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October 20th, 2010 WW Staff | Food Reviews & Stories
 

Restaurant Guide 2010: Listings A-to-Z

Restaurant Guide

50 Plates

333 NW 13th Ave., 228-5050, 50plates.com. 11:30 am-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-midnight Friday-Saturday, 4-9 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[AMERICAN SHTICK] This Pearl District take on all-American dining puts a state-fair candy-floss spin on its concoctions; one half expects the meals to emerge with blue ribbons attached. The menu’s most conspicuous gimmicks include fried mashed-potato-and-white-cheddar bites called Cheesy Poofs (one is enough, really) and a chicken-and-waffles sandwich called, of course, Roscoe’s (oddly, one is not nearly enough—the honey drizzled on the fried chicken is beguiling, and you might as well order a second when the first one arrives). So yes, all of this fanfare has the whiff of the midway barker, and the sauces are consistently overweening, but the place has a kind of highbrow vulgarity that proves very hard to resist: At the end of each dinner, a server rewards you with giant spoonfuls of chocolate ganache, for having been good little plate-cleaners. (It’s exceptional ganache, too.) While a beef stroganoff is middling (though enlivened by generous use of sour cream), the wild boar ribs are a picnic without the inconvenience of the outdoors, served with mustard potato salad and baked beans. Is the barbecue sauce too sweet? Well, the point of 50 Plates is to be too everything, and with the boar, the flamboyance works. That’s some pig. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Happy hour with a couple of Roscoe’s and the day’s “chowdah.”

Best deal: Kobe sliders, $3 a pop.


A Cena

7742 SE 13th Ave., 206-3291, acenapdx.com. 5-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[ITALIAN] This sage-toned “ristorante-enoteca” takes full advantage of its prime corner across from the Sellwood library to accommodate all comers. Raucous birthday parties fill the main dining room, neighborhood families down pizza and calamari in the bar, and murmuring couples share pasta and lamb in the cozy hallway in between. Chef Gabe Gabreski has scaled back the ambition of his menu in the past year, replacing roasted foie gras with risotto croquettes and ditching the $70 tasting menu. This is probably for the best—Sellwood doesn’t lend itself to New York-style fine dining, so attention is more profitably spent making excellent pastas, breads, sausages and pancetta in-house. Pastas and appetizers are strong all around, from the smoky Romano grilled romaine salad with Gorgonzola and pancetta—the best version of this dish I’ve tried—to a creamy goat cheese and ricotta gnocchi unexpectedly perfumed with spearmint. Pizzas are good, if not quite in the Portland top tier dominated by Ken’s and Apizza Scholls, and entrees are well executed but boring—Milanese lamb chops were very nicely breaded, and the accompanying arugula and mozzarella were fine, but the dish still felt like a prettied-up chicken-fried steak. Order lots of apps and a couple of small pastas (the large are very large), though, and you’ll get a memorable meal. Don’t pass on gelato; the sea-salt caramel is superb. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Romano salad, small rabbit pappardelle, shared margherita pizza, sea-salt caramel gelato.

Best deal: On Wednesdays, A Cena offers $8 plates of risotto; a $20 dinner for two of salad, two risottos and gelato; and $5 glasses of house wine.

Chef’s choice: Corn-and-lobster agnolotti. (Gabe Gabreski)


Accanto

2838 SE Belmont St., 235-4900. 11 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday, 9 am-2 pm Saturday-Sunday. No reservations. $$ Moderate.

[ITALIAN] When Accanto debuted late last year as part of the grand return of its remodeled sister space, Genoa, everybody just assumed it was the Old World stalwart’s bar. Not so. While executive chef David Anderson oversees both kitchens, this bright, white-tiled Italian cafe has its own thing going on, with a roster full of big sandwiches, antipasti and fun cocktails—like a minty Strega-spiked whiskey sour—tailor-made for relaxed happy-hour meet-ups. While Genoa deals in multiple-course experiences, Accanto invites you to pick and choose, with mix-and-match cheese and salami plates and solid pastas. Not everything’s perfect here; the generous fritto misto is begging for a squirt of enlivening lemon and the pollo alla diavola tastes like juicy airline food (despite the excellent Draper Valley bird). Still, as long as Accanto boasts one of the city’s best plates of gnocchi, recently paired with meltingly rich oxtail and veggies, you will get no complaints from me. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: House-cured olives with a nibble of Little T bread, gnocchi and affogato to top the night off right.

Best deal: The zesty mozzarella and preserved-tomato sandwich ($7, available until 5 pm) is served on house focaccia and comes with a tall pile of addictive waffle-cut potato crisps—so light they fizzle in your mouth.

Chef’s choice: Skirt-steak salad. “I love that cut of meat. It has so much flavor naturally.” (David Anderson)


Alexis

215 W Burnside St., 224-8577, alexisfoods.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Saturday, dinner 5-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[GREEK] Anyone who’s ever visited Greece knows the country’s big culinary secret isn’t spanakopita but an overwhelming commitment to friendliness. On cue, the minute you enter Alexis, walking past framed pictures of Mykonos and Santorini and all the other Greek islands with water so blue it looks like the sky, you’re greeted with a huge smile and a gentle warmth from a staff that treats you like you’re part of the family. And then they start pouring the ouzo. The same family emphasis is carried over to the menu, where every plate is loaded with more delicious, tender turkey souvlaki (the Greek version of a kebab) than you could ever conceivably fit in your stomach. Tradition is pretty important to the Bakouros family, and after 30 years it still knows how to do most of the staples justice: The spanakopita is delicate and cheesy, rich with feta and just the right amount of spinach, and the deep-fried calamari—served with lemony tzatziki as a perfect dipping sauce—is crisp and fresh, more tentacles than oily batter. It’s not quite Mykonos, but it’s the closest Burnside Street will ever get. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

Ideal meal: Turkey or lamb souvlaki, spanakopita and a Greek salad.

Best deal: The small calamari plate ($8.95) could feed at least three people.

Chef’s choice: “There is not only one—but myself it is the calamari and the lamb chops. I’m Greek, lamb is my favorite! But our calamari is famous. Best in the city.” (Gerasimos Tsirimiagos)

 

Andina

1314 NW Glisan St., 228-9535, andinarestaurant.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2:30 pm daily, dinner 5-9:30 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[PERUVIAN] Andina is a cunning Latin Lothario that knows exactly how to charm the pants off everyone it meets. Peruvians love it for the authentic and traditional family recipes like fresh ceviche and marinated beef heart; foodies swoon for its creative, contemporary spin on Andean cuisine like seafood won tons and lime-infused mashed-potato causa cakes made with local, sustainably raised chicken; picky eaters are wowed by its innovative and extensive vegetarian and gluten-free menus; booze-hounds are held captive for hours at the bustling bar by the well-executed classic and original cocktails and exceptional wine list; locals squeal over the unique and reasonably priced lunch options like the Serrano ham and salsa-filled quinoa rolls; and everyone is swept off their feet by the warm atmosphere and sensational service. It’s a restaurant you’ll feel just as comfortable taking your parents to as you will a first date (grab a seat near the nightly live Latin guitarist for easy conversation filler), and if the big flavors, strong drinks and charismatic staff still haven’t seduced them by the end of the meal, try the foolproof handmade Peruvian truffles. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Start with a pisco sour, then order as many tapas plates as your appetite and budget will allow to get a good taste of everything Andina has to offer. If you have room, the goat-cheese flan offers a sensationally sweet and savory end to the meal. If not, take a traditional alfajores cookie to go.

Best deal: $5 plates of chicken, octopus or beef-heart kebabs during happy hour (4-6 pm daily).

Apizza Scholls

4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 233-1286, apizzascholls.com. 5-9:30 pm Monday-Saturday, 4-8 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[NY-NEAPOLITAN PIZZA] East Coasters who pooh-pooh the idea of West Coast pizza are silenced with a trip to this Hawthorne pizzeria—usually because their mouths are full. Who can blame them? Consuming one of the crisp-crusted, foldable slices here is far more enjoyable than mere conversation. Avoid the peak dining hours if you don’t like lines (although the wait will be worth it). Starting with a salad here is a good idea, but be warned: They are huge. The Caesar with anchovies is a great way to wake the taste buds and expand the stomach. Moving on to the pizza proper, the “Margo”rita is a beautiful example of the margherita syle, a simple pie with a tomato base, mozzarella and pecorino, garlic and basil; the crust lent a smokiness with light charring. Those looking for more spice (and meat, for that matter) would be well served by the sausage and pepper pizza, with juicy housemade sausage punctuated by the tangy zing of goat horn peppers. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: Sausage and peppers pizza.

Best deal: The house antipasti plate will stuff two diners.

Chef’s choice: “My favorite pizza is the plain tomato pie—dough, sauce and cheese—but if I had to choose toppings with it, it would be sausage with anchovy, which we refer to as the ‘surf and turf.’” (Brian Spangler)

Autentica

5507 NE 30th Ave., 287-7555, autenticaportland.com. Brunch 10 am-2 pm Saturday-Sunday, dinner 5-10 pm Tuesday-Sunday, . $$ Moderate.

[MEXICAN] I honestly may have never had better pork in my life than the lomo yucateco at Autentica. Two big slabs of juicy white meat that snap open when you bite into them, the way a fresh green bean or a perfectly cooked Polish dog pops in your mouth. This here is heaven on a plate. In fact, everything on said plate, including the spicy corn and habanero sauce and the big, warm pile of greens and tomatoes on the side, is divine. That may well be true of Autentica’s entree menu, as all the evidence we’ve examined (a thick and rich vegetarian tortilla soup; a mountainous tostada loaded with shredded chicken, chipotle chiles and a snowcap of Cotija cheese) indicates this is the best Mexican food in Portland. The small restaurant, which feels like a cross between a divey hole in the wall and the kind of classy place you’d take a really hot date, is unique in a city filled with greasy taquerias and misguided fusion joints. It provides hearty, creative Mexican home cooking at a reasonable price. Throw in a gorgeous, intimate patio and some of the better margaritas in town and you’ve got a recipe for a line around the block (though, puzzlingly, a weeknight visit to Autentica was pretty quiet). CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: Ceviche, a bowl of tortilla soup and a zesty criolla salad.

Best deal: We hold $3 tacos to a pretty high standard, and Autentica’s loaded taco al pastor is still a steal at that price.

Bamboo Sushi

310 SE 28th Ave., 232-5255, bamboosushipdx.com. 5-10 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

[SUSTAINABLE SASHIMI] Kristofor Lofgren’s super-sustainable restaurant doesn’t use its Marine Stewardship Council endorsement to prop up a weak kitchen. The dishes coming out of the hot kitchen or from the sushi bar are first and foremost tasty, the question of their provenance be damned. On the nigiri side, the smoked ivory salmon is still one of the best pieces of raw fish you’re going to put in your mouth, the light smoke lending funk to the buttery salmon. They finally nailed agedashi tofu here, employing the same local Ota curd but cutting it thinner so that its flavor plays nicely with the smoky-sweet dashi broth and shaved bonito flakes. You wouldn’t think it, but Bamboo also slings a big, mean, important burger. It’s a sloppy, gooey mound of ground Kobe with white cheddar, onion rings and an optional fried egg that is the pin on this umami grenade. Heady stuff, but like all of the other dishes, expect great execution with a side order of satisfying well-being. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: House-smoked wild ivory salmon nigiri paired with anything else.

Best deal: The MSC Northwest Philly roll (Alaska salmon, cream cheese and avocado fried tempura style) is only $4 at happy hour: 5-6:30 pm Monday-Friday.

Bar Mingo

811 NW 21st Ave., 445-4646, barmingonw.com. 4-11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.

[ITALIAN SMALL PLATES] A more casual and affordable spinoff of Caffe Mingo, the Italian gem that sits next door, Bar Mingo bills itself as “a new way to eat.” Maybe. What’s certain is that Bar Mingo offers a very good way to eat, particularly if you tour its dozen or so antipasti offerings. Ranging from salads and snacks to near-entrees, each well-portioned plate runs only $8, or three for $21, leaving plenty in the budget for a bottle from Mingo’s well-edited, Italian-heavy wine list. Three antipasti should sate all but the hungriest pair of diners, but there’s so much worth trying that you might as well order extra and box up what’s left. Start with a salumi plate: House-cured ham and pâté vie for space on the plate with a variety of Italian cold cuts, all nicely complemented by a dollop of spicy onion relish. Mingo’s chicken livers arrived not as tidy whole organs, but as two heaping bruschetta, spilling nutty chopped livers, capers and sage, all redolent of anchovy and Marsala. Calamari was the lone disappointment of the meal, lukewarm and unmemorable. But any regrets were erased when a plump link of housemade sausage showed up, perched amid velvety polenta and braised greens. Hits of fennel and chile in the sausage and the earthy bite of the greens cut through the rich polenta, saving the hearty dish from any heaviness. ETHAN SMITH.

Ideal meal: Mix and match three to six antipasto plates and a bottle of vino.

Best deal: Sausage and polenta ($8) is a meal in itself.

Chef’s choice: Lasagna Bolognese. (Jerry Huisinga)

Beaker & Flask

727 SE Washington St., 235-8180, beakerandflask.com, 5 pm-midnight Monday-Wednesday, 5 pm-1 am Thursday-Saturday. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[COCKTAILS AND CRITTERS] Our 2009 Restaurant of the Year has no intention of coasting on its accolades, as its kitchen continues to put out exquisite, creative dishes that an attentive, enthusiastic staff proudly presents to your table. It’s always a good idea to order the ever-changing antipasti plate, as it presents a snapshot of whatever’s in season, done up in its Sunday best. A recent example included airy chickpea purée, grilled eggplant, summer tomatoes with smoked goat cheese, and tender lamb meatballs in romesco sauce. The included bruschetta is good, but more than likely the components of the plate will disappear long before you remember it’s there. A fried soft-shell crab dish featured beets, peas and potatoes nestled in a creamy sea-urchin vinaigrette, sweet and briny—a deconstructed chowder in small-plate form. Portland restaurants’ love affair with Tails & Trotters pork continues here, with one of the farm’s pork bellies, braised and glazed in pomegranate, atop a crunchy cabbage slaw that nicely balances the enveloping glory of that hazelnut-fortified fat. Don’t forget to avail yourself of a cocktail, as the folks behind the bar don’t lag behind their compatriots in the kitchen in flavor acumen. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: Anything with pork belly.

Best deal: At $10 ($2 more for meat), the antipasti plate will easily satisfy two.

Chef’s choice: Pork cheeks braised with peppers and onions with pickled octopus and aioli. “It’s become one of our signature dishes. It’s robust and unique. And anything with aioli I love.” (Ben Bettinger)

Beast

5425 NE 30th Ave., 841-6968, beastpdx.com. Dinner at 6 and 8:45 pm Wednesday-Saturday, brunch at 10 am and noon Sunday. Reservations required. $$$$ Very expensive.

[CARNIVORE CARNIVAL] The name might have been conceived as a bold declaration of carnivorous principles, but it’s morphed into a denotation of monstrous hype that just won’t die. The clamorous conversation about Beast seems to have intensified this year: Newsweek, Iron Chef America, O magazine and pissed-off animal-rights activists (they’re not huge fans of foie gras) have all stuck their snouts into chef Naomi Pomeroy’s tiny dining room to scope the fuss. And since one of Pomeroy’s six-course meals will set you back 60 bucks ($95 with wine pairings), there are still plenty of Portlanders saving up for an evening here and adding their chatty anticipation to the eager noise surrounding the place. Keep saving, folks, because Beast continues to meet the ridiculously high expectations. A recent midsummer menu featured a fresh soup of chilled crab and vegetables; an intense and artfully arranged charcuterie plate, the highlight of which was a magical little square of toast topped with quail egg and steak tartare; and a porchetta roast paired with perfect plum chutney and a slick of balsamic vinegar. The greens and cheese and graham tart that followed were just as impressive, and each wine pairing was spot-on. Just go already. CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: Whatever’s on the menu.

Best deal: Not applicable. Start saving. (Sunday brunch is $24 for four courses.)

Belly

3500 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 249-9764, bellyrestaurant.com. Lunch 11 am-2 pm, dinner 5-10 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

[BELT-BUSTING BISTRO] From the outside, Belly looks like another flag bearer of gentrification in a neighborhood that needs anything but a bourgeois restaurant. But inside it’s a different story. While the two-year-old eatery’s open kitchen, minimal decor and stiff seats all give Belly a touch of class, it offers a handful of solid meals in the $12 range—including a really bitchin’ bacon, blue cheese and fried-shallot burger—that keep it accessible to folks on a budget. That courtesy is reflected in the restaurant’s cozy but elegant atmosphere, which often comes soundtracked by quiet indie rock and supported by a sweet staff. Of course, if you want to get real fancy at Belly, you can. The pan-roasted pork tenderloin pairs oversized chunks of juicy meat with whole black cherries and perfectly roasted green beans, while the similarly prepared salmon comes loaded with a small mountain of green salsa that’s textured like thick pesto. Both meals are big, bold and beautiful while retaining a home-cooked quality that makes you feel better about eating fancy food on a stretch of MLK speckled with fast-food joints and mini-marts. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: The pan-roasted pork tenderloin, hand-cut french fries and warm black cherry poundcake.

Best deal: The amazing $12 bacon and blue cheese burger; the $12 “loaded potato” gnocchi is a pretty impressive upscale take on bacon cheddar potato wedges from Jack in the Box.

Chef’s choice: Octopus salad. “It’s octopus that’s been slowly cooked in olive oil with citrus, shallot and bay leaf. Then we fire it in the wood oven with green beans and fingerlings and top it with rouille.” (Cameron Addy)

Bete-Lukas

2504 SE 50th Ave., 477-8778, bete-lukas.com. 5 pm-close Tuesday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[ETHIOPIAN] Ethiopian dining is rarely an elegant affair, and the white tablecloths, real napkins and minimalist decor of Bete-Lukas don’t exactly scream, “Pull up a pew and start scarfing lentils with your hands!” But this South Tabor eatery is all about bringing a rare touch of refinement and subtlety to Horn of Africa cuisine: The initially reserved, white-collared maître d’ quickly reveals himself to be an absolute charmer, working each table individually with a wit so dry it crackles; the plainest-sounding dish, kategna—described simply as “warm injera with berbere and seasoned butter”—turns out to be a standout, with moist, fresh rolls of the spongy, slightly sour northeast African bread layered with a complex blend of spices; and instead of encouraging you to stuff yourself like there’s a famine on, servings are generous without being excessive. The menu offers a large range of lamb, beef, chicken and fish dishes, but its simpler, cheaper, heartier vegetarian fare is where Bete-Lukas really shines. From the fiery red-lentil misser wot to the tangy curried carrot and cabbage tikel gomen, each is distinctly delicious, and offers a taste of fine dining without the price tag or pretension. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Kategna, veggie combo plate, and eggplant tibs shared family-style, with a bottle of honey-infused Ethiopian lager Meta to take the heat off.

