Kir Wine Bar  | WINE AND SMALL PLATES

Over the past five years, one-woman show Amalie Roberts has garnered a reputation for running one of the best wine bars in the country. Kir’s devoted drinkers define the hole-in-the-wall space as a neighborhood fixture, where a giant chalkboard above the bar rotates every day with curious grape varieties, and seasonal dishes showcase simple, bold flavors with an eye toward harmonious pairings. Radishes quickly sautéed and slathered in tarragon butter over charred bread sing with a Gran Moments Rosé Cava, and house-smoked trout tossed with toothsome slices of root vegetables is notched up by a sparkling cab franc with dark, dusty undertones. Wine novices, worry not: the staff will guide you to beautiful mixes and matches.    

 

Laurelhurst Market | AMERICAN

Portland’s first indie steak house features an eye-popping butcher counter up front and a notable lack of cigar-chomping ambience. Equal parts American brasserie, lunchtime sandwich shop, and neighborhood diner, Laurelhurst Market was conceived by Jason Owens, Ben Dyer, and David Kreifels, the trio behind Simpatica Dining Hall. Their changing menu showcases local meats and seasonal vegetables as well as moderately priced steaks from affordable cuts (tri tips, skirt, bavette) and a love of handcrafting down to fresh-made graham crackers and marshmallows for s’mores—not to mention a passion for house-smoking, fueled by a whomping brisket swaddled in soul-satisfying barbecue sauce. Unlike its wallet-wringing west-side steak-house peers, Laurelhurst asks $25 or less for many of its entrées, which means dining can be a joy for both prince and pauper.                                 

 

Lincoln  | NEW AMERICAN

The brainchild of husband-and-wife team David Welch and Jenn Louis, Lincoln soothes more than it struts, as evidenced by its straightforward, minimalist menu and sturdy fir tables. Louis eschews big flavors and gimmickry for freshness and balance. Her dishes are ingredient-driven and often outstanding, as with a signature appetizer of two eggs baked with cream and chopped green olives, or a delicate hanger steak topped with blue-cheese butter beside a tower of buttermilk-dipped onion rings. Meats are cooked to the perfect texture and temperature: although the offerings change daily, you might be lucky enough to find a sliced pork shoulder served over creamy potato-and-parsnip purée and doused in a piquant salsa verde (with a boneless smoked pork shank folded into the mix). The warehouse space has been remodeled, but nothing about this restaurant is new-fangled. Closed Mon.       

       

Little Bird  | FRENCH BISTRO

Le Pigeon bad-boy food star Gabriel Rucker is known for ruffling feathers on Portland’s east side. But his spin-off downtown bistro is accessible, easy, and seductive—more bluebird than street bird. The new place skips the DIY approach for tush-friendly banquettes and food nested in the classic French bistro, with just enough edge and Northwest noir touches to keep it original and interesting, from lunch through late night. Get in on Little Bird’s luscious little pots of duck-liver mousse, full-on flat-iron steaks, lusty duck confit, and, for more adventure, hulking marrow bones that look on loan from a natural history museum. Grab something to drink from a wine-lover’s list strong on Burgundies, and conclude with a pitch-perfect tarte tatin or ice creams to melt your heart—six highbrow flavors arriving all at once. Vive la France in Portland.                  

 

Navarre  | MEDITERRANEAN

John Taboada pioneered a new east-side indie food style with this 33-seat eatery in 2002. He hand-built the interior for the price of a used car, then filled it with a local-farm gestalt, scholarly European village recipes, and his own definition of how a restaurant could be run—freewheeling, food-focused, and tenderly priced. In a city that prides itself on a farm-to-table ethos, nobody embraces the philosophy more completely: ninety percent of the produce is grown within the city limits. You won’t find a more original seasonal menu anywhere. Pear chocolate pie, candied fennel stems, lamb ham—if it’s on the list, it was made in the kitchen. A lawlessness hovers in the air, and that’s part of the magic. 
              
             

Nostrana  | ITALIAN

Nostrana’s love letter to regional Italian cooking and Neapolitan pizza is a vision of Portland: a local legend (former Genoa co-owner Cathy Whims) cooking the food she loves at moderate prices, sophistication without the pretention, a devotion to local farms and purveyors. This is Italian home cooking as it should be—stripped down, honest, powered by wood fire. No place in Portland is better suited to please a diverse crowd: foodies, kids, wine lovers, your adventure-fearing relatives. The mandatory preamble is the Caesar-esque insalata Nostrana. Pasta with tomato butter embodies the joy of simple purity, but desserts—hot-from-the-oven fruit crisps and intensive chocolate bodino—can make you gasp. Lunch is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and the bistecca alla Fiorentina is arguably the city’s best steak: 2.2 pounds, wrist-thick, cooked over oak fire, and big enough for four. 
           

