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October 24th, 2012 WW Editorial Staff | Restaurant Guide
 

Restaurant Guide 2012: Listings by Cuisine

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Select a cuisine:


American (traditional) 

The Country Cat

7937 SE Stark St., 408-1414, thecountrycat.net.

[ALL-DAY MEAT COMA] The Country Cat bills itself as a “dinner house,” but that’s just co-owner and head chef Adam Sappington being modest. Its name and inviting wood interior suggest a down-home breakfast spot, and in truth, this 5-year-old Montavilla diner does brunch just as well as supper. As a restaurant that proudly hangs its cleaver on delivering classic Southern comfort food, the chicken-fried steak is perfection, but the true winner of the early menu is the Slow Burn, two eggs atop knee-weakening pork chile and a bed of creamy grits. (Also, the bloody marys come garnished with Sappington’s housemade beef jerky.) As for the meal on the proverbial marquee, each week the menu shifts to accommodate a different meat experience. Plan to visit whenever pig is the featured animal and order the “Big Ass” pork chop, served with blackberries, rosemary walnuts and those unbeatable grits. Not a hog person? Well, you’ve probably chosen the wrong place to get dinner, but the impeccably moist cast-iron skillet fried chicken—available at brunch with toasted pecan-bacon spoonbread and maple syrup—is hardly an afterthought. MATTHEW SINGER.

Ideal meal: The mercurial Whole Hog sampler—pork chop, pork belly and pork shoulder all on the same plate—isn’t always available, but when it is, accept nothing else.

Best deal: A three-course meal of heirloom tomatoes and bacon, red-wine-braised beef and potatoes, and honey lavender semifreddo with blackberry compote for $25.

9 am-2 pm, 5 pm-close daily. $$.    

Irving Street Kitchen

701 NW 13th Ave., 343-9440, irvingstreetkitchen.com

[THE NEW SOUTH] Chef Sarah Schafer has a strange ambition. She aims to elevate Southern food—that staple of back porches and barbecue pits—to haute cuisine, one renovated dish at a time. This is akin to composing a symphony for banjo and mouth harp, but gosh darned if Irving Street Kitchen doesn’t get most of the way there. The infusion of French and Pacific Northwest elements into most dishes is initially off-putting (and I still can’t quite get behind the signature fried chicken, which is injected with Tabasco, butter and garlic but somehow has a medicinal aftertaste), but the results often dawn upon you at the second or third bite. That’s certainly the case with a slow-baked Chinook salmon that my server warned was “earthy.” True enough, but it barely hints at how the fish joins with mushrooms and polenta to feel more like a forest creature. The dining room above the First Thursday crowds is one of the Pearl District’s more splendidly grandiose spaces; that expansiveness is echoed in a corn soup flavored with huitlacoche (a fungus also known as “corn smut,” which offers an oil not unlike seaweed), and a bourbon butter-glazed cornbread so large and sweet it counts as cake. What I’m saying: Irving Street Kitchen is best when it’s corny. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: White corn soup, baked Chinook salmon. 

Best deal: These are Pearl prices, darlin’, but the Ken’s Artisan Bread is free. 

4:30-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 4:30-9:30 pm Sunday; brunch 10 am-2:30 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$$.

The Parish

231 NW 11th Ave., 227-2421, theparishpdx.com.

[AW SHUCKS] This New Orleans-inspired bistro from Tobias Hogan and Ethan Powell, the owners of North Williams Avenue’s EaT: An Oyster Bar, takes its name from Louisiana’s equivalent of counties. Opening in the Pearl District in May, the restaurant is more elegant than EaT, embracing the ecclesiastical connotations of its title through booths that have a gothic geometry and a host station made from a salvaged pulpit. The menu, divided into six categories, is about as easy to parse as Leviticus. For all the churchiness of the space, the Parish worships only at the altar of the almighty oyster, up to a dozen varieties that are available in a dozen raw, baked or fried. Go raw. They come well-shucked and sparely dressed, with only some lemon to offset the brine. For the best view, grab a captain’s chair at the bar and watch the shuckers at work while you sip a glass of bubbly or a Pilsner. Non-fish dishes are inconsistent, but the other seafood dishes are invariably enjoyable. The creamy shrimp étouffée has a peppery kick, and the soft-shell crab on a soft roll is what every fast-food fish sandwich aspires to be, dressed with mayo and pickles like a Big Mac but with a delicious, crisp-fried crab in place of a soggy tilapia patty. Grilled jumbo shrimp are excellent, crisp but still tender, with a pimento bite. All were improved by a glass of white from the restaurant’s surprisingly affordable wine list, which includes a number of sub-$30 bottles. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: A half-dozen raw oysters and the octopus salad with rabbit sausage.

Best deal: The $25 prix fixe offers savings equal to getting a free dessert.

11 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday, 3 pm-midnight Saturday, 3-10 pm Sunday; brunch 10 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$$.

Podnah’s Pit

1625 NE Killingsworth St., 281-3700, podnahspit.com.

[BRISK ME] The barbershop-dotted intersection of Northeast Killingsworth Street and 16th Avenue has been regularly colonized—noted socialist Barack Obama rented a state campaign headquarters here in 2008—but since Rodney Muirhead relocated his barbecue emporium to the corner last year, it has served as an outpost of Texas. You can smell the Waxahachie smoke from a block away. That Ole Hickory Pits smoker fires up at 5 am daily, fueling huge plates of ribs and brisket for a spacious white room that looks like a country art gallery. The kitchen paints in surprisingly delicate strokes for a place that offers free slices of white bread as a perpetual sauce-dauber: The dry rub on the half-racks is administered moderately enough for the full flavor of the meat to yodel through, while the traditionally monotonous starter that is an iceberg lettuce wedge is spiked with a lusty Thousand Island dressing. The best sides are rotated on and off the menu—here’s wishing you the chance to order a green-chili mac ’n’ cheese, which is flat-out the best iteration city-wide of that common dish, with a barely burnt crust on top accentuating the fire of the peppers. The only patrons likely to be disappointed are those who order an exhaustingly vinegar-laden pulled pork. And, of course, vegans: This place is to herbivores what a haunted mansion is to Hollywood starlets. Call it the House of Waxahachie. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Brisket plate with baked beans and mac ’n’ cheese.

Best deal: Frito pie ($4.50). But everything here is dirt cheap.

11 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday, 9 am-10 pm Saturday, 9 am-9 pm Sunday. $$.

Screen Door

2337 E Burnside St., 542-0880, screendoorrestaurant.com.

[LINE STARTS HERE] The paradox of Portland’s most formidable brunch line is that you stand for an hour before you sit down to eat, but it’s after the meal that you need a long walk. If Southerners actually took their comfort in such large portions every day, they could have formed a human wall to stop Sherman. Still, it’s the sort of Dixie cooking that puts on airs like a belle: not just hush puppies but hush puppies flecked with peppers, and a honey Creole mustard dipping sauce. (My lawd!) The pecan trout is a very nice fish, simply but carefully prepared, and I will never refuse mashed potatoes this rich. The hero of the menu is actually a snack—divine pimento cheese with housemade crackers. But let’s talk honestly: This is not the best chicken and waffle in town, or even close, and long waits carry with them a form of meal inflation familiar from every family  Thanksgiving where you waited through an entire Lions game for the food. Like that meal, this one will make you want to sleep afterward, and you’ll dream you were perfectly rewarded for your endurance. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Pimiento-cheese-and-bacon breakfast sandwich. 

Best deal: Organic oatmeal ($4.75).

5:30-9pm Sunday-Monday, 5:30-10pm Tuesday-Saturday; brunch 9 am-2:30 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$.

Smokehouse 21

413 NW 21st Ave., 373-8990, smokehouse21.com.

[HOWLIN’ FOR YOU] There’s something inexplicably decadent and wonderful about a restaurant offering a koozie to keep your beer cold and your hand warm. Smokehouse 21 has its own house-branded koozies, the perfect sleeve for a $2 PBR while enjoying some of the best pulled pork in town. This is bougiecue: Meat like what the Civil War’s losing side eats while watching stock car races and MMA bouts, sides that incorporate slightly more vegetable matter and less cheese, proper napkins, show-quality taxidermy and the Black Keys. The pulled pork is the reason to come to this Alphabet District bistro. It’s juicy and  rich with smoke. Get a sandwich on a brioche bun from Ken’s, pick your favorite sauce, and have at ’er. The sides are equally impressive. The greens are sharp with vinegar, but their perfect consistency—crisp yet fully cooked—makes up for it. Baked beans and macaroni and cheese, both topped with a cornbread crust and infused with leftover meat, are pleasantly rich. Fingerling potatoes, shallots and grainy mustard give the potato salad a wonderful earthiness. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Pickled watermelon, pulled pork sandwich with fingerling potato salad and a PBR.

Best deal: A quarter pound of pulled pork ($3.50).

11:30 am-10 pm daily. $$.

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Argentinian 

Ox

2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 284-3366, oxpdx.com.

[EXTRAORDINARY ARGENTINE] After two fruitful years as hired guns at Pearl District wine bar Metrovino, Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton and her husband and co-chef, Greg Denton, have their own place on a block of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard once better known for dive bars and Ethiopian restaurants. The restaurant describes itself fittingly as “Argentine-inspired Portland food.” One of the most impressive new restaurants in town, Ox is a trifecta of delicious dishes, superb service and an alluring atmosphere. The centerpiece of this splendid restaurant is the beef, lamb and pork coming off the elaborate wood-fired stainless-steel grill, which is raised and lowered by hand. For all the seeming complexity of this apparatus, meat cooked on it consistently arrives at the proper temperature, buttery tender and seasoned assertively but not excessively. The meats are transcendent, but the rest of the menu is what makes Ox more than a steakhouse with a sexy Spanish accent. Bone-in halibut and maitake mushroom, both grilled, are no mere sop to the red meat-averse. Salads with grilled radicchio, arugula and chevre, or gem lettuces, fried chickpeas and feta also impress. A well-trained service staff knows the menu and to avoid the “everything is great” fail-safe. They are pleasant without excess familiarity and efficient without rushing you toward the door. You may want to linger a while—watching the cooks manage that grill and letting your steak settle. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: Chilled seafood sampler, grilled radicchio salad and skirt steak.

Best deal: Asado Argentino for two ($60).

5 pm-close Tuesday-Sunday. $$$.

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Chinese 

Lucky Strike

3862 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 206-8292, luckystrikepdx.com

[FIRE IN THE BELLY] Diners whose only experience with Sichuan cooking is ordering from the “Szechuan” section of the menu of your typical Chinese restaurant may find Lucky Strike somewhat challenging. While there are many dishes this Hawthorne eatery produces that won’t require a sweatband to eat, like a seafood pancake ($8) done Korean style, brimming with shrimp, squid and oysters showered in shaved bonito flakes, the real action is with those items that crank up the Scoville and make generous use of Sichuan peppercorns. If it’s on the menu, snag a bowl of Drunken Belly ($12), a mound of braised pork belly swimming in fiery soy ginger sauce, and revel in the tingling, numbing sensation provided by the peppercorns, allowing you to eat far more of the chilies than is medically recommended. Easing your way into the menu is also a possibility, as the less spicy Beans and Beans ($8) pairs some of the best stir-fried string beans in the city with the salty funk  of fermented black beans. Do keep in mind, as you down your third helping of Spicy Rib and Potato Stew ($13.50), the numbing effects of the peppercorns don’t carry over to the following morning. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: Drunken Belly, Beans and Beans, a mound of white rice and the next day off.

Best deal: Again, the Beans and Beans. Some places charge more for a cocktail.

4-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$.

Ocean City

3016 SE 82nd Ave., 771-2299, oceancityportland.com.

[DIM SUM] There are many things to be confused by while eating dim sum at this always-crowded, enormous 82nd Avenue Chinese restaurant. For one, what is the hooked mystery meat slowly dripping fat under the heat lamp by the register in between the whole fried duck and pork belly? It’s barbecued pork—now you don’t have to ask. Carts of steamy, mostly savory dumplings, noodles, buns, stir fries, short ribs, boiled chicken feet, congee (Asian rice porridge) and more roll through the dining room during daily dim sum, and there will often be one or two mystery items considering that the women who push the carts usually speak very little English. Boldly try the unknown or settle for the easy-to-read shrimp dumplings, which are worth the trip alone. Go with your gut and with a large group. That way you can sit at one of the large round tables with a Lazy Susan and share. You can always order from the gigantic menu as well, which offers everything from crispy garlic fried chicken and sautéed snow pea tips to a braised rockfish and tofu clay pot. LIZ CRAIN.

Ideal meal: Pot of hot tea, crab cooked one of nine ways, pork and shrimp shumai, pork bun, shrimp wrapped in rice noodles, golden egg custard bun for dessert.

Best deal: For weekend dim sum, two can eat like carb-loading kings and queens for less than $30 and with much less of a wait then at Wong’s King.

9:30 am-midnight daily, dim sum 9:30 am-3 pm daily. $-$$.

Pure Spice

2446 SE 87th Ave., Suite 101, 772-1808, purespicerestaurant.com.

[EAST CHINA SEE] Pure Spice’s maddeningly well-lit fish tank of a restaurant—in a mostly Chinese strip mall across Southeast Division Street from a shop offering eyebrow tattoos—looks far from promising from the outside. But it is a world of eclectic, oft-unfamiliar splendors, all reasonably priced. The housemade cilantro-onion rice noodle appetizers look like soft baklava and are mild, rich and delicate to the point of ethereality. The experience, a companion said, was “like eating clouds.” One could eat them to the point of drowning. Pure Spice’s likewise housemade kimchee was beautifully and numbingly spicy—made with crisp, brightly acidic baby bok choy—while its massive boat of tan tan noodles  are the sweet and not the Sichuan hot-oil version, mildly spiced and sledged over with a dense magma flow of pork and peanut. The hot pots may as well be homestyle European stews, coddled by the juices of the meat and slow-cooked to tenderness. While you eat, an eternal flat-screen slide show on two walls flips through pictures of the massive menu’s dishes, a constant reminder of everything you’re missing and everything you want. And so you will egregiously over-order, and your server will—gently, dryly—make fun of you. But you won’t mind. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: The one where your eyes are bigger than your stomach. But don’t miss the rice noodle appetizers, and make a point of ordering one of the whole-fish items, which they will bone for you at the table.

Best deal: The $10 clay pots handily serve two.

9:30 am-10 pm daily. $.

Wong’s King Seafood

8733 SE Division St., No. 101, 788-8883, wongsking.com.

[FAR EAST] Amid freeways and tow yards, between Xotic Tan’s grim neon and the chainlinked hawkers of parking-lot pottery, the palatial Wong’s King remains Portland’s long-running home to lunchtime dumplings and fine Cantonese. Its lobby still advertises the world silver medal in Chinese cuisine Wong’s earned for its abalone dish ($42 on the menu) in 2004, but most come for the hectic midday clatter of dim sum. After loitering among massive waiting-room crowds—managed as briskly and efficiently as at any Olive Garden—diners are ushered past bubbling lobster and crab tanks into a massive rec-center dining hall filled with extended Chinese families, big-eating Greshamites and pairs of wan aesthetes partaking in perhaps their only  real indulgence: a motley and often random-seeming assortment of shrimp sheeted into rice noodles, sweetly egg-glazed French buns, and teardropped hum bao filled with pork. The menu’s true indulgences, however, are on the dinner menu—for example, a $16 bed of garlic-soy-scallion clams studded with scallop surprises, or a $15 pagoda of bok choy, black mushroom and bamboo pith. This last ingredient is much better than that same plant’s bland shoots: It is the bone marrow of the vegetable world, rich and spongy and densely saturated with the flavor of everything around it. All, here, is pith and sloppy bounty. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Show up super-early to avoid the lines, poke around the dim-sum carts for the soy-gravied rice noodles and egg-glazed rolls, and tide yourself over while waiting for brunchtime seafood ordered off the dinner menu. You’ll have to ask for the dinner menu three times.

Best deal: Those four fist-sized rolls with the meat filling? In the metal tray? They’re $2.50. Enjoy.

10 am-11 pm Monday-Friday, 9:30 am-11 pm. $-$$$.

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Pan-Asian/Fusion 

Aviary

1733 NE Alberta St. 287-2400, aviarypdx.com.

[IT SOARS] The best dishes at Aviary can challenge what you consider edible. The most exciting restaurant in town, and our Restaurant of the Year, Aviary makes a crispy pig’s ear that looks like shreds of the cartilage my dogs gnaw on. Served with avocado, greens and nubs of sausage on a bed of sweet coconut rice, it’s a game-changer. The fried chicken skin salad is exactly what it sounds like—salty, greasy skin from a piece of fried chicken on top of cooling watermelon with a smear of baba ghanoush. Tempura-fried green beans come with a green curry sauce you’ll mop up. Even the desserts here impress, turning mashed-up breakfast cereal and tart strawberries into something simultaneously fresh and decadent. Go, enjoy and see if you don’t consider snatching that ear from your pooch. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Tempura green beans, fried chicken skin salad, crispy pig’s ear, a dessert to yourself.

Best deal: Most of the happy hour isn’t great, but you can get the green beans for $5.

5-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$.

Ping

102 NW 4th Ave., 229-7464, pingpdx.com

[SINGAPORE FLING] Portland does not have a single Malaysian, Singaporean or Indonesian restaurant. That’s crazy. Appreciate, then, just how important Old Town hole-in-the-wall Ping is to this city’s gastronomic ecosphere. It’s the only place in the city (that isn’t a food cart) you can get dishes from this region—and it does most of them really, really well. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its extensive menu of grilled skewers, which, at $1.50 to $3, pull in the bargain-hunter crowds for after-work nibbles. They’re good, but don’t fill up too much in place of delving deeper into the menu’s more hard-to-find fare, like the coconut milk-based spicy laksa noodle soup or the crunchy Burmese lentil salad. Ping started out as an Andy Ricker (of Pok Pok fame) venture, and although he’s no longer part of the restaurant, his fingerprints can still be seen in several Thai dishes, like the salted duck-egg salad and stewed duck-leg noodles, and a large selection of Pok Pok’s drinking vinegars on the drinks menu. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Ping opens at 11 am on weekdays and makes for an amazing hangover breakfast. Get the nonya-style “carrot cake,” an excellent rendition of the Chinese-Malaysian dish chai tow kway, a stir-fry of soft radish cake cubes, bean sprouts and egg, doused in a generous amount of kecap manis. To complete the liver-damaged Southeast Asian backpacker experience, pair it with some thick, fatty kaya toast or the perfectly greasy roti flatbread, and coffee sweetened with condensed milk. 

Best deal: Cheap eats at happy hour include $1 potato skewers, $3 steamed buns, and $5 fried pork chop sandwiches.

11 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, 2-10 pm Saturday. $$-$$$.

Smallwares

4605 NE Fremont St., 229-0995, smallwarespdx.com.

[BIG FLAVORS] The lanterns hanging over the tables at Smallwares, our runner-up Restaurant of the Year, shed a lot of metaphorical light. Round bulbs in nylon netting, they recall antique glass Japanese fishing floats but were made on a tight budget for first-time restaurateur Johanna Ware. The edibles at this “inauthentic Asian” restaurant are similarly enterprising, from “lollipops” of fried chicken to noodle dishes like somen noodles lathered with a Korean chili paste and grounded by the earthiness of black strands of fibrous hijiki seaweed. Ware does some of her best work with hot peppers, including singeing Scotch bonnets in the oxtail curry. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Fried kale, fingerling potatoes, mapo dofu, somen noodles and hanger steak.