Best deal: At $7-$8 with injera and salad, every vegetable dish is an excellent value, but the $11 combo plate allows you to sample almost all of them.

BeWon Korean Restaurant

1203 NW 23rd Ave., 464-9222, bewonrestaurant.com. 5-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm Friday. $$ Moderate.

[KOREAN] This is one of Portland’s best and most underappreciated Korean restaurants. The latter may be because of its subterranean location. Although BeWon is on busy Northwest 23rd Avenue, its 30-seat below-street-level dining room is easy to miss. The pre-meal banchan is fantastic—small plates of requisite kimchi, sweet black soybeans and thinly sliced fish cake as well as seasonal specials such as just-picked asparagus with plum sauce and quick-pickled spicy Asian cukes. Go for anything with the rich and oily black cod (a.k.a. sablefish). The maewoon tang black cod stew arrives simmering in a black cast-iron bowl brimming with cod steak, sweet potatoes, shiitake and crunchy greens in a delicious spicy red pepper broth. Share this and a plate of the sautéed bok choy and mushrooms (oyster, shiitake and crimini) and you’ll feel better about the world—even if a smooth jazz version of Cat Stevens’ Peace Train is playing in the dining-room. LIZ CRAIN.

Ideal meal: Sweet-potato noodles with sautéed shiitake and veggies, kimchi chi-ge (spicy tofu, pork and kimchi stew) and galbi (marinated and grilled thinly sliced beef short ribs).

Best deal: $24.95 han jung shik (prix fixe meal) seven-course dinner.

Biwa

215 SE 9th Ave., 239-8830, biwarestaurant.com. 5 pm-midnight nightly. $$ Moderate.

[JAPANESE] While Biwa serves Japanese fare from udon and ramen to grilled yakitori chicken, each dish takes on a life of its own in the cool, concrete confines of this Southeast Portland basement restaurant. It’s when you veer off the beaten path, though, for some of the rich, smoky bacon chahan set (an intimidatingly greasy fried-rice dish that, for $19, comes with some of the best miso soup you’ve ever had and a gorgeous wakame side salad), or the deceptively simple-sounding radish salad (doused in enough wasabi that the right bite can bring a grown man to tears), that things get interesting. Each of these dishes presents challenges to Western taste buds: Biwa is one of the few Japanese restaurants in Portland where the dishes feel truly exotic and surprising, offering the open-minded foodie meals that evade direct comparison with anything else in town. For less adventurous eaters, Biwa offers a couple of straight-up ramen variations that, while stylized, won’t blow expectations out of the water. And if it’s atmosphere you seek, Biwa has it in spades: The restaurant’s wood-and-concrete motif, combined with high windows that open to the street and sidewalk, give the space a distinctly urban and somewhat anonymous feel. But look out—especially with Biwa’s $5 sake specials, it’s easy to lose track of time down there. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: Order one of everything. Appetizers and snacks run in the $2 to $6 range, and this place is meant for groups of friends who like to mix and match.

Best deal: The ramen ($9) can’t be beat.

Chef’s choice: “I have loved gyoza ever since I was a little kid—my father makes them really well, and they have long been an important component of his Thanksgiving dinner—and we have served them here since we opened.” (Gabe Rosen)

Bluehour

250 NW 13th Ave., 226-3394, bluehouronline.com. Brunch 10 am-2 pm Sunday, lunch 11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday-Friday, dinner 5-10 pm nightly. $$$-$$$$ Expensive-very expensive.

[LUXE, LOCAVORE ITALIAN] OK, yes, Bluehour is a very expensive restaurant, and yes, the menu’s stern warning against the use of laptops and cell phones in the dining room is reflective of the eating habits of its posh clientele, but this is no cutthroat hotel steakhouse, bilking traveling executives out of their per diems with $40 frozen lobster tail. The small fortune you will pay for a dinner among Bluehour’s vertiginous curtains and seasonal greenery buys you good service and very good food. Chef Kenny Giambalvo’s cloudlike gnocchi, laden with heavy cream and shaved black truffles, are so rich you may find yourself having to take lengthy pauses between bites to fight back ecstatic tears as the fungal musk washes over your palate. Giambalvo also has a deft hand with vegetables, sensibly serving them over and under an onion tart—the crust has the texture of a croissant—allowing tart flavors to counter the sweetness of the onions. And while dessert may be the last thing on your mind after all that milk fat, stick around for one of James Blake’s seasonal creations: A recent dinner ended with a plate of hazelnut buttermilk cake topped with poached peaches and paired with candied hazelnuts, apricot gelée and sweet milk sherbet. It was perfect. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Caesar salad, salmon tartare, gnocchi, any dessert.

Best deal: Bluehour offers a $50 four-course, prix fixe menu, but the real bargain is happy hour (4-6:30 pm), when $25 will get you a burger and a bottle of Cava.

Chef’s choice: “Spaghetti with tomato and basil. My Italian heritage runs thick in my veins, and this dish is at once comforting and elegant in its simplicity, and is a celebration of the Italian food culture.” (Kenny Giambalvo)

Branch

2926 NE Alberta St., 206-6266, branchwhiskeybar.com. 5-10 pm Sunday, 5-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 5 pm-2 am Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[BOURBON AND BURGERS] In a pair of past lives, this bright tavern was the much-lauded but always troubled Alberta Street Oyster Bar (which once had a kitchen run by pig-fed pugilist Eric Bechard). We liked the Alberta Street, but under no circumstances would we give up Branch to get it back. Chef Larry Tavernetti’s short menu of casual fare is the best pub grub in town: The burger is among the city’s finest; the enormous housemade pork sausages, of which you get two for $13, are even better; but best of all is the ramekin of pork rillettes, which comes to the table surprisingly hot, straight from the broiler. Among the less heavy dishes, the grilled romaine salad and asparagus were standouts. The Branch Board, an appetizer of pâté, mortadella, pickles, salad and fruit, could make a balanced light dinner for one. Drinks, served in sensibly squat cocktail glasses, live up to the food. Bartender Andrew Finkelman makes a fine Manhattan, but more interesting are Branch’s $18 three-whiskey flights. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Pork rillettes, grilled romaine salad, burger with cheddar.

Best deal: Several appetizers and the pasta are $2 off from 5-7 pm daily.

Chef’s choice: “The Branch Board. It’s everything we do here condensed onto one board.” (Larry Tavernetti)

Broder

2508 SE Clinton St., 736-3333, broderpdx.com. Dinner 6-10 pm Thursday-Saturday, breakfast 9 am-3 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

[BORK! BORK! BORK!] Though it began serving dinner in 2008, the Scandinavian-inflected Broder is known to most Portlanders as a breakfast place. That’s too bad. The dinner menu is both homey and playful, with items like a crawfish boil and fish cakes, as well as various “bords” for diners who prefer to graze. The Surf Bord is a selection of well-executed gravlax (salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill), pickled herring and smoked white fish served with housemade pickles and rye breads on a wooden board; it’s delightful finger food. The Swedish meatballs in sherry cream and the lamb burger are worthy of attention. One of the treats of eating at Broder are the fixin’s—from a mustardy rémoulade to crisp pickled beets and some of the best rye breads in town—which add depth to every dish. The long, casual dining room is adorned with charming Scandinavian decor. Service can be slow, but order yourself a flight of chilled aquavits (a distilled Scandinavian liquor with caraway, cardamom and anise; $15) and you’ll hardly notice. HANNA NEUSCHWANDER.

Ideal meal: Fried fish bites ($8), Scandinavian shrimp salad ($11) and Broder’s excellent Swedish meatballs ($11) is plenty of food for two to share.

Best deal: The Stockholm hot dog ($8) is street food surf ’n’ turf—a frank wrapped in a potato pancake, topped with shrimp ($2). Yeah.

Cafe Castagna

1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-9959, castagnarestaurant.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Tuesday-Saturday, dinner 5-10:30 pm Monday-Friday, 5-11 pm Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[CASUAL AND ECLECTIC] Neighborhood joints—even upscale ones—are allergic to upheaval. At Cafe Castagna, starters like arancine (fried risotto and fontina balls), a butter lettuce salad with creamy tarragon dressing and scallops have been regulars on the menu for half a decade. Small innovations to these staples keep people coming back for the cafe’s mix of French, Italian and southern European fare. In the midpriced-entree category, old reliables include an upscale mac ’n’ cheese (recently with Gruyère and cheddar, $15) and pizzas with crunchy, paper-thin crusts. An excellent interpretation of an Alsatian flammekueche casserole, featuring bacon and onions soaked in crème fraîche, had the perfect thrust of thyme. Toward the bottom of the menu, a recent take on halibut steak was served over a stew of artichoke, onion and potato—a nuanced mixture of earthy and briny. Nevertheless, missteps aren’t uncommon—like perfectly seared scallops and fennel, served with ruinously underripe grapefruit. Cafe Castagna is spendy for a casual dinner, but the service and space are welcoming. HANNA NEUSCHWANDER.

Ideal meal: Chilled borscht ($8), egg with lardons and toast ($11), and goulash ($18).

Best deal: The popular bistro hamburger starts at an affordable $11.

Chef’s choice: Spicy Italian sausage pizza with braised beet greens. “When the pizza cooks, the moisture from the sausage is absorbed by the greens, which makes its own little sauce.”(Matthew Lightner)

Caffe Allora

502 NW 9th Ave., 445-4612, caffe-allora.com. 7 am-10 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

[ITALIAN] This midrange Pearl District trattoria can’t quite decide whether it’s a restaurant or a bar, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Through tall, east-facing windows, leafy shadows flicker across a palette of blues and grays. Allora feels pleasantly like the inside of an aquarium: cool, calm and relaxing. It’s a nice place to unwind after work with a highball. Allora’s menu of simply prepared Italian staples—salads, antipasti, salumi, panini, pasta—is full of tempting cocktail accompaniments. At their best, the dishes are triumphs of crisp minimalism, like a carpaccio strewn with capers on bed of greens, or ravioli with sage and butter. But some dishes can sag from simplicity into monotony, like a salad of blanched asparagus on a superfluous nest of flavorless shredded cabbage dressed in a bland cream sauce. Allora’s pastas, however, won’t disappoint. Pomodoro, puttanesca, carbonara—the greatest hits of Italy, all true to form, with fresh, high-quality ingredients. ETHAN SMITH.

Ideal meal: Salumi, salad and a plate of puttanesca, washed down with a glass or three of vino.

Best deal: At lunch, a panino and salad run $10.

Caffe Mingo

807 NW 21st Ave., 226-4646, barmingonw.com/caffemingo. 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[ITALIAN] Although the service at a recent visit came off as rather odd (the unsolicited arrival of a free dessert felt more like après-emptive strike than a random act of generosity—but, hey, who’s complaining about free panna cotta?), neither that nor the tepid decor should deter diners from repeat returns to Caffe Mingo. Such tedium fades into the background when you’re busy savoring a generous antipasti plate, a well-priced bottle of wine and a fine Portland summer evening shining through the large windows. You’d think that Caffe Mingo’s froufrou Nob Hill location would translate into cloyingly delicate, overthought dishes, but in fact, the entrees here are solid touchstones layered with subtle underlying strata: A ravioli just this side of al dente, housing fresh rosemary, goat cheese and a salty kick of pancetta, for instance, is served with little fanfare but plenty of interlocking flavors. And of course there’s the signature dish, the penne with espresso-and-Chianti-braised beef. My god, how long do they work this beef to get it so tender? You’ll have plenty of time to mull that question and others as you wait in the popular spot’s ever-present line, but that just gives the meat a little extra espresso-soaking time. JONANNA WIDNER.

Ideal meal: The penne with Chianti-and-espresso-braised beef, hands down.

Best deal: Er…free dessert?

Carafe

200 SW Market St., 248-0004, carafebistro.com. Winter hours: 11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday, 11:30 am-8:30 pm Tuesday-Friday, 5-8:30 pm Saturday. Summer hours: 11:30 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, 5-9 pm Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[FRENCH BISTRO] Patrons of nearby Keller Auditorium rely on Carafe for pre- and post-performance Parisian fare, not to mention the free valet parking, which makes up for the slightly spooky trek to the parking-garage restrooms. The restaurant exudes a civilized unstuffiness, making it equally comfortable for lone diners and noisy revelers. Sit outside (basking in the breezes from Keller Fountain and gloating that you’re not seething in rush-hour traffic) and contemplate your happy-hour choices: mussels in white wine, perhaps, or Carafe’s unorthodox “pigs in a blanket”—wagyu beef sausages swathed in sweetish crêpes and enlivened with Dijon. The cheese plate can be a tad skimpy, but I add points for the walnut bread and seasonal fresh currants. Appetizers range from steak tartare to foie gras with seasonal accessories. Among entrees, the excellent canard à l’orange features herbed potato croquettes and tender slivers of beet and orange, although the duck glaze tastes more like tomato than orange. But Carafe’s “bifsteak frites” (hanger steak and fries, dude) are totally reliable, and the béarnaise sauce keeps it Gallic. Also very Gallic: the terrific, reasonably priced French wine list. ANGIE JABINE.

Ideal meal: Sip a licoricey pastis with your moules à la crème or baked escargots. Follow (in winter, especially) with choucroute garnie: beer-braised sauerkraut, sausage, pork belly and smoked ham. Finish Euro-style with a frisée salad, or indulge in tarte aux pommes.

Best deal: At happy hour, a quarter-liter of the day’s wine specials is $5, and Carafe’s top-rated burger is $4.95.

Chef’s choice: Frisée aux lardons. “I just can’t get enough of bacon and eggs balanced with the bitter of the frisée and the acidity of the vinaigrette. The perfect dish!” (Pascal Sauton)

Castagna

1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-7373, castagnarestaurant.com. 5:30-10 pm Wednesday-Saturday. $$$-$$$$ Expensive-very expensive.

WW's Restaurant of the Year 2010 Runner Up. Read full review, here.

Chennai Masala

2088 NW Stucki Ave., Hillsboro, 531-9500, chennaimasala.net. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner 5:30-9:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[INDIAN] This South Indian treasure is a master of optical illusions. It’s exiled to a bland space in a crap Hilldboro strip mall across from Streets of Tanasbourne, but serves food fit for a bejeweled raja. The pleasant staff presents you with an array of copper bowls of rainbow-colored curries that each look too tiny to sate a toddler but can stretch to feed a family of four for three days. What looks to be floppy oversized pancakes plopped on an aluminum cafeteria tray turn out to be feather-light Indian dosa stuffed with everything from eggs and cheese to cumin-spiced onions and chickpeas and served with a trio of lentil soup, puckery yogurt and peppery tomato sauce. See? Magic. A single mouthful of Chennai’s smoky Chettinad shrimp, silky chicken masala or savory malai kofta (soft veggie dumplings simmered in creamy garam masala-perfumed sauce) should be enough to convince any rational being that suburban gridlock should never stand in the way of truly soulful cooking. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Samosa turnovers stuffed with smashed spuds and peas, crunchy chapatti bread and garlic naan, lamb vindaloo and a cool mango lassi for dessert.

Best deal: The lunchtime buffet ($9.95) is an embarrassment of spicy, creamy riches, cool salads and funky Indian breads.

Ciao Vito

2203 NE Alberta St., 282-5522, ciaovito.net. 5-10 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

[ITALIAN] For people who are new to town—and if you’re younger than 35, odds are you’re a transplant—it’s easy to dismiss Alberta Street as a hippie bohemian playground. But go beyond Last Thursday and you’ll find plenty of relaxed, fancy-but-not-too-bougie restaurants like Ciao Vito. It’s a good bet to start with an appetizer—both the grilled-garlic bruschetta and crisp pork-and-beef meatballs are so tasty you’ll want to order another round—before tackling an array of entrees like bold cuts of meat (such as a giant 15-ounce Carlton Farms pork chop) and lighter fare like the house specialty polenta, topped with mushrooms and a cut of pork shoulder so juicy and fatty you’ll swear off bacon for a month. One piece of advice: Avoid sitting outside on a curbside table if possible, as the commotion from the street detracts from the delicious meal in front of you. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

Ideal meal: Polenta, sausage ragu.

Best deal: An order of spaghetti agli’olio runs for just $7 on the appetizer menu.

Clarklewis

1001 SE Water Ave., 235-2294, clarklewispdx.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday; dinner 4:30-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[EARNEST LOCAVORE FARE] “The cheese plate really has my heart,” our server says, upon a request for appetizer recommendations. Chipper, helpful and sporting an excellent haircut, she breezes through several options in a manner both substantive and spunky—a combination, come to think of it, that could describe Clarklewis itself. The restaurant’s industrial chic may be a little overplayed these days (what is it about rich white people that makes them love to eat in converted warehouses?), but when the summer sun blazes through the sliding garage doors and you’re staring into the deep reds of a braised-lamb ragu, who cares about the decor? The menu here is deceptive: A spring scallop ceviche sounds simple enough; only when it arrives do you understand its intricacies—the buttery scallops nestled between bright leafy basil leaves and eddies of zingy lime juice. The beet salad is a trick, too, listed as an appetizer but so rich it belongs on the dessert menu. Speaking of, the list of desserts reads like an inventory of a Sauvie Island farm, so replete is it with local berries. Those berries, along with the cheese and the rest of Clarklewis’ offerings, will have your heart too. JONANNA WIDNER.

Ideal meal: Housemade tagliatelle with braised lamb ragu.

