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Planning a trip to Portland? Include these culinary powerhouses on your itinerary
St. Jack in Southeast Clinton updates rustic French cuisine with fresh Oregon ingredients
With 600+ food carts, a couple dozen breweries, distilleries and new bricks and mortar restaurants appearing every day, Portland’s eating and drinking options can stupefy even the most seasoned local.
The best approach is to pick your jaw up off the floor, build up an appetite cycling, and deal with one category at a time.
Portland’s 10 best restaurants are the kind of establishments you’d take a date; the kind that poach star chef talent from L.A.; the kind that (mostly) require reservations.
Without further ado, here are Portland’s 10 best restaurants.
Steak tartare by Little Bird, the superstar sibling of Portland favourite Le Pigeon (Image: Little Bird)
Just named to Bon Appetit’s 2012 “The Hot 10: America’s Best New Restaurants,” Luce is a tiny 22-seat space by John Taboada and his wife, Giovanna Parolari, who rose to Portland foodie fame through their first restaurant venture, Navarre. “If Navarre’s Italian food is simple, Luce’s is bare-bones, almost monastic in its affinity for stripping dishes down to their essential ingredients. This is Italian home cooking to its core,” says Bon Appetit critic Andrew Knowlton.
The Woodsman, which has all the dark lustre of an exclusive 1930s hunting lodge, has played a key role in the rise of the SE Division restaurant strip. Pretty Portlanders dine on crab legs from an old-school raw bar while sipping bubbly from the creative wine list. Starters like the domestic ham plate play on the charcuterie trend by comparing pigs from the deep south in lieu of Italian or Spanish oinkers. The mains, like braised rabbit with summer succotash, marry elegant cuisine with approachable, seasonal comfort food. Ask the friendly staff for advice on drink pairings. They know their stuff.
Named the Oregonian’s 2012 Restaurant of the Year, Little Bird Bistro in downtown Portland surpasses sister restaurant and Burnside hotspot Le Pigeon. The French cuisine meets casual Northwest approach offers unlimited opportunity for culinary invention. The best Portland restaurants have a thing for trout these days, so try the grilled trout with green beans, marcona almonds and brown butter hollandaise. It’s unusual for a place that serves duck à l’orange to have an equally alluring burger. But at Little Bird, where “burger” means eight ounces of Cascade Natural Beef ground in-house, topped with Tillamook four-year aged white cheddar, grilled pickles, onions, slaw, and a trio of housemade sauces – haute cuisine can take any form.
When Olympic Provisions first opened in Portland’s Central Eastside, it was an uber hip destination for day diners lusting for charcuterie. The new Olympic location, in Portland’s Northwest, also serves dinner. The Sunday Funday Chicken Dinner for two ($35 prix fixe) beats the feathers off anything by the Colonel. Expect a BBQ basted whole roasted chicken with a kale caeser salad, herb buttered summer veg, schmaltzy bacon taters, and biscuits with sweet butter. Finish with a Sunday sundae with all the fixins’.
With 16 Pacific Northwest wines on tap and a James Beard-nominated owner, the Bent Brick may look like your local tavern but it has all the cred/class of a Michelin-starred dining room. The menu features modern cuisine made with Oregonian ingredients. Rather than choose just one dish, opt to “eat the whole menu” for $55 – a tasting of everything from smoked cod “poofs” to chicken liver’n’waffles with gooseberries.
What happens when three hot young things from NYC move west and start a restaurant? Magic. Forget what you’ve heard about too many cooks and spoiling the broth. The Aviary, in the Alberta Arts district of Northeast Portland, serves inspired comfort food with a twist. Chefs Sarah Pliner, Jasper Shen and Kat Whitehead, collaborate on an eclectic menu of small plates informed by 10+ years of cooking experience at Ducasse, Aquavit, Jean Georges, Tabla, and more. Late summer diners must try the fried chicken skin salad with watermelon, bitter greens and baba ganoush.
Alpine cuisine has never been sexier. Chef Israel takes plodding staples like dumplings, kraut, terrine and brats and makes them sing with his deft touch. One must-try dish? Tender duck breast schnitzel with cherry relish and warm potato salad. The most skeptical diner will sit up and say: “Ja, bitte.”
St. Jack does classic French cuisine made with West Coast ingredients in Portland’s happening Southeast Clinton. This 2011 favourite draws a crowd and will appeal to anyone who’s spent time eating in Paris. Work your way from petit plats to hors d’ouvre and plats principaux. With an adjoining patisserie, you’ll want to save room for sweets.
Owner Andy Ricker won Best Chef in the Northwest before opening restaurants in NYC in 2012. The Ricker legacy started with Pok Pok, an unwavering ode to Thai street food. The sweet, hot and savoury dinner menu has helpful hints like “made better with Oregon albacore” and “a Northern Thai drinking food.” Take the advice and sip on the house-made cocktails, many of which feature Som drinking vinegar, and know that you’re at the heart of a mini empire that’s currently taking the east coast by storm.
This spacious, warehouse chic establishment has an eclectic, constantly changing menu. The brunch lineup on weekends is always out the door, but you have the option of ordering breakfast for dinner (griddled bacon wrapped dates with maple syrup; scrambled eggs with biscuits and honey butter), and finding out what all the fuss is about. Chef John Gorham sends dishes out as small plates or family-style large plates. Grilled quail co-exists alongside self-explanatory specials like “pretty damn good chicken strips.”