Best deal: Eggplant with sausage, $10.

11:30 am-10 pm Monday-Friday, 5-10 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$-$$$.

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Ethiopian 

Bete-Lukas Ethiopian Restaurant

2504 SE 50th Ave., 477-8778, bete-lukas.com.

[OUT OF AFRICA] Just off Southeast Division Street on the second floor of a mixed-use building, Bete-Lukas is the most upscale of Portland’s Ethiopian restaurants. Separated from the cluster around Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by both geography and atmosphere, Bete-Lukas is open for dinner only and gets busy enough for the maitre d’ to put parties of two at the bar. That same maitre d’ is not shy about suggestions. If you’re going to introduce someone to the charms of East African cuisine for the first time, this restaurant offers a soft  landing. Bete-Lukas is polished, with cloth napkins and white tablecloths. Also, the dishes, served in the customary communal style on pancakelike injera, have both well-trimmed meat and vegetables that are allowed to stay more crisp than at most Ethiopian restaurants. The beef dishes, including the lean kitfo served either raw or cooked, have ardent fans, but don’t miss the fosolia, a lightly spiced green-bean dish. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Veggie combo ($11) and meat combo ($14).

Best deal: Veggie combo ($11).

5 pm-close Tuesday-Sunday. $$.

Enat Kitchen

300 N Killingsworth St., 285-4867.

[ETHIOPIAN KING] Ethiopian restaurants often seem interchangeable—same dishes, similar décor, same distinct serving style. There is a hierarchy, though, and the food at Enat Kitchen is at the top of Portland’s heap. This humble spot caters to the immigrant community, with the requisite African décor up front, while booths and a television showing the Blazers provide the real atmosphere. Enat puts warm, rich flavors on big, juicy cuts of chicken and beef. If you’re going with one meat dish, make it the alicha wot, an incredible curried beef. The salad is delightfully fresh with loud citrus, and the vegetarian sampler comes with masir key wot (lentils) and gomen (collard greens) that are stewed to strike the perfect mean between salad and mush. And, yes, injera varies about as much as loaves of Italian bread, but the spongy teff at Enat has the perfect tang of  sourness. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Splitting a meat combination and vegetable combination.

Best deal: The lunch buffet is $8.

11:30 am–10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$.

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French 

Cocotte

2930 NE Killingsworth St., 227-2669, cocottepdx.com.

[LITTLE BISTRO] For all of the complaints that Portland doesn’t do seafood right beyond a few sushi spots, let’s have a drum roll for Cocotte. This pretty little corner bistro on Northeast 30th Avenue’s restaurant row (neighbored by Beast, Yakuza, Autentica and DOC) is all about small plates and entrees from le mer. The smoked salmon salad over a fallen potato soufflé with tarragon aioli is topped with farm-fresh greens, moist and not too smoky salmon, and slivers of radish in a lemony shallot vinaigrette. It’s perfect. There’s another great starter, too: The olive-oil-poached albacore with sweet, fork-tender tomato-braised fennel-and-basil vinaigrette. There are classic cocktails, nice wines and beer to accompany other French classics with a twist, such as the cauliflower vichyssoise with English peas, escargot with brioche, and braised pork crepes. There are fresh roses on the tables and bar, botanical prints on the walls and French doors that open to outdoor seating. It’s classic and romantic, and even though Portland has opened a lot of Frenchy bistros in recent years, you should check this one out. LIZ CRAIN.

Ideal meal: Farm-fresh salad; housemade egg noodles with market fish/shellfish, preserved lemon and basil; and dark chocolate mousse over pine-nut shortbread crust topped with toasted marshmallow cream, which is essentially a refined s’more.

Best deal: Early and late-evening happy hour.

4 pm-close Tuesday-Sunday. $$-$$$.


Le Pigeon

738 E Burnside St., 546-8796, lepigeon.com.

[PIDGIN FRENCH] Heralded since opening in 2006, Le Pigeon remains equal parts maddeningly quirky and gastronomically awe-inspiring even with the culinary mind behind the affair, Gabriel Rucker, limiting his stoveside time here to weekends. The tiny place jams in 25 supplicants at a time, most at hateable cheek-to-jowl communal tables, the balance at ringside stools bunched against an L-shaped counter where interaction with lavishly tatted cooks is the norm. The style of cooking is French by way of Rucker, which is to say rich, unrestrained and kaleidoscopically choreographed. Offal, foie gras and other extravagant components are constants on a menu that changes weekly. In August, I sampled a splendid starter of tender-on-the-inside grilled octopus served with sweet/tart nectarine, hearts of palm and porcini. Foie gras with a chocolate- and garlic-filled mini-croissant was not to my taste, but I still admired the moxie it took to conjure the combination. Beef cheek Bourguignon, a twisted French classic, is a must-try stalwart among entrees. Otherwise, put on your adventurous-eater hat and enjoy the wild ride. Or, if you happen to be hosting Aunt Edna from a far-away red state, drag her along and have her order the burger, which is damn good. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: Go at opening time on a weekday outside summer tourist season and grab the two seats on either side of the corner of the counter. Order starter, entree and dessert.

Best deal: Five-course and seven-course tasting menus, $65 and $85, respectively.

5-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$$.

Little Bird Bistro

219 SW 6th Ave., 688-5952, littlebirdbistro.com.

[BURGER JOINT] Gabriel Rucker wanted to make his second spot, Little Bird, “more accessible” than his original, Le Pigeon. Cue the bistro burger. Lured by the half-pound brioche-bunned hamburger and fries, which is offered in limited quantities east of the river, Rucker filled a Rolodex with clients in the glassy buildings perched above this vaguely French comfort-food restaurant. This clubby bistro’s few ostentatious touches—“petit oiseau” painted on the door, pages of Larousse Gastronomique on the back of the menu—could be read as either lighthearted fun or Euro Disney chintz. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt, given the consistent excellence you’ll now find at the 2-year-old restaurant. Sure, it’s hard to miss with macaroni and cheese, crab cakes and a ham sandwich, but Little Bird deserves serious credit for doing everything from steak tartare with potato chips to clafouti very, very well. An excellent selection of wine by the glass and decadent desserts, including a cocoa-rich brownie tart and buttery madeleines with a mascarpone crémeux, round out a great little bistro experience. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Field greens, salmon carpaccio, grilled hanger steak, and any of the wonderful desserts.

Best deal: The burger and fries ($12).

11:30 am-midnight Monday-Friday, 5 pm-midnight Saturday-Sunday. $$$.

Noisette

1937 NW 23rd Place, 719-4599, noisetterestaurant.com.

[NEW COURSE] Chef Tony Demes’ new French-modern restaurant Noisette is good for both dinner and a show if you do it right. Couvron, his much-missed previous restaurant—which Demes moved from Portland to New York in the early aughts—was well known for its four-hour, many-course tasting menus, and Demes has carried this tradition into the new venture. While the oh-so-petite dishes are available a la carte ($8-$19), the true heart of the place is still in the full $75, eight-course, ever-changing tasting menu, an enveloping two- or three-hour experience dedicated to the notion that dining can be a full evening’s entertainment in its own right, not just a decadent prelude to later spectacles. Noisette is traditional fine dining for people who appreciate the way servers orient each beautifully plated dish to the diner with terrific precision, as if framing a portrait over a settee. In a town that rightfully prides itself on its whimsically homegrown fresh-local-casual approach to dining—we have achieved in only 15 years something of a genuine regional cuisine—Noisette manages to be both appropriate to the city and something that we nonetheless mostly lack, which is true high-end traditional fine dining. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Spring for the full tasting menu; even if you skimp on the wine you’ll still leave feeling somehow drunk and rosy.

Best deal: And yet, you can also approximate the experience for half price by ordering a scattering of six plates and sharing.

5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. $$$$.


St. Jack

2039 SE Clinton St., 360-1281, stjackpdx.com.

[WITH TONGUE] Forget the Eiffel Tower, Édith Piaf and the entire Loire Valley. I’ll take France in the form of St. Jack’s amazing pommes frites: skinny, burn-your-fingertips hot, sea-salty fries served with an eggy, garlicky house mayo, both so good they’ll have you singing “La Marseillaise” in between mouthfuls. Chef Aaron Barnett’s chic Clinton bistro is a bacon-fat-scented love letter to France’s food capital Lyon, from the snug spot’s drippy mounds of candles and sexy soundtrack to plate after plate of ballsy, rustic Gallic eats. There’s creamy chicken liver mousse, a proper smoky-vinegary, lardon-studded salade Lyonnaise and super-juicy steak frites, not to mention specials featuring every part of a pig possible and a French wine list as long as your forearm. Do not leave the premises without devouring pastry chef Alissa Rozos’ truly special madeleines; the lemony flavor bombs are baked to order and served warm, dusted with powdered sugar. The sugar maven’s goods, including habit-forming canelés and brioche, take center stage during the day when half of the restaurant space magically transforms into super-chill Patisserie St. Jack. Mon dieu. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Chicken liver mousse, salade Lyonnaisse, cote de boeuf for two, madeleines.

Best deal: Pommes frites to share and a glass of sparkling wine. (Happy hour 4-5 pm daily.)

4-9:30 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$. Patisserie St. Jack open 8 am-3 pm daily. $.

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German 

Grüner

527 SW 12th Avenue, 241-7163, grunerpdx.com.

[OCTOBER FEST] A meal at Grüner is constructed from the cornerstones of the Bavarian beer hall—schnitzel, sauerkraut—and the food pyramid of the American ballpark—hot dogs, pretzels—but it builds a culinary Neuschwanstein in the clouds. I’ve yet to find a chef in town applying every ingredient with the precision Chris Israel shows at his German joint, which looks like a ski chateau tucked in near the Portland Streetcar. Heideggerian essays could be written on the discoveries inside Grüner’s namesake salad, even though it starts with iceberg lettuce. The “choucroute garnie” plate is a veritable Oktoberfest of pig parts (the saucissson and tenderloin are standouts) heaped with wine-braised sauerkraut, while a pork schnitzel sandwich pairs ever-so-lightly fried meat with a plum relish. The burger is rightly celebrated, the pretzel bread is divinely soft, but the leader on a menu of equals is a Swabian ravioli called maultaschen. Bobbing in a thin broth, the squares of beef, pork and onion melt into delicate kisses of strapping saltiness—like being licked back to life by one of those Alpine-rescue St. Bernards. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Grüner salad, pork plate. Ask your dining companion to get the maultaschen and the burger. Share.

Best deal: How is that salad just $9?

11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 5-9:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$.

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Greek   


Eleni’s Estiatorio

7712 SE 13th Ave., 230-2165, elenisrestaurant.com.

[CRETAN CONSISTENCY] It could be easy to dismiss Eleni’s Estiatorio as yet another hub for staples of Greek cuisine. Yes, there are gyros, shawarma and dolmas, but don’t ignore the Cretan tint at this 12-year-old Sellwood institution. Many dishes incorporate the less-seen aspects of Greek cuisine—rabbit, eggplant and tiger prawns—and present them in a more subtle fashion, without overpowering sauces or marinades. The flavor is very much present in a dish like the seafood stew—a Greek paella of sorts—where the broth incorporates mussels, clams, scallops and hefty tiger prawns without overpowering you. Eleni’s does offer the  well-trodden tzatziki and calamari, the latter served either pan-fried or grilled, as a reminder of how Greek cuisine gained popularity. Happily, those old standbys are no Achilles’ heel, even if the gold medals go to the stars from Crete. MICHAEL LOPEZ.

Ideal meal: Dolmas, exochiki salata, kotopoulo, baklava.

Best deal: Happy-hour lamb, chicken or pork pita; greek meatballs; giant lima beans.

5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. $$.

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Indian 

Bollywood Theater

2039 NE Alberta St., 971-200-4711, bollywoodtheaterpdx.com

[DANCE NUMBER] Chef Troy MacLarty may have walked the streets of Kolkata to research the food for his Indian bistro Bollywood Theater, but in feeling his restaurant is pure Portland: upscale street food amid mismatched tables, variegated artisanal knickknackery and deeply ironized shrines to foreign film. MacLarty’s menu is full of India’s “poor man’s burgers” and mill-worker favorites, chutnied-beef kati rolls, Goan-Portuguese bastard foods made with buttered rolls—the food of streetside carts and home skillets. The kati rolls are a Mughlai hybrid food—hence the beef option—essentially kebab wrapped in Indian flatbread. They’re an unmitigated success, with achingly tender beef accented by the bright tones of green chutney and pickled onion. Most of the food at Bollywood Theater is gentle in its spicing. The pav bhaji, a potato-vegetable stew served on dinner rolls, wouldn’t offend the palate of a provincial uplands Englishman, nor would the vada pav, a savory potato-chickpea dumpling served as a sandwich with a mild chutney sauce. This is comfort food: carb-laden and savory, not overly challenging but wonderfully satisfying. Bollywood also follows Portland’s current yen for upfront counter payment and table service in its newest casual-chic restaurants, which works beautifully until you realize you want another mango lassi or Pimm’s Cup, at which time you find yourself standing back in line, in that most Portland way. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Beef kati roll and pav bhaji appetizers, egg masala Thali meal ($11, comes with sambar, dal, raita, saffron rice, chutney) and a Pimm’s Cup.

Best deal: The vada pav is $3, and filling. Add a sambar side for $2.

11 am-10 pm daily. $-$$.
 

Chennai Masala

2088 NW Stucki Ave, Hillsboro, 531-9500, chennaimasala.net.

[INDIAN SUMMER] Tucked inside your standard suburban strip mall, its plain walls sporadically decorated with faux brick decals, Chennai Masala does not exude authenticity at first glance. But the countless positive reviews that also adorn its walls attest to its status as one of the metro area’s best Indian restaurants. While the menu includes a selection of familiar Northern specialties, like tandoor-based dishes and chicken tikka, Chennai Masala does Southern cuisine with special aptitude. The highlight is its staggering variety of dosa, the Indian version of a savory, crispy crepe, filled with potato, onion and vegetables and regularly served with a cool side of coconut chutney. Though the clientele includes a steady stream of Westerners, the restaurant does not cater to the timid when it comes to heat in its dishes. In particular, the sambhar vindaloo, another South Indian staple, will have you hailing the waiter for yet another water refill. This level of heat is not for everyone, but for those willing to go big, try tempering the burn with the thick and flavorful smoothielike mango lassi. KIMBERLY HURSH.

Ideal meal: Mysore masala dosa, mango lassi, and gulab jamoon (fried dough balls) soaked in a sweet syrup.

Best deal: Weekday lunch buffet for $9.95 (but the weekend buffet is far spicier for $12.95)

11:30 am-2 pm and 5:30-9:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $$.

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Italian 

3 Doors Down Cafe

1429 SE 37th Ave., 236-6886, 3doorsdowncafe.com

[DOOR PRIZE] Three doors down—get it?—from busy Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard is a refined and romantic Italian-cum-Northwest cafe with the laid-back vibe common to these parts. Seated at a small table kept dark by the blinds along the bay window, you will encounter overdressed couples scanning the wine list and maybe a middle-aged man who’s had a few glasses of that wine, warning his parents about the undocumented alien in the White House. So, yes, a big, noise-neutralizing wall hanging could help. Happily, the standard complement of salmon, pork chop, steak and roast chicken is a welcome distraction. The antipasto includes olives and beet-flavored pickled onions. Those salty, pan-fried Padrón peppers popping up everywhere are well done here, with a balance of mild and spicy specimens. The classic Caesar salad offers an explosion of salty, fishy delight with both anchovies and anchovy-flavored croutons. The serving staff will tag-team you to keep the dinner courses—and drinks—coming at a steady pace. Eat, drink and ignore the conspiracy theorist. JOHN LOCANTHI.

Ideal meal: Sliced cured Italian meats, provolone cheese, Italian olives and marinated mushrooms; Caesar salad; grilled pork tenderloin with braised greens; Creole bread pudding.

Best deal: Daily lasagna and a Manhattan for less than $15 at happy hour.

5-9:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 4-9 pm Sunday. $$$.

A Cena

7742 SE 13th Ave., 206-3291, acenapdx.com

[RUSTIC ITALIAN] It’s fitting that A Cena is nestled along Sellwood’s antique row. The Italian restaurant’s hearty, flavorful offerings recall vintage treasures—at least, from the window shopper’s vantage. Italian basics like bruschetta, caprese, pizza and eggplant dishes are all on the menu; however, A Cena’s attention to detail sets it apart. The aforementioned caprese, for example, features a housemade burrata cheese. That involves a rather laborious process for such a common appetizer, yet the extra effort shines in the velvety texture. You get the impression executive chef Gabe Gabreski wants patrons who may be fresh from the antique shops that surround his restaurant to take the same approach in digging for the hidden uniqueness in each dish. Main courses, such as the Sweet Briar Farms pork loin paired with crispy potatoes and grilled peaches, are simple yet intensely flavorful, a nod to the décor and environment of the restaurant. Butcher paper lines the tables and, if it happens to be uneven, your server will graciously correct it. A simple gesture, but one that so perfectly fits A Cena’s subtle charm. MICHAEL LOPEZ.

Ideal meal: Caprese, braised greens, pappardelle.

Best deal: The pork cut varies daily and is market price, but is a well-rounded portion.

5-9 pm Monday, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm and 5-10 pm Friday, 10 am-2 pm and 5-10 pm Saturday, 10 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm Sunday. $$$.

Accanto

2838 SE Belmont St., 235-4900, accantopdx.com.

[THE BABY] Accanto was intended to be a modest, casual complement to Genoa, the proud older sister which shares its building. In fact, the name means “next door.” But by borrowing big sis’s prettiest outfit—simple handmade pastas outshine the rest of Genoa’s extravagant prix fixe menu—to pair with familiar fare like bruschetta, gazpacho and a lamb steak, Accanto ends up taking the top bunk. Wine and cocktails are appropriately unfussy. The big little-gem salad, a hybrid Caesar with anchovies, croutons and Parmesan dressing, should be split. The charcuterie plate is wonderfully direct: spicy salami with loud and creamy cheeses and a little bread. We had great luck with two daily specials. A grilled white-fish dish with steamed green beans and polenta was refreshing. Fat, slurpable spaghetti in hearty marinara with four giant, parsley-bombed meatballs took the opposite tack. A popular brunch menu includes familiar fare like bacon, toast and eggs along with duck hash and an Italian tripe stew. Arrive between 5 and 6 pm for happy-hour steals—they’re even sweeter as you pay the modest check just as fatter wallets start arriving next door. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Meat-and-cheese plate, fried squash blossoms, potato gnocchi and grilled pound cake.

Best deal: Listen closely to the daily specials or go with the miniaturized prix fixe menu, $24 for three courses.

11 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday, 9 am-2 pm Saturday-Sunday. No reservations. $$.

