeled through the focused imagination of chef Joshua McFadden. The beauty of the menu lies in eight subdivisions: addictive fritti (fried stuff) to perfectly al dente primi (pasta), always changing and meant for sharing. Vegetables are McFadden’s stars, shooting through nearly every dish, including 10 salads, each one better than the next. Celery dances with dates, roasted almonds, chile heat, and flinty Parmesan; beets, carrots, and pickled raisins arrive not with vinaigrette, but a glaze of fresh-ground pistachio nut butter. Who even thinks of these things? Joyful simplicity, great ingredients, the acuity of intention: this is Ava Gene’s stand. Come with friends, plan to laugh, order wide and deep.