  

Biwa’s Gabe Rosen
Biwa’s Gabe Rosen

Ocean City  | CHINESE/DIM SUM 

No worthwhile dim sum experience is complete without the following: a parade of multitiered push-carts squeezing through tightly packed chairs with the day’s offerings; house specials not found elsewhere; and the joyful noise of entire Asian clans gathered around massive lazy Susan–topped tables and spinning a feast of barbecued pork buns, pinched dumplings, chicken feet, and all kinds of baked, leaf-wrapped, and steamed wonders. Ocean City delivers, and as at most dim sum houses, the selection is biggest and best on weekends (up to 100 options), and more exciting than the encyclopedic Chinese dinner menu. Come with a group and order wildly—anything that looks good. (Saucers average $2.75–3.75 for several pieces.) Zoom in on specials offered on trays, and don’t miss the deep-fried shimp pressed around sugar cane or the divine golden egg custard bun.                      

Pok Pok  | SOUTHEAST ASIAN

Portland’s tiny temple to Thai street food is an icon of do-it-yourself genius and food obsession. From its bare-bones beginning as a takeout shack, Pok Pok has grown into a full-on indoor-outdoor eating experience while owner Andy Ricker has earned a reputation as the country’s foremost Thai grilling expert. Order a plate of khao man som tam—blissfully sweet shredded pork served over coconut rice with green papaya salad—and sit at one of the (heated and covered) outdoor picnic tables. Or step into the small, adjacent, speakeasy-like dining room. Inside or out, don’t miss the blackboard specials, unusual dishes like grilled boar collar, and signature chicken wings (marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep-fried and caramelized, then tossed in garlic and a bit of heaven). For dessert, a dreamy affogato of condensed-milk ice cream drowned in Vietnamese coffee is a must, with unsweetened Chinese doughnuts on the side.                     

 

Pollos a la Brasa El Inka  | PERUVIAN

Inka, not Inca, is the traditional Quechua spelling of the word for the 15th-century empire that stretched along South America’s western shore. And despite the strip-mall location, tradition lives on at this tiny Gresham eatery, where Claudia Fernandez roasts up to 40 chickens every day in her massive, wood-fired oven. Served with three increasingly spicy Peruvian sauces—aji verde (dotted with ear-warming jalapeños—a.k.a. the “mild” option), aji amarilla (a spicy mayonnaise sauce full of fruity-hot yellow chiles), and aji panca (a delicious taste bud–burner featuring Peruvian habaneros; tender tongues need not apply). This is rotisserie chicken at its finest: juicy, tender, and infused with the smoky goodness that comes only from two hours in the oven. After picking the last morsels from the bones, you’ll wish you knew the Quechua phrase for “more, please.” 
                   

Screen Door  | SOUTHERN 

One can’t live on pimento cheese alone, but if you could, we’d recommend doing so at this institution of opulent Southern comfort. The airy, modern restaurant serves all manner of iconic Dixie-inspired dishes, from succulent Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwiches to fried buttermilk-batter chicken. (The cocktails, from the sazerac to the porch-worthy alcoholic lemonade, are equally inspired.) But Northwest ingredients also shine here, as evidenced by an ever-changing seasonal, organic sides menu, which includes such delicious combinations as English peas sautéed in tarragon-spiked butter sauce. Show up for brunch and feast on a hefty portion of fried chicken and waffles drizzled with maple syrup. No matter when you arrive, you’ll encounter nothing but ol’-fashioned hospitality.             

 

Simpatica Dining Hall  | AMERICAN

A catering outfit by day, Simpatica rolls out a reservations-only, four-course dinner every Friday and Saturday night ($30–40). To get in on it, you’ll need to jump on the e-mail list at simpaticacatering.com—but the extra effort will be worth it. You might start off with a potato-leek soup topped with crème fraîche and finely chopped chives from the farm-to-table menu before moving on to herb-roasted Draper Valley chicken and slow-cooked greens with house-made bacon. Then again, you might not—the chefs (there are three) haven’t repeated a menu since Simpatica opened nearly six years ago. For the walk-in Sunday brunch, diners can order items à la carte, such as buttermilk biscuits drenched in country-sausage gravy, eggs Benedict with house-cured Canadian bacon, or fried chicken and waffles. But arrive early, or you’ll be caught standing in the hall.                  