Bluehour

250 NW 13th Ave., 226-3394, bluehouronline.com

[HAUTE PLATES] This swanky Pearl institution, which has been feeding the well-heeled in Portland for more than a decade, seemed to grow a little stale over time. That changed last year when Thomas Boyce was hired to succeed founding chef Kenny Giambalvo. Boyce, whose résumé includes a lengthy stint at Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant in L.A., has reinvigorated Bluehour’s menu while maintaining the high standards set by his predecessor. The food leans toward Italian and French, but Boyce isn’t afraid to stray outside those lines. One of his best starters, a terrine of octopus, exhibits a Korean flair with spicy marinated daikon and shiso—the whole prepared like a delectable cephalopod head cheese. Another starter, a foie gras parfait, was light as mousse, served under a layer of riesling gelée and accompanied on a board by cherry compote and tart pickled gooseberries. It was paired perfectly with a glass of Sauternes. The kitchen’s deft touch with fish was apparent in a complimentary amuse bouche of albacore tartare with plum and cucumber marinade, as well as in two entrees. Sauteed Alaskan cod with sweet Maine shrimp, baby artichokes and cippolini onions all simmered nicely in a saffron-shellfish broth, and the roasted king salmon came swimming in a pond of caramelized corn and benefited from a sweet/salty balance with the fish’s crisp skin. Sweet corn also shines in the tortellini, among several interesting pasta dishes on the menu. As for the atmosphere, it doesn’t get much more stylish in Portland. Bluehour’s milieu resonates like a Mondrian painting—all clean lines and angles, with the high ceilings broken by 16-foot-high drapery panels. A signature elegance comes from black wire-hung chandeliers with globes like glowing softballs. Servers are courteous and efficient. Of course, eating here doesn’t come cheap—unless you stick to happy-hour fare served in the bar area. Is it worth it? For those who can afford it, most certainly. ROB FERNAS.

Ideal meal: Terrine of octopus, pasta, fish.

Best deal: Bluehour burger with smoked bacon cheddar and fries ($12) at happy hour (until 6:30 pm).

11:30 am-2:30 pm and 4-10 pm Monday-Friday, 5-10 pm Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$$-$$$$.

Caffe Mingo

807 NW 21st Ave., 226-4646, barmingonw.com/caffemingo.html

[UNGILDED ITALIAN] “Just good simple Italian food, right?” rolls off the tongues of the staff here so readily in response to compliments that it threatens to become litany, but it’s true. It’s doubtful you’ll ever find anything approaching overwrought on the menu at Caffe Mingo, and that is very much playing to its strengths. Even the  nondescript bric-a-brac peppering the small space seems to imply that if you want sleek, modern Italian design, you’d be better served at the much larger Bar Mingo space next door. Caffe Mingo is for eating, and you can do that quite well here. A smashing special of rockfish in cartoccio ($28) forgoes any fussiness in the preparation to let the hyper-seasonal produce shine, the sweet cherry tomatoes blistered and burst by the steam in the parchment packet, releasing their sweet juice to mingle with the garlic and olive oil to make an impromptu sauce that buoys the fregola sarda pellet pasta nestled underneath. A meltingly tender lamb leg chop adorns a mound of toothsome risotto in the osso buco ($26), the hint of saffron in the rice an earthy counterpoint to a mildly pungent horseradish gremolata. Be warned, portions here are generous, so expect to have little room for dessert. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: Anything with artichokes (if in season). Otherwise, risotto.

Best deal: A no-frills plate of pasta with red sauce or garlic and olive oil is $6.

5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$.

Clarklewis

1001 SE Water Ave., 235-2294, clarklewispx.com

[INDUSTRIAL EXPLORER] Long marooned on Southeast Water Avenue as an anomalous OMSI-adjacent dining destination, Clarklewis now casts its considerable shadow over an industrial cluster of worthy competition. But the nearly 10-year-old institution still might be the best place to enjoy the clash of tony conceits and the strangely soothing sounds of passing trains. There are certainly few better rooms in which to while away a summer evening, as the waning day wafts in through Clarklewis’ open garage doors to bless the clattering mass. It’s worth taking time with the Italian-inspired menu, and the attentive wait staff is very good at backing away to let diners do just that. A recent summery menu featured a colorful array of fresh Groundworks heirloom tomatoes ($12) spiffed up with balsamic, frikeh and blue cheese; when complemented with the poached Oregon albacore, which makes like a deconstructed tuna salad atop a layer of tonnato sauce, the result is what picnics must be like for princes. Entrees like the hearth-roasted pork leg, subtly sweetened by blueberries, deliver on the promise of locally sourced ingredients, but don’t skip the housemade  pastas in the menu’s middle. The tagliatelle with lamb ragu is al dente perfection on a date with tender, almost soluble meat, and it is not to be missed. CHRIS STAMM.

Ideal meal: The four-course tasting menu, as long as it includes the tagliatelle with lamb ragu ($55).

Best deal: Three-course blue-plate lunch special ($15).

11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 4:30-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$.

DOC

5519 NE 30th Ave., 946-8592, docpdx.com.

[PHYSICAL CHALLENGE] There’s this awkward but inevitable moment whenever you step into DOC, where you hover awkwardly in the middle of a team of bustling cooks, trying not to knock over a plate of risotto or impale yourself on a boning knife. Relax. Just stand still, breathe deep and make “quietly freaking-out” eyes at the hostess until you’re seated. The brief threat of a Double Dare physical challenge breaking out is really the only downside to the quaint layout of this Italian-influenced hole in the wall, where the open kitchen is at the front of the room, directly behind the front door. Once you get past that part, it is genuinely charming and intimate. Reward your survival with the $60, five-course tasting menu. Intolerances and dietary requirements are catered to without fuss, and everyone typically receives different dishes than their dining companions. A recent meal netted two of us: fresh oysters; two salads (one, made with fresh greens, dried capers, a tart, creamy dressing and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, was the finest salad I’ve had this year); a summery, herb-packed risotto; kale lasagne with a soft egg oozing over the top; a pleasant fillet of seared salmon; a cheese plate; chocolate cake and panna cotta. Go all out with the $40 wine pairing (the sommelier knocks it out of the park with eclectic choices and knowledgeable preambles to each pour), and you’ll barely realize you’re stumbling back outside through a working kitchen full of hot and pointy things. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Tasting menu!

Best deal: Tasting menu!

6 pm-close Tuesday-Saturday. $$$.

Firehouse

711 NE Dekum St., 954-1702, firehousepdx.com.

[SMOKY FARE] Firehouse is a fitting name for this Woodlawn-neighborhood favorite—not just because it is literally an old firehouse, but because the moment you walk in, you’re hit with a powerful aroma of smoke, charcoal and fire. The smell is not, fortunately, a lingering hangover from the building’s former profession (though there are plenty of photos and souvenirs scattered around if you’re feeling nostalgic), but rather a welcome byproduct of the wood-fired oven that takes pride of place in the kitchen and is responsible for most of the dishes on the menu. The entrees are hearty, Italian-influenced crowd pleasers like hanger steak, rotisserie chicken and meatballs, but tempting as they may be (and you will be tempted by the large plates of glistening meat coming from the kitchen), grit your teeth and order the pizza. Firehouse turns out some of the better pies in the city—certainly by far the best in the area. Though they’re scorched, chewy, thin-crust 12-inchers like the ones served at most of the city’s fancy knife-and-fork pizza restaurants, a generous hand with  salt, garlic and cheese gives them that lick-your-lips, impulsively stuff-your-face quality that recall the floppy, saucy parlor slices of yore. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: The buttery fried cauliflower with lemon creme fraiche for dipping, a margherita pizza and a pint of Heater Allen Pilsner.

Best deal: Any three appetizers for $13. Just make sure one of them is that cauliflower.  

5-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-8 pm Sunday. $$.


Genoa

2832 SE Belmont St., 238-1464, genoarestaurant.com.

[OLD EMPIRE] It’s hard to imagine that Genoa was once edgy, but when it opened in 1971, the prix-fixe menu at the late Michael Vidor’s fine-dining restaurant was one of the most exciting meals in town: $7, seven courses, whatever the cook felt like making. The restaurant, rebooted in 2009, seems stodgy now. Scaled back to five courses, the tables are filled with the grayed former vanguard out for an anniversary dinner and older men impressing their younger dates with stories about the first bottles of Oregon wine. It’s a long night—service took just shy of three hours on one occasion, a little faster another—with food roughly on par with the city’s other top Italian restaurants. But a waiter in black will bring you new silverware for every course and wine will require the gentleman’s approval. Don’t rush through the pasta course, as the pappardelle con coniglio—double-wide carrot fettuccine with a rabbit sauce—was the highlight of our meal. Accanto, the restaurant’s casual bistro next door, has very similar pasta, of course. But you go to Genoa for the experience and to avoid  eating with a soiled spoon. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: A fast one, clocking in just over two hours.

Best deal: Umm…well…Accanto does a three-course menu for $24.

5:30-9 pm Wednesday-Thursday, Sunday. 5:30-9:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$$.

Nostrana

1401 SE Morrison St., 234-2427, nostrana.com

[OLIVE ME] With its strip-mall location, anodyne display of Italian pottery and clientele of retirees, it would be easy to dismiss Nostrana as something of an Olive Garden for wealthy old-Laurelhurst residents. The cavernous dining room almost always seems packed with large groups of sixtysomethings in Ralph Lauren polos and Dansko clogs, clinking glasses of riesling over wood-fired pizzas and radicchio salad. But this is not your average upscale neighborhood Italian joint—chef Cathy Whims is a 2012 James Beard Award finalist, and every single item that comes out of the bar or kitchen, from a fruit soda to gnocchi alla romana, is deftly executed with care and precision. Nostrana’s biggest draw, in addition to its somewhat epic wine list, is indeed perhaps its wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza, thin-crusted and chewy with just the slightest hint of char. The combinations of toppings are some of the best in town—don’t miss the Salumi, scattered with Calabrese salami, pickled peppers, provolone and housemade mozzarella and drizzled with honey, and the Diavola, studded with enormous balls of spicy sausage. Not in the mood for pizza? Come for special menus on “Meatball Monday,” “Gnocchi Thursday” or “Fish Friday,” or check out the daily-changing primi, pasta and secondi menus. Reservations are highly recommended. KAT MERCK.

Ideal meal: Salumi pizza ($15).

Best deal: Nightly happy hour (9 pm-close) features pizzas and small plates for $6 and under.

11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

Oven and Shaker

1134 NW Everett St., 241-1600, ovenandshaker.com.

[PIZZA WITH PEDIGREE] Like a champion thoroughbred, this Pearl pizza and cocktail joint came bolting out the gates from day one in late 2011, and hasn’t slowed down since. With the seasoned stables of restaurant baron Kurt Huffman, Nostrana chef-owner Cathy Whims and cocktail consultant Ryan Magarian behind it, it’s perhaps no surprise this place was a born winner, but if we learned anything from the fiasco that was Corazon, it’s that nothing in this industry is a sure thing. The menu’s staple is crispy, 12-inch thin-crust pizzas with generously portioned, creative toppings like pork belly, collards and egg, or mascarpone, honey and chili oil; the drinks, categorized under headings like “fresh” and “strong,” are on point and give the joint a leg up on  other comparable fancy pizza places; the atmosphere is lively and, well, loud, but walks the line between bar and restaurant well; and the concept is crowd-pleasing enough to appeal to people who live in the Pearl, and trendy enough to appeal to those who work in the Pearl—which, of course, means it’s packed just about every night of the week. Pro tip: If you don’t mind eating pizza for brunch (and who does?), it opens at 11:30 am on Sundays and there’s usually no wait. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: The rich and earthy mushroom pizza comes with more ’shrooms than a Grateful Dead concert, but it’s worth sharing one between two people so you have room for the excellent arancini. To drink, the Pepper Smash, made with yellow bell pepper juice and Aquavit, is both easy-drinking and exotic.

Best deal: Margherita pizza ($7) at happy hour.

11:30 am-midnight daily. $$.


Portobello Vegan Trattoria

1125 SE Division St., 754-5993, portobellopdx.com

[ANIMAL-FREE ITALIAN] As a vegan Italian joint, Portobello could easily survive on the uniqueness of its niche. The restaurant is proud of its meat- and dairy-free philosophy and its locally sourced produce, but it’s not cruising on that. This unpretentious and playful restaurant, with tiny animal and vegetable figurines hiding on the uneven wood-paneled walls, is suitable for diners of all types. Portobello’s menu changes frequently, but always includes a variety of salads, pastas, pizzas (a recent pie featured figs, kale and cashew cream) and main dishes (a deep-dish cornmeal crust pie was both hearty and bright, zucchini and sweet roasted corn  mingling with tomato-basil sauce and cashew cheese). That cashew cheese is a standout—it’s also featured in the beet tartare, a sizable sphere of it capped with minced beets, carrot aioli and capers, and served with baguette. The mushroom fries, which are more like tempura, are fun—like gussied-up, vegan mozzarella sticks. You’ll also enjoy the creative cocktails and mocktails—the alcohol-free Ginger Rawgers, with peach puree, ginger, lemon juice and kombucha, really hit the spot on a warm day. REBECCA JACOBSON.

Ideal meal: Beet tartare, spicy arrabiata pizza with seitan-based sausage and chili-fennel marinara, gnocchi.

Best deal: A 12-inch pizza runs $9-$12. 

5:30-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-2 pm Sunday. $$.

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Japanese 

Bamboo Sushi

836 NW 23rd Ave., 229-1925; 310 SE 28th Ave., 232-5255, bamboosushi.com.

[SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD] Bamboo Sushi not only opened its second location this summer in Northwest Portland, the restaurant also donated $250,000 to create and fund a marine preserve in the Bahamas. The latter is a bold and beautiful move and makes eating at both restaurants all the sweeter—er, saltier. The Nob Hill Bamboo serves the same delicious, sustainably sourced sushi and elevated Japanese dishes as the original Southeast location in its large and well-serviced dining room. Even though expertly prepared sushi is the draw, try at least one or two other dishes. The grilled shisito peppers tossed in miso butter with Nueske’s bacon and bonito flakes are crazy good, and so is the smoked and seared wagyu brisket. LIZ CRAIN.

Ideal meal: Gin Henson cocktail; wild Alaskan salmon sashimi; Marine Stewardship Council-approved “local” roll with albacore, jalapeño and cucumber topped with East Coast red crab; the “house on fire” mackerel topped with red chili oil and pickled mustard “caviar”; whatever else you have room for.

Best deal: Any of the tasty vegetable dishes ($6-$7).

4-10 pm daily, Northwest location; 4:30-10 pm daily, Southeast location. Reservations for parties of seven or more. $$-$$$.

Biwa

215 SE 9th Ave., 239-8830, biwarestaurant.com

[POSH DASHI] Competition among Portland’s Japanese restaurants heated up in the last year. So where does that leave Biwa, the subterranean dining spot that nearly had the izakaya landscape to itself when it opened in 2007? Recent meals showed, once again, that Biwa still ranks among the leaders in the small-plates-and-ramen derby. The menu is divided into cold and hot appetizers, snacks, yakimono (from the grill) and noodle soups. A great way to start is with a plate of Japanese pickles, which on our latest visit included watermelon rind, fava beans, kohlrabi and a curried egg. Hiya yakko, chilled soft tofu topped with bonito flakes, was delicate and flavorful. Sashimi of Atlantic diver scallops tasted as good as anything you’d find in a sushi bar, served in a dashi broth with bloops of red chili oil and basil from Biwa’s garden. The restaurant also grows its own shiso, which was a costar in a special of heirloom tomatoes and housemade mayo. The staff is friendly and helpful, happy to explain what’s in your dish or what you should be drinking with it. A complimentary offering of unfiltered sake paired well with the rich flavors of grilled chicken livers. Many diners come here to get their ramen fix. That usually means hot soup, but on a warm summer evening we opted for chilled noodles in a pool of dashi and topped with picture-perfect sections of sliced chicken, carrot, cucumber, onion, bean sprout and pickled daikon. It was refreshing with light, subtle textures. Much like Biwa itself. ROB FERNAS.

Ideal meal: Japanese pickles, hiya yakko, sashimi, chicken livers, ramen.

Best deal: The Biwa hamburger ($8) is available after 9 pm.

5 pm-midnight daily. $-$$.

Boke Bowl

1028 SE Water Ave., 719-5698, bokebowl.com

[THE NEW NOODLE] With its clean lines, design-conscious self-branding and techy iconography, Boke Bowl’s interior looks more than anything like an Apple store. It’s the iPad of Portland ramen houses: a coolly pragmatic American gloss on Asian aesthetics and cuisine, and a place where convenience comes in the form of high-priced, minimalist efficiency. Even when the place is full, meals often arrive within minutes of being ordered at the counter, leaving precious little time to watch the noodles being made at the restaurant’s rear. Unlike Apple’s closed manifolds, however, at Boke Bowl everything is modular. You choose your dashi (broth) from pork, caramelized fennel, seafood miso or the only occasionally available duck, and bring in somewhat eccentric add-ons to taste, with options including buttermilk-fried chicken and cornmeal-crusted oysters. The mammoth bowls are beautifully complex, and bespeak a flavor profile as Northwest continental as it is Japanese. Authenticity, after all, is the hobgoblin of narrow palates. In addition to the ramen, the menu offers a shotgun blast to the wall map: Korean pickles, Momofuku-style folded steamed buns that look like little Chinese gorditas, fusion forms of American Midwestern and Southern treats (namely, Twinkies and fried pies). The little steamed buns are uniformly pleasant but are a quite small meal without sides. Boke Bowl’s chef and owner are at play with cuisine, and even with the idea of a restaurant. It’s a sense of play that sneaks into the experience of eating. It’s fun to be at Boke Bowl. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Caramelized fennel dashi with pork belly and slow-poached egg add-ons. Or pork dashi with fried chicken.

Best deal: Boke Bird dinner, a half-chicken and sides for $25.

10:30 am-3 pm Monday-Wednesday, 10:30 am-9:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Boke Bird dinner served 5-9:30 pm Thursday. $$.

Mirakutei

536 E. Burnside St., 467-7501.

[CHEF SHOWCASE] “No soy sauce! No sticks!” Chef Hiro Ikegaya admonishes each new customer as they receive their omakase—Japanese for chef’s choice, available at Mirakutei at a price floor of $30 and only available by calling a day in advance. Hiro, formerly of acclaimed Pearl District sushi joint Hiroshi and Lake Oswego’s Hiro Sushi, has a 30-year history in the Portland area as a sushi chef, serving both new-style and extremely old-school sushi. Mirakutei was opened originally as a ramen shop, and it still has some of the only yuzu ramen in the city—a variety made with the peel of Japanese citrus. But the heart of the restaurant remains with Hiro, his knife and his discerning eye for fish and what goes with it. Hiro is one of the last old-guard sushi chefs who insists, when making his omakase, that he apply the soy sauce (or other appropriate accent) and wasabi himself; the wasabi goes between the fish and rice, invisible. If you add your own, you’re insulting him. You’re doing the same to yourself. He may be the most experienced, and is certainly one of the most respected sushi chefs in town, and is highly creative with his nigiri. Pay him the compliment of ordering your omakase ahead of schedule, and pay yourself the compliment of trying it. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Omakase at the bar, across from chef Hiro. Maki at Mirakutei are perfectly good, but they’re for suckers.

Best deal: Still the omakase. Good sushi is never cheap, so get it in its best form. A tip, though: Pay about $50 a person (you set your own price over $30). The extra expenditure rewards you handsomely. After $50, you’re mostly just showing off. But if you like to show off, you do get some choice cuts at the $75 level.

11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 5:30-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-9:30 pm Sunday. $$-$$$.