Best deal: The $4 arancine risotto balls with pork sausage and lemon aioli on the happy-hour menu (4:30-6:30 pm Monday-Saturday) will sate your savory urges.

Chef’s choice: “Cattail Creek lamb—whether it’s our lamb ragu with housemade tagliatelle or grilled lamb leg off the open fire, it never seems to disappoint.” (Dolan Lane)

Clyde Common

1014 SW Stark St., 228-3333, clydecommon.com. 11:30 am-midnight Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-2 am Friday, 5 pm-2 am Saturday, 5-11 pm Sunday. $$$ Expensive.

[LOUD, DRUNK AND DELICIOUS] Befitting its status as the hotel restaurant for one of the nation’s “it” hotels—the downtown Ace—Clyde Common perseveres as one of Portland’s most ambitious bistros. The menu rotates nearly as quickly as the trendsetters who make the communal tables their evening headquarters, and it’s rare for the best items to last until final call (which is often an hour too early, thanks to Southwest Stark Street remaining a magnet for junkies and thugs). All the more reason to get there early and try the lamb—as a shank or a skewer, over a bed of magnificent couscous—or the fish. A whole dourade stares back as you savor its grilled, succulent, bone-spackled flesh, while the obligatory halibut dish is dolled up with mussels and pesto sauce, suggesting an establishment that rightly rankles at serving the halibut. That concupiscence is reflected in the cups: Bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler serves a Negroni whose gin, vermouth and Campari have been barrel-aged together for seven weeks. Is it better than the standard Negroni? I couldn’t tell. Maybe you should try both and compare. It’s good to have ambition. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Start with a potato salad, then order whatever lamb is on the menu.

Best deal: Rare whiskeys for dollars less than most bars charge.

Chef’s choice: “The fideus [noodle paella]. It’s crunchy, fatty, sweet, salty, spicy and just plain delicious.” (Chris DiMinno)

Editor’s note: Thanks to Clyde Common for providing the feast on the cover of Restaurant Guide 2010!

The Country Cat

7937 SE Stark St., 408-1414, thecountrycat.net. Brunch 9 am-2 pm, dinner 5 pm-close daily. $$ Moderate.

[DEATH BY PORK] Adam Sappington, the chef of this Montavilla diner, has a way with a knife and a beast. Try the Whole Hog, a sampler plate that brings tender smoky pork shoulder, rich spiraled belly and a juicy grilled chop together on a single plate. It’s pig heaven. Fried chicken arrives fragrant from its herb-studded crunchy coating that holds in the meat’s juices, but don’t overlook the bacon-braised collard greens that are also on the plate. Tender, smoky and sassy from a vinegar bite, you may need to order more. A starter bowl of spaghetti and meatballs might as well have passed on the pasta—while the housemade egg noodles were tasty enough, the tender, parsley-studded nuggets were the stars. Desserts are hit and miss, so don’t save room. The dining room is modern and efficient, a comfortable retreat from the jumble of activity outside on Southeast Stark Street. Plenty of wooden booths offer a bit of privacy, and a small but fully stocked bar fills one wall. Grab a seat at the counter in front of the open kitchen and watch the cooks—or even talk with them—as they make your dinner. You’re sure to learn a thing or two. DEEDA SCHROEDER.

Ideal meal: Cast-iron-skillet-fried chicken.

Best deal: PB&J, which is a pork sandwich, baked beans and a jigger of Jack Daniel’s, $10; available Tuesdays only.

Chef’s choice: Cast-iron-skillet fried chicken. “I grew up on my grandmother’s fried chicken, and this is an ode to her. I personally make it every Sunday night for our staff meal. My mouth waters the moment it comes out of the beef fat and onto the plate. Nothing tastes better than that.” (Adam Sappington)

Davis Street Tavern

500 NW Davis St., 505-5050, davisstreettavern.com. 11:30 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-1 am Friday-Saturday, 10 am-9 pm Sunday. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[BEER AND BISQUES] While Davis Street’s handsomely rustic decor suggests the cocktail bar at the end of the Oregon Trail, the finest attractions aren’t the ones you drink, but the ones you slurp: specifically, two of the best bisques I’ve ever tasted. The Dungeness crab bisque is poured hot from a ceramic carafe onto a bed of crab meat and roasted artichoke hearts, and is flat out the most delicious thing I’ve eaten this year; the tomato bisque appears on the lunch menu, accompanied by an artisan grilled-cheese sandwich perfect for that tomato-soup dipping experience you remember from your luxurious socialite childhood. But everything on the menu at this Old Town bulwark (which feels the breeze of the passing MAX Green Line) is delicious, with portions that leave just enough room for a microbrew to accompany the old-school vinyl spun on weeknights. The lunch menu is packed with deals: An open-faced tuna melt BLT, with the tuna salad freshly chopped and piled with cherry tomatoes and braised pork belly, is a decadent reinvention of the countertop staple, while a chilled shrimp and frisée salad was good enough to derail an interview. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: A cup of the Dungeness bisque, followed by the Carlton Farms pork loin with cumin slaw and jalapeño-green apple reduction.

Best deal: The tuna melt BLT, $10.

Del Inti

2315 NE Alberta St., 288-8191, delinti.com. 4-10 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[PERUVIAN] Ignacio and Erin del Solar’s Northeast Alberta Street Peruvian restaurant—a vibrant mashup of South American, Asian and Northwestern flavors—is like sunshine on a plate. And with a Lima-born boy in the kitchen, you better believe the ceviche is something to shout about: big firm hunks of octopus, yam and shrimp luxuriate in a puckery “leche de tigre” marinating liquid of citrus, red onion and chile; another take adds pickled carrots, mango and sesame. The entrees, a lineup of stuffed peppers, steaks and chops, are hearty and satisfying, but a mix-and-match meal of smaller plates is far more fun. Nibble on crisp yuca sticks with spicy cheese sauce or sweet asparagus- and potato-packed empanadas and gobble stewed pork belly with Manila clams. And when the menu presents you the chance to brave beef heart, take it. Del Inti serves its organs charcoal-grilled on skewers, creating meaty, tender nibblets made perfect by a dunk in creamy, green chile-cheese-peanut ocopa sauce. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Multiple ceviches, beef heart skewers, strawberry arugula salad with tamarind vinaigrette, clams and a big pitcher of fruity white sangria.

Best deal: Take a dollar off the bar menu at happy hour (4-7 pm), which means you can gorge on the best avocado sauce in town, served with fried won tons filled with queso fresco as a delivery system. Get the lomo saltado sandwich too.

Chef’s choice: Ceviche. “The fresh fish (if you serve frozen or not really fresh fish in Peru you go out of business), aji, lime, red onion, cilantro, ginger, celery, corn and sweet potato together make me happy!” (Ignacio del Solar)

DOC

5519 NE 30th Ave., 946-8592, docpdx.com. 6 pm-close Tuesday-Saturday. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[ITALIANATE INTIMACY] The Italian anchor of Micah Camden’s restaurant relay race up Northeast 30th Avenue exudes a playful arrogance. Like a magician who shows you how a trick works, only to build to an even grander illusion, DOC’s layout plops the kitchen between the front door and the dining room. It’s a charming gesture of transparency, and quite necessary, too: Your brief shuffle through the kitchen might just be more informative than the menu, which lists only the most basic ingredients for each dish. If you can afford it—you’re eating at DOC, so you probably can—bring a date—the place is très romantic, so you really should—and go with the five-course tasting menu ($50, $85 with wine pairing). They won’t serve duplicates, so you’ll have the rare opportunity to sample a good 60 percent of the menu in one night, and there’s not a single dud in the bunch. The albacore entree, which teams tender oil-poached slabs with dense canned chunks of tuna, ranks among the best fish dishes in town, while the pillowy gnudi shame their stodgy gnocchi forebears with cheesy centers and earthy chanterelle sidekicks. Past 9 pm, glowing couples pop in for desserts like the achingly sweet buttermilk panna cotta, and if you happen to overhear a pair of lovebirds ordering coffee, keep your eyes peeled: the befuddling “vacuum pots,” which resemble Martian bongs or IKEA sex toys, bring out something tender and childlike in people, and it’s a joy to watch the scene unfold. CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: Beets, beef tongue and horseradish salad; gnudi; albacore.

Best deal: Yes, $100 is a lot, but you get to taste 10 delicious dishes.

Chef’s choice: Mutton. “It’s lamb for a more adventurous palate. The meat is luxurious; it’s darker red, it has more intense-tasting fat—more fat, more marbling.” (Timothy Wastell)

Du Kuh Bee

12590 SW 1st St., Beaverton, 643-5388. 4 pm-1 am Monday-Thursday, 4 pm-2 am Friday-Saturday. No reservations. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.

[KOREAN/CHINESE] With all the press this tiny Korean noodle place has gotten over the past couple of years, it’s a wonder it isn’t packed to overflowing all the time. You can still walk in and snag one of the six tables or four bar stools and dig into handmade Korean noodles, barbecued meats and seafood and kimchi-heavy dishes while watching the kitchen work like a high-performance engine. Sitting at the bar is recommended—the fascinating noodle-stretching process works like a giant rubber band, with a disc of dough pulled and folded over and over until it’s the perfect width. Then it gets tossed into a pot of boiling water before ending up in a flaming sauté pan. Because the kitchen is small and there are just two cooks, don’t expect lightning-fast service. This is a place to linger, and food will be served in stages. DEEDA SCHROEDER.

Ideal meal: Anything with housemade noodles or kimchi.

Best deal: Dumplings, $4.

Chef’s choice: Handmade squid noodle. (Frank Fong)

East India Co.

821 SW 11th Ave., 227-8815, eastindiacopdx.com. 11:30 am-2:30 pm and 4-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[INDIAN] A peerless first-date location, provided your date has never seen Suspiria, and thus feels no unpleasant connotations from the red stained-glass ceiling. Arrive toward the 10 pm close, and you may find the owner has gathered his family for a group meal; this will provide the perfect opportunity for you and your dining companion to discuss how many children you would like to produce. Or maybe you should stick to naan disclosure—at some point, you will have to pick between four flavors of the piping-hot bread, and while I’m partial to the garlic variety, it is probably not the most strategically advantageous choice as the evening progresses. Show your decisiveness by ordering the kati kebabs as a starter; the ginger-mango chutney makes the chicken skewers irresistible to all but the most militant vegans. Among the entrees, the murg makhani is hymned on the menu as “the famous ‘Butter Chicken,’” and it is justly famed—but the similar murg korma is even better, with the chicken swimming in a cashew and ginger sauce. The dish deserves its own Kama Sutra depicting all the positions in which you might eat it. So this is love. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Kati kebabs, rosemary naan, murg korma.

Best deal: Lamb kebabs are just $16.

Evoe

3731 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-1010, pastaworks.com/evoe. Noon-7 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $ Inexpensive.

[SPANISH SNACKS] Large windows pour light onto Evoe’s long, broad lunch counter, where bowls of fresh fruit, a tower of chipped plates and tureens of pickled vegetables are all that separate diners from chef Kevin Gibson as he executes one perfect knife stroke after another. Preparing trim salads and sandwiches for either lunch or early dinner, Gibson relies mostly on simple raw ingredients. If he’s out of peaches for the glacier lettuce, peach and speck salad ($9), he might hold up an apricot with an inquisitive smile and ask if you mind the substitution. You will not. Innovative uses of straightforward ingredients, like raw artichoke in a salad with thinly sliced fennel and salty Italian bacon ($8), are the norm. Gibson ensures that each ingredient is both true to itself and selfless in the dish’s marriage of flavors, making Evoe one of the most consistently excellent places to dine in Portland. There is no fancy tableware, and a chalkboard takes the place of a printed menu to accommodate the fresh ingredients of the day. Casual, intimate, cheerful, reverent—Evoe achieves the paradox of elevating food without any extraneous effort. HANNA NEUSCHWANDER.

Ideal meal: Go with a friend or loved one, order any three dishes (everything is priced between $6 and $13), and share.

Best deal: For the quality of both the ingredients and the preparation, everything on the menu qualifies as a great deal.

The Farm Cafe

10 SE 7th Ave., 736-3276, thefarmcafe.com, 5-10:30 pm Sunday-Tuesday, 5-11:30 pm Wednesday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[VEGGIE DELIGHTS] The Farm Cafe doesn’t bother to plaster its menu with words like “sustainable,” “organic,” “local” and “farm fresh.” It doesn’t have to—you can taste them in every bite. Whether enjoying a cocktail made from locally distilled spirits and snacking on sweet and spicy Oregon hazelnuts at the bar, sampling an early-evening local brew and veggie burger on the patio or tucking into a romantic corner of the beautifully restored Victorian cottage for creamy sautéed crimini mushrooms, handmade pasta, sunken chocolate soufflé and a glass (or five) of Willamette Valley pinot, the focus is on locally grown, seasonal ingredients and honest, fresh flavors that speak for themselves. The regular menu is all vegetarian and pescatarian, but if beetroot carpaccio and tofu cutlets just don’t do it for you, the specials menu almost always features at least one chicken or lamb dish. In a city where the “more local than thou” posturing can get tiresome, the Farm reminds you just how amazing local produce can be without ramming it down your throat. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Take your mouth on a tour of Oregon dairies: Williams baked Brie; beet carpaccio with fresh chèvre; chèvre ravioli; mascarpone cheesecake with dulce de leche sauce.

Best deal: At $11, the farmhouse veggie burger may sound pricey, but it’s a bargain for one of the biggest and the best in the city, and comes with a hefty side of fries, meaning no starter is required.

Chef’s choice: “Corn risotto with heirloom tomatoes and Rogue Smokey Blue cheese. It’s the best of summer.” (Kelly Weiss)

Fenouil

900 NW 11th Ave., 525-2225, fenouilinthepearl.com. 11:30 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday, 9 am-9 pm Sunday. $$$$ Very expensive.

[FRENCH WITH A VIEW] Chef Jake Martin was hired this spring to renew and refocus this elegant, two-story restaurant’s French-inspired cuisine, and for the most part, he’s succeeded. Small plates shine—not a single vegetable or protein was overcooked, and plates were colorful, balanced and tidy to a fault. Foie gras au torchon is a good example. With compressed pear, creamy vanilla sauce and crunchy sea salt, the thick slab of classically prepared poached goose liver is creamy and rich. A knockout was the Oregon Berkshire pork pâté, which was adorned with a seared brioche crust and pole beans tossed with pickled shallots and mustard. Large plates weren’t so reliable. Day-boat scallops, though nicely seared and tender inside, came atop white beans and tender rings of calamari—a flat and mild pairing. Examine the side dishes on the menu for whatever’s seasonal—a small bowl of spring legumes came filled with fresh peas and fava beans, heady with the bite of whole cloves of garlic and shallot. Fenouil’s service is invariably gracious and hospitable. Dinner service was thoughtfully present only when needed, making spot-on recommendations for drinks and wine. A lunch on the sprawling patio by default moved at a much slower pace. And why not? It’s dappled with shade and perfect for people watching. Stick to the French favorites and you won’t be disappointed. DEEDA SCHROEDER.

Ideal meal: Small plates like hamachi crudo and Dungeness crab salad.

Best deal: Examine the side dishes on the menu for whatever’s seasonal. Happy hour 4-6 pm Monday-Sunday.

Chef’s choice: Hamachi crudo. “We pair it with cucumber vinegar and a yuzu kosho yogurt so it has a spice and then a cooling freshness.” (Jake Martin)

Firehouse

711 NE Dekum St., 954-1702, firehousepdx.com. 5-9 pm Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday. 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[PIZZA IN THE GARDEN] Firehouse has an ingenious way of rushing you through your salad course: On warm evenings, it throws the doors open to the elements, one of which is a mischievous wind that funnels through the dining room to lift shaved pecorino from your plate of romaine hearts with lemon-anchovy vinaigrette. As the cheese flakes dance on the draft while threatening to fall into your neighbor’s glass of pinot, you’ll wish you’d have followed your gut and ordered the meatballs straight away. The salad’s not bad—it’s a perfectly pleasant mellow Caesar iteration—but it’s hardly worth risking the humiliation of decorating the place with flying fromage. So if you feel a breeze, skip ahead to the wood-fired comfort food that is turning this Woodlawn toddler into a neighborhood favorite. The pizza rivals any of the charred marvels available at Portland’s more celebrated pie purveyors, and the aforementioned meatballs, in addition to being wind-resistant, come paired with braised green beans that soak up the soupy red sauce while somehow avoiding waterlogged sogginess. It’s a deeply satisfying dish worthy of the firefighters who once occupied the building: humble and unaffected, a necessary public service. CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: Pizza with spicy fennel sausage, meatballs, rhubarb crisp.

Best deal: Pizza margherita ($12).

Chef’s choice: “The one dish that I just can’t get enough of is the wood grilled hanger steak with crispy potatoes, arugula and grana padano. It’s the only dish that has remained unchanged on the menu since we opened.” (Matthew Busetto)

Fratelli/Bar Dué

1230 NW Hoyt St., 241-8800, fratellicucina.com. 5-11 pm nightly. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[ITALIAN] Connected at the hip, these Pearl District spaces each offer their own appeal. Fratelli, the more sophisticated sibling, beckons with its formal, coursed-out menu and romantic space. Exposed beams, stained concrete and sultry amber lighting lend the cucina rough-hewn elegance. But Fratelli’s menu could use some editing; it stretches across 14 categories, from antipasti to dolci. In between are many deftly executed Italian dishes—like bruschetta with shaved beef, truffle oil and marscarpone or the sweet-savory complexity of fettuccine tossed with dried cherries, oregano and sweetbreads. But the kitchen overwhelms diners by attempting to cover the canon every night. Next door, Fratelli’s looser little sister, Bar Dué, stretches her legs in a railroad-narrow space with a bar along the right wall. An array of clever cocktails tend toward the crisp and citrusy. The menu, fueled by a word-fired oven, is refreshingly concise: three categories and three prices. A handful of pizzettes—like a delightful combination of pancetta, tomatoes, hazelnuts, olives and Gruyère—run $8.50 each. “Plates” (all $7.50) tend toward the simple and hearty; meatballs peek from a bubbling ceramic dish of Gorgonzola and tomato sauce. And “piccolini” ($3.50) range from olives and pickled beets to bruschetta and a rotating frittata. One or two from each section will satisfy four diners for $50—although drinks are another matter. ETHAN SMITH.

Ideal meal: Start with a trio of bruschetta and move on to fettuccine with sweetbreads and dried cherries.

Best deal: Happy hour (4-6 pm and 9 pm-close daily) offers up $6 vino pours and $5 pizzettes and plates.

Chef’s choice: Polenta with a wild-mushroom sauce. “It’s something we’ve had on menu since we opened up. I serve polenta in a different way than a lot of other places in Portland.” (Paul Klitsie)

 

 Genoa

2832 SE Belmont St., 238-1464, genoarestaurant.com. 5:30-9:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $$$ Expensive.

[ITALIAN EXTRAVAGANCE] Before closing in 2008 after almost 40 years as a cornerstone of Portland’s food revival, Genoa’s stately prix fixe menu suffered from what might be called an embarrassment of riches. Seven courses? Who eats that nowadays? While the old menu might have held a certain Mad Men-esque indulgent charm, it could be argued that it had drifted from Don Draper decadence into stuffy old-lady land. Reopened in December 2009 under new head chef David Anderson (formerly of Vindalho), Genoa has dropped the number of courses to five, a less intimidating number that still allows for special-occasion extravagance. The menu rotates seasonally, and each rotation follows the cuisine of a specific region of Italy. Inspired by the Campania area, the late-summer menu artfully straddles the line between the incoming fall and August’s dusky haze, sprinkling rich fare with plenty of light delicacies. The no-nonsense, housemade pasta is a toothsome prelude to the intriguing salad course, an insalta de mare that features meaty Alaskan prawns, Puget Sound mussels and clams, Oregon octopus and pretty much every other creature that could be speared on Poseidon’s trident. The main course offers three options, the most mind-blowing of which is the whole roasted dourade prepared in the goofily named “crazy water.” We suggest you partake in the other crazy water as well—the wine pairing, featuring vino from the same region as the food, may not be a steal at 38 bucks a person, but it flows plentifully. You’ll leave buzzed, happy and full—just not too full. JONANNA WIDNER.

Ideal meal: Whatever’s on the menu.

Best deal: The whole thing—five excellent courses for $55.

Chef’s choice: Caponata salad with carpaccio tuna. “It’s a super-interesting dish. I love eggplant. It’s a testament to the late-summer produce, and it has an interesting presentation.”(David Anderson)

Gilt Club

306 NW Broadway, 222-4458, giltclub.com. 5 pm-2 am Monday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[NEW AMERICAN FOR NIGHT OWLS] It’s puzzling that a restaurant as sexy as Gilt Club doesn’t draw more couples on romantic dates: The gauzy gold drapes, plush red booths and gentle acoustics seem tailor-made for an intimate prelude to bedroom antics. Whenever I’m there, however, those booths are filled with teams of chattering whiz kids from nearby design firms. Then again, why not? The food, cocktails and service are excellent, and they’ve got the spare coin for delectable but petite $9 tureens of chilled beet soup with horseradish sour cream. I recommend the Blueberry French 75, made with house-infused blueberry gin, prosecco and lemon, properly served in a flute and a great foil for voluptuous duck liver pâté with wild mushrooms and Madeira, oozy Époisses cheese with mission figs, and crisp radishes with good butter. My whole Idaho trout made a capital base for fresh cherry tomatoes and greens, fava beans, pancetta and thinly sliced lemon. The wagyu beef top sirloin came rare as requested (though a tad sinewy) with interesting pickled green onions, fried shoestring potatoes and smoked bone-marrow vinaigrette. And at least one of two diners at our table went gaga for the oatmeal ice cream with rhubarb coulis and honey almond crumble. ANGIE JABINE.

Ideal meal: Pig runs the show here: pork tongue, pork belly (with pickled peaches, mmm), crispy pig’s ears, porchetta di testa (headcheese).

Best deal: Pick any three items off the small plates menu for $13. Happy hour 5-6:30 pm Monday-Friday.

Chef’s choice: The Pork Explosion. “Rolled pork head, pancetta-style, with tongue, crispy ear, picked red onions, pecorino and arugula. It takes what people would call the ‘nasty bits’ and makes it something that they want. We take the head and debone it, rub it and let it marinate for a couple days, roll it up like pancetta and slowly cook it for 18 hours.” (Chris Carriker)

 Giorgio’s

1131 NW Hoyt St., 221-1888, giorgiospdx.com. 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, 5-10 pm Saturday. $$$ Exspensive.

Open for a decade, Giorgio’s is a founding father of the upscale Italian restaurants that have proliferated in the Pearl, and like most fathers, Giorgio’s isn’t flashy. Its nondescript façade opens into a reserved interior. Well-heeled patrons clink glasses and chat quietly in an understated wash of muted colors and crisp, white tablecloths. It’s all very clean and classic, but unmemorable. Meat-tomato-cheese Italian standards dominate the menu, like homemade pappardelle with wild boar ragu ($24), which was satisfying if slightly heavy. Ingredients are superb and preparations competent, but few dishes veer far from the tried-and-true. At its best, Giorgio’s allows those good ingredients to carry the weight, avoiding slow-cooked heaviness in favor of higher heat and fresher flavors. Take the highlight of our meal, a starter of grilled and skewered octopus ($13), its meaty bite cut with green-garlic puree, an elegantly simple contrast of textures and flavors. ETHAN SMITH

Ideal meal: Octopus skewers followed by gnocchi with lamb ragu spiked with olives and fresh mint ($23).

Best deal: Running $11 to $13, simple pastas on the bar menu—like spaghetti with anchovy, truffle and garlic—are a better value than dinner.

 Grüner

527 SW 12th Ave., 241-7163, grunerpdx.com. 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-9:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-10:30 pm Friday, 5-10:30 pm Saturday. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[MOUNTAIN FOOD] We walked into Chris Israel’s “Alpine” restaurant expecting to gorge ourselves on fat Central European sausage and schnitzel and sauerkraut, and we did—the schnitzel with poached cherries was tasty, and the mixed grill of rosemary-stuffed quail, duck sausage and spring onion on salty lentils was quite good—but to our surprise, Grüner’s most memorable dishes were salads. The shaved-radish salad with pumpkin seeds, dill and chives arranged in a red-and-white spiral is the prettiest dish we’ve seen this year; we’d have photographed it if we hadn’t scarfed the whole plate down in a flurry of jabbing forks. The enormous “Grüner” salad tosses summery greens with beets, tomatoes, chickweed and a half-dozen other items with a faintly sweet dressing, and could easily serve as a light entree for $9. Break up the vegetable theme with the excellent cheese plate and a pint of Heater Allen dunkel lager, or continue it with a Neue Vienna—essentially a martini with Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, it tastes pleasantly like drinking a forest. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Salad, salad, salad, cheese.

Best deal: Grüner sells one of the best burgers in the city (see page 22) for just $10, but you can order it only at the bar. Happy hour 4:30-6 pm Monday-Friday.

Chef’s choice: Grüner salad. “It’s crunchy and healthy and it reminds me of the salads my mom used to make when i was growing up. I basically survive on bread and sugar, so I feel like I’m doing a good thing for my body when I eat it.” (Chris Israel)

Higgins

1239 SW Broadway, 222-1244, higgins.ypguides.net. 11:30 am-midnight Monday-Friday, 4 pm-midnight Saturday-Sunday. $$$ Expensive.

[FARM-DIRECT NORTHWEST] White tablecloths, waiters patient enough to explain the restaurant’s signature Northwest cuisine and the delectably fresh food itself might make you think Higgins makes the perfect spot for an intimate date. Actually, no. There’s a conversational dining-room din (two vuvuzelas, say, on a five-vuvuzela scale) that makes chef Greg Higgins’ renowned restaurant a better place to go out with a bunch of friends than a special someone. On a recent busy Tuesday night (not a bad problem for any restaurant to have in this economy), the loud ambience was compounded by a long wait for the entrees. But an apologetic and efficient waiter kept us in the loop, and the wait was definitely worth it. The garlic- and lemon-crusted halibut melted in the mouth, and the seafood stew made for a filling and rich mélange of clams, halibut and calamari with spice. If you’ve still got room, do not leave without trying dessert—there is no going wrong with either a sinfully good peanut butter-filled chocolate mousse with Oregon berries or a moist pecan-and-cherry upside-down cake. HENRY STERN.

Ideal meal: Bruschetta and seafood stew.

Best deal: Head to the bar, which more affordable options in a setting that you at least expect to be loud.

Chef’s choice: “Our charcuterie. I’m crazy for pig ’n’ pickles.” (Greg Higgins)

Hiroshi

926 NW 10th Ave., 619-0580. 11:30 am-2:30 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 6:30-9:30 pm Monday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[SUSHI] The school of silver fish shimmering on the wall of chef Hiro Ikegaya’s sushi cove are an augury of what anybody used to ordering from a sushi-go-’round will receive here: an education. I had never previously realized the spectrum and intensity of colors raw fish could possess: the bold, marbled oranges of salmon sashimi, the translucent purples of a fine cut of tuna. The crab pincers peeking out the end of a soft-shell roll might summon unsettling Oldboy memories, but soldier on, and notice how the crunch is countered by the snap of radish casing. Class doesn’t come cheap: Two people ordering the specials can burn through a Benjamin in 30 minutes. Keep your head about you, reach for the paper menu buried beneath the other two, and order by individual pieces. Ikegaya is one of the few sushi chefs in town who circumvents the Moonie-owned True World Foods’ grip on fish supply, and experiencing his control of ingredients is worth the price. Finishing my last sashimi slice, I realized the only way I could find fish any fresher was to go watch Piranha 3-D. So I did. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Toro aburi, if you can get past the knowledge that the bluefin tuna it comes from is dangerously overfished.

 Irving Street Kitchen

701 NW 13th Ave., 343-9440, irvingstreetkitchen.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday. Dinner 4:30-midnight nightly. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[NEW SOUTHERN] There’s something gently bullying about Irving Street Kitchen, as if it doesn’t quite trust you to be sufficiently engaging company. San Francisco restaurateurs Doug Washington and Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal have transformed the immense space formerly occupied by Bay 13 into a theater of multisensory pleasure, a rumpus of embellishments, with candle-flecked sills and curtained booths, book-laden shelves delimiting dining nooks, and chalkboard walls arguing with striated wood planks. But—and you might momentarily forget this amid the bounce and bustle of the dining room—Irving Street Kitchen is, first and foremost, a showcase for chef Sarah Schafer’s decadent Southern-twanged creations. Start with a charcuterie platter: The man responsible for the headcheese, whom they call Mr. Lee and who sports a red bandanna, has pictures of the grisly pig-destroying process stored in his mobile device, and he will satisfy your curiosity with one hell of a slide show. Birds are the way to go for your main dish. The fried chicken sports an ideally brittle skin protecting juicy meat infused with clarified butter, garlic and Tabasco, and the accompanying “smashed” potatoes are blanketed by a porky gravy perfect for dipping. Desserts are monstrous, none more so than the butterscotch pudding topped with brown-ale caramel and crème fraîche ($8), a screamingly sweet confection that begs for a postprandial stroll. CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: Draper Valley fried chicken, smashed potatoes, collard greens, gravy.

Best deal: The meatballs ($11), although technically a starter, are a meal in their own right. Happy hour 4:30-6:30 pm Monday-Friday.

JCD Korean

3492 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, 644-7378. 11 am-2 am Monday-Saturday, 2 pm-midnight Sunday. $ Inexpensive.

[KOREAN] Walking in here is like getting an unexpected, welcome hug. Anchoring a strip mall in bleakest suburbia, JCD (short for Jang Choong Dong) looks off-putting from outside, but indoors is a tiny universe of delight. A few wooden booths populate the dimly lit cafe; it’s charmingly decorated, with antique-papered walls, faded paintings, basket lanterns and one big TV near the cash register, broadcasting Asian game shows. The world’s sweetest couple run the kitchen: She takes orders, he cooks and occasionally peeks out to see whom he’s cooking for. It’s a low-key, simple place, and you might not expect to be blown away by the food. The banchan (a variety of appetizers included with the meal) will set you straight. They include shining examples of kimchi, thinly sliced fish cake, and golden cubes of solidified heaven called gam ja—braised potato seasoned with honey and sesame. Those potatoes alone could turn a bad day around. But it couldn’t hurt to order a scallion-seafood pancake ($9.95). JCD’s version is the best I’ve had, with a hot and crisp crust around a dense, custardy middle, filled with chunks of green onion, peppers, tender shrimp, oysters and squid. Other good choices for mood elevation include japchae ($9.95), a comforting dish of sesame noodles, beef and veggies served over rice, and bulgogi (marinated barbecued beef, $10.95), which JCD presents with elemental simplicity. BECKY OHLSEN.

Ideal meal: Banchan, japchae and a scallion-seafood pancake.

Best deal: Lunch-box specials ($7.95-$8.95) are a satisfying way to go.

Karam

310 SW Stark St., 223-0830, karamrestaurant.com. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.

[LEBANESE] If you’re a novice to Lebanese cuisine, the food at Karam makes you feel right at home. Basics are executed quite well—silky tahini, pillows of warmed pita, and the effortless brilliance that is the restaurant’s hummus. If you’re hungry for something other than chickpeas, there’s a large menu and a staff willing to take you through it. Many dinner offerings are available at lunch at a lower price, but sacrifice little in portion or flavor. Pumpkin kibbe is quite good, offering a hearty, crunchy and well-spiced meal. Some of the kebab meats can be tough, and the veggie grape leaves, though moist and tender, are saturated in lemon juice. If you’re more adventurous, have dinner. There you’ll find many traditional meals (goat!) served with humble panache. And when the meal’s over and you take home leftovers, which will happen, they’ll serve as the reminder you need to go back soon. AARON FURMANEK.

Ideal meal: Hummus plate, goat bil tfeen.

Best deal: Lunch pumpkin kibbe, $9.95.

Kenny & Zuke’s

1038 SW Stark St., 222-3354, kennyandzukes.com. 7 am-8 pm Monday-Thursday, 7 am-9 pm Friday, 8 am-9 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[NONKOSHER DELI] It takes a certain chutzpah to produce matzo balls that rival the Death Star in size while featuring the balanced buoyancy of a swimming-pool floatie. But at Kenny and Zuke’s, the Jewish deli ensconced in a downtown triangulation of hipster headquarters—Clyde Common, the Ace Hotel and Stumptown Coffee—the kitchen’s deft hand with the dumpling comes naturally. Such comfort-food skill evokes Manhattan mainstays like Katz’s and Carnegie Deli, and so too does Kenny & Zuke’s zippy, urban feel, right down to the people-watching windows abutting Southwest Stark Street and the leftover Times gracing many a table. Downtown may be the vibe, but K&Z’s Torah-length menu is straight out of your bubbe’s cookbook, with an earthy, savory chopped liver; blintzes stuffed full of pillowy sweet cheese; and, of course, the pastrami. Cured for five days, smoked for 10 hours and piled high between thick layers of rye, this is meat that would practically melt on your tongue if there weren’t so much of it. And while 12 bucks may seem pricey for a Reuben (available in different varieties), it’s a good deal when you consider you’ll be eating the second half tomorrow for lunch. Because with portions this big, trust us, there will be leftovers. JONANNA WIDNER.

Ideal meal: Pastrami burger with Swiss—you might die, but it will be worth it.

Best deal: From 3 to 6 pm Monday-Friday, that pastrami burger is $7.50.

Chef’s choice: The Ken’s Special. “I didn’t name it after myself for nothing! It’s the sandwich I grew up on—our pastrami and rye bread, chopped liver, coleslaw and Russian. It’s a microcosm of a perfectly balanced life and has everything—richness, heft, acidity, sweetness, salt, silk and grit.” (Ken Gordon)

Ken’s Artisan Pizza

304 SE 28th Ave., 517-9951, kensartisan.com. 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 4-9 pm Sunday. No reservations. $$ Moderate.

[NEAPOLITAN PIZZA] I’m “that person” who leaves the pizza crusts at the end of a pie. There’s nothing I love more than biting into a good pizza base, but it’s usually a waste of valuable stomach real estate if it’s not also topped with mozzarella or garlic. Yet I could happily munch on nothing but Ken’s crispy, puffy plain crusts all night and still walk out of this pizzeria a satisfied customer. There’s a good reason: The restaurant began as a spinoff from the weekly pizza nights at Nob Hill’s Ken’s Artisan Bakery, which has been producing some of the finest bread in Portland for almost a decade. At this casual eatery, built around a big wood-fired pizza oven, the beautiful old Douglas fir tables are packed every night of the week as diners watch chef Alan Maniscalco and his team of pizzaioli roll, stretch, toss and fire their pies. Toppings are sparse but satisfying—most are based on a simple margherita recipe, with additions like housemade pancetta, prosciutto and spicy Calabrian chiles. But it’s the thin, crispy, slightly charred bases and sensational crusts that have people lining up around the block for hours to savor. Thank the pizza gods that Ken’s does takeout as well. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Ken is an artisan baker; order accordingly: bruschetta, a margherita to appreciate the crust in its simplest form, complemented with something spicy like the soppresatta. Just save some room for the divine Valrhona chocolate brownie with salted-caramel ice cream at the end.

Best deal: For $11, the margherita provides everything you could ask for in a good thin-crust pizza, without the need for pricey add-ons.

Kurata

450 5th St., Lake Oswego, 675-4496. Lunch 11:30 am-1:30 pm Thursday-Friday, dinner 5:30-9:30 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30-10 pm Friday-Saturday, 5:30-9 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[SUSHI] If an outing to Lake Oswego holds any appeal, Kurata ought to figure in the itinerary. This tiny sushi place has only eight tables inside (plus a few outside for when the weather cooperates). What it lacks in space it makes up for in expansive menu options. That includes everything one might expect at a Japanese restaurant: green salad with ginger dressing, chilled goma-ae soaked in a soy-sesame sauce, shrimp shu mai, a wide variety of nigiri (including surprising choices like red snapper), sushi donburi (basically pieces of nigiri piled on top of a bowl of rice), vegetable tempura, chicken teriyaki and soba noodles. It’s the side dishes and unique rolls that elevate the restaurant to the level of warranting a special trip. Japanese eggplant fried in oil and seasoned with a slightly sweet sauce will travel to your mouth as quickly as fresh popcorn. The Kurata roll—tuna with spicy sauce, tamago, avocado and flying-fish eggs—will then fill you up, making a stroll around the actual lake in Lake Oswego (down the street and to the right) a must. BETH SLOVIC.

Ideal meal: The L.O. roll has eel, avocado, tamago and flying-fish eggs. Pair it with one of the specials or a seaweed salad and a Sapporo.

Best deal: The asparagus maki for $7.95 looks like a sushi roll with thin-sliced beef instead of rice. It tastes like its own well-contained meal.

Laurelhurst Market

3155 E Burnside St., 206-3097, laurelhurstmarket.com. Butcher shop 10 am-7 pm daily; restaurant 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[ENLIGHTENED STEAKHOUSE] Let’s just get this out of the way now—Laurelhurst Market is indeed a butcher shop, but it’s not that kind of butcher shop…you won’t find beef sticks, picnic roasts or meatloaf mix. (Although, to be fair, if you’re in the market for these items, you’re probably not going to be looking for them in Laurelhurst.) There are cured things, and stuffed things, and things that have been chopped up, wrapped in bacon and pressed into a terrine. This is the Rolls Royce of butcher shops—in line with Chop at Northwest’s City Market, where Laurelhurst’s owners got their start—and the quality of the meat on offer is commensurate: Cattail Creek lamb, Thundering Hooves pasture-finished beef, Tails & Trotters pork. The bustling attached restaurant (runner-up for WW’s 2009 Restaurant of the Year) serves this meat à la carte in expertly simple preparations, with a variety of sides from $4 to $7. “Cuts available tonight” are displayed above the open kitchen on a chalkboard diagram, though I suspect its function is more art than utility. As for recommendations, it’s impossible to go wrong with anything steak or pork, especially when paired with the signature Smoke Signal cocktail ($10), a solid glacier of smoked ice in a lowball glass, melting into a pool of sherry and Jack Daniel’s. KAT MERCK.

Ideal meal: Smoked Tails & Trotters double-cut pork chop with hazelnut butter.

Best deal: Did I mention this is the Rolls Royce of butcher shops?

Lauro Kitchen

3377 SE Division St., 239-7000, laurokitchen.com. 5-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[MEDITERRANEAN] Veteran Portland chef David Machado was looking mainly for a location near his own home when he opened Lauro in 2003, but Lauro’s clean, open space, savvy Mediterranean menu and hardworking, professional servers brought some welcome urbanity to Southeast Portland dining, as did Dave “Guy du Vin” Holstrom’s smart wine list. Coupled with ample, moderately priced portions, Machado’s formula has created legions of repeat customers. The complimentary herb bread is invitingly yielding. One gets a clear sense the kitchen really tastes everything here; few if any indifferent ingredients make it to the table, from the butter lettuce salad with ripe avocado and tarragon vinaigrette to the moist, tender chicken breast stuffed with herbed goat cheese and served with braised spinach and tart quince sauce. A harissa aioli gives a boost to the local salmon with Moroccan citrus and frisée salad. Desserts, such as the dry chocolate midnight cake, are weak; consider saving your sweet tooth for Pix Pâtisserie across the street. ANGIE JABINE.

Ideal meal: In summer, start with the wonderful mixed melon salad with feta, pine nuts, pungent olives and just enough mint; proceed to the braised lamb shoulder with tomatoes, olives and polenta.

Best deal: During Lauro’s “hour of happiness,” well drinks are $5 and the Lauro burger with dry-aged jack cheese is $6.

Le Pigeon

38 E Burnside St., 546-8796, lepigeon.com. 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$$ Expensive.

[ANIMAL FAT EXTRAVAGANZA] While the decor at Le Pigeon is “enlightenment farmhouse” (copper, wood, brick, light), the food is somewhat more medieval—decadent and heavy of entrail. On sweetly mismatched china, you may be served any of the following: heart, liver, pancreas, stomach or face (well, “cheek”). Chef Gabriel Rucker’s rustic menu handles such charming inversions well. He’s best at layering complementary flavors and textures in clever combinations, as in the foie gras au torchon, an appetizer of warm scallion pancakes, hot cherry vermouth jam and a sous-vide pâté de foie gras the consistency of cold butter. The always-on-the-menu beef cheek bourguignon is a great heap of blackened cheek atop a blood-dark broth, in which float vivid rounds of orange carrot and sweet onion, and two slabs of salt-stamped pan-fried potato. It looks immovable but falls apart with a breath. Little—nothing?—on the menu is understated. If you’re still conscious enough to eat dessert, finish with the foie gras profiterole, a glassy-eyed wench of a dish drenched in thickly salted caramel. HANNA NEUSCHWANDER.

Ideal meal: Crunchy fried sweetbreads with beets, blue cheese (whipped like cream) and greens; bone-in pork chop with fresh chile pesto, green beans, hazelnuts and ricotta; honey apricot cornbread with maple ice cream and bacon.

Best deal: Though lacking in offal, the $11 hamburger is held together by a steak knife.

Editor’s note: While Le Pigeon prepares only five hamburgers per night, Rucker plans to open a second restaurant, Little Bird Bistro, in early 2010 that will serve them in limitless quantities.

Lincoln

3803 N Williams Ave., 288-6200., lincolnpdx.com. 5:30 pm-close Tuesday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

Though it’s undeniable that the food at Jenn Louis and David Welch’s bare-beamed Northwest-comfort-food enclave is top notch, it’s the restaurant’s simple presentation that puts it over the top. The menu is constantly changing, but you can always count on the meat dishes (the hanger steak with delicate blue-cheese butter and perfect onion rings is a can’t miss) and the selection of local fish, which vary from a slice of albacore tuna to salmon served skin-side up on a plate fava beans, to be both eye-catching and delicious. Even the starters, which sound uncomplicated, are elevated with interesting touches like quail eggs or the tiger melon served with the you’ll-eat-every-bite thyme flatbread. Louis’ handmade pastas are always excellent as well. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

Ideal meal: The hanger steak or roasted half chicken with an order of onion rings.

Best deal: An order of cornmeal onion rings ($6) will make your whole meal.

Chef’s choice: “My favorite is our baked hen eggs with cream, castelvetrano olives and herbed bread crumbs.” (Jenn Louis)

Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty

4039 N Mississippi Ave., 281-4060, lovelysfiftyfifty.com. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[PIZZA, ICE CREAM] Conceived by Lovely Hula Hands owners Sarah and Jane Minnick as a pizza-slinging sister restaurant, Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty opened last month next door to the shuttered space that made it all possible, and as you enter Fifty-Fifty for the first time, the bright dining room—the antithesis to Hula’s romantic cloister—lands a sharp slap to your Hula Hands memories. But all is forgiven when the pizza arrives. Fifty-Fifty’s wood-fired pies are thin-crust miracles with faultlessly salty and chewy centers. With the exception of the margherita and a four-cheese number, the cast of characters changes regularly, but the creations are consistently impressive. In fact, pleasure here is proportional to the menu’s daring. The squid-and-olive pizza, accented with Calabrian chiles and aioli, might seem like the height of foolhardy overreaching, but the subtle tinge of Monterey Bay wildlife is enlivening. The menu also offers arugula and egg additions. The egg is ideal for the pancetta and fingerling-potato pie, which, after you spread the viscous yolk around, becomes the loveliest breakfast you will ever have for dinner. Fifty-Fifty’s housemade ice cream is assuredly worth saving room for, but resisting that last slice of pizza might be impossible. CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: Squid pizza with black olives, Calabrian chiles and aioli.

Best deal: Plop an egg on the pancetta-and-potato pizza ($16) and skip breakfast.

Chef’s choice: “Our seasonal mushroom pizza. The Pacific Northwest has such amazing mushrooms. Right now we are using summer chanterelles and sweet corn for a perfect late-summer pie!” (James Albee)

 Lucky Strike

3862 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 206-8292. Dinner 4 pm-midnight Wednesday-Friday and Monday. Lunch and dinner noon-1 am Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday. $ Inexpensive.

[SZECHUAN CHINESE] A meal at Lucky Strike used to entail a trek through the crucible of strip malls and payday lenders to Southeast 123rd Avenue and Powell Boulevard. But that changed in June, when Lucky Strike abandoned its modest dining room for far more central digs at Southeast 39th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard. The food remains phenomenal. Jiaozi dumplings, plump with savory pork and cabbage, nestle in a pool of ruddy chile sauce. A mound of verdant Chinese chives hides chunks of pork belly studded with ginger and mouth-tingling Szechuan peppercorns. And Lucky Strike’s signature “hot pepper chicken bath” lives up to its intimidating hype, with angry-looking red chiles spilling from the plate with each stab of the chopsticks. A survey of Lucky Strike’s new space does not bode as well as the grub. The decor is a tawdry caricature of Far East aesthetics: deep-red walls, gaudy gold chandeliers and, writhing across the back wall, a Chinese dragon that would be at home on an Ed Hardy belt buckle. However, despite the tacky decor, despite the syrupy cocktail list (Lucky Strike gained a full bar in the move), co-chef-owners Rita Jia You and Stefan Leopold’s Lucky Strike remains one of Portland’s most unique and satisfying culinary experiences. Nothing has changed about the crusty-edged Guinness pork ribs ($10), caramelized to a rich brown in soy and Irish stout. And the “spicy noodle with pork ribs” ($8)—a knot of noodles twisting through tender pork and aromatic broth laden with star anise and the ubiquitous Szechuan peppercorns—is still among the best things I’ve ever eaten. ETHAN SMITH.

Ideal meal: Spicy noodle with pork ribs; complex flavors with well-balanced heat make for a near-perfect dish.

Best deal: Nearly everything on the menu is under $10, averaging around $7, meaning a party of four can feast for $80—tip and Tsingtao included.

Meriwether’s

2601 NW Vaughn St., 228-1250, meriwethersnw.com. Lunch 11 am-3 pm Monday-Friday, brunch 8 am-2:30 pm and lunch 3-5 pm Saturday-Sunday, dinner 5 pm-close daily. $$$ Expensive.

[GARDEN PARTY] If a jaunt across the Fremont Bridge sounds like too much of a trek for a culinary experience, consider the bevy of pickled goodies that await at Meriwether’s. The pickled veggies featured in the ample “From the Pantry” section of the menu may seem like one in long list of potential appetizer candidates, but it is from this plate that Meriwether’s true personality shines. Plump root vegetables pickled in vinegary brine hold down the fort while canoe-shaped celery laced with spices floats about on the edges next to a rampart of bright orange pickled carrots—all from Meriwether’s 5-acre farm on Northwest Skyline Boulevard. All of Meriwether’s menu benefits from the garden goods: Incredibly fresh greens lift a relatively mundane duck-confit salad into transcendence; a boring ol’ crab risotto jumps to life with the addition of crisp, fresh zucchini. Skipping the entrees altogether and plucking choices from the pantry, however, might be the best way to go—when the cupboard is this full of goodies, why even bother with meat, fish or fowl? JONANNA WIDNER.

Ideal meal: Large Pantry Board—five à la carte items for $18.

Best deal: That Large Pantry Board is $13 at happy hour (3-6 pm daily).

Metrovino

1139 NW 11th Ave., 517-7778, metrovinopdx.com. 4-10 pm or so nightly. $$$ Expensive.

[NEW AMERICAN] If Metrovino is brought up in conversation, more than likely the focus of the discussion will be about the restaurant’s Enomatic wine-dispensing system—which offers single pours from fantastically expensive bottles—and tasting flights rather than its food. This is a shame, since the kitchen here punches well above what would be considered the weight class of a wine bar. The food is taken just as seriously as the wine, and it shows. Anybody should be able to put together an arugula salad, but getting the balance of bitter, peppery greens, tart lemon vinaigrette and blue cheese right takes skill, well evidenced here. A special of a salmon tartare is butter in fish form, accompanied by wax beans in a crispy tempura batter. If someone is talking up Metrovino’s food lately, it’s usually about the cheeseburger, which is admittedly awesome. (And messy—as charming as the board that it’s served on is, some concave vessel to catch the torrent of juice would be greatly appreciated.) The rest of the menu, however, should not be overlooked. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: Anything with seasonal seafood; arugula salad; a flight of wine.

Best deal: A single-patty happy-hour version of the cheeseburger (available 4-6 pm Monday-Friday) is $8.

Chef’s choice: “My favorite thing to eat on the menu at Metrovino right now is a combo of two appetizers. The first item is the Roman-style beef tripe stew with tomato, mint and pecorino. The second is our grilled broccolini with crispy poached egg and anchovy-brown butter vinaigrette. When I eat this I end up scooping the tripe on top of the broccolini and then breaking the egg on top of the tripe and letting the egg yolk mingle into the stew.” (Greg Denton)

Navarre

10 NE 28th Ave., 232-3555, navarreportland.blogspot.com, 4:30-10:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-11:30 pm Friday; 9:30 am-11:30 pm Saturday, 9:30 am-10:30 pm Sunday. Reservations for parties of six or more. $$ Moderate.

[FRENCH AND SPANISH SMALL PLATES] One of Portland’s most celebrated tapas joints, Navarre is a small, austere storefront lined by high shelves of Mason jars filled with preserved and pickled onions and peppers and other savory condiments. With its tiny open kitchen, Navarre can seem like your own cozy digs when it’s late in the evening and the night is full of hooting owls; if you go at 5:30 pm, it can feel a little forlorn. Rather than laboring over the two lengthy lists of regular items and seasonal specials, subdivided into small or large plates, we rolled the dice and requested the chef’s choice—10 items to share for $28 each (you can spell out your dietary restrictions beforehand). The best of our haul, which was delivered in three leisurely waves: radishes with cold French butter; moist, sage-flecked halibut; and a tender potato gratin. Less successful were the bland, dryish crab cakes and the underseasoned lentil salad. I’m still scratching my head over a pairing of snap peas and glazed apricots that did nothing for either ingredient. Our lamb chop with olives was bracingly gamy, though not the easiest item to share. But it all harmonized amiably with a crisp Penedes rosé and a Norwegian IPA. ANGIE JABINE.

Ideal meal: Order a couple of pâtés and a vegetable gratin or braised greens, plus anything Navarre does with albacore tuna. Finish with a slab of decidedly un-Catalonian red velvet cake.

Best deal: With everything available as a small plate and many wines by the glass or quarter- or half-bottle, you can scrimp or splurge at will.

Ned Ludd

3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 288-6900, nedluddpdx.com. Lunch 11 am-3 pm, dinner 5 pm-close Thursday-Monday. $$ Moderate.

[WOOD-FIRED FARE] Ned Ludd’s country clutter and campfire fragrance inspire the loveliest wintry daydreams. Picture it: The mother of all blizzards blitzes the city as you sip an aperitif in the toasty dining room. The street’s a white mess by the time dinner’s over. It’s beyond impassable—it’s gone. The front door is blocked by a wall of snow, a lonely length of antenna is the only evidence your car still exists, and chef Jason French is there to cater your extended stay with wood-fired dishes that touch a deep atavistic need to taste flames on your fork. Your caveman holiday begins with balsamic vinegar-soaked warm beets, which conjure the flavor of a backyard garden’s sweet spot on a scorching summer day. Your chest sings with memories of sun, but the snow is reaching the lip of the chimney, and the food keeps coming. Here’s the house-cured ham steak, a salty slab of smoky pork draped over greens so moist they dissolve on the tongue. Better, though, is the braised lamb, tender enough to cut with a spoon, encircled by an archipelago of potatoes and peas. The best thing about this reverie? The food will still be there when you snap out of it.  CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: Beets, braised lamb, s’mores.

Best deal: It’s all surprisingly affordable, but the meat pie ($9) is a steal.

Chef’s choice: Stuffed trout with fennel, onions, herbs and lemon. “There is texture and flavor, and a bit of drama since we serve it head-on and almost everyone eats the whole plate except for the head!” (Jason French)

Nel Centro

1408 SW 6th Ave., 484-1099, nelcentro.com. 6:30-10:30 am Monday-Friday, 7:30-11:30 am Saturday, 8 am-2 pm Sunday. 11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday-Friday. 5-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[FOOD OF THE RIVIERA] Southwest Portland is packed with hotel restaurants—most of them notably absent from these pages—but Nel Centro is the definitive article: the hotel restaurant’s hotel restaurant. Against the experiments of Clyde Common, the dining room of Hotel Modera isn’t trying to redefine the lobby bar into a neighborhood hot spot (this may be because it’s not really in a neighborhood, unless you think the PSU end of the bus mall counts). Instead, it takes its cue from the enchantingly retrograde futurism of the Wells Fargo Center and other surrounding office towers, and becomes the photo spread out of a vintage Condé Nast Traveler. That design ranges from the hanging lamps, which look like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Christmas baubles, to the corn chowder, whose array of primary colors opened a recent meal. The signature dish—peep those open ovens—is the rotisserie chicken, remarkably moist and tender, perched over a tomato-and-bread salad that soaks up the bird’s juices. There’s roasting of a different kind on the porch: three raised fire pits, for three times the romance of the Doug Fir, with none of the crowd. This is the date spot to take the squeeze you don’t want any of your friends to meet. Hey, if things work out, there’s room service. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: New York steak with porcini butter and sharp broccoli rabe.

Best deal: The crème brûlée gestures enticingly from the dessert menu at $7. It’s worth splurging on.

Noble Rot

1111 E Burnside St., 233-1999, noblerotpdx.com. 5-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 5 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday.

[WINE BAR WITH A VIEW] The rooftop patio in the former Rocket space continues to offer some great views of the city while serving up dishes that are so seasonal, many of them sport ingredients directly from the adjacent garden. Dining here is at its best when one pieces together a meal from the small plates and salads on offer, but the larger plates should not be overlooked. A watermelon and mizuna salad is sweet, bright and peppery, and goes perfectly with the slow-cooked salmon that’s rare at the center but still retains a nice crust. A lentil stew with red peppers and delfino cilantro rounds the dish out nicely. An Indian-influenced braised lamb shoulder featured some braised root vegetables and greens with a nutty red rice and raitalike cucumber sauce. While cooler, windier days may wreak havoc on light, leafy salads, kicking back with a flight of wine from the comprehensive cellar and watching the city transition from day to night is a special treat. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: Braised lamb, watermelon salad.

Best deal: Put together the mac ’n’ cheese, salad and ham panino from happy hour and feast for about $20. Happy hour 5-6 pm Monday-Friday.

Chef’s choice: Meat plate. “Because it has such an unappetizing name. I’m not too keen on using ‘charcuterie,’ because that’s too highfalutin’.” (Leather Storrs)

Nostrana

1401 SE Morrison St., 234-2427, nostrana.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, dinner 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday and 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[HOMEY ITALIAN] Nostrana’s umber hues, arched ceiling and crosshatched rafters give one the discombobulating sensation of sitting upside-down in a ship’s hull, but there’s nothing topsy-turvy about chef Cathy Whims’ humble Italian cuisine. The dizzying dimensions fade into a peripheral haze as soon as the food arrives, when you are once again bound by gravity or, if you subscribe to a certain radical philosophy that holds pizza to be the attractive force that makes the world go ’round, finally restored to balance by a wood-fired pie with a perfectly charred crust and a super-thin center that skirts sogginess entirely. Righted now, it’s time to explore: A flight of small plates features fava-bean bruschetta with a silky wisp of prosciutto, a morsel we should, if ever the need arises, serve to alien visitors if they ask why earthlings are so enamored of meat-and-bread combinations. The Insalata Nostrana, basically a Caesar with radicchio subbing for romaine, is a bit heavy on the dairy, but the rotisserie chicken nails the cheese-to-everything else ratio just right, with a ricotta and pesto stuffing acting as buffer between skin and meat. Don’t let the space intimidate you—it’ll feel like home soon enough. CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: Fava-bean bruschetta, margherita pizza, rotisserie chicken, housemade gelato.

Best deal: Go for “meatball Monday” and get a pizza with pork meatballs, ricotta, red onion and provolone ($14).

Chef’s choice: “My favorite item on our menu is the Farmhouse Dinners we serve Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. For $25 you can have a rustic yet elegant three-course meal.” (Cathy Whims)

Nuestra Cocina

2135 SE Division St., 232-2135, nuestra-cocina.com. 5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. No reservations. $$ Moderate.

[MEXICAN] Easy to miss but hard to forget, this Seven Corners mainstay turns out consistently excellent haute Mexican fare, presented by cheerful servers who know their ingredients inside and out. Coupled with Nuestra Cocina’s no-reservations policy, it’s a formula that creates lines out the door even on a Tuesday. It was Nuestra Cocina that converted me to spicy cocktails like the Cocina Especial, a salt-rimmed elixir of chile de arbol-infused tequila and muddled citrus fruits, with a chile garnish pointing upward like a witchy red finger of warning: heat! Other tall drinks grow insipid as the ice melts; not this one, baby. Standout starters include an ever-changing ceviche, served with a jicama salsa with a pleasingly contrasting crunch. The camarones con tamarindo—grilled Mexican white prawns marinated in tamarind—are fleshy yet tender. Lamb-eaters shouldn’t miss the barbecued lamb shoulder braised to ethereal tenderness in a banana leaf and served with a green nopale salsa. Perch at the counter if you want to watch confident cooks at work; the open kitchen contributes to a warm bath of noise that camouflages conversational lapses, making Nuestra Cocina perfect for first dates. The heated, glassed-in patio is marginally quieter. ANGIE JABINE.

Ideal meal: Start with sopes (masa cakes) with chorizo and black beans. Follow (when available) with savory-crusted albacore tuna in a smoky guajillo mole set off by fresh sweet corn and green beans. Conclude with moist chocolate poundcake and cinnamon ice cream.

Best deal: The $5.50 house margarita is one of Portland’s best, and you could make a meal of the $8 chile relleno con picadillo: roasted poblano pepper stuffed with shredded pork, almonds and raisins.

Ocean City

3016 SE 82nd Ave., 771-2299, oceancityportland.com. 9:30 am-11:30 pm daily. No reservations for dim sum. $$ Moderate.

[CANTONESE CHINESE] Sure, dinner at this stately Cantonese banquet hall near Fubonn is enjoyable, but it’s during the midmorning and lunch hours that it really comes alive as the only Portland dim sum spot to rival Wong’s King. Extended Asian families and culinary thrill-seekers wait patiently for up to an hour on weekends to burn their fingertips on hot, little foil-wrapped packages of succulent ginger chicken and glutinous deep-fried rice footballs stuffed with oozy spiced pork. All the standards are represented here, whizzing around your head in clackety little carts piloted by small, insistent women armed with ladles and scissors: The stuffed noodles are toothsome, the roasted duck is moist and juicy, and the Chinese greens perfectly steamed. Pace yourself. You’re not going to be able to resist that last order of delicate green onion and shrimp dumplings. It’d be a shame if your stomach exploded on your very first visit to China. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Split a whole fried fish (thoughtfully deboned, the tender flesh strewn atop the crunchy bones) and garlicky stir-fried pea shoots from the Buddha belly-sized dinner menu, or anything off a dim sum cart.

Best deal: Gorge yourself on criminally inexpensive dim sum delicacies 9:30 am-3 pm daily—you don’t even have to wait on weekdays.

The Observatory

8115 SE Stark St., 445-6284, theobservatorypdx.com. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Monday, 11 am-midnight Tuesday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[COMFORT FOOD] Time was, a trip to the Academy Theater in Montavilla meant just one thing: dinner at Ya Hala beforehand. But that changed last year, when the Observatory divided our loyalties with its siren song of golden rosemary-garlic fries, inventive twists on cafe standards and a veggie burger that even carnivores order repeatedly. The soothing color scheme, accented by a minimalist chandelier, helps create a casual-chic vibe (though the concrete floor does add to the ambient sound level). A spacious bar hints at the elaborate cocktail menu, but don’t be fooled into thinking the Observatory is just a glorified bar. Try the mussels, which are served in either a ginger-sake broth or a white wine one that’s dotted with chorizo—either way, the bivalves are plump, sweet and grit-free. Even something as plebeian as chicken-fried chicken is a revelation: To say this vast scallop of surprisingly tender, panko-coated chicken is upstaged by its accompanying sweet-potato hash is only a testament to that side dish’s savory appeal. Or try a creamy riff on a niçoise salad that’s rich with house-smoked trout. No matter your entree, you won’t have room for dessert. Which is fine—we’d rather end things with one of the sweet-toothed cocktails. Come to think of it, maybe we’ll stay for another, and skip the movie. HANNAH FELDMAN.

Ideal meal: Rosemary fries and a bowl of mussels, followed by the smoked trout salad.

Best deal: During happy hour, the fries and mussels will cost you all of $7.

Chef’s choice: “Roasted pork tenderloin in apple guajillo sauce with seared polenta cakes and greens.” (Dale Warriner)

 Olympic Provisions

107 SE Washington St., 954-3663, olympicprovisions.com. Lunch 11 am-3 pm, “apertivo” 3-6 pm, dinner 6-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[CURED MEATS] The first restaurant in Oregon where the staff can legally serve its retail batches of cured and dry-aged meat, which opened last December in a cozy, white subway-tiled space that looks like a butcher’s counter mated with a wine bar, is no one-trick pony. While Elias Cairo spends his days hand-mixing and -packing sausages for house and wholesale orders, chef Jason Barwikowski incorporates those links into a delicious, eclectic lineup of small plates. The ever-changing charcuterie plate acts as the salumeria’s greatest-hits CD: Sometimes you’ll find salty, pungent saucisson sec, an Alsatian sausage flecked with garlic and black pepper that tastes like a European vacation. There are tiny gherkins, blobs of mustard, a tender chorizo and a big herby, creamy pork-rillette fat bomb. On another day, it’s a hard Spanish salchichon that releases creamy and melty bursts of fat and nutmeg with each bite. At lunch there are hefty sandwiches, like a house sopressata on ciabatta amped up with marinated white anchovies; omelettes; soups; and jewel-bright English peas kissed with mint and ricotta. Dinner has a vibe similar to that of Clyde Common, where Barwikowski and his sous, Paul Oppliger, first tinkered with cooked and cured meats. The servers are laid-back yet knowledgeable, the prices bearable, and the small plates are big enough for three people to have one hefty bite each. You will have a glass of wine or a funky beer. There are sweets, too, like a rhubarb galette with sour-cream ice cream—but, come on, let’s have pancetta with fried egg for dessert. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Best pork and beans ever. Saucisson sec, pancetta and sauerkraut to go from the packed deli case.

Best deal: My God, the charcuterie plate.

Paley’s Place

1204 NW 21st Ave., 243-2403, paleysplace.net. 5:30-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5:30-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday. Not wheelchair-accessible. $$$$ Very expensive.

[NORTHWEST CUISINE PERFECTED] Chef Vitaly Paley has found the fountain of youth—it’s made of veal stock and local greens. How else could this 15-year-old restaurant taste just as vibrant and exciting as it did when Paley and his ebullient wife, Kimberly, opened it in a quaint Victorian house back in 1995? Take a bite of the Oregon Dungeness crab risotto, and then just go dead quiet for a second or two, trying to figure out how Paley and crew mesh those flavors so well. Savor the perfect texture of the rice, wonder at the balance between the sweet, mellow tang of crab butter and Parmesan, and vegetal punch of crunchy snap peas. That’s simple perfection, people. And it’s everywhere you look in this timeless bistro dining room (currently decorated with photos of the Paleys’ favorite local farmers): the chubby blue mussels bathed in a light, sweet wine sauce served with a tall cone of hand-cut fries with a side of mustardy aioli. Heady rabbit ravioli in a pool of a rich, Asian-inspired sauce studded with fat hunks of house-cured bacon. Roasted bones filled with smooth marrow gold, a deep wine list and a jaw-dropping selection of local charcuterie, some produced in house and others from local vendors. Frankly, it’s downright freaky how good this place is. Excellence never gets old. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Mussels or heirloom bean and summer veggie cassoulet, crab risotto, orange-blossom cannolo with basil and summer fruit sauce.

Best deal: With generous half portions on offer from the informed yet relaxed servers, you can eat your way through much of the menu without taking out a loan.

Park Kitchen

422 NW 8th Ave., 223-7275, parkkitchen.com. 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm Monday-Friday, 5-9 pm Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[OFFAL TASTY] On a quiet North Park Block between seedy Old Town and the hyper-affluent Pearl, you’ll find tiny Park Kitchen, a bastion of seasonal farm-to-fork dining. Settle into the cozy back room by the open kitchen, or the long bar, where you can sample flights of local gin, or the street side (my preference), with its copper-top tables and plein-air view of pick-up basketball games that linger past dusk. This is the perfect spot to sip an “Assam punch” of vodka, tamarind nectar, lime juice, Benedictine and Angostura bitters while you decipher the menu. Ask questions: Terse descriptors like “hay braised lamb” and “sesame sable” could really use more explanation. Don’t shy away from non-standard ingredients. The hit of our dinner was sliced rare duck with savory nut-filled crêpes, braised greens and sweetly tart gooseberry sauce. Not everything sings: Salt cod fritters with malt vinegar were simply dull, and the promising-sounding porcini bread pudding with fava beans, peas and caramelized-endive bouillon fell short on both flavor and texture. Beverage service can be spotty; even with a virtually empty bar, a requested martini refill took a good 20 minutes to appear. ANGIE JABINE.

Ideal Meal: In summer, start with pulled pork and sweet pea ravioli, then go veggie with tomato-braised artichokes, crispy polenta and olive salad.

Best deal: The lunch menu offers a cooled flank steak with blue cheese, parsley and sherried onions for $7.50. Happy hour 5-7 pm Monday-Saturday.

Patanegra

1818 NW 23rd Place, 227-7282, patanegra-restaurant.com. 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[SPANISH] With a bevy of tapas surpassed only by Toro Bravo, this Spanish spot is named for the black-hoofed Iberian pig that keeps snuffling into its dishes, but the restaurant’s finest moments emerge from the ocean—with the porker sometimes joining in for a saltwater swim. The menu’s sunken treasure is zarzuela de mariscos, a Catalan seafood stew (the name wonderfully translates to “operetta of the sea”) crammed with shrimp, squid, clams and mussels, all improbably but fittingly redolent of cinnamon. Nearly as good are the rich scallops wrapped in Serrano ham, on a bed of impeccably fluffy saffron rice. The gazpacho is very refreshing on a warm evening—and summer nights in this small kitchen tucked behind St. Honoré Boulangerie are often steaming; sit outside—while the cold courses are highlighted by the pan con tomate, jamón y queso, a Spanish toast dish that sneakily improves on Italian bruschetta by adding ham and cheese. Still hungry? Patanegra’s servers are uncommonly knowledgeable and informative. They’ll mention dessert, but in case they forget: Try the whole peach, bathed in sweet cream. Darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter—take it from me. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: All of the above.

Best deal: Honestly, it’s startling how many underwater creatures are in that zarzuela de mariscos.

Chef’s choice: “My personal favorite is the octopus.” (Ricardo Segura)

Pho Van

1919 SE 82nd Ave., 788-5244, phovanrestaurant.com/default.htm. 11 am-9 pm daily. $ Inexpensive.

[VIETNAMESE] Tucked away amid the used-car lots along the otherwise tired thoroughfare of Southeast 82nd Avenue is this very fresh eatery offering reasonably priced and tasty Vietnamese cuisine. The setting inside Pho Van’s large dining room is light and airy. But while the scene is distinctly casual, don’t be misled into believing the large menu is an unimaginative mix of typical Asian dishes. Start with goi bap chuoi, a banana-blossom salad that features a crisp blend of chicken, grapefruit and julienned jicama. For the main course, there is, of course, a wide variety of Vietnamese soups. Try the bun bo hue, a spicy beef and lemongrass soup, for a warmly comforting meal on a cool night. Not into soup? Then order the com ca ri ga chicken curry, a sweet buttery mix of chicken tenders, yams and onions. Or go for the bun chit cha gio honey lemongrass pork and shrimp noodles, a succulently smoky mix. And a Bia 33 beer from Vietnam. HENRY STERN.

Ideal meal: Crispy vegetarian rolls, beef noodle soup.

Best deal: Any of the rice-stick-noodle soups, ranging from $7.15 for a small bowl to $8.35 for a large one.

Piazza Italia

1129 NW Johnson St., 478-0619, piazzaportland.com. 11:30 am-3 pm daily; 5-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[PASTA PARTY] How friendly is this boisterous boîte? The white-haired gent who I presume to be the owner embraced my wife on the way out, and gave me a more-than-perfunctory handshake. If you like your cinghiale delivered with impeccable pronunciation, Piazza Italia is the only restaurant for you. The Pearl District pastaria is as authentic as they come, from the crowded sidewalk tables to the TVs showing obscure calcio variants (beach soccer!). There are often more people standing around behind the bar than working; someone is always shouting. Big salads and even bigger bowls of noodles are the specialty: I like the “insalatona” with tuna, egg and crisp greens—but the roasted-mushroom bruschetta monferrina is the best of the appetizers, the bread piled so high the fungus spills in great heaps onto the plate. Pastas come in all the usual varieties, plus a few rarer renditions. Try the linguine squarciarella, with prosciutto, onions, Parmesan and egg stirred into the hot noodles, or the bucatini all’Amatriciana with tomato and pancetta. Upgrade to the house pappardelle for $2. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Insalatona, linguine squarciarella, glass of the house white.

Best deal: The titanic antipasti plate, $9.

Ping

102 NW 4th Ave., 229-7464, pingpdx.com. 11 am-10 pm Monday-Friday, 5-10 pm Saturday. $-$$$ Inexpensive-expensive.

[EAST ASIAN SNACKS] I spent an evening last December downing sake and skewers of grilled chicken in a smoky second-story restaurant in a Tokyo suburb; it was one of the finest meals of my life. Ping aspires to a similar sort of experience, without the smoke and with a menu that draws from bar and street food from Japan to Singapore—this is drinking food: fatty and salty and lip-scorchingly peppery. Any diners refusing a beer will regret their decision a few bites into the lime-and-chile-marinated baby octopus skewer or the chile-dappled yam mama ramen salad. The capsaicin-averse should stick to sweeter bites like the salapao, a steamed bun stuffed with sweet pork, or the pork meatball skewer. Don’t care for meat? Ping doesn’t offer a lot for vegetarians, but don’t worry—the salty-sweet-smoky shishito chile skewer is the best item on the menu. I could eat hundreds of these things. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Four hishito skewers, octopus skewer, Vietnamese-style short rib, salapao, Japanese cucumber salad.

Best deal: Ping’s happy hour (2-5:30 pm Monday-Friday) offers discounted bites and some specials—try the Kobayashi dog, a Sabrett frank with teriyaki sauce, wasabi mayonnaise and bonito flakes.

Chef’s choice: “Ju pa bao [fried pork chop in a bun] because it is about as simple a dish as you can imagine, yet completely unusual and specific to its origin [Macau], and somehow tastes a lot better than it sounds.” (Andy Ricker)

Podnah’s Pit

1469 NE Prescott St. (moving to Northeast 17th Avenue and Killingsworth Street in late 2010), 281-3700, podnahspit.com. 11 am-9 pm Tuesday-Friday, 9 am-9 pm Saturday-Sunday. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.

[BETTER BARBECUE] You can take a man out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of a man. When Rodney Muirhead opened Podnah’s Pit, indisputably the king of Portland barbecue, in 2006, he dedicated his restaurant to replicating the full Texas barbecue experience, from slow-cooking everything over a fire pit that’s never seen electricity of any kind to recently adding Austin-style breakfast tacos to the brunch menu. And it’s those small touches that make everything we’ve ever ordered at Podnah’s incredibly delicious. You really can’t go wrong with either the smoky brisket, sliced thin and served with barbecue sauce on the side, or pork spareribs, which nearly fall off the bone and will disappear from your plate instantly if you order only the quarter-rack. This is a carnivore’s paradise, but Podnah’s also does side dishes justice, with the best collard greens in town and a killer potato salad enhanced by more meat. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

Ideal meal: Anything with brisket (try the sandwich to spice things up) and a side order of greens before they run out.

Best deal: Podnah’s weekend-only brunch is ridiculously cheap ($5.25 for an order of potato, egg and cheese breakfast tacos).

Chef’s choice: The Plato Tejano. “Brisket tacos, pinto beans and salsa.” (Rodney Muirhead)

Pok Pok

3226 SE Division St., 232-1387, pokpokpdx.com, 11:30 am-10 pm daily. No reservations for parties of four or fewer. $$ Moderate.

[THE THAI YOU DON’T KNOW] Come thirsty to Pok Pok. Unless you have five or more people, you’re not allowed to make a reservation, and you’ll end up across the street at Whiskey Soda Lounge drinking while you bide time for a table. As anyone who’s been to Pok Pok will tell you, it’s goddamn well worth the wait. Chef Andy Ricker’s family-style Thai food has been called out as some of the best barbecue in America, but more importantly, it’s rollicking good fun to eat. One tip for the befuddled novice: Ignore the menu altogether and surrender yourself to the will of your server, who will bring out steaming bowls of the kitchen’s finest offerings. And don’t get greedy—everything here is prepared to be shared, from the national dish khao soi kai (curry noodle soup with chicken on the bone) to the muu paa kham waan (boar collar rubbed with garlic and spice) to Ike’s special fish-sauce wings with cane-sugar marinade. The convivial mood is enhanced by Pok Pok’s layout and decor in the style of a traditional Thai bungalow. With space at a premium, we found ourselves swapping stories and food with folks at the next table. Welcome to the Land of Smiles. JAMES PITKIN.

Ideal meal: Do what your server says.

Best deal: For a one-dish meal, try the meaty khanom jiin naam ngiew ($11).

Chef’s choice: “Whatever laap (meat salad) is on the menu at any given time, because it is such an iconic dish in Thailand, especially in the north; because it is about as far away from yellow curry as you can get; and because it represents exactly what I find fascinating about Thai food—the play between complex flavors, surprising textures, exotic aroma and simple presentation. And because it goes great with beer.” (Andy Ricker)

Portobello Vegan Trattoria

1125 SE Division St., 754-5993, portobellopdx.com. Dinner 5:30-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. No reservations for groups under six. $$ Moderate.

[VEGAN ITALIAN] Portobello doesn’t do great vegan Italian food. It does great Italian food that happens to be vegan. The cheese is melty, the sausage is spicy, the steak is tender, and the ice cream is creamy. So what if they’ve never seen the inside of a cow? The essence of good, rustic Italian cuisine is all there—top-quality, fresh, local ingredients, cooked with passion and served with flair (and a big glass of vino). The trattoria began its life commandeering a cozy little daytime coffee shop only a few years ago, but the long queues of hungry vegans and omnis alike recently forced it to relocate to some larger, more sophisticated digs of its very own just four blocks away. The menu has also seen a makeover, most notably the addition of pizza—seriously tasty 12-inch pies with a soft, thin Neapolitan-style crust to rival any in town, vegan or otherwise. Those feeling adventurous should explore the raw offerings: The addictive aged cashew “cheese” and fresh fruit comes dripping in quality olive oil and pairs wonderfully with a dolci of local dessert wine. Cruelty-free cuisine has never tasted so wicked. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Enjoy the truffle mushroom pâté, spicy arrabiata pizza and strawberry cheesecake with your familia, but get a big bowl of the gnocchi all to yourself.

Best deal: The $9 eggplant Parmesan is a casserole of tender eggplant and marinara sauce, oozing with Daiya cheese, for almost half the price of the other entrees.

Puerto Marquez

1721 SE 122nd Ave., 253-6842. 11 am-11 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

[MEXICAN SEAFOOD] Like the inside of a piñata, Puerto Marquez jabs at the senses with vivid blasts of color and cheerful pop-mariachi music (with videos!). As fun as it is, the atmosphere of the place barely hints at the multisensory pleasures that will soon grace your plate. The restaurant—sadly remote in an almost-Gresham strip mall—specializes in seafood; if you opt for the more common Mexican standards, beef chimichangas and whatnot, you may be underwhelmed. But go for something coastal, like the Puerto Acapulco, for example, and you’ll feast (possibly for days) on shrimp, chicken, cheese, beans, rice and avocados, served with tortillas. Seafood empanadas don’t look particularly impressive, but the crust is crisp and delicate and the shrimp inside perfectly tender. The ceviche ($8-$14) could easily be a meal all by itself. There are several varieties—the light and citrusy whitefish version is hard not to inhale. Between the ceviche and the free chips with beans and salsa that come as appetizers, you might happily spoil your appetite. But if you can pull it off, try a made-to-share house special seafood platter, with shrimp, oysters, halibut, mussels, veggies and rice ($59.95). Margaritas, like everything else here, are enormous and tasty. BECKY OHLSEN.

Ideal meal: Bean dip, chips and salsa, ceviche and a margarita.

Best deal: Any of the platters of camarones (prawns), $9-$12.

Red Onion

1123 NW 23rd Ave., 208-2634. 11 am-3 pm and 5-9 pm Monday-Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[THAI] The specials menu at Red Onion bears a cautionary note: “We regret we are unable to make any changes or return of your dish after serving.” Ostensibly, the warning is for white-bread customers who might be shocked by some of chef Aut “Dang” Boonyakamol’s more daring Northern Thai specialties. But for those of us prepared to push our palates to the limit, the warning might also serve as the kitchen’s insurance against disappointment with the menu’s more mediocre offerings. Red Onion was a runner-up for WW’s Restaurant of the Year in 2009, and some dishes unfailingly delight and impress. The spicy sai oua (Chiang Mai sausage) is a lemongrass-enhanced masterpiece, and standards like the monstrous bowls of tom yum soup are the best in town. But those who stick with insiders’ advice and order from the rotating specials menu could also come up short. The neau yang mamprik jaiw (marinated steak) underperforms in the flavor department, and the house special seafood curry, while highly competent, provides no surprises. Take into account the lackluster service, and it becomes clear that at least part of Red Onion’s stellar reputation is due to a dearth of high-quality Thai places in town. But the highlights still keep us hungry for more. JAMES PITKIN.

Ideal meal: Sai oua, gai hor bai toey (fried chicken wrapped in padunus leaf).

Best deal: Bowl of tom yum soup ($8).

Restaurant Murata

200 SW Market St., 227-0080. 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 5:30-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[SUSHI] Restaurant Murata is small and unassuming, nestled in a business plaza next door to its beret-wearing neighbor Carafe. If you find Murata, you’ll be rewarded with all sorts of just-off-the-boat fresh and unusual sushi and Japanese food that doesn’t ride the sushi train. Unusual standout: small plate of raw quail egg with grated yam, tempura natto and ochazuke (fish stock and rice soup with choice of whitebait, salted salmon, spicy cod roe, etc.). Eat what a sumo wrestler gorges on to add junk to the trunk—chanko-nabe stew with chicken, veggies and fish in a rich housemade stock—along with other one-pot stews and soups. Or go with killer sushi, including uni (urchin), cockle clam, squilla shrimp and yellowtail. Murata obliges with a few special rolls, but you should think outside the roll. Service is spot-on, with everything from hot steamed washcloths at seating to pre-dinner complimentary bites. Make a reservation if you can, because the 20-seat dining room and three tatami rooms are almost always full. LIZ CRAIN.

Ideal meal: Uni, hamachi (yellowtail) and unagi (river eel) nigiri sushi followed by maguro ochazuke tuna soup with rice and toasted seaweed.

Best deal: The one- ($18.95) or two-entree ($24.50) inclusive meal with hot and savory custard, rice, miso and pickles.

Saucebox

214 SW Broadway, 241-3393, saucebox.com. 4:30-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30 pm-2 am Friday, 5 pm-2 am Saturday, 5-11 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[PAN-ASIAN] While Saucebox’s sleek bilevel environs, including a DJ spinning beat-heavy grooves while patrons chomp away on tapioca dumplings and Korean baby backs, rely more on a clubby vibe than a foodie one, there’s little dancing around when it comes to the food. Close your eyes and point to a random spot on any one of the Saucebox’s several menus (do we really need five?), and you’ll land on something guaranteed to trigger umami overload. Pulled-pork udon noodles? Never has spicy and sweet tangled in such a delicate dance. Vegetables in coconut curry? A one-two punch of lime and passion fruit. And those baby back ribs? So tender, the savory sweet-soy glaze is the only thing holding the meat anywhere near the bone. The famous drink menu overflows with more fruit-infused sleight of hand than you can shake a swizzle stick at, but the effect is no mere gimmick. Muddled guava goes a long way, as does the sweet tang of kaffir lime juice or buzzy blaze of Thai-chile vodka. It would probably take 20 minutes to figure out what to drink—much less eat—so just skip the eye-glazing menu and ask your server what’s best. JONANNA WIDNER.

Ideal meal: Pupu platter for two ($20, but so much yumminess!), followed by pulled-pork udon noodles with ginger, garlic and friend egg. Or just, like, eight cocktails.

Best deal: Anything on the happy-hour menu (4:30-6:30 pm Monday-Friday, 5-6:30 pm Saturday); four bucks gets you a crispy onion burger, five gets you shrimp and bacon fried rice.

Screen Door

2337 E Burnside St., 542-0880, screendoorrestaurant.com. Dinner 5:30-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-9 pm Sunday-Monday, brunch 9 am-2:30 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[SOUTHERN] We know those lines are daunting. We know you’re hungry now, and have no interest in waiting 40 minutes to sit in a crowded room filled with the din of your fellow patrons and the always-bustling open kitchen. We know it’s not time for brunch, the meal for which the Screen Door is famous. But trust us on this: Go anyway. Your patience will be rewarded with some of the best food values in all of Portland. Order a starter like fried oysters or hush puppies, and the plate will be overflowing with golden-fried delights. Fried green tomatoes come mounded over with nicely spicy, not overly mayo’d shrimp salad. As for entrees, loosen the belt a notch or three before digging into a hillock of tender smoked brisket covered in a forest of fried onion slivers. Yes, as befits such a bastion of Southern comfort, they do like their fried food here, though lighter options can be found on the weekly “local organics” menu, where such market-fresh delights as a green salad with strawberries, fennel and figs add a little roughage to the mac ’n’ cheese or the buttery shrimp ’n’ grits. Order another cocktail (the Sazerac, while nontraditionally served on the rocks, goes great with this food) and congratulate yourself on making it to the head of the line. HANNAH FELDMAN.

Ideal meal: A guilt-assuaging salad from the weekly specials sheet, followed by enough fried chicken with gravy-doused mashed potatoes to kill a lumberjack.

Best deal: The Screen Door Plate, which gives you three sides—make sure one is the moist and meaty fried catfish— plus a square of cornbreadfor $13.95.

Chef’s choice: Red beans and rice. “We get a pallet of beans from Louisiana every eight months and prepare them with housemade and -smoked andouille sausage and housemade pickle meat, which lends a nice vinegar taste. I eat a cup of them at least once a day. -(Rick Widmayer)

Serratto

2112 NW Kearney St.. 221-1195, serratto.com. 11:30 am-close daily. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[FAMILY-FRIENDLY ITALIAN] Serratto is an easy place to walk past without really noticing. Nestled among a handful of overpriced and underwhelming eateries on Northwest 21st Avenue (a street with an identity crisis if there ever was one; dive bars and upscale art galleries duke it out on most blocks between Northwest Davis and Lovejoy streets), the restaurant seems somehow cushioned from its neighbors, a big, shady hideaway with treasures untold. Not to say Serratto is a secret. Its happy-hour specials are known throughout the city, and it’s not uncommon for the dining room—an expansive, well-lit area that’s comfortable but not cushy—to fill up on weekend nights. The popularity is deserved; Serratto’s food is top-notch. For meat eaters, the lamb sirloin (served with sweet polenta and assorted grilled veggies) is an exquisitely tender, juicy cut of meat—if you can load it all onto your fork, a combination bite loaded with polenta, lamb, morels and the mouth-puckeringly salty eggplant is a bit of heaven on earth. And for vegetarians, the roasted asparagus is just as dreamy; here, the polenta is fried into cake form as a key ingredient in one of the richest and most delicious veg entrees in town. These main courses, as well as smaller ones like the killer $7 French onion soup, are accompanied by stiff cocktails and an expansive wine list, though it’s Serratto’s dessert menu that really makes a visit complete. If you can get out of there without eating a bittersweet chocolate cobbler, you’re stronger than I. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: Painted Hills New York strip with grilled polenta.

Best deal: The burger, topped with bacon, onion, white cheddar and barbecue sauce, is $6 during happy hour (4-6 pm daily).

Chef’s choice: Muscovy duck confit. “The duck is just kind of a unique French dish I made with Spanish chorizo, black lentils, celery root and local Dragon Tongue beans.” (Tony Meyers)

Siam Society

2703 NE Alberta St., 922-3675, siamsociety.com. 4:30-10 pm Thursday-Sunday, 4:30-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.

[THAI] Siam Society’s lineup of Thai standards is neither as interesting as Pok Pok’s nor as delightful as Red Onion’s, but Adrienne Inskeep’s converted power substation beats both those competitors on style. The double dining room (the upstairs bar has a separate entrance around the corner), its rough concrete walls accented with bright fabric and rusted steel, is all but empty whenever the temperature tops 70 degrees. During the summer months everyone, staff and customers alike, retreats to the secluded back patio to drink amid the grapes and bamboo under umbrellas and twinkling lights. Start with a drink—something not too sugary, like the Jade Buffalo (whiskey, lime juice, cucumber and Midori) or the very gingery house ginger ale, with bourbon. Then have a few more. Eat light—skip the heavier curries in favor of a few appetizers and a whole fried fish (plaa taut). Salads are good, and the neauh khem—crisp salty beef served with a fiery dipping sauce—is excellent. Don’t bother with the mediocre phad kee mao. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Neauh khem, plaa taut, house ginger ale and bourbon.

Best deal: $2-$7 small plates in the bar and on the patio all day every day.

Simpatica Dining Hall

828 SE Ash St., 235-1600, simpaticacatering.com. Dinner 7:30 pm Friday and 7 pm Saturday by reservation only, brunch 9 am-2 pm Sunday. No reservations for brunch. $$ Moderate.

[COMMUNAL BRUNCH] It takes a few twists and turns to arrive at Simpatica, which is open limited hours and buried in the belly of some fancy digs (also home to Biwa) in Southeast Portland, but if you follow the sound of silverware clanging and pants unbuttoning, the brunch joint is easy to find. Once you make your way in—it’s not uncommon to wait a half-hour during Simpatica’s Sunday brunch rush—take a peek at the basement-level eatery’s plain industrial design and gorgeous open kitchen, where a grip of bearded chefs (these guys totally ride fixies) cook upscale comfort food that’s the perfect prelude to a long nap. This largely egg-and-potato-fueled menu, which rotates items regularly, is packed with stuff that sticks to your guts. The $10 to $12 brunch selections are sometimes familiar (eggs Benedict, prepared with Simpatica’s rich hollandaise and housemade Canadian bacon—a salty treat so thick it almost seems like a turkey breast), sometimes adventurous (chicken-fried bison?)—but always generously proportioned and elegantly prepared. In a lot of ways, Simpatica reminds one of the country diners of a bygone era. Its farm-fresh ingredients are a huge selling point, but the meals are as greasy (it’s worth ordering a $4 side of housemade bacon just to feel it fall apart in your mouth) and homespun as can be. Simply stated, they don’t make restaurants like this anymore. That makes it easy to forgive the long line and the occasional sold-out item (apparently the 18-hour smoked brisket breakfast is pretty popular), and just feel lucky to live in a town where places like Simpatica still exist. It’s almost enough to make you say grace. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: An array of sides, from the perfect potatoes to the intense kielbasa. And those pancakes look amazing.

Best deal: The $11 Simpatica cheeseburger looks pretty mind-blowing, with housemade bacon, zucchini pickles and aged white cheddar blanketing the beef.

Chef’s choice: “Fried chicken and waffles is definitely my favorite thing to eat.” (Scott Ketterman)

Southpark

901 SW Salmon St., 326-1300, southparkseafood.com. Lunch 11:30 am-3 pm daily; dinner 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$ Expensive.

[FISH!] This roomy downtown institution offers real value, and not just in its specialties, seafood and wine. The cheese plate, offered as either appetizer or dessert, is done right, with three generous wedges of properly aged, room-temperature cheese, served with glazed walnuts and green apple slivers. (An involuntary moan escaped my mouth when it made contact with a Brie-ish morsel of triple-cream.) Rotating Northwest oysters appear on the half-shell, always with a gently peppery mignonette, and the signature jamón Serrano-wrapped dates look disconcertingly like plucked kidneys but taste like a dream. Not everything is perfectly executed—a Cucumber 75 cocktail that should have been effervescent arrived almost flat in a highball glass. But if you want your martini dry it will be dry, and servers are very adroit with suggestions from Southpark’s voluminous wine list. If the main dining room sometimes feels dominated by tourists and guys in Topsiders, the sidewalk offers a jauntier experience. Even better: the wine bar, with its full menu of light fare. The dessert lineup could use tweaking—panna cotta and crème brûlée? ANGIE JABINE.

Ideal meal: Share a few appetizers, then split the paella, a hearty mélange of rice with chorizo, clams, mussels, prawns, chicken and just enough saffron in the sofrito.

Best deal: Starting at 3 pm daily, the bar menu features a $4 white, red or sparkling wine special and plenty of light bites.

Syun Izakaya

209 NE Lincoln St., Hillsboro, 640-3131. Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday and noon-3 pm Saturday, dinner 5-10 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

[JAPANESE] An izakaya is a Japanese pub, and both the food and the atmosphere here are an upscale version of what you might find in a Kyoto roadhouse. The vast menu includes dishes you don’t see often around here, such as okonomiyaki ($7.50), a savory little pancake made with seafood, vegetables and pork, topped with a scrumptious yellow sauce and bonito flakes. If they have it, ask for the hamachi kama yaki ($15), broiled yellowtail cheek; if they don’t, the saba shioyaki ($7.50) makes a good substitute: half a grilled mackerel, with crisp skin hiding firm, juicy flesh. Of course, there’s also sushi. Be sure to try the special rolls, particularly if amberjack nigiri ($5.25) is available. The sashimi platter is a round-the-world raw-fish adventure, though it’s a bumpy ride (seared tuna? Yes! Octopus? Kinda chewy). Everything is presented gorgeously; the only weak point (besides inefficient staff) is some of the fish itself. Syun does the most it can with what it has; if the salmon is a little bland, well, at least it’s beautiful. This being a pub, there’s a huge sake selection. Choosing is tough, but the flights ($12-$18) are a handy solution. Don’t skip dessert; the banana tempura ($4.95) might be the best thing on the menu. BECKY OHLSEN.

Ideal meal: Special sushi rolls, okonomiyaki, a sake flight and banana tempura.

Best deal: The basic sashimi plate ($22.50) is loaded.

Tabla

200 NE 28th Ave., 238-3777, tmbistro.com. 5:30 pm-close daily. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[MEDITERRANEAN DELIGHTS] Chef Anthony Cafiero’s Mediterranean bistro does simple pasta dishes better than any strictly Italian restaurant—or any restaurant at all—in town. Most places would be lucky to have one perfect dish on the menu. Tabla has two: The housemade ravioli, filled with ricotta, wilted and tangy chard, poppy-seed butter and a poached egg, has already been celebrated, but don’t skip the black pepper fettuccine with shaved zucchini and roasted morel ’shrooms. Both dishes are delicious but not overbearing, leaving room for a starter like the $10 fish trio (a recent visit had salty little sardines that were out of this world) and the dessert menu, which has options both rich (chocolate truffle cake) and perfect for summer (a lemon poundcake with blueberries and lemon mascarpone). If you can, grab a seat in the back bar, where the open kitchen lets you converse with the chefs and avoid the bluster of a busy night on Northeast 28th Avenue. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

Ideal meal: Any pasta.

Best deal: The $24, three-course dinner.

Tastebud

3220 SE Milwaukie Ave., 234-0330, tastebudfarm.com. 5-9:30 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[PIZZA AND BAGELS] Thank goodness Tastebud found a brick-and-mortar home after all those years carting around that tiny wood-fired oven to all those farmers markets. Those days spent slinging pizza and bagels outdoors paid off in a big way—no matter what comes out of this kitchen’s dome-topped hearth, you’re in for a treat. High heat makes pizzas with bubbly, crisp and slightly charred crusts, and you can design your own pie or try combinations of housemade and local ingredients. Salads and starters are equally delicious, from whole fava beans roasted in their skins and peeled at the table to a lightly dressed mound of greens with beets and goat cheese. As you walk into the sparse dining room, you’re greeted with a basket of the bagels that made Tastebud famous—compact, yeasty rounds sprinkled with leeks or sesame seeds. Perfect for tomorrow’s breakfast. Service is friendly and knowledgeable, and an outdoor garden makes summer nights a perfect time for pizza. DEEDA SCHROEDER.

Ideal meal: Caesar with bagel croutons, pizza with oil-cured anchovies, tomato and fresh mozzarella.

Best deal: All-you-can-eat pizza Sunday nights, $15.

Chef’s choice: “We only have a few recurring items daily or weekly. I always love the salad greens from Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, with just oil, lemon and salt. Our peach pancetta pizza is on the menu now. We rotate through that with the great fruit we get from Oregon farmers: peach, apple, pear, cherry.” (Mark Doxtader)

 Tasty n Sons

3808 N Williams Ave., Suite C, 621-1400, tastynsons.com. 9 am-10 pm daily. $$ Moderate.

See Restaurant of the Year, page 8.

Ten 01

1001 NW Couch St., 226-3463, ten-01.com. 5 pm-close daily. $$-$$$$ Moderate-very expensive.

[CLASS UP, PARTY DOWN] It’s telling that this striking modern dining room sits only a block from both old-school Powell’s City of Books and Portland Center Stage’s forward-thinking Gerding Theater—there are few restaurants in Portland that balance the city’s chill heart and highbrow aspirations better. Chef Michael Hanaghan recently introduced a confusing “Upstairs/Downstairs” menu split, which offers 26 rotating small plates—think merguez “corn dogs” and creamy-rich house veal pâté—in the bar and on the main floor and relegates more ambitious ideas and spendy plates to the airy second floor (ask to see the menus before you decide where to sit). It’s mostly successful. Upstairs, a sweet tomato and roasted fennel soup, topped with a dollop of crème fraîche and mini croutons, tasted like an extract of summer. A funky jewel-toned compressed melon salad, made by going sous-vide on bits of honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon, was punched up with whole anchovies and a puckery red onion aigre-doux. Main courses were uneven and spendy: A super-juicy pork loin paired perfectly with sautéed chard and a soft peach pain perdu, but a hunk of albacore suffered with the application of a sort of Baconnaise and smoky fingers of grilled watermelon. Ten 01’s secret weapon is pastry chef Jeff McCarthy, whose highbrow stoner desserts are addictive. His Valrhona chocolate trio—a light malted milkshake, crazy-rich bittersweet torte and dense sorbet decorated with rice puffs—is freakin’ ridiculous. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Downstairs, nab those confit duck wings shellacked with chile sauce and a bowl of chorizo-laced clams. Upstairs it’s all about the soup, pork loin and anything McCarthy makes.

Best deal: The fish and chips and corn dog are on offer at happy hour (4-6 pm daily), but that light, heady veal pâté, which comes with little cornichons and rounds of good buttered toast, can feed two at any time.

Chef’s choice: Pig heart pastrami. (Michael Hanaghan)

Three Square Grill

6320 SW Capitol Highway, 244-4467, threesquare.com. Dinner 5-9 pm Tuesday-Sunday, brunch 9 am-2 pm Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[HUMBLE NORTHWEST] A ’50s-era strip mall isn’t the first image that comes to mind when you picture the perfect location for a restaurant focused on local, organic produce and such delicacies as grass-fed beef. But Three Square Grill, in the suburbish Hillsdale neighborhood, defies expectations. The decor is mid-’90s HGTV, with bright yellow walls and colorful art. The welcoming atmosphere is timeless (no one will rush you, no matter how slowly you eat your hush puppies and fried pickles). It’s probably because of that exceptionally nice service that Three Square Grill remains a neighborhood favorite 15 years after its opening. On a recent evening, a first-time visitor had the feeling this was the kind of place a waiter might learn her name by the end of a second trip. The menu has much to recommend as well. A “famous” smoked salmon hash offered the comfort of breakfast food and the savory sustenance of dinner. The fried chicken, which comes served with waffles and collard greens, strikes a similar note, though the dish is available only on Tuesdays. A medley of salads includes one with greens, apple, pear and dates and another with organic tomato, cucumber, basil, sweet onion and chèvre. It rounds out the menu and gives you plenty of excuses to order dessert. (All of the cakes are prepared on site.) BETH SLOVIC.

Ideal meal: Pickle fans can start with a Picklopolis sampler then move beyond the salt with pacific albacore grilled with Tillamook artichoke, Oregon shrimp and potatoes Lyonnaise.

Best deal: The Lexington, N.C.-style smoked barbecue pork sandwich with coleslaw and hush puppies for $11.

Chef’s choice: Low-country-style shrimp and grits with collards and a side of Picklopolis pickles. “I eat it almost every day.” (David Barber)

Toro Bravo

120 NE Russell St., 281-4464, torobravopdx.com. 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. No reservations for groups under seven. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.

[SPANISH AND THEN SOME] There are two kinds of people in this world—those who would order a bacon cheeseburger at a tapas restaurant, and those who find the notion patently offensive. Both would be happy at Toro Bravo. The bacon and manchego burger, piled high with romesco and pickled vegetables ($9), is not only generously sized and appropriately Spanish, it was crowned the third-best burger in Portland by WW. But for those actually interested in tapas, a veritable treasure trove awaits. The two-sided menu lists a mind-boggling variety of pinchos (“snacks”), charcuteria and tapas, all priced between $1 and $15. The dishes are meant to be shared, but if something on the menu catches your eye, odds are the “sharing” will consist of offering an obligatory bite to your dining companions and then pulling the plate slightly closer to your side of the table, devouring the remainder in a sort of gustatory fugue state. And, it must be noted, the service is as exemplary as the food. In fact, the most popular dish on a recent evening wasn’t the oxtail croquettes (excellent) or rabbit-sausage fideos (really, really excellent), but two bowls of simple buttered noodles, brought unbidden by a server to a pair of preternaturally patient 7-year-olds marooned at a table of adults. KAT MERCK.

Ideal meal: Pick up the menu, close your eyes and point.

Best deal: Chef’s Choice tasting menu, $25 a person.

Chef’s choice: Basque piperade with duck egg. (John Gorham)

Vindalho

2038 SE Clinton St., 467-4550, vindalho.com. 5-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.

[SPICE ROAD FARE] There’s an excellent reason why you can’t park within three blocks of this corner of Clinton Street on a Friday night: Dollar for dollar, Vindalho has made itself known as Portland’s best value for first-rate Indian cuisine. Chef-owner David Machado does for Indian (and other South Asian) fare at Vindalho what he accomplished for Mediterranean food at Lauro Kitchen—bringing out its essence with a devotion to simplicity. The results are divine. The trademark pork vindalho—nothing else but a Carlton pork shoulder braised with chiles, garlic and vinegar—falls apart on your tongue as the heat builds gradually on your palate. (Order that side of raita; you will need it.) The Draper Valley chicken tikka is so soft to begin with that it doesn’t need the yogurt traditionally used as a tenderizer. Here the cream just acts as a channel bonding the spices and the seared meat. The Goan-style mussels, marinated in coconut curry sauce before they’re steamed, put Mediterranean-style shellfish to shame. The only slight disappointment at Vindalho is the ambience—the surroundings are a place to take your parents, but the food is fit for lovers. JAMES PITKIN.

Ideal meal: Pork vindalho with a mango lassi.

Best deal: Selected apps cost $5 from 5 to 6 pm.

Violetta

877 SW Taylor St., 233-3663, violettapdx.com. 7 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 7 am-11 pm Friday, 9 am to 11 pm Saturday, 9 am to 10 pm Sunday. $ Inexpensive.

[NOUVEAU FAST FOOD] Dwayne Beliakoff’s serially delayed “fast slow food” restaurant has finally opened in a modernist glass box in Director Park on the South Park Blocks, just adjacent to a strangely gonadal fountain devoted to the spirit of teaching. Despite Violetta’s über-sleek exterior, its insides are a clean, inviting Westy-lefty version of an East Coast urban burger-and-dog microshop, with terrifically specific recycling instructions decorating the waste bins. The signature Angus beef Violetta Burger is accordingly a sloppy, tasty mess to rival anything in South Philly or the old Coney Island—sealed shut by its own juice and fat in recycled cardboard and paper—with appealingly goopy special sauce, butter lettuce and something called “10-hour” tomatoes. Applewood bacon and cheese can be added, at minor expense, for even greater decadence. The egg salad sandwich, unfortunately, is where the shop falters compared with its more easterly counterparts; despite pickled green beans and radish on the ingredients list, the salad itself is bland—too little mustard, maybe. But other than this one misstep, Violetta is a welcome lunch-dinner presence in a neighborhood that suffers from an appalling absence of affordable sit-down options. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: No contest—the Violetta Burger with bacon and cheese is enough to stun the senses of a hungry Kodiak.

Best deal: A whole roasted chicken with a side salad, designed to stuff two, is $22.

Chef’s choice: Slow-roasted chicken. “It’s all-natural chicken, brined for 24 hours in our own brine, slow-roasted, and served with our truffled Kennebec potato fries and Dijon mustard.” (Dwayne Beliakoff)

Wildwood

1221 NW 21st Ave., 248-9663, wildwoodrestaurant.com. Lunch 11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday-Saturday; dinner 5:30-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$ Moderate-expensive.

[UPSCALE NORTHWEST] Being that I work and live in Wildwood’s neighborhood, I walk by the place at least twice daily. And each time I walk by, noting the smug and happy looks on its diners’ faces, I fill with rage. “Stupid rich bastards,” I think as my fists tighten. “I hope you choke.” So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to eat at Wildwood on WW’s dime. And the truth is that I could have gone anytime. Sure, $13 is a bit much for a burger—but not when the burger in question is one of Portland’s finest, its pale little housemade bun loaded up with aged cheddar and pickled red onions. The rest of the extensive bar menu has a handful of items in the neighborhood of $5, and Wildwood boasts wines and whiskeys from Portland’s backyard and around the world, all at prices you’d expect. Still, if you’re going upscale, Wildwood won’t be shy about taking your money. The dinner menu shifts regularly (our salmon and pork loin entrees, both exquisitely prepared and sided with treats like green olives, capers and caramelized veggie distractions, are now long gone), with entrees in the $18-to-$25 range. Wildwood’s bar, which sits in view of the open kitchen and just below a pretty ridiculous beer and booze list, is devoid of the obnoxious upper-crust set that swarms the patio early summer evenings, and the servers are really helpful in breaking down an occasionally befuddling menu. Nowadays, when I walk by Wildwood, I stop grinding my teeth and start salivating. Lesson learned. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: Ask a waiter about that. Wildwood would rather change its menu every week than cook with less-than-fresh ingredients.

Best deal: Show up after 9 pm and try the burger for yourself—for $7. Surely one of the best deals in Portland.

Wong’s King Chinese Seafood Restaurant

8733 SE Division St., Suite 101, 788-8883, wongsking.com. 10 am-11 pm Monday-Friday, 9:30 am-11 pm Saturday-Sunday. $-$$$ Inexpensive (dim sum)-expensive (some dinner entrees).

[HONG KONG CHINESE] Dim sum palaces in the Pacific Northwest are generally “palaces” in name only. They tend toward the utilitarian—long, low rooms with industrial carpeting and generic tables covered in plain white tablecloths, spaced just far enough apart to accommodate the rolling steam carts that bear all the delectable morsels that make up a dim sum meal. Wong’s is no exception. What does set this Southeast institution apart, however, is the attention to detail: Plates get replaced when they get too cluttered with scraps and sauces, teapots are assiduously restocked, your water glass never goes empty. The food, too, is precisely prepared. Shrimp-and-vegetable dumplings are steamed to a perfect tenderness; sticky rice in its lotus-leaf wrapper displays the perfect balance between sweet and savory. Make sure to check out the special items that waiters run out on small trays—you wouldn’t want to miss the bright sparkle of scallion that enlivens the ground pork pan-fried inside a delicate noodle wrapper. On weekends, your best bet is to come before 10:30 to avoid the lines—and, as with all dim sum, the smart strategy is to bring a group so you can try as many dishes as possible. We guarantee you’ll all eat like…well, kings. HANNAH FELDMAN.

Ideal meal: Sticky rice, shrimp-and-vegetable dumplings, pork buns, sautéed greens and—oooh, what’s on that tray?

Best deal: Chicken feet are neither the cheapest nor the most filling dish on offer, but the foodie bragging rights you’ll earn by eating them are priceless.

Yakuza

5411 NE 30th Ave., 450-0893, yakuzalounge.com. 5-10 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.

[JAPAN-ISH] The name of Micah Camden’s sexy yet homey izakaya and sake bar references the Japanese mob. To be honest, if most gangs created Northwest-tweaked Asian grub this good, we’d be members, too. The roster of house rolls and sashimi, served in a long chamber decorated with earth-toned tiles and hand-drawn cherry blossoms, is fresh and inventive, from mellow chunks of mango and avocado wrapped with house-cured gravlax to perfect grilled octopus brightened up with ponzu and cracked pepper. The friendly bartender can zip you through a brain-bending tour of reasonably priced sakes—a crisp glass of “Wandering Poet” or a sip of “Divine Droplets” that tastes faintly of bananas—while you nibble. Yakuza’s real wonders are often cooked: Citrusy scallop tempura comes fried with a Don King crown of spiky phyllo threads, nestled in a pool of creamy chile mayo; Dungeness crab gets dressed up with crème fraîche and smoky pork cracklin’s. And then there’s the burger: a tall mound of Highland Oak beef rolled in togarashi spice blend topped with chèvre, potato crisps, housemade ketchup and that spicy mayo. It’s a killer. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Refreshing cucumber salad with sesame and togarashi, ginger-spiked ahi and avocado poke, Yakuza burger and a funky-sweet bright-green cocktail made from freshly juiced sugar snap peas, vodka and lime—best enjoyed on the leafy back patio.

Best deal: A big bowl of simple chilled soba noodles, enlivened with ginger and ponzu and a mountain of green onion; “Really Spicy” cocktail made with house-infused Thai bird chile vodka and cilantro. Just one will tear your face off…in a good way.

Chef’s choice: “My new sushi chef, David, just put a house-cured ahi tuna sashimi on the menu that I love.” (Micah Camden)

Yuzu

4130 SW 117th Ave., Suite H, Beaverton, 350-1801. 6 pm-midnight Monday-Saturday. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.

[JAPANESE] The neighborhood is not promising. Getting to Yuzu requires getting off Highway 217 at a nondescript suburban strip mall and finding a glazed-windowed storefront marked only with small letters on the door (it’s between Country Korean and the anime video-rental shop/travel agency) and, if you were so foolish as to come without calling ahead, waiting over an hour for a table. Believe me, though, when I say that there is no restaurant in the city that better merits the trouble. Yuzu, but for the lack of an impenetrable fog of smoke from an evening’s worth of Mild Sevens, is an absolutely authentic izakaya. Unlike many local restaurants that claim the designation, Yuzu actually serves nothing but Japanese drinking food—grilled things, fried things, deep-fried things and ramen. You are expected to drink; your options are beer, wine, sake and shochu (a weak spirit distilled from barley). In our experience, there is not a single item on the menu that is less than very good. Among our favorites are a spring roll shell filled with kimchi, a whole grilled squid, perfect pot stickers and, best of all, grilled shishito peppers adorned only with a sprinkling of sea salt. The mild spice of the chiles, the char from the grill and the salt make for a perfect beer-drinker’s snack. Most surprising was a pot of stewed pork belly; it didn’t taste like much at first, but as I chewed it filled my mouth with essential, platonic porky flavor. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Just read this list: Sapporo, shishito, kimchi harumaki, gyoza, jidori shio yaki.

Best deal: All of it.

 

 
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