 

St. Jack  | FRENCH

If you’re in a French mood, a bit of Lyon can be found in a converted 1890 house relabeled as St. Jack. By day, pull up to the pâtisserie, a cozy zinc counter and a curtained nook, and simply point to cannelés, éclairs, and whatever else begs from vintage cake plates. The wise make sure to commission a batch of madeleines, made to order and served warm. As darkness falls, St. Jack transforms into a three-room riff on a bouchon, an offal-loving den of informality, common in Lyon, that serves bulk local wines and food made for cast-iron stomachs. You won’t find regional legends like calves’ muzzle or salade de groin d’ane (literally, “donkey snout” salad). But bubbled-over crocks of macaroni gratin pounded with bacon lardons and boisterous plates of blood sausage leave no doubt: Lyon is in the house.            

 

Tanuki  | JAPANESE

Tanuki’s new incarnation on SE Stark Street is a cave of debauchery, with unbeatable izakaya (Japanese bar food) and a knockout drink list on the cheap. The menu is a dizzying array of pickled plums, kimchi spice, and fermented noodles, but don’t panic—there’s an easy way out. Order omakase (basically “chef’s choice”): you name the price, and chef-owner Janis Martin will unleash a parade of spicy, salty, and sometimes unidentifiable plates for the whole table. Twenty dollars brings an onslaught of 12 gut-busting courses, from cinnamon-spiked, tea-stained quail eggs to Netarts oysters under an avalanche of shaved kimchi ice. Tanuki is Portland’s ultimate izakaya joint: dark, delicious, and requiring no forethought. Grab a bottle of sake for the table, say “Omakase!” and settle in for an evening of hard eating. Just remember the rules from the original Tanuki on NW 21st Avenue: no sushi, no kids.    

 

Tasty n Sons  | BRUNCH

When renowned Toro Bravo chef John Gorham announced plans to open a brunch spot, the lines began forming immediately, and for good reason: the food is inspired, and so is the mood. Dishes are served family-style, allowing diners to split, share, and compare. Small plates include thick slices of toast smeared with a spreadable cheese and seasonal jams—simple but memorable. You won’t find eggs to order, but they turn up everywhere—fried with a cheddar biscuit or over-easy atop spicy North African sausage and couscous. The French toast, served with fruit-infused maple syrup and whipped cream, bids for the best in Portland. A light frittata packed with farm-fresh vegetables arrives still sizzling in a cast-iron skillet. A communal vibe will tempt you to try new things—a valuable habit at Tasty n Sons, where an adventurous spirit is always rewarded.        

Toro Bravo  | SPANISH 

Chef John Gorham has managed to import the singular rowdiness and rugged charm of a tapeo in Andalucía to his Spanish-inspired east-side eatery, from the rough-hewn communal tables to the tiny bistro settees for two and the cozy chef’s counter in back. As for the delicious food, there’s a little French and a pinch of Northwest thrown into the mix—evinced by the creamy sherried chicken-liver mousse and the garden-fresh salads made from local greens—but it’s all guided by the spirit of delicious tapas. Expect flavorful paellas, fried green tomatoes with pickled mayo, juicy crab-and-pork croquettes, seared scallops and braised lamb with apricots and coriander, and salt-cod fritters, not to mention bottles of pétillant txakoli and robust Rioja from the modest wine list. Any toreador would feel right at home.   

Whiskey Soda Lounge | SOUTHEAST ASIAN

Drawing from what the Thais call aahaan kap klaem, or food made for eating with whiskey, Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker re-creates Asian pub snacks without compromising for Western palates: stewed pork, frog legs, and a bamboo-shoot salad, all designed to be washed down with homemade drinking vinegars, savory cocktails, and ice-cold bia wun, or “jelly beer.” Begin your education with kai saam yang, a simple mélange of toasted peanuts, minced shallots, lemongrass, and salt flecks; miang kham, mats of strong, herbal-flavored betel nut leaves meant to be rolled around a tasty mix-up of dinky dried shrimp, peanuts, fiery peppers, fresh ginger, coconut, shallot, and lime rind; and neua sawan, deep-fried beef shreds served with lime leaves. The pad Thai, served only after 10 p.m., is Portland’s best.