Murata

200 SW Market St., 227-0080.

[FISH HOUSE] This small Japanese restaurant across the street from Keller Auditorium stands out among the city’s better sushi joints because it values tradition over hipness. The waitresses wear kimonos; the sushi chefs are mature masters; the soundtrack is quiet instrumentals and the food, for the most part, is prepared in an unfussy, straightforward manner. But it’s the quality of the fish that ultimately makes or breaks a place like Murata. A plate of yellowtail sashimi, the sliced fish nestled against strings of daikon radish, is notable for its delicate flavor and elegant simplicity. Ebi-su, a small bowl of shrimp, seaweed and cucumber in a sweet, light vinegar, is another winning starter, as is a refreshing daikon salad with miso dressing. At $13.50, the broiled salmon cheeks are a bargain, with several perfectly cooked pieces of cheek and collar filling the plate. The broiled eel and egg nabe, a kind of seafood omelet served in a crock, starts promising but ultimately grows cloying because of the overly sweet fish broth. Vegetable tempura is light and crisp, as it should be, with a preponderance of root veggies. The sushi is above average, though I’ve had better sea urchin and toro (fatty tuna) elsewhere in Portland. Service can be slow at the tables, so grab a seat at the sushi bar and watch the chef do his thing. ROB FERNAS.

Ideal meal: Yellowtail sashimi, vegetable tempura, sushi.

Best deal: Salmon cheeks ($13.50).

11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$$.

Shigezo

910 SW Salmon St., 688-5202, shigezo-pdx.com.

[UMAMI ON THE SPOT] Shigezo is a mammoth chain izakaya in Japan—Portland houses its first U.S. outpost—so you may come away with the notion that eating here is the equivalent of hitting up a Japanese Applebee’s. And to some degree, you’d be right: it is a large and friendly affair, warm of wood and dim of light, designed for reliable comforts both in its sturdy booths and in its menu full of izakaya standbys. But just as the Middle-American ribs at Applebee’s are miles better than the sinewy, underspiced travesties I’ve encountered  in European bistros, Shigezo understands Japanese comfort food as well as almost anyone in Portland. Its kumamoto ramen is a smoky spectacle of mushroom and onion; muddled with a soft-boiled egg, it becomes a richly frothy torrent of umami. The sushi is perfectly serviceable, but your menu’s home page should be among the hot and cold tapas, from lightly fried kara-age—Japan’s answer to hot wings—to cabbage-and-pork gyoza and a yellowtail carpaccio served with jalapeños. Although, do take mackerel or beef sushi wherever you find them. And take comfort where it comes: because Shigezo, truly, is a comfort. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Kumamoto or Tokyo ramen, shared by two; seared mackerel special sushi; kara-age; yellowtail carpaccio.

Best deal: A $9.50 bowl of ramen will complete you better than Renée Zellweger ever could.

11:30 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-11 pm Friday, 2-11 pm Saturday, 2-10 pm Sunday. $-$$.

Wafu

3113 SE Division St., 236-0205, wafupdx.com.

[JAPANESE FRONT] By the time you read this, Portland foodniks may consider Wafu to be the waiting lounge for the hotly anticipated Roe. Gifted chef Trent Pierce is opening a swank new set-menu seafood restaurant in the back room of his loud and fun Southeast Division Street izakaya. If so, it’ll be the best appetizer-and-drink spot in town. Pierce opened this Japanese-styled bar on the fly after his Hawthorne seafood restaurant, Fin, abruptly closed. He charted a smooth and direct course here, with unintimidating ramen, pork-belly buns and potatoes with Sriracha and bonito. Meals are consistently extraordinary, with everything from simple, hypersalty edamame to grilled mackerel with ponzu bettering the same dishes at similar restaurants. Pierce is interested in fish above all else, which suggests ordering from the rotation of sushi rolls or the decadently fatty grilled mackerel. These seem to suffer if he’s not in the kitchen, though. I’ve been most consistently impressed with the aburasoba, a bowl of dry ramen topped with sliced pork shoulder and a fried egg. There’s also an impressive selection of Scotch and Japanese whiskeys—which will serve Wafu well if it ends up being a waiting room for Pierce’s passion project. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: A flight of Japanese whiskey, edamame, papas bravas, beef tongue and aburasoba ramen.

Best deal: Banh mi Cubano ($6).

5-11 pm Monday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday. $$.

Yakuza

5411 NE 30th Ave., 450-0893, yakuzalounge.com.

[SASHIMI SHOGUNATE] Yakuza makes me wish I were fabulously wealthy. I imagine ordering with abandon, traipsing through the sizable slate of hot and cold small plates and sampling glasses off the poetic sake list (“Star Filled Sky” is described as “soft and earthy, hints of melon and citrus”). I’d move from a bite of the yellowtail sashimi, dressed with ginger vinaigrette and ornamented with Asian pear, blueberry halves, lemony sorrel and pretty nasturtium petals, to the beguiling scallop tempura, with shredded phyllo threads like a Troll doll bouffant, and then proceed to order every damn dish on the menu, confident they’d all enthrall. Fortunately for me (and for all you penny-pinchers out there), it’s also possible to feast at this Japanese-style pub on a more modest budget. Opt for a lighter dish or two—try the snap pea salad, latticed with slivers of zucchini and beet and pepped up with salty bits of nori—and the justly celebrated Yakuza burger, a mouth-stretching stack of beef, chevre, crispy shoestring potatoes, housemade ketchup and zingy mayo. Whether you dine in the sexy, low-slung interior or in the lush patio oasis, you’re sure to leave feeling like a million bucks. REBECCA JACOBSON.

Ideal meal: Snap pea salad, scallop tempura, black cod, burger.

Best deal: The small happy-hour menu (available 5-6 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 10-11 pm Friday and Saturday), offers a kale salad, a few sushi options, pulled-pork katsu or the acclaimed burger for $4-$8.

5-10 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $$-$$$.

Yama Sushi

926 NW 10th Ave., 841-5463, yamasushiandsakebar.com

[FRESH FISH STORY] There seems to be a stigma attached to good sushi in this town: There’s not much of it, and when it is good it’s expensive. While Yama Sushi won’t compete with your average sushi-go-’round in bang for the buck (pieces of nigiri are sold individually rather than in the typical pair), the overall satisfaction index will be high enough to make it all worth it. At some sushi restaurants, fish that has been touched up with a pinch of seasoning or lightly sauced is usually indicative of past-its-prime product, but not here. The striped bass would still be stellar even without the hint of yuzu and truffle oil, and the crunchy tobiko on the buttery seared salmon contributes more texture than flavor. For the adventurous (or merely decadent), Yama has ankimo available as an appetizer, a Japanese take on torchon de foie gras, but with a pâté of monkfish liver in lieu of goose. It’s all the delicious unctuousness without the guilt, and remarkably priced. Pair it all with a bottle of sake from the thoughtfully designed list and you’ve had one of the better sushi experiences in the city. Congratulations! BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Ideal meal: Ankimo, a bottle of Yuki no Bosha Nigori, and whatever assortment of sushi as long as the bass is involved.

Best deal: The ankimo ($7.50) is 1 percent swag for a 99 percent price.

11:30 am-2:30 pm and 4:30-9:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-11 pm Friday, noon-9:30 pm Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday. $$-$$$.

Yuzu

130 SW 117th Ave., Suite H, Beaverton, 350-1801. 

[Strip-mall Izakaya] If a crowd of Japanese diners is any indication, Yuzu is the go-to stop in Beaverton for the wide of range of boldly flavored small plates that typify izakya eating. This is food that matches well with serious drinking, and that mission can certainly be accomplished at Yuzu. But quaffing copious quantities of sake or sucking down tall bottles of Japanese beer are clearly not compulsory. Families, couples and twentysomething groups comfortably coexist during the dinner hour in this small, spartan, L-shaped room. Yuzu is less interesting than either of my favorite Portland Japanese joints, Biwa and Tanuki, but this is Beaverton, where the Cheesecake Factory and corporate swillholes reign supreme. Adventurous suburbanites should begin a small-plate odyssey with mentaiko, bright and briny spicy cod roe with seaweed, or shiokara, fermented squid that brandishes a distinct but likable seafood funk and looks like earthworms in snot sauce. Lower-impact options include pork-filled gyoza, miso-marinated black cod and grilled salmon. To round out the meal, order from the list of rice or noodle dishes on the last page of the menu. The cold soba (buckwheat) noodles are great in summer; bowls of hot ramen the perfect cold-weather elixir. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: Go as a foursome and sample as many of the small plates as your group can consume, maybe two to three per person, including grilled beef tongue and deep-fried tofu.

6-11 pm Monday-Friday, 6-9 pm Saturday. $$-$$$.

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Korean 

Jang Choong Dong Wang Jok Bal (JCD)

3492 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, 644-7378.

[SEOUL FOOD] Here’s the thing about JCD: It’s a bar, with the casual service, peeling wallpaper and noisy clients you’d expect to find at any other bar in the area. The banchan lacks variety, and the beer list is all macro. If you want anything fancier than plastic dishes, counter service and Hite pounders, drive back to Portland and eat at Toji. If you don’t mind the atmosphere or the cheering soccer fans, though, you’ll find much to love at this mom-and-pop (in the literal sense) restaurant hiding in an otherwise desolate strip mall. There is, for starters, the scallion-seafood pancake, which melds eggs, green onion and ocean critters in a crisp fried shell with all the appeal of a really good spring roll. The grilled meat classics are all good here, but it’s worth branching out for less popular dishes like the cold buckwheat noodles with fish cake, perfect for a day spent pounding the hot pavement, or the dolsot bibimbap, served sizzling in a hot stone bowl. Feeling adventurous? Go for the soup of dried pollack and soft tofu, or bring a crowd for the intriguing two-person entree of steamed sausage and pork intestine with veggies. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Scallion-seafood pancake, fried dumplings, galbi.

Best deal: The regular bibimbap ($10) will feed you for a day.

5-11 pm or so daily. $-$$.

Nakwon

4600 SW Watson Ave., Beaverton, 646-9382. 

[COMMUNITY BBQ] The cramped and unassuming Nakwon sits on Watson Avenue in Beaverton, just a few blocks from the Korean community center. The walls are lined with generic Asian artifacts. The tables are small. The seating is tight, and there’s a line going out the door—even on a Monday. Servers fluidly alternate between Korean and English as they reassure the line that their time spent standing will eventually end. The menu includes a long list of offerings, but barbecue is the main draw. Be warned: A portable burner and seven banchan dishes on these tiny tables will test your Tetris skills. A seaweed salad and a spicy daikon radish dish, among others, join the Korean stalwarts of sesame bean sprout salad and a delightfully piquant kimchi. The thick slabs of pork belly and mounds of bulgogi, short ribs, and prime rib—spicy pork the only noticeable absence—come served on a platter alongside mushrooms, onions, garlic and jalapeños to fully satisfy your grilling needs. The minor irritation of scaldingly hot fat juices occasionally jumping off the grill is forgiven the instant a mildly spicy thin slice of prime rib, grilled onions and jalapeño touch your tongue. JOHN LOCANTHI.

Ideal meal: Pot stickers, banchan and prime rib barbecue.

Best deal: Beef bulgogi and banchan, a meal large enough for two, for about $15

11:30 am-8:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-8 pm Friday-Saturday. $$.

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Middle Eastern 

Cedo’s

3901 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 719-7344. 

[GOIN’ GARBANZO] Cedo’s makes the best falafel in town: hot, craggy, golf-ball-sized orbs of chickpea goodness that crunch as you bite into them, revealing a moist, intensely herby center tinted light green. You will probably shovel at least two in your mouth with a greedy mmmraphgh, gasping for air between bites, before it occurs to you to ask why they taste so good. The not-so-secret secret, according to the owner, is fresh chopped garlic and parsley and toasted whole coriander seeds put through a coffee grinder before being mixed in. This is standard practice at Cedo’s, which uses fresh lemons for the nutty tahini sauce and makes his its own yogurt for the puckery tzatziki. There’s other stuff on the menu—a very large, respectable lamb-and-beef gyro and some very tasty, twice-fried spicy potato rounds—but it’s all about the falafel. This casual restaurant occupies a screaming red space on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Decorated with drawings of Jerusalem and old jazz posters, is charming but not designed for lingering. Seating is limited to a pair of tall tables up front and a long counter along the side of the room. Still, it feels homey, from the funky wallpaper made from old Middle Eastern condensed-milk labels that decorates the front counter to the bright pansies planted in old olive cans on the picnic tables outside. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Cedo’s plate ($9).

Best deal: A giant falafel sandwich with a side of Cedo’s spuds for $9 (you will have leftovers).

11:30 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday, noon-6 pm Sunday. $.

Dar Salam

2921 NE Alberta St., 206-6148, darsalamportland.com.

[UNJUST SPOILS] Invading Iraq is probably the worst decision this nation has made in my lifetime. Millennials and Xers now have their own homeless and damaged vets for a $1 trillion Charlie Foxtrot my grandchildren will be making the final payment on. And things were ineffably worse for the Iraqis. Dar Salam, the wonderful Iraqi restaurant on Alberta Street, exists because of the diaspora that’s followed our shock and awing, as owners Maathe Hamed and Ghaith Sahib are part of the 40 percent of Iraq’s middle class who fled their homeland. It’s great luck for Portland that they landed here, as Dar Salam, which opened in February, makes some of the best Middle Eastern food in town. You’ll know this as soon as you dip Salam’s thin, stretchy pita into herbed oil or fork into the cool beet salad’s bright pink mash of roots and yogurt. Even things as simple as chicken shawarma kebabs are special, with shredded meat spiced in a way I’ve never tasted before, served with a citric-dressed salad and creamy garlic-yogurt sauce made from dairy that tastes far fresher than the stuff normally slathered on gyros and kabobs. Save room for a few slices of coconut-flaked date roll and a triangle of wispy baklava. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Beet salad, beef shawarma rice plate, baklava. 

Best deal: The massive mezza platter ($9).

5-10 pm Tuesday-Thursday, noon-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $-$$.

Ya Hala

8005 SE Stark St., 256-4484, yahalarestaurant.com.

[WHAT GOLIATH ATE] You’re going to need a box. Even if you generally shun to-go containers—your dogs are responsibly denied “people food” and you understand a microwave is a crude tool for reanimating anything worth missing—expect to schlep a plastic container out of Ya Hala. Blame the veggie mezza sampler. The Montavilla Lebanese restaurant’s most popular item for good reason, it includes tub-sized servings of tahini-heavy hummus, smoky baba ghanoush and tabbouleh portioned along with two big, green falafel footballs and puffy, triple-thick pita. A fine meal, yes, but it’s customary to order an entree, too. The lamb kebabs, two skewers of sirloin that were pleasantly pink in the center and surprisingly smoky, if also a bit  tough, come with about four servings of basmati rice. Half was put in my fridge, too delicious to abandon and too much to eat. A page of stews—including moughrabieh, a blend of beef and chicken marinated overnight that can be poured over pearl-sized couscous—offers another route. The cruelest twist? Incredible cookies, like mamoule, hard little empanadas of dates and walnuts, and shortbread doughnuts called ghouriebeMARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: This is food meant to share. Assemble seven friends for the Ya Hala Mezza, a huge slate of appetizers plus two skewers each of lamb, chicken, ground-beef sirloin and ahi tuna kebabs ($110). Couples should split the veggie mezza sampler and one entree.

Best deal: One of the more unique cheese platters in town, with feta, halloumi, kashkaval and Canadian string cheese ($10).

11 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday. No reservations. $$.

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Mexican 

Mextiza

2103 N Killingsworth St., 289-3709, mextiza.com.

[MEX-MEX] The second restaurant from Autentica chef and owner Oswaldo Bibiano, Mextizo is younger, sexier and better than its sibling. The menu hitches out of Bibiano’s native Guerrero to explore regional dishes from across Mexico, most tagged on the menu with their state of origin. The flavors are noticeably brighter and the prices slightly lower. The Caesar salad is better than the original from Tijuana—be prepared for a stand-off over the last garlic-infused, lime-kissed crouton. Pork is done well here, be it the wild boar sandwich or the local suckling in the lechon yucateco entree, a bony pork chop topped with a slaw of cilantro and radish and served on a bed of plump and salty black beans. The cabrito, a specialty of Northern Mexico featuring shredded young goat roasted slowly and finished with large slivers of red onion and an orange chili vinegar sauce, is another wonderful entree. Avoid the $8 guacamole appetizer—which will leave you pining for the complimentary tortillas and salsa at Autentica—and make sure you’re in the mood for agave as the drink program is mostly made up of tequila and mezcal. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Caesar salad and cabrito.

Best deal: Mixed-meat tamales ($8).

11 am-3 pm and 5 pm-“late” daily. $$.

Mi Mero Mole

5026 SE Division St., 232-8226, mmmtacospdx.com.

[TACO WELL] Somewhere between a trendy restaurant and a good old taquería, Mi Mero Mole scratches a classy taco itch I didn’t know I had. Nick Zukin’s foray into south-of-the-border fare feels familiar (salsa station, intuitive menu, wood booths, open kitchen), but the food blasts away at expectations. One is almost forced to order tacos, not because the fat, perfectly grilled burritos are bad, but because so many of the guisado fillings are worth trying. From the slow-roasted, tender and almost malty pork to the rajas con crema, a milky spread that could almost pass for dessert, to more adventurous selections like cinnamon beef hearts and smoked beef tongue, eating here is a bit of an adventure, even when what’s on your plate tastes like comfort food. Zukin’s steady stream of special dishes keeps things fresh while excellent margaritas and fried plantains with cinnamon sour cream sweeten the pot. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: Rajas con crema and albondigas tacos with chips and salsa.

Best deal: Tecate tall boys ($3).

5-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday, noon-10 pm Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday. $$.

Nuestra Cocina

2135 SE Division St., 232-2135, nuestra-cocina.com

[PUERTA DE PANTALLA] If Nuestra Cocina were in Mexico, it would be a fancified comfort-food restaurant for the growing Mexican middle class—the Screen Door of Guadalajara. As it’s on Southeast Division Street, the blue ceramic tiles of Cocina’s walls and bar are like tiny accent blips along a wall of weathered brick. Portland’s premier Mexican restaurant, Nuestra Cocina pairs generations-old recipes for lamb albondigas and chicken enchiladas with tequila cocktails and a deep purple sangria with mulling spices that’s adapted to a cooler clime. Chef Benjamin Gonzales teaches cooking classes on the side, and his crew members have been put through their paces. The pork chop and steak come in slabs fit for a vaquero, and you can’t go wrong with  anything using handmade tortillas or roasted poblano chilies. Arrive early or risk the restaurant running out of the crisp masa cakes filled with chorizo, black beans and salsa—they’re like delightful little Chicago-style Mexican pizzas. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Masa cakes; mixed greens with mango, jicama and pumpkin seeds; and cochinita pibil.

Best deal: Roasted poblano pepper stuffed with shredded pork and raisins ($8).

5-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday. $$.

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New American

Beaker & Flask

727 SE Washington St., 235-8180, beakerandflask.com

[BARTENDING 202] Peering from the circular depths of a tall black leather booth at the bartenders in this Southeast Sandy foodie fortress feels like watching a legion of rock-star scientists tinkering away in their boozy laboratory. They nimbly conjure up heady,  elaborate cocktails whose ingredients are designed to wash over your palate one by one, a gustatory adventure that was guided by our delightfully cerebral server. Armed with the verbosity of a 400-level college class, he describes one drink as “a botanical sidecar with the apricot right in the front,” and another as “super-herbaceous.” We loved the aptly named Eternal Sunshine, a gentle citrusy sipper, and the Devil in a Boot, a militantly stiff scotch concoction buoyed by Cointreau and bitters. But as excellent as the liquid offerings are, the food is even better. A special small plate of hushpuppy-battered scallops with thick romesco dipping sauce is pure comfort, while the crispy pig ears are crunchy, bacon-topped glory. The watermelon salad is a bizarre, triumphant amalgam of sweet watermelon chunks, savory feta, oily black olives and gorgeous edible flowers. And the Oregon Albacore, resting in soft, meaty slabs atop a light fingerling potato salad and surrounded by explosive smoked tomatoes and curly baby octopus, is perfect. EMILY JENSEN.

Ideal meal: Watermelon salad, Oregon Albacore, and panna cotta with fresh beignets.

Best deal: Crispy pig ears ($4). Just do it.

5-11 pm Monday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

Beast

5425 NE 30th Ave., 841-6968, beastpdx.com

[MARK IT] Beast is bratty. Like a gifted but precocious teenager, this tiny Concordia restaurant delivers a superb prix-fixe meal with all the bravado of a slamming bedroom door. Having won a skirmish with animal-rights activists over foie gras—an important victory, as a decadent gelée-topped bonbon of goose liver was the very best taste of our six courses—Beast decorates its doorstep with a graffitied protest sign. It’s also slapped with a sticker bearing the familiar logo of seminal punk band Black Flag—honoring the “punk rock” spirit of any $75 meal. Ignore the froshy Nietzsche quote in the bathroom and owner/chef Naomi Pomeroy’s bloody promo photos and enjoy what you’re brought—it’ll be delicious, largely seasonal and slightly different than you’d expect. And, because it’s Beast, you’ll slice it up with a Jean DuBost knife that looks like a switchblade. There’s been talk of Beast moving to a space downtown, an odd idea as most seatings sell out among more modestly priced real estate, but it would be interesting to watch the restaurant evolve surrounded by grown-ups. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: You have no choices. You will eat what you’re brought. 

Best deal: The beer selection usually includes a 22-ounce or 750-milliliter bottle perfect for splitting at about half the price of any wine.

Dinner seatings 6 and 8:45 pm Wednesday-Saturday and 7 pm Sunday by reservation only, brunch 10 am and noon Sunday. $$$$.

The Bent Brick

1639 NW Marshall St., 688-1655, thebentbrick.com.

[DRINKING FOOD] This casual, airy Slabtown offshoot of Park Kitchen, Scott Dolich’s endlessly pleasing restaurant at the edge of the Pearl, combines practical considerations with lofty ambitions. As an excellent, affordable cocktail and wine bar in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, it hosts chatty post-work crowds for snacks and a drink or two, but Dolich and executive chef Will Preisch are pursuing new extremes of the regionalist culinary philosophy pioneered up the street, at Paley’s Place. You’ll find no imported spirits at the bar, and almost no bottles on the wine list—nearly all of Bent Brick’s Oregon and Washington vintages are served from taps, straight from the barrel. Preisch’s menu, at its best, offers inspired collisions of fast and slow  food: Padrón peppers, which have their own AOC in Spain, are stuffed with cheese, breaded and deep-fried. The salade aux lardons comes with fried pickles and “deviled egg sauce.” Country ham is accented by powdered Frank’s hot sauce; fried chicken livers are served on waffles, with a smear of liver pâté and a sprinkling of gooseberries. Can’t choose? For $55, Preisch will serve you every one of the 19 dishes on the menu. If that sounds like too much food (it is), just get the tender poached mussels and a glass of Eyrie Pinot Blanc. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Eat the whole menu. Whatever plans you had can wait.

Best deal: For $30, you get three items from the “small” section of the menu. (They aren’t small, trust me.) The only catch is, you don’t get to choose which ones.

5-9:30 pm daily. $$-$$$.


Bluehour

250 NW 13th Ave., 226-3394, bluehouronline.com

[HAUTE PLATES] This swanky Pearl institution, which has been feeding the well-heeled in Portland for more than a decade, seemed to grow a little stale over time. That changed last year when Thomas Boyce was hired to succeed founding chef Kenny Giambalvo. Boyce, whose résumé includes a lengthy stint at Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant in L.A., has reinvigorated Bluehour’s menu while maintaining the high standards set by his predecessor. The food leans toward Italian and French, but Boyce isn’t afraid to stray outside those lines. One of his best starters, a terrine of octopus, exhibits a Korean flair with spicy marinated daikon and shiso—the whole prepared like a delectable cephalopod head cheese. Another starter, a foie gras parfait, was light as mousse, served under a layer of riesling gelée and accompanied on a board by cherry compote and tart pickled gooseberries. It was paired perfectly with a glass of Sauternes. The kitchen’s deft touch with fish was apparent in a complimentary amuse bouche of albacore tartare with plum and cucumber marinade, as well as in two entrees. Sauteed Alaskan cod with sweet Maine shrimp, baby artichokes and cippolini onions all simmered nicely in a saffron-shellfish broth, and the roasted king salmon came swimming in a pond of caramelized corn and benefited from a sweet/salty balance with the fish’s crisp skin. Sweet corn also shines in the tortellini, among several interesting pasta dishes on the menu. As for the atmosphere, it doesn’t get much more stylish in Portland. Bluehour’s milieu resonates like a Mondrian painting—all clean lines and angles, with the high ceilings broken by 16-foot-high drapery panels. A signature elegance comes from black wire-hung chandeliers with globes like glowing softballs. Servers are courteous and efficient. Of course, eating here doesn’t come cheap—unless you stick to happy-hour fare served in the bar area. Is it worth it? For those who can afford it, most certainly. ROB FERNAS.

Ideal meal: Terrine of octopus, pasta, fish.

Best deal: Bluehour burger with smoked bacon cheddar and fries ($12) at happy hour (until 6:30 pm).

11:30 am-2:30 pm and 4-10 pm Monday-Friday, 5-10 pm Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$$-$$$$.


Castagna

1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-7373, castagnarestaurant.com

[NEW CAST] Castagna existed before Matt Lightner and it continues without the star chef, who moved to New York last year and is now collecting accolades there. In only 18 months, Lightner became so synonymous with Castagna’s modernist Northwest cuisine that some wondered aloud if the decade-old fine-dining restaurant on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard belongs in a guide like this without him. Rest assured, if Lightner “tapped an alternative reality”—to borrow a phrase from one goopy love letter—new chef Justin Woodward is doing an impressive job of holding the wormhole open. You still can’t tell if your food is on a rock or if the rock is the food until you pick it up. The indecipherable menu remains a list of ingredients, providing only vague clues about what you’ll actually be eating. Each course is a whimsical delight, with meat made into crackers and foraged edible flowers providing pops of purple and yellow. The sparse dining room still allows the food to speak for itself—and it’s still got some interesting things to say. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Everything is seasonal and in constant flux, but bolder orders are generally rewarded handsomely.

Best deal: Well-appointed local cheese plate ($12).

5:30 pm-close Wednesday-Saturday. $$$-$$$$.

Clyde Common

1014 SW Stark St., 228-3333, clydecommon.com

[UPSCALE PROLE] When Clyde Common opened as the Ace Hotel bar in 2007, it quickly became the locus of a certain brand of old-school Portland anxiety. What did it mean, some of us wondered, that a sleek, shiny thing like this was replacing the gritty old Ben Stark Hotel? Were we outraged? Intrigued? Was our city being ruined by sophistication and money, or did the place look kind of cool? Clyde Common now feels like it’s been there forever, its spartan wood-and-canvas interior comfortably worn-in. Do we miss the Ben Stark? Not during happy hour, certainly. Mountains of pimenton popcorn and $5 cocktails erase a lot of misgivings. So do the excellent “burger sandwich” and the skinny, crispy fries with harissa and creme fraiche. Yes, the kitchen staff wear neckties. But it’s hard to cry “pretentious” at a place with an open kitchen and shared tables. The dinner menu changes frequently, but two recommended dishes are rabbit with pappardelle and scallops in squid ink. The Board—a meat, a veg and a shot of something—is reliably satisfying. Service can be slouchy, and some offerings (a boring charcuterie plate, a dry-mouth-inducing herbed-chevre grilled cheese) disappoint. But Clyde Common has relaxed into itself; do the same and you’ll enjoy it. BECKY OHLSEN.

Ideal meal: Truffled popcorn with a cocktail (the bartenders are magicians here, and the wine list is stellar too); any starter containing beets; pappardelle with rabbit sausage and leg.

Best deal: Happy-hour menu (3-6 pm Monday-Friday, 4-5 pm Saturday-Sunday, after 11 pm Monday-Saturday).

11:30 am-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-1 am Friday, 5 pm-1 am Saturday, 5-11 pm Sunday. $$-$$$.

DOC

5519 NE 30th Ave., 946-8592, docpdx.com.

[PHYSICAL CHALLENGE] There’s this awkward but inevitable moment whenever you step into DOC, where you hover awkwardly in the middle of a team of bustling cooks, trying not to knock over a plate of risotto or impale yourself on a boning knife. Relax. Just stand still, breathe deep and make “quietly freaking-out” eyes at the hostess until you’re seated. The brief threat of a Double Dare physical challenge breaking out is really the only downside to the quaint layout of this Italian-influenced hole in the wall, where the open kitchen is at the front of the room, directly behind the front door. Once you get past that part, it is genuinely charming and intimate. Reward your survival with the $60, five-course tasting menu. Intolerances and dietary requirements are catered to without fuss, and everyone typically receives different dishes than their dining companions. A recent meal netted two of us: fresh oysters; two salads (one, made with fresh greens, dried capers, a tart, creamy dressing and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, was the finest salad I’ve had this year); a summery, herb-packed risotto; kale lasagne with a soft egg oozing over the top; a pleasant fillet of seared salmon; a cheese plate; chocolate cake and panna cotta. Go all out with the $40 wine pairing (the sommelier knocks it out of the park with eclectic choices and knowledgeable preambles to each pour), and you’ll barely realize you’re stumbling back outside through a working kitchen full of hot and pointy things. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Tasting menu!

Best deal: Tasting menu!

6 pm-close Tuesday-Saturday. $$$.
 

The Gilt Club

306 NW Broadway, 222-4458, giltclub.com

[GILT-Y PLEASURE] The high-backed, padded, red leather booths and walls of the Gilt Club invoke the feel of  a classy ’70s lounge and the sense you’re about to ride the Gravitron at the county fair. If the restaurant seems familiar, it’s because it served as a setting for the first episode of Portlandia where Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein inquire about the welfare of the chicken they’re about to eat. But to truly enjoy a meal at the Gilt Club, one must abandon all concern for the welfare of living beings (including your own) and wallow in the decadence. The small selection of entrees assembled by chef Chris Carriker easily hits the mark for tasty, high-end fare, from the grilled swordfish with charmoula (a cilantro-based Indian sauce) to the bavette steak with broccoli pesto. But the appetizers are where the restaurant is clearly having fun (and possibly engaging in some sort of culinary dare). Increasingly indulgent, the starters range from foie gras-stuffed dates wrapped in  bacon to smoked bone marrow with bread, and chicken-fried pork belly served with smoked maple ice cream. End your meal with a dessert like the fried chocolate doughnuts with melted cheddar and bourbon syrup, and you’re bound to have one hell of a guilt hangover. PENELOPE BASS.

Ideal meal: Foie gras-stuffed dates, chilled peach soup, bavette steak, fried chocolate doughnuts.

Best deal: A Moscow Mule ($5) and some chicken-fried chicken skins ($3) at happy hour (5-6:30 pm weekdays).

5 pm-1 am Monday-Thursday, 5 pm-2 am Saturday. $$-$$$.

June

2215 E Burnside St., 477-4655, junepdx.com

[SEASONAL SERENITY] This is one of the most attractive and inexplicably uncrowded dining rooms in Portland. Booths and banquettes are comfortable and cosseting. The atmosphere is soothing, inviting diners to take a seat, kick back and stay awhile, a welcome contrast to the turn-and-burn pace at so many local restaurants. The ever-changing menu created by chef Greg Perrault is the greatest lure of all. Where some local chefs pay lip service to local sourcing, Perrault is all about the 100-mile radius from Portland, and whole-animal utilization is also an honored principle. While there can be no doubt June’s menu is ingredient-driven, Perrault’s skills have evolved to include enough technical acumen to excite even jaded diners. A high summer menu included appetizers such as chilled beet soup with pickled sturgeon slices and a few leaves from the succulent ficoïde glaciale, a glacier lettuce plant; a Maxibel bean (like haricots vert, but with a bolder green-bean flavor) salad sprinkled with briny, cured walleye roe and dressed with tomato vinaigrette. Mains have the same impact, with a shank-like lamb neck dish plus heirloom beans, carrots and onion delivering no-bones-about-it lambiness. The always available cheeseburger adds accessibility for conservative diners. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: A red-meat-free repast with an item or two from the salads and starters section, seafood course, fresh-fruit-based dessert.

Best deal: A flexibly coursed tasting menu ($60) is the way to maximize exposure to Perrault’s imaginative cuisine.

5:30-9:30 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30-11 pm Friday, 11 am-3 pm and 5:30-11 pm Saturday. $$-$$$.

Le Pigeon

738 E Burnside St., 546-8796, lepigeon.com.

[PIDGIN FRENCH] Heralded since opening in 2006, Le Pigeon remains equal parts maddeningly quirky and gastronomically awe-inspiring even with the culinary mind behind the affair, Gabriel Rucker, limiting his stoveside time here to weekends. The tiny place jams in 25 supplicants at a time, most at hateable cheek-to-jowl communal tables, the balance at ringside stools bunched against an L-shaped counter where interaction with lavishly tatted cooks is the norm. The style of cooking is French by way of Rucker, which is to say rich, unrestrained and kaleidoscopically choreographed. Offal, foie gras and other extravagant components are constants on a menu that changes weekly. In August, I sampled a splendid starter of tender-on-the-inside grilled octopus served with sweet/tart nectarine, hearts of palm and porcini. Foie gras with a chocolate- and garlic-filled mini-croissant was not to my taste, but I still admired the moxie it took to conjure the combination. Beef cheek Bourguignon, a twisted French classic, is a must-try stalwart among entrees. Otherwise, put on your adventurous-eater hat and enjoy the wild ride. Or, if you happen to be hosting Aunt Edna from a far-away red state, drag her along and have her order the burger, which is damn good. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: Go at opening time on a weekday outside summer tourist season and grab the two seats on either side of the corner of the counter. Order starter, entree and dessert.

Best deal: Five-course and seven-course tasting menus, $65 and $85, respectively.

5-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 5-9 pm Sunday. $$$.

Lincoln

3808 N Williams Ave., No. 127, 288-6200, lincolnpdx.com.

[NORTHERN HOSPITALITY] From the sidewalk looking in, Lincoln’s chic dining room might make you feel a little underdressed. But don’t fret—yoga pants and neckties alike are welcome at this North Portland eatery, where the dress code reads “absolutely none” and an upscale meal doesn’t necessitate an upscale attitude. Chef-owner Jenn Louis makes her intentions clear on every plate with straightforward, uncluttered presentation and cuisine that is hearty, accessible and just plain good. The fried zucchini blossoms’ vibrant orange flesh peeks through crusty, mild breading, and together with tart fried green tomatoes wearing a layer of Pecorino Romano, this starter has down-home charm with uptown sensibility. Soft, pillowy sorcetti, similar to  gnocchi, bathed in a warming lamb ragu with greens winding through every forkful could turn a terrible day around in a single bite. And the ribeye steak with blue cheese butter will remind you why you love to eat steak—it is a decadent, meaty treat, inconceivably tender and deeply flavorful. Be sure to try one of the on-point house cocktails as well, which are brilliant riffs on classics like the floral, bright Elderflower Gimlet and the salt-rimmed Franklin’s Pooch. EMILY JENSEN.

Ideal meal: Fried zucchini and green tomatoes with aioli and Pecorino Romano ($8), followed by the ribeye steak with blue cheese butter and braised bietola ($33).

Best deal: “Commuter Corridor” happy-hour prices don’t crack $7—small plates start at $2, and the small but solid selection of draft beers are $3 each.

5:30-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$.

Metrovino

1139 NW 11th Ave., 517-7778, metrovinopdx.com

[NOTABLE POTABLES] The potential was high for a major fail when the lauded co-chefs at this Pearl District wine mecca defected early in 2012 to run their own show across the Willamette. The transition was rough at first, but the current kitchen regime is acquitting itself admirably. The dominant theme for the reboot: a menu of Northwest-focused fare that is simpler, slimmer and lighter than departed Team Denton’s grab-you-by-the-short-hairs-and-slap-you-around style of hearty cooking. For a starter, the compact menu includes a petite cube of rich pork belly ($11) balanced with an accompaniment of sweet-tart apricot sauce. There is a short list of meat, fish and pasta entrees priced in the mid-$20 range along with the crowd-pleasing, two-patty cheeseburger ($15) that was once only available in the bar. Rosy-red slices of leg of lamb from local purveyor Cattail Creek ($28), served over a polenta cake with ratatouille on the side, highlighted a recent visit. The argon-charged Enomatic wine dispensers installed at Metrovino—capable of maintaining 50 bottles of good wine open and available for tastes and full glasses—continue to keep the place a top stop for serious diners with an oenophilic bent and vice versa. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: In high summer, the outdoor patio is the perfect spot for friends and lovers to while away the evening with a glass or two or three plus seasonal selections from the dinner menu.

Best deal: The three-course $35 “tasting menu” offers the best bang for the buck.

5:30 pm-close Monday-Saturday, brunch 10 am-2 pm Sunday. $$$.

Park Kitchen

422 NW 8th Ave., 223-7275, parkkitchen.com.

[SECRET SUPPER] Why there isn’t a line snaking out the door every night (or ever, really) at Park Kitchen is a true mystery. Perhaps it’s because it’s hidden away from foot traffic in a quiet corner of the North Park Blocks, spitting distance from crack alley. Perhaps it’s because the pleasant but unfussy dining room lacks the taxidermied trappings of the city’s trendier establishments. Perhaps people just don’t know. Still, it boggles the mind: For almost a decade now, chef-owner Scott Dolich and his team have been turning out some of the more interesting and delicious plates in the city. And while the food isn’t quite as avant-garde as Dolich’s new place, the Bent Brick, it never fails to surprise with unexpected ingredients, flavors and pairings: Prepare to find things like nightshade, candied watermelon rind and lavender peppered through the menu, and Asian or Middle Eastern flavors popping up in dishes that read, on paper, like simple Northwest bistro fare. The menu changes monthly, but lamb, duck and seafood are staples, and though I’m loath to recommend pasta when there are so many more exciting options, there’s usually some seasonal permeation of gnocchi, and it’s always fantastic. If there’s a better-kept secret than the restaurant itself, it’s the bar, which is equally amenable to experimenting with unusual ingredients and turns out perhaps the finest G&T in town. Ah well, more for us. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: The menu is divided into small hot plates, small cold plates and large plates. If your dining partners are amenable, stick to the former two, and share. Except the soup, which is always something weird like sunchoke or cucumber. Get that for yourself.

Best deal: $8 plates at happy hour. If they’re on the menu, the chickpea fries and salt cod fritters are substantial, and a worthy match to the $5 cocktails.

5-9 pm daily. $$$.

Riffle NW

333 NW 13th Ave., 894-8978, rifflenw.com.

[EIGHT ARMS TO HOLD YOU] Is octopus the porterhouse of the sea? You get that impression at Riffle NW, the newish Pearl District seafood restaurant from married New York transplants Ken and Jen Norris, which makes the cephalopod its signature entree. Skillet-charred and served with a chorizo chili cream, the Spanish octopus’ arms are presented in pieces so large and firm they recall beefsteak more than any catch of the day. This is a bold restaurant, if not exactly experimental. Its best ventures have the stinging clarity of an ocean breeze, with triumphs that tend to alter one’s basic conception of a dish. A Brussels sprouts salad is interpreted as a pile of the veggies shaved razor thin and piled high as an anthill, with a light and buttery dressing. A side of fingerling potatoes is quickly deep-fried so they become fingerling jojos. A sea urchin and quail egg shot takes that unlikely pairing (the urchin puréed, the egg an unbroken yolk) and drops it in a shot glass of tomato water that’s been drained through a cheesecloth. You swig it, and break the yolk on the roof of your mouth. As a shot, it’s a spectacular aperitif to your new steak. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: RNW octopus, fingerling potatoes, shaved Brussels sprouts salad.

Best deal: The sea urchin shot is $6 for mind expansion.

5 pm-midnight Tuesday-Sunday. $$$.
 

Tasty n Sons

3808 N Williams Ave., Suite C, 621-1400, tastynsons.com.

[SMALL PLATES] Recently gentrified neighborhood, check. Big painting of a penny-farthing bicycle on the wall, check. Free-range everything, check. Yup, to describe Tasty n Sons is to scare away native Portlanders self-conscious of the rep bequeathed them by that skit show that shall not be named. But reps be damned, it is awfully hard to argue with food like this. Whether we’re talking about the Burgerville-esque fried cauliflower and olives with harissa cream—the secret is really in that thick orange sauce, but it’s a pretty nice fry job, too—or the grilled lamb chops (served “bulgogi-style,” though the meat reminds of a really nice tender gyro fare more than it does Korean food), this wood-and-concrete-heavy family-style eatery does it right. And about that family-style thing: It is possible to order a menu item just for your greedy little self, but sharing is encouraged in a manner that suggests your server is not fucking around. Unfortunately, that loose rule applies to dessert, too: “Auntie Paula’s” French toast sundae is a thing to behold, and the chocolate potato doughnuts make a good light dessert, kind of like a fortune cookie. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: A wee bit of everything on the seasonally changing menu, from grilled corn to bacon-wrapped dates.

Best deal: The $6 low country hush puppies are heavy and excellent.

9 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 9 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

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Northwest Bistro

The Farm Cafe

10 SE 7th Ave., 736-3276, thefarmcafe.com.

[THE OLD BARN] The locavore-focused Farm Cafe was once a Portland essential, hand-stuffing its ravioli with local goat cheese, hazelnuts, basil and a little pan-fried zeitgeist. Today, nine years after it opened, this Portland restaurant’s localish concept hardly seems conceptual. Indeed, if it opened today, Farm Cafe would be on the bubble for this guide. But this old house on the edge of the Buckman neighborhood is still a welcoming room with squeaky floors and shaded windows, and the cheese ball is still the fanciest cheese ball in town, even if the local scene is thankfully moving away from cheddar grits and baked brie. Everything about the Farm is plainspoken, and each course shows up as you pictured it, even if it takes a little longer to get there than you’d like. The generous hummus plate and the veggie burger, a local classic made with eggplant, are wise picks. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Roasted garlic bulbs, cheese plate, goat cheese ravioli and chocolate soufflé.

Best deal: Hummus plate ($8).

5-10:30 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

Higgins

1239 SW Broadway, 222-9070, higginsportland.com.

[OLD PORTLAND] There’s something charmingly early-’90s about Higgins. It’s a time capsule hidden away between downtown’s theater district and PSU that I suspect has changed very little since it first opened in 1994. The waiters are in off-the-rack white business shirts and ugly ties; the tables have real fabric tablecloths, with self-serve olive oil on each; menus come in tatty plastic folders and may very well have been written on Microsoft Works. Nary a neck tattoo, Mason jar or exposed lightbulb in sight. Higgins was the O.G. farm-to-table restaurant in Portland, and though it hasn’t kept up with dining or décor trends since, a commitment to sustainable, seasonal Oregon produce has seen its business survive and thrive over two (possibly three) presidential administrations. I’m not a big fan of the loud and aging dining room, but the bar, heavy with dark wood and old beer signs, has genuine old-school charm and offers a reliable, very reasonably priced bistro menu. The food is defined by big, intense flavors—whether it’s juicy heirloom tomatoes soaking in balsamic and olive oil, salty fingers of baked potato, or a big plate of chewy pasta in a thick, rich hazelnut pesto—everything smacks you in the face and leaves you stuffed. It’s not cool—but it is good. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Sit in the bar and order the soup of the day, a salad and something carby from the bistro menu.

Best deal: A sandwich and soup for $9.75 on the lunch menu.

11:30 am-midnight Monday-Friday, 4 pm-midnight Saturday-Sunday. $$$$.


Ned Ludd

3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 288-6900, nedluddpdx.com

[SHED CHIC] Ned Ludd goes further with the themes familiar to other restaurants of its ilk. Mason jars, old chandeliers and reclaimed wood panels are everywhere in this knickknack-filled den. But Ludd also rests axes used to chop logs for the wood-fired oven in a walkway—business end out. Those axes get steady work, of course, as the Luddites cook almost everything in their big oven, inherited from the pizza joint that previously occupied the space along MLK Boulevard. The food pulled from the oven at its own unpredictable pace is uniformly good, though the vegetables tend to outshine the meat. The puffy flatbread with sea salt and “good olive oil” is probably not worth $5, and our charcuterie plate was mostly pâté, turning us green as stunning salads landed on surrounding tables. The roasted squash, on the other hand, is a stellar piece of the “bits” appetizer menu. Look for entrees with vegetables you like, including the whole trout, one of the menu’s few constants that gets fresh fixings by season. Our summery trout was swimming in smoky charred scallions and  crisp cucumber, which were what we remembered after picking the bones clean and walking cautiously past the axes. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Salad, roasted vegetables and an entree with more vegetables from the oven.

Best deal: Melon, marinated cucumber, yogurt, honey ($6).

5 pm-close Wednesday-Monday, 10 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$.

Otto

1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 517-7770, ottopdx.com.

[MODERN ’MERICAN] Getting seated at Otto can be a challenge, and not because of any line. On my first try, the restaurant was unexpectedly closed, with a handwritten note posted on the door. Calling ahead on a slow Sunday evening, I was told they’d stay open only if I arrived before 8:30 pm. My qualms were quickly allayed by the mellow vibe and welcoming intimacy of Otto’s modern Midwestern style. In both ambience and cuisine, Otto strikes the ideal balance between home-cooked goodness and Portland pretension. (The art deco lighting above the mounted animal heads is a nice touch.) The food on the seasonal menu is so vibrantly fresh it’s as beautiful as it is delicious, such as the colorful pickled platter and the nicely tweaked beet caprese salad. The baked macaroni and cheese gratin is creamy and cheesy without being overly rich. The open kitchen, which, on this night, was staffed by just one woman—chef and co-owner Kim Stanton—adds to the homey charm. It’s as though your own mother is in the kitchen. With food this good, it’s hard not to feel that each dish was prepared just for you. PENELOPE BASS.

Ideal meal: Pickled platter, macaroni and cheese gratin, tangerine vanilla creme brulee.

Best deal: Any of the small plates ($7-$9) can easily satiate a moderate appetite. 

8 am-close daily. $$.


Paley’s Place

1204 NW 21st Ave., 243-2403, paleysplace.net.

[THIS OLD HOUSE] Lured into the old gray Victorian on Northwest 21st Avenue by the smell of escargot à la Bordelaise, a tourist who’d eaten her way through the city would have a tough time pointing out this institution’s unique traits. Paley’s Place makes bistro fare with localish ingredients and a French flourish—just as it has for 17 years, when such a thing was novel here. What it lacks in excitement Paley’s Place makes up in consistency, with one of the best charcuterie plates this side of Olympic Provisions, wonderfully taut pasta dishes and a seared-salmon entree deserving wider imitation. (The spit-roasted pork coppa, a slice of fatty, undersalted ham served with mushy green beans and creamed corn, was not.) Great service, a nice wine list and smartly business casual environs make this a welcoming place for the monied to enjoy a comfortably quiet evening, though it shouldn’t be your special treat. James Beard Award-winning chef Vitaly Paley has just opened a new restaurant, Imperial, on the ground floor of the Hotel Lucia, where protégé Ben Bettinger makes slightly edgier dishes like fried rabbit, rainbow-chard gratin and duck meatballs under chandeliers made from old bike chains. Someday that, too, may seem as staid. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: As much charcuterie as you can afford, braised greens and the seared king salmon.

Best deal: Grilled artichoke with bacon-anchovy bread crumbs ($8).

5:30-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 5:30-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday. Not wheelchair accessible. $$$$.

Roost

1403 SE Belmont St., 971-544-7136, roostpdx.com

[DOODLE DO] It’s 10 am, and the line snakes halfway around the block. Not at Roost, but around the corner at Zell’s Cafe, a diner-ish spot serving a varied but unremarkable lineup of $11 scrambles and pancakes. Inside Roost, there is no wait; a handful of couples chat over plates of ricotta pancakes strewn with fresh blueberries and strawberries ($12.50) and braised-chicken tostadas piled with eggs, corn cakes and salsa verde ($12.50). The dining room is white, bright and airy; the service is quick and efficient; the food is fresh and generously portioned. No one waiting around the corner seems to know this. The same circumstance is at play for dinner—other restaurants up and down Belmont are plagued with wait times and cramped quarters, while repeated drive-bys confirm Roost sits welcomingly underpopulated. On a recent Saturday night, only a handful of neighborhood regulars chowed down on the popular worcestershire-soaked burger with its mountain of thin, crisp, hot-from-the-fryer fries ($14) or the gnocchilike cornmeal dumplings with roasted cucumber and radish in a light tomato sauce ($16). Opened in late 2010 by chef Megan Henzel, this paean to American comfort classics seems poised to remain something of a hidden gem, perhaps disguised behind its heavy brick façade and location on a stretch of Belmont not heavy with foot traffic. It’s worthy of a bigger flock. KAT MERCK.

Ideal meal: Worcestershire-soaked burger with arugula, aioli and fries ($14).

Best deal: Enormous slice of s’mores ice cream pie—more than enough for two ($7).

5:30-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, 10 am-2 pm and 5:30-10 pm Saturday, 10 am-2 pm and 5:30-9 pm Sunday. $$.

Wildwood

1221 NW 21st Ave., 248-9663, wildwoodrestaurant.com.

[UPSCALE CRAFTSMANSHIP] I imagine a lot of upscale Portland restaurants have a difficult time connecting with anyone outside of the loyal clientele they win while they’re new and exciting. Entrees at finer restaurants are priced to keep the general public out, and a dress code or other obtuse requirements may also deter the curious. Wildwood, situated along the north end of Northwest 21st Avenue, isn’t the sort of place newcomers should fear. While the décor is swanky and the service is impeccable, Wildwood focuses its energies on simple, flavorful dishes at fair prices. Executive chef Dustin Clark takes decidedly blue-collar entrees—steak, chicken, tuna and pork—and finishes them with a white-collar quality. Local, seasonal ingredients help round out the entrees—sweet corn and potatoes accompany the flank steak while grilled eggplant and decadent chanterelles give a brilliant balance to the pan-roasted duck breast. The dining experience at Wildwood appeals across Portland’s social strata, an impressive duality in a town where it’s easy to miss in one direction or the other. MICHAEL LOPEZ.

Ideal meal: Smoked tomato soup, skillet roasted mussels, milk-braised pork shoulder.

Best deal: The pan-roasted duck breast is under $30, when it very well could be priced upward of $50.

11:30 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday. $$$.


The Woodsman Tavern

4537 SE Division St., 971-373-8264, woodsmantavern.com.

[WEAR WOOL] Like a Pendleton catalog come to life, the Woodsman Tavern’s rugged elegance is a superb manifestation of our obsession with the pre-industrial. The year-old restaurant from Stumptown Coffee founder Duane Sorenson is stocked with a museum of bucolic Hudson River School-type mountainscapes and iron-legged drafting stools. The food has a similarly sepia tone. Early on, the Woodsman’s menu was often in flux, but it’s since stabilized around the best dishes. Ham and seafood get big play. A raw bar stocked with Oregon oysters and sliced country ham from Iowa and North Carolina vie for the honor of opening your meal. Roasted trout served whole in the skin with a dusting of herbs and a few cherry tomatoes in the brightly flavorful yellow broth called “crazy water” is a signature dish, as is the hearty fried pork shank served on the bone with an aquavit-cranberry gastrique and a dab of sauerkraut. After dinner and a few drinks—the cocktail menu is heavy on bourbon—grab a cup of coffee made in a Chemex as you admire this temple of antique decor and flavor. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Country ham plate, bitter lettuces salad and whole roasted trout.

Best deal: Spring-greens salad ($3).

5-10 pm daily. Brunch 9 am-2 pm Saturday and Sunday. $$$.

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Peruvian 

Andina

1314 NW Glisan St. 228-9535, andinarestaurant.com

[PER OOO] It only took one generation for Peruvian chefs to pin their national cuisine to the world map through innovative exploitation of their unmatched array of chilies, potatoes and seafood. Despite all the Novoandina panache on Andina’s massive menu, the elevated basics on the tapas page make the deepest impressions. Take the tortilla de patata, a Spanish-style potato quiche served in cheesecake-sized slices drizzled with an aioli spiked with Peru’s signature yellow chile. It’s peasant food, my Peruvian neighbor laughs, but Andina’s version is worth the premium price and making a reservation at this Pearl restaurant, which is still rapidly populated by National Geographic Traveler subscribers every night nearly a decade after opening. The same can be said for the anticucho, skewers of beef heart marinated until the muscle is soft enough to enjoy dipped in a salsa of the red Peruvian rocoto pepper. Though it’s easy to make a meal of tapas, the double rack of lamb and a roasted chicken half served with quinoa and a sweet potato beckon. Oh, and save room for the flan—Andina’s version of the traditional custard gets a red-wine caramel sauce and is served with a grape sorbet that will make it your new standard. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Tortilla de patata, roasted chicken with quinoa and flan. 

Best deal: The wonderful free bread (See page 31.)

11:30 am-2:30 pm daily, 4-9:30 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4-10:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$$.


Del Inti

2315 NE Alberta St., 288-8191, delinti.com.

[PERUVIAN BEAUTY] I’ve always been puzzled by talk about “presentation” in food. So long as my dinner doesn’t come in a plastic foam container, who really cares what it looks like? Maybe that’s because I’ve seldom seen food as good-looking as Del Inti’s. You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the Peruvian-inspired restaurant’s decor—an open, sunny and woody motif with jazz prints on the wall (and reggae on the stereo, weirdly), and a ho-hum outdoor patio for summer. All of this reminds a bit of your average Condé Nast spread, save for the sparkling ocean in the background. But once Del Inti’s drinks (a creamy and gorgeous lime green pisco sour, for example) show up, you know you’re in for something special. The salad follows, and it’s a deep  little ecosystem of yellow corn, green sprouts and white goat cheese on brown quinoa. The orange-colored, peach-sauce-drizzled steamed mussels are served on ice. Their texture approaches that of poached eggs. But it’s the main dishes—a gorgeous, brulee-style Peruvian corn pudding called pastel de choclo, served with dry and addicting lobster mushrooms; or the pork tenderloin (chancho), a pair of small-but-stunning cuts served at room temperature and drenched in pasty peanut-coconut spread and served with charred and halved “pork fat” potatoes. All of these things are beautiful on your table. And all of them are even better in your mouth. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: Pork tenderloin or hanger steak and plenty of yummy Cusqueña beer.

Best deal: The quinoa salad is big enough for two people to split, delicious and just $6.

5-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$.

El Inka

48 NE Division St., Gresham, 491-0323, elinkarestaurant.com.

[JUST OUR CLUCK] El Inka builds from the basics—the signature dish is roasted chicken with an iceberg lettuce salad and big, square french fries—but the meal brought to your blanket-covered table isn’t in any way typical. The chicken, which comes by the quarter, half or whole bird, takes a whirl of chilies and Andean herbs before spending hours in the oven. Then you spike it with a rainbow of pepper sauces, alternating between red, yellow and orange squeeze bottles. It’s far tastier than any place in a plaza with a Papa Murphy’s Take ’N’ Bake Pizza franchise should be. Though the roasted chicken with fries, which demonstrates again that Peruvians understand potatoes in a way Idaho should envy, gets the marquee, the menu is far larger than gringos need it to be. We only scratched the barnyard with aji de gallina, shredded chicken breast in a white milky gravy that, spooned over rice, was something like a South American curry, and a side of fried plantains with a sweet sauce that doubled as dessert. Even the golden Inca Kola sold by the can here is unique and excellent. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Splitting a whole roasted chicken and loading each forkful up with a different sauce.

Best deal: One of everything on the menu would cost about the same as a nice meal for two at Andina.

11 am-9 pm daily. $.

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Pizza 

A Cena

7742 SE 13th Ave., 206-3291, acenapdx.com

[RUSTIC ITALIAN] It’s fitting that A Cena is nestled along Sellwood’s antique row. The Italian restaurant’s hearty, flavorful offerings recall vintage treasures—at least, from the window shopper’s vantage. Italian basics like bruschetta, caprese, pizza and eggplant dishes are all on the menu; however, A Cena’s attention to detail sets it apart. The aforementioned caprese, for example, features a housemade burrata cheese. That involves a rather laborious process for such a common appetizer, yet the extra effort shines in the velvety texture. You get the impression executive chef Gabe Gabreski wants patrons who may be fresh from the antique shops that surround his restaurant to take the same approach in digging for the hidden uniqueness in each dish. Main courses, such as the Sweet Briar Farms pork loin paired with crispy potatoes and grilled peaches, are simple yet intensely flavorful, a nod to the décor and environment of the restaurant. Butcher paper lines the tables and, if it happens to be uneven, your server will graciously correct it. A simple gesture, but one that so perfectly fits A Cena’s subtle charm. MICHAEL LOPEZ.

Ideal meal: Caprese, braised greens, pappardelle.

Best deal: The pork cut varies daily and is market price, but is a well-rounded portion.

5-9 pm Monday, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm and 5-10 pm Friday, 10 am-2 pm and 5-10 pm Saturday, 10 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm Sunday. $$$.
 

Apizza Scholls

4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 233-1286, apizzascholls.com.

[CORNER!] There’s a way to avoid the obnoxious line separating you and Portland’s best pizza. On slow midweek nights, Apizza Scholls will let you carry one of its massive, modestly priced and stupefyingly delicious pies right out the front door of its crowded little Hawthorne shop. It feels like robbing a bank. But you have to order it in person, not by phone. Oh, and they switch the nights its allowed. Also, they toss the boxed pizza on the bar to cool when it’s done, no matter when they told you it’d be ready. For your trouble, you won’t have to sit in a muggy room devoid of any atmosphere save for the servers hollering “Corner!” as they walk into the kitchen, as though they’re escaping a collapsing mineshaft. So maybe just suck it up and either make a reservation two weeks in advance or put your name on the waiting list. Whatever the conditions for acquiring inarguably the best pie in town and arguably the best on the West Coast, who are we to complain? Order a beer while you wait, then get the antipasti plate and the sausage-and-pepper pizza—which was actually even better when they still used Mama Lil’s peppers. If you feel yourself getting itchy, get a second beer. The pizza will come and it will be totally worth it. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: A bowl of olives and the sausage-and-pepper pie.

Best deal: The massive house salad ($8).

5-9:30 pm Monday-Saturday, 4-8 pm Sunday. $$-$$$.
 

Firehouse

711 NE Dekum St., 954-1702, firehousepdx.com.

[SMOKY FARE] Firehouse is a fitting name for this Woodlawn-neighborhood favorite—not just because it is literally an old firehouse, but because the moment you walk in, you’re hit with a powerful aroma of smoke, charcoal and fire. The smell is not, fortunately, a lingering hangover from the building’s former profession (though there are plenty of photos and souvenirs scattered around if you’re feeling nostalgic), but rather a welcome byproduct of the wood-fired oven that takes pride of place in the kitchen and is responsible for most of the dishes on the menu. The entrees are hearty, Italian-influenced crowd pleasers like hanger steak, rotisserie chicken and meatballs, but tempting as they may be (and you will be tempted by the large plates of glistening meat coming from the kitchen), grit your teeth and order the pizza. Firehouse turns out some of the better pies in the city—certainly by far the best in the area. Though they’re scorched, chewy, thin-crust 12-inchers like the ones served at most of the city’s fancy knife-and-fork pizza restaurants, a generous hand with  salt, garlic and cheese gives them that lick-your-lips, impulsively stuff-your-face quality that recall the floppy, saucy parlor slices of yore. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: The buttery fried cauliflower with lemon creme fraiche for dipping, a margherita pizza and a pint of Heater Allen Pilsner.

Best deal: Any three appetizers for $13. Just make sure one of them is that cauliflower.  

5-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 5-9:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 5-8 pm Sunday. $$.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza

304 SE 28th Ave., 517-9951, kensartisan.com

[WOOD-FIRED PIZZA] Some things are best at either extreme of the high-low scale. Pizza is one of them. Sometimes you’re in a fancy-pants mood, and sometimes a rubbery slice of pepperoni at Little Caesars, with grease dripping through the box, is more satisfying than some caviar-and-sardine post-pie with a sheen of goat cheese weighing down a cracker-thin crust. Ken’s, despite the A-word in the title and the middle-aged, goateed architects laughing with their much younger fiancées at the bar, delivers quality pizza at reasonable prices for those who prefer quality over quantity. After a brisk stroll through the wood-fired oven that sits at the heart of the pine-colored eastside location, your pie’s crust is bubbly like photos from the Mars Curiosity Rover, with definite signs of cheesy life in the valleys between blackened peaks. As a professional eater, I could devour two of these pies (give me the thick-cut olives and whatever salted meats have their papers most in order, please) and have room for dessert—lukewarm blueberry crisp on my last visit. That said, the well-dressed set at the other end of my long table (cut from an old amusement-park ride, the menu explains) seemed satiated. If you’re buying, I’ll just go ahead and order two. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: After the atmosphere tax, an $11 margherita pizza is really not a bad deal.

Best deal: The $8 wedge Caesar salad, with its burly croutons, is a nice complement to a pie.

5-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 4-9 pm Sunday. $$.

Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty

4039 N Mississippi Ave., 281-4060, lovelysfiftyfifty.com.

[AWESOME 100] Adults have painfully few occasions to indulge in pizza and ice cream, the two bestest foods ever, together, as God intended. Children dine this way regularly, of course, while adults who want great pizza generally have to end their meal with a blah panna cotta or a dry cookie fit for consumption only after repeated and vigorous dunking in an espresso drink. The brightly twee Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty fixes this so perfectly it’s a wonder the model hasn’t been aped everywhere. This pizza has a lightly charred crust and is what we might nostalgically call personal pan size—ignoring the fact that it’s chewy and decidedly not a pan crust—topped with grown-up things like kale, new potatoes, pancetta and roasted Calabrian chilies. The ice cream’s best trait is its creaminess, with the blackberry and malt ball flavoring bits rendering any sort of sundae toppings totally unnecessary. There’s no lunch, so go late to avoid loud families—who must have other places they can enjoy pizza and ice cream together but who smartly prefer Lovely’s wonderful mash-up. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Housemade Italian sausage with braising greens pizza and a scoop of the seasonal ice cream.

Best deal: Add the Calabrian peppers to whatever pie you buy for 50 cents. 

5-10 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $$.

Nostrana

1401 SE Morrison St., 234-2427, nostrana.com

[OLIVE ME] With its strip-mall location, anodyne display of Italian pottery and clientele of retirees, it would be easy to dismiss Nostrana as something of an Olive Garden for wealthy old-Laurelhurst residents. The cavernous dining room almost always seems packed with large groups of sixtysomethings in Ralph Lauren polos and Dansko clogs, clinking glasses of riesling over wood-fired pizzas and radicchio salad. But this is not your average upscale neighborhood Italian joint—chef Cathy Whims is a 2012 James Beard Award finalist, and every single item that comes out of the bar or kitchen, from a fruit soda to gnocchi alla romana, is deftly executed with care and precision. Nostrana’s biggest draw, in addition to its somewhat epic wine list, is indeed perhaps its wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza, thin-crusted and chewy with just the slightest hint of char. The combinations of toppings are some of the best in town—don’t miss the Salumi, scattered with Calabrese salami, pickled peppers, provolone and housemade mozzarella and drizzled with honey, and the Diavola, studded with enormous balls of spicy sausage. Not in the mood for pizza? Come for special menus on “Meatball Monday,” “Gnocchi Thursday” or “Fish Friday,” or check out the daily-changing primi, pasta and secondi menus. Reservations are highly recommended. KAT MERCK.

Ideal meal: Salumi pizza ($15).

Best deal: Nightly happy hour (9 pm-close) features pizzas and small plates for $6 and under.

11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday, 5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

Oven and Shaker

1134 NW Everett St., 241-1600, ovenandshaker.com.

[PIZZA WITH PEDIGREE] Like a champion thoroughbred, this Pearl pizza and cocktail joint came bolting out the gates from day one in late 2011, and hasn’t slowed down since. With the seasoned stables of restaurant baron Kurt Huffman, Nostrana chef-owner Cathy Whims and cocktail consultant Ryan Magarian behind it, it’s perhaps no surprise this place was a born winner, but if we learned anything from the fiasco that was Corazon, it’s that nothing in this industry is a sure thing. The menu’s staple is crispy, 12-inch thin-crust pizzas with generously portioned, creative toppings like pork belly, collards and egg, or mascarpone, honey and chili oil; the drinks, categorized under headings like “fresh” and “strong,” are on point and give the joint a leg up on  other comparable fancy pizza places; the atmosphere is lively and, well, loud, but walks the line between bar and restaurant well; and the concept is crowd-pleasing enough to appeal to people who live in the Pearl, and trendy enough to appeal to those who work in the Pearl—which, of course, means it’s packed just about every night of the week. Pro tip: If you don’t mind eating pizza for brunch (and who does?), it opens at 11:30 am on Sundays and there’s usually no wait. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: The rich and earthy mushroom pizza comes with more ’shrooms than a Grateful Dead concert, but it’s worth sharing one between two people so you have room for the excellent arancini. To drink, the Pepper Smash, made with yellow bell pepper juice and Aquavit, is both easy-drinking and exotic.

Best deal: Margherita pizza ($7) at happy hour.

11:30 am-midnight daily. $$.


Portobello Vegan Trattoria

1125 SE Division St., 754-5993, portobellopdx.com

[ANIMAL-FREE ITALIAN] As a vegan Italian joint, Portobello could easily survive on the uniqueness of its niche. The restaurant is proud of its meat- and dairy-free philosophy and its locally sourced produce, but it’s not cruising on that. This unpretentious and playful restaurant, with tiny animal and vegetable figurines hiding on the uneven wood-paneled walls, is suitable for diners of all types. Portobello’s menu changes frequently, but always includes a variety of salads, pastas, pizzas (a recent pie featured figs, kale and cashew cream) and main dishes (a deep-dish cornmeal crust pie was both hearty and bright, zucchini and sweet roasted corn  mingling with tomato-basil sauce and cashew cheese). That cashew cheese is a standout—it’s also featured in the beet tartare, a sizable sphere of it capped with minced beets, carrot aioli and capers, and served with baguette. The mushroom fries, which are more like tempura, are fun—like gussied-up, vegan mozzarella sticks. You’ll also enjoy the creative cocktails and mocktails—the alcohol-free Ginger Rawgers, with peach puree, ginger, lemon juice and kombucha, really hit the spot on a warm day. REBECCA JACOBSON.

Ideal meal: Beet tartare, spicy arrabiata pizza with seitan-based sausage and chili-fennel marinara, gnocchi.

Best deal: A 12-inch pizza runs $9-$12. 

5:30-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-2 pm Sunday. $$.

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Salvadoran 


Gloria’s Secret Cafe

12500 SW Broadway St., Beaverton, 268-2124. 

[SPIRITED SALVADORAN] Despite her restaurant’s name, owner-chef Gloria Vargas seems awfully willing to reveal her secrets. One: That’s lime, not lemon, she squeezes over her crisp salad of watercress, cabbage, cucumber and mango. Two: Always cook shrimp in their shells to retain that succulent, seafood-y flavor. “A lot of American people don’t like to get their hands dirty,” she says, “but that’s the only way to eat shrimp.” The warm and effusive Vargas is just one of many delights at this pocket-sized Beaverton establishment, where the heaping plates of satisfying El Salvadoran fare are as colorful as the pumpkin- and banana-hued walls. Each plate comes with that lime-drizzled salad, black beans and fluffy saffron-spiced rice. Good bets include the comforting, chocolaty chicken mole laced with anchos and poblanos, and the pupusa platter, a hearty masa round filled with cheese and tender shredded pork and topped with tangy pickled cabbage. No alcohol here, so opt for agua de piña, a refreshing pineapple juice. And take note: Gloria’s is only open for lunch, but groups of four or more can make dinner reservations and pre-order some of Vargas’ special items. Spring for anything with shrimp—and make sure to nab some clandestine culinary tips. REBECCA JACOBSON.

Ideal meal: Shrimp tacos (pre-order only), tamales, chicken mole, flan.

Best deal: All lunch plates are $12 and include salad, rice and beans.

11 am-3 pm Tuesday-Friday, 11 am-2:30 pm Saturday; dinner by reservation and pre-order only. Cash only. $$.

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Scandinavian 

Broder

2508 SE Clinton St. 736-3333, broderpdx.com.

[THE SWEDISH CHEF] I fully expect angry villagers to arrive at my doorstep with pitchforks for writing this, but it must be said: Portland’s brunch scene is boring. Sure we have a lot of breakfast joints, but they’re all serving the same stodgy fare: omelets, French toast, tofu scrambles. Surely a city renowned for restaurants with niche  concepts and menus that change nightly to worship the local bounty can do better. Rising like an argent lily from the sea of lumpy biscuits and gravy is Broder, a Southeast Clinton Street favorite whose jam-packed dining room proves this city is hungry for an exotic way to reline its stomachs come Sunday morning. The theme is Scandinavian, from the modernist log cabin aesthetic to the house-infused aquavit, and the food is more interesting than 97 percent of this city’s morning feed houses. The umlaut-heavy menu stars the cafe’s signature baked eggs, served over-easy atop ramekins of hashed potatoes and smoked trout, or scrambled in with blue cheese and bacon and cooked inside wee square skillets. But the unexpected standout is the apple fritters, or friterade äpplen—not only is it fun to say, but like the love child of strudel and latkes suffering a teenage identity crisis, it comes with both sour cream and syrup, and tastes like Christmas. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Friterade äpplen or one of the three “Swedish hash” choices.

Best deal: $6 Swedish meatballs at happy hour. Not quite the 15 for $3.99 you get at IKEA, granted, but it saves you the drive to Cascade Station.

9 am-3 pm daily, 5 pm-close Wednesday-Saturday. $$.

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Seafood 

Ocean City

3016 SE 82nd Ave., 771-2299, oceancityportland.com.

[DIM SUM] There are many things to be confused by while eating dim sum at this always-crowded, enormous 82nd Avenue Chinese restaurant. For one, what is the hooked mystery meat slowly dripping fat under the heat lamp by the register in between the whole fried duck and pork belly? It’s barbecued pork—now you don’t have to ask. Carts of steamy, mostly savory dumplings, noodles, buns, stir fries, short ribs, boiled chicken feet, congee (Asian rice porridge) and more roll through the dining room during daily dim sum, and there will often be one or two mystery items considering that the women who push the carts usually speak very little English. Boldly try the unknown or settle for the easy-to-read shrimp dumplings, which are worth the trip alone. Go with your gut and with a large group. That way you can sit at one of the large round tables with a Lazy Susan and share. You can always order from the gigantic menu as well, which offers everything from crispy garlic fried chicken and sautéed snow pea tips to a braised rockfish and tofu clay pot. LIZ CRAIN.

Ideal meal: Pot of hot tea, crab cooked one of nine ways, pork and shrimp shumai, pork bun, shrimp wrapped in rice noodles, golden egg custard bun for dessert.

Best deal: For weekend dim sum, two can eat like carb-loading kings and queens for less than $30 and with much less of a wait then at Wong’s King.

9:30 am-midnight daily, dim sum 9:30 am-3 pm daily. $-$$.

The Parish

231 NW 11th Ave., 227-2421, theparishpdx.com.

[AW SHUCKS] This New Orleans-inspired bistro from Tobias Hogan and Ethan Powell, the owners of North Williams Avenue’s EaT: An Oyster Bar, takes its name from Louisiana’s equivalent of counties. Opening in the Pearl District in May, the restaurant is more elegant than EaT, embracing the ecclesiastical connotations of its title through booths that have a gothic geometry and a host station made from a salvaged pulpit. The menu, divided into six categories, is about as easy to parse as Leviticus. For all the churchiness of the space, the Parish worships only at the altar of the almighty oyster, up to a dozen varieties that are available in a dozen raw, baked or fried. Go raw. They come well-shucked and sparely dressed, with only some lemon to offset the brine. For the best view, grab a captain’s chair at the bar and watch the shuckers at work while you sip a glass of bubbly or a Pilsner. Non-fish dishes are inconsistent, but the other seafood dishes are invariably enjoyable. The creamy shrimp étouffée has a peppery kick, and the soft-shell crab on a soft roll is what every fast-food fish sandwich aspires to be, dressed with mayo and pickles like a Big Mac but with a delicious, crisp-fried crab in place of a soggy tilapia patty. Grilled jumbo shrimp are excellent, crisp but still tender, with a pimento bite. All were improved by a glass of white from the restaurant’s surprisingly affordable wine list, which includes a number of sub-$30 bottles. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: A half-dozen raw oysters and the octopus salad with rabbit sausage.

Best deal: The $25 prix fixe offers savings equal to getting a free dessert.

11 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday, 3 pm-midnight Saturday, 3-10 pm Sunday; brunch 10 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$$.

Riffle NW

333 NW 13th Ave., 894-8978, rifflenw.com.

[EIGHT ARMS TO HOLD YOU] Is octopus the porterhouse of the sea? You get that impression at Riffle NW, the newish Pearl District seafood restaurant from married New York transplants Ken and Jen Norris, which makes the cephalopod its signature entree. Skillet-charred and served with a chorizo chili cream, the Spanish octopus’ arms are presented in pieces so large and firm they recall beefsteak more than any catch of the day. This is a bold restaurant, if not exactly experimental. Its best ventures have the stinging clarity of an ocean breeze, with triumphs that tend to alter one’s basic conception of a dish. A Brussels sprouts salad is interpreted as a pile of the veggies shaved razor thin and piled high as an anthill, with a light and buttery dressing. A side of fingerling potatoes is quickly deep-fried so they become fingerling jojos. A sea urchin and quail egg shot takes that unlikely pairing (the urchin puréed, the egg an unbroken yolk) and drops it in a shot glass of tomato water that’s been drained through a cheesecloth. You swig it, and break the yolk on the roof of your mouth. As a shot, it’s a spectacular aperitif to your new steak. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: RNW octopus, fingerling potatoes, shaved Brussels sprouts salad.

Best deal: The sea urchin shot is $6 for mind expansion.

5 pm-midnight Tuesday-Sunday. $$$.
 

RingSide Fish House

838 SW Park Ave., 227-3900, ringsidefishhouse.com.

[SHARKS ’N’ SUITS] The RingSide Fish House, the first addition to Portland’s staid RingSide steak empire in three decades, remains very much in the vein of the original. Like an old-school father’s den or pool-tabled rec room, it is designed to be deeply soothing—congratulatory, even—to the alpha male id. The wood is burnished, the booths deep, the walls an unassuming beige. Vintage nautical pictures adorn the restaurant’s walls, while the lounge sports a mammoth, trophied whale jaw, a none-too-subtle sign that this is a place where mad Ahab actually gets his prey. The overall effect is of landed, domestic, heavy-on-the-seat luxury—the preferred style of both Washington, D.C., and the country’s various upscale provinces. Even given its excellent sourcing (the menu rotates both daily and seasonally) and the obvious delicacy of preparation, the cuisine is aimed more at the palate of Terre Haute than that of the haute; the byword is not so much innovation or novelty as it is comfort and execution and a simple sense of being spoiled, recession be damned. Heck, the menu even sports a ’70s-style filet mignon surf ’n’ turf. RingSide does consistently well what other kitchens mundanely struggle to achieve. Cuts of rare steak nearly 2 inches thick are served warm,  with uniform tender redness from fringe to fringe and no hint of the raw. Equally thick scallops are cooked to a satisfying, unrubbery firmness. Trout swoons under crisped skin. The shellfish were fresh and diverse and lobster soup was beautifully subtle with just a hint of lemon and chive. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Oysters and a big, thick steak.

Best deal: The $35 three-course special, served before 6 pm and all day Sunday.

Hours vary. $$$$.

Wong’s King Seafood

8733 SE Division St., No. 101, 788-8883, wongsking.com.

[FAR EAST] Amid freeways and tow yards, between Xotic Tan’s grim neon and the chainlinked hawkers of parking-lot pottery, the palatial Wong’s King remains Portland’s long-running home to lunchtime dumplings and fine Cantonese. Its lobby still advertises the world silver medal in Chinese cuisine Wong’s earned for its abalone dish ($42 on the menu) in 2004, but most come for the hectic midday clatter of dim sum. After loitering among massive waiting-room crowds—managed as briskly and efficiently as at any Olive Garden—diners are ushered past bubbling lobster and crab tanks into a massive rec-center dining hall filled with extended Chinese families, big-eating Greshamites and pairs of wan aesthetes partaking in perhaps their only  real indulgence: a motley and often random-seeming assortment of shrimp sheeted into rice noodles, sweetly egg-glazed French buns, and teardropped hum bao filled with pork. The menu’s true indulgences, however, are on the dinner menu—for example, a $16 bed of garlic-soy-scallion clams studded with scallop surprises, or a $15 pagoda of bok choy, black mushroom and bamboo pith. This last ingredient is much better than that same plant’s bland shoots: It is the bone marrow of the vegetable world, rich and spongy and densely saturated with the flavor of everything around it. All, here, is pith and sloppy bounty. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: Show up super-early to avoid the lines, poke around the dim-sum carts for the soy-gravied rice noodles and egg-glazed rolls, and tide yourself over while waiting for brunchtime seafood ordered off the dinner menu. You’ll have to ask for the dinner menu three times.

Best deal: Those four fist-sized rolls with the meat filling? In the metal tray? They’re $2.50. Enjoy.

10 am-11 pm Monday-Friday, 9:30 am-11 pm. $-$$$.

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Spanish 

Evoe

3731 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-1010, pastaworks.com/evoe.

[A FINE PICKLE] You might think Evoe is named after extra-virgin olive oil, but its namesake is rather a singing cry to the wine god Bacchus in Virgil’s Aeneid. This makes much more sense, because it’s not oil but rather ferment and vinegar that give this little restaurant attached to Pastaworks its true flavor—from a small, well-balanced wine list to a vast array of briny pickle jars that could be used as set pieces in a film about science gone mad. Conceived as a testing ground for the wares found at its upscale grocer host, Kevin Gibson’s Evoe is a casually reverent shrine to its own ingredients. Each $9 sandwich is a four-corners blend of starchy, savory, sweet and acidic, from the sardines, pâté mousse and pickled fennel of their gallego sandwich to their nutty, sweet Maréchal grilled-cheese sandwich spiked with Dijon and shallots. Evoe’s pickle plate should adorn every meal. Its bright acidity, bold spicing and outright variety—from mustardy cucumber to tart okra, pungent gooseberries and sweet peppers—could shame all by itself the citywide pickle throwdown hosted by Kenny & Zuke’s each year. A recent purslane, peach and speck salad was successful as well, bonded in its bitter, sweet and salt by a light vinaigrette. And while the ingredients do most of the talking, if you get the chefs going on a lazy afternoon, they’ll tell their own stories. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: A pickle plate, a gallego or hearty muffaletta sandwich, and a glass of wine are always available. But you’re best off if you show up early enough to chat up the chefs and see what’s good that day on the highly protean menu.

Best deal: Any of the classic sandwiches are $9 and satisfying—especially the meaty muffaletta stacked with spicy tapenade.

Noon-7 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $-$$.

Navarre

10 NE 28th Ave., 232-3555, navarreportland.blogspot.com.

[STUFFED DATES] You’re young and a bit broke, but you’ve got a special lady or fella to impress. You’re going to go to Navarre—because it’s cool, intimate and affordable, and there are candles—and this is how you’re going to do it: Go early in the week—service at this Mediterranean-meets-PNW small-plates joint is friendly but casual, and suffers during peak traffic. “I know a great little place where there’s no line,” you can say smoothly as you cycle down Burnside. Order five-to-six small plates (ranging from $4 to $10 each) from the check-box menu between the two of you. If you’re particularly broke or hungry, make one of those dishes the generous $1 Ken’s bread plate. Splurge on something meaty, like the leg of lamb or the parchment paper-wrapped trout, then fight your instincts and go for the weirdest-sounding vegetable-focused items from the specials list. Navarre is at its best when taking simple seasonal produce and presenting it in unlikely ways. A beet, peach and mint salad on my last visit had us fork-dueling for the last bite, while a potato gratin sat forgotten. Besides, casually ordering garlic scapes and nettles will make you look learned and adventurous—“maybe in bed, too?” your paramour will wonder. You must order wine, so take advantage of the one-third bottle option, and pour judiciously. Spend your final pennies (well, $6) on a slice of pie to share, and you, my friend, are getting laid tonight. You’re welcome. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Whatever sounds kooky on the specials menu.

Best deal: For $32 per person, the kitchen will decide your whole meal for you. 

4:30-10:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30-11:30 pm Friday, 9:30 am-11:30 pm Saturday, 9:30 am-10:30 pm Sunday. $$-$$$.
 

Toro Bravo

120 NE Russell St., 281-4464, torobravopdx.com.

The elegant chiaroscuro lighting in this North Portland alcove is reflected in the small plates served up by John Gorham, dense and dark with Spanish sauces and creams. From the complimentary saucer of seasoned pumpkin seeds that opens each meal to an espresso-doused twin scoop of almond ice cream that might give you the energy to get up from the table, every dish feels laden with duende: that rich Catalan sadness that makes you want to cry out in agonized pleasure. Since Portland doesn’t make high art—the children of loggers, we prefer our aesthetic experiences to be consumed—consider this our intimate theater. That said, Toro is not above reproach. Too many items rely on mayonnaise of one flavor or another, often greasily overwhelming other ingredients. But try anything with tomatoes: the green tomato-rubbed bread, the meatballs, and most especially the braised green beans. Try the coppa steak, because you never knew that a cut of meat so longed for olives. Try a bowl of hand-cut noodles with whatever Gorham feels like pairing them. Try to get your party to order fewer than 10 tapas—but you’ll fail, because nowhere else does excess come with such dignity. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Tomato-rubbed bread, Padrón peppers, green beans, noodles, Coppa steak, ad infinitum. 

Best deal: The $30 chef’s tasting menu has actually gone up in price by one Abe Lincoln, but it’s still a bargain tour. 

5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

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Steakhouse 

El Gaucho

319 SW Broadway, 227-8794, elgaucho.com

[URBAN STEAK CAVE] It’s downtown, dark and clubby with a faint cigar aroma wafting from a hidden den off the main dining room. It’s also home to flawlessly prepared, though stratospherically priced, à la carte cuts of grilled meat and seafood. At the low end, a 12-ounce “baseball cut” top sirloin goes for $37; topping the charts, a 24-ounce porterhouse will run you $82. A lobster tail from down under is priced at $98—it probably flew first class. A long wine list and selection of appetizers, salads and side courses makes choosing a challenge—at least for the budget-unconscious visitors and locals that populate this atypical-for-Portland place. Game-faced, tuxedo-clad servers bring their best with tableside preparations: The Caesar salad is meticulously mixed in a wooden bowl, with every ingredient, from anchovies to worcestershire, added with practiced flair. And who doesn’t like a little flame with their meal? The fire show is included with the “flaming sword brochette of tenderloin” ($45); Cafe Diablo, a devilish coffee drink for two ($25 per person); and classic cherries jubilee ($9 per person) or bananas Foster ($10 per person) for dessert. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: Caesar salad, filet mignon, loaded baked potato, bananas Foster.

Best deal: Hit the bar for happy hour, grab a cut-rate drink and a burger, then go for a flaming dessert. Doable for under $25.

5-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 5 pm-1 am Friday-Saturday, 5-10 pm Sunday. $$$$+.

Laurelhurst Market

3155 E Burnside St., 206-3097, laurelhurstmarket.com

[MEAT] Perhaps it is a telling detail that I have lived mere blocks from Laurelhurst Market for more than two years and have been there only twice in that period—both times to buy sausages from agreeable and tattooed butchers, some of whom could just as well be models, from the deli counter inside the front doors. It’s not cheap, that’s what I’m saying. But then if one has $24 to spare for a petite but fucking amazing hanger steak—a real pink medium, charred on the edges and topped with scallions and a creamy sauce—this is probably the place to do it: in a big, cafeteria-looking room with meat and pig diagrams hanging above the open kitchen and inoffensive ’70s rock drifting over the speakers. The appetizers are reasonably priced and fun to mix and match. Cocktails—including the $10 Smoke Signals, the central feature of which was a giant chunk of impossible sounding “smoked ice”—are creative and tasty. The same can be said for dessert, although the ingenious $10 make-your-own-s’mores, dubbed A Night at Lost Lake, left something to be desired in the homemade graham cracker department. That’s small potatoes. Oh, and the potatoes are good, too. In fact, despite the carnivorous menu, the friendly staff goes out of its way to help out veggie-minded visitors. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: One big chunk of meat and a lot of sides to split with a friend.

Best deal: Grilled green beans with pancetta ($6) go with just about everything, right?

5-10 pm daily. $$-$$$.

Ox

2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 284-3366, oxpdx.com.

[EXTRAORDINARY ARGENTINE] After two fruitful years as hired guns at Pearl District wine bar Metrovino, Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton and her husband and co-chef, Greg Denton, have their own place on a block of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard once better known for dive bars and Ethiopian restaurants. The restaurant describes itself fittingly as “Argentine-inspired Portland food.” One of the most impressive new restaurants in town, Ox is a trifecta of delicious dishes, superb service and an alluring atmosphere. The centerpiece of this splendid restaurant is the beef, lamb and pork coming off the elaborate wood-fired stainless-steel grill, which is raised and lowered by hand. For all the seeming complexity of this apparatus, meat cooked on it consistently arrives at the proper temperature, buttery tender and seasoned assertively but not excessively. The meats are transcendent, but the rest of the menu is what makes Ox more than a steakhouse with a sexy Spanish accent. Bone-in halibut and maitake mushroom, both grilled, are no mere sop to the red meat-averse. Salads with grilled radicchio, arugula and chevre, or gem lettuces, fried chickpeas and feta also impress. A well-trained service staff knows the menu and to avoid the “everything is great” fail-safe. They are pleasant without excess familiarity and efficient without rushing you toward the door. You may want to linger a while—watching the cooks manage that grill and letting your steak settle. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Ideal meal: Chilled seafood sampler, grilled radicchio salad and skirt steak.

Best deal: Asado Argentino for two ($60).

5 pm-close Tuesday-Sunday. $$$.

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Thai 

Chiang Mai

3145 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 234-6192, chiangmaipdx.com

[THAI HARDER] Sure, Pok Pok’s great and all, but when you take into account the 90-minute wait, the deafening noise and the infuriatingly needy tourist crowd, it hardly seems worth the trouble. For my money, the city’s best Thai is to be found at this unassuming little joint that specializes in dishes from the city of the same name in the Northwestern corner of the country: whole trout with Thai eggplant and kaffir leaf, sausage-and-crispy-rice lettuce wraps, pork belly and pineapple curry, glass noodle and Thai sausage stir fries and the like. Do not miss the roti mataba, a savory pancake stuffed with potato curry that came to Thailand via India; its sweet equivalent, fried with sweetened condensed milk and egg, is like South Asian French toast. Ask the adorable proprietor for a recommendation and she’ll point you to miang kam, a sort of Thai relish tray with tiny  bowls of chili, coconut and dried shrimp to wrap in bitter Piper sarmentosum leaves and dip in a fiery syrup. Take her advice. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Miang kam, whole trout, sweet roti.

Best deal: Want more roti? You can add a side of it for $2.

11am-3 pm and 5-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-3 pm and 5-9:30 pm Friday, noon-9:30 pm Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday. $-$$.


Ping

102 NW 4th Ave., 229-7464, pingpdx.com

[SINGAPORE FLING] Portland does not have a single Malaysian, Singaporean or Indonesian restaurant. That’s crazy. Appreciate, then, just how important Old Town hole-in-the-wall Ping is to this city’s gastronomic ecosphere. It’s the only place in the city (that isn’t a food cart) you can get dishes from this region—and it does most of them really, really well. The restaurant is perhaps best known for its extensive menu of grilled skewers, which, at $1.50 to $3, pull in the bargain-hunter crowds for after-work nibbles. They’re good, but don’t fill up too much in place of delving deeper into the menu’s more hard-to-find fare, like the coconut milk-based spicy laksa noodle soup or the crunchy Burmese lentil salad. Ping started out as an Andy Ricker (of Pok Pok fame) venture, and although he’s no longer part of the restaurant, his fingerprints can still be seen in several Thai dishes, like the salted duck-egg salad and stewed duck-leg noodles, and a large selection of Pok Pok’s drinking vinegars on the drinks menu. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Ping opens at 11 am on weekdays and makes for an amazing hangover breakfast. Get the nonya-style “carrot cake,” an excellent rendition of the Chinese-Malaysian dish chai tow kway, a stir-fry of soft radish cake cubes, bean sprouts and egg, doused in a generous amount of kecap manis. To complete the liver-damaged Southeast Asian backpacker experience, pair it with some thick, fatty kaya toast or the perfectly greasy roti flatbread, and coffee sweetened with condensed milk. 

Best deal: Cheap eats at happy hour include $1 potato skewers, $3 steamed buns, and $5 fried pork chop sandwiches.

11 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, 2-10 pm Saturday. $$-$$$.

Pok Pok

3226 SE Division St., 232-1387, pokpokpdx.com.

[SANS PAD] With Andy Ricker’s Thai-food empire now stretching to New York, Portlanders could be excused for worrying about the state of his original restaurant. Is the man spreading himself too thin? As it turns out, the place where Ricker started selling grub out of his garage is just as vital as ever. Crowds are still lining up to stuff Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings in their mouths, making it important to get here early if you want to avoid a grueling wait. But success hasn’t gone to Pok Pok’s head. The place remains delightfully laid-back and ramshackle—a hodgepodge of indoor and outdoor seating areas that could confuse a first-time visitor. Once you get settled, however, all is right with the world. Dishes here are meant for sharing, so sampling as many things as you can is recommended. Papaya Pok Pok, a spicy green papaya salad, and yam samun phrai, a Northern Thai herbal salad with coconut milk dressing, are fabulous starters that call for a side of sticky rice. Other must-haves include kai yaang, charcoal rotisserie roasted game hen that is fall-off-the-bone tender; muu paa khan waan, glazed boar-collar meat served with chilled greens; and those ever-popular wings. Keep an eye out for interesting specials such as a recent offering of whole striped bass steamed with Chinese celery and oyster mushrooms. Since desserts here are no great shakes, grab your refreshment from the bar in the form of a cocktail off the list (the Rhubarb Blush is top-notch) or something made with one of the drinking vinegars. Mixing celery vinegar and gin made for a perfect summer sipper. ROB FERNAS.

Ideal meal: Yam samun phrai, kai yaang or Ike’s wings, fish special.

Best deal: Half order of kai yaang ($7.50). 

11:30 am-10 pm daily. $$.

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Vegetarian/Vegan

The Farm Cafe

10 SE 7th Ave., 736-3276, thefarmcafe.com.

[THE OLD BARN] The locavore-focused Farm Cafe was once a Portland essential, hand-stuffing its ravioli with local goat cheese, hazelnuts, basil and a little pan-fried zeitgeist. Today, nine years after it opened, this Portland restaurant’s localish concept hardly seems conceptual. Indeed, if it opened today, Farm Cafe would be on the bubble for this guide. But this old house on the edge of the Buckman neighborhood is still a welcoming room with squeaky floors and shaded windows, and the cheese ball is still the fanciest cheese ball in town, even if the local scene is thankfully moving away from cheddar grits and baked brie. Everything about the Farm is plainspoken, and each course shows up as you pictured it, even if it takes a little longer to get there than you’d like. The generous hummus plate and the veggie burger, a local classic made with eggplant, are wise picks. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Roasted garlic bulbs, cheese plate, goat cheese ravioli and chocolate soufflé.

Best deal: Hummus plate ($8).

5-10:30 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

Natural Selection

3033 NE Alberta St., 288-5883, naturalselectionpdx.com.

[PLANT-BASED PERFECTION] It’s easy for finer restaurants to substitute decadence for quality. How often does anyone send back foie gras or complain about overbearing service? Natural Selection is working without a net with a laid-back vibe and a $35 plant-based meal. That’s fine—this Alberta street restaurant does nearly everything perfectly. Reservations are required but there’s no stink eye if you’re running late—you have the table for two hours; spend them as you wish. There’s a large selection of wine by the glass and a cocktail menu goes from savory (cucumber gimlet) to sweet (the Pretty Mess’ pomegranate molasses). Although you’re permitted to order anything a la carte, the eight-item menu is intended to yield a four-course meal on the traditional salad-to-sweet path. Chef Aaron Woo doesn’t do much with tofu or cheese, steering clear of mock meat and other expected vegetarian tropes. Rather, fresh fruits and vegetables get the limelight, with a little support from dairy and pasta. It’s impossible to know what you’ll get in any given week, but if the trofie pasta with piperade pops up on your visit, order it; it’s one of the best entrees I’ve eaten all year. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: If you’re dining as a pair, just order one of everything.

Best deal: Draft beers are $4.

5:30-10 pm Wednesday-Saturday. $$$.

Portobello Vegan Trattoria

1125 SE Division St., 754-5993, portobellopdx.com

[ANIMAL-FREE ITALIAN] As a vegan Italian joint, Portobello could easily survive on the uniqueness of its niche. The restaurant is proud of its meat- and dairy-free philosophy and its locally sourced produce, but it’s not cruising on that. This unpretentious and playful restaurant, with tiny animal and vegetable figurines hiding on the uneven wood-paneled walls, is suitable for diners of all types. Portobello’s menu changes frequently, but always includes a variety of salads, pastas, pizzas (a recent pie featured figs, kale and cashew cream) and main dishes (a deep-dish cornmeal crust pie was both hearty and bright, zucchini and sweet roasted corn  mingling with tomato-basil sauce and cashew cheese). That cashew cheese is a standout—it’s also featured in the beet tartare, a sizable sphere of it capped with minced beets, carrot aioli and capers, and served with baguette. The mushroom fries, which are more like tempura, are fun—like gussied-up, vegan mozzarella sticks. You’ll also enjoy the creative cocktails and mocktails—the alcohol-free Ginger Rawgers, with peach puree, ginger, lemon juice and kombucha, really hit the spot on a warm day. REBECCA JACOBSON.

Ideal meal: Beet tartare, spicy arrabiata pizza with seitan-based sausage and chili-fennel marinara, gnocchi.

Best deal: A 12-inch pizza runs $9-$12. 

5:30-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-2 pm Sunday. $$.

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Vietnamese 

Ha & VL

2738 SE 82nd Ave., No. 102, 772-0103.

[SOUPER DAY] Pho is something of a religion in this town—the closest the People’s Republic will allow itself anyway. But in a room that looks like it just finished celebrating a month’s worth of birthday parties (there are paper streamers and knickknacks in every available space), the broth experts at Ha VL Bánh Mì Thit take Vietnamese soup to a higher plane, seemingly utilizing every ingredient from nearby Fubonn Supermarket. Six days a week, with an inexplicable bias against Tuesdays, Ha & VL serves a rotation of two soups a day, $7.50 a bowl, driving people to eat snails for breakfast and obsessive food critics to return over and over to complete their bucket lists. Saturday is spicy beef noodle soup, a red-orange concoction with flank steak and pâté, which tastes (in the best possible way) like liquefied pad Thai. If this is the opiate of the foodie masses, I’m a believer. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Whatever soup they suggest.

Best deal: Iced Vietnamese coffee ($1.50) could strip the lettering off an 82nd Avenue billboard. 

8 am-4 pm Monday, Wednesday-Sunday. $.


Pho An Sandy

6236 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-2990, phoansandy.com.

[PHO] It looks like an A&W. Hell, maybe it was an A&W. But when all the orange trim of Pho An’s stovepipe-hat-looking rooftop was replaced with green, it became just another weird little Northeast Sandy Boulevard curiosity you’ve probably cruised by without much thought. Next time, stop. While pho joints abound in Portland—and multiply greatly as you approach 82nd Avenue—few of them offer a spread like Pho An Sandy’s banh hoi dac biet. The plate is basically a make-your-own-salad-rolls kit, with a plate containing a formidable pile of mint leaves, lettuce and veggies, plus just about every meat in the animal kingdom (shrimp paste isn’t an animal, I realize, but when peeled off the sugarcane stick it’s served on, it becomes my very favorite animal). But that’s not all! The banh hoi dac biet also comes with a plate stacked with rice paper, a cup of water (to dip said rice paper in) and fish sauce. It’s not a quick meal, but it’s amazing and large enough for two people to split. Like much of Pho An’s menu, the platter is exotic without freaking out reasonably conservative Western sensibilities. Similarly, the flank and brisket pho is served with nice lean meat, and the pork-skin rolls are packed with thin-cut skin noodles that sound gross to describe but are really more textural than anything else. So next time the little leaguers want root beer floats, hook them up with soda chanh muois and weird meat, instead. CASEY JARMAN.

Ideal meal: Banh hoi dac biet

Best deal: The com dac biet ($10.50), a riced-up variation on the aforementioned banh hoi version, plus a $4 side of the housemade wontons should be enough food for two normal people.

9 am-9 pm daily. $$.

Pho Oregon

2518 NE 82nd Ave., 262-8816.

[OLD VERMICELLI FACTORY] It’s hard to linger over the thick menu at Pho Oregon. Every minute or so, you’ll be approached by one of the friendly but intent young servers. “Are you ready, sir?” With crossed arms over matching jade polo shirts, these men carefully survey their domain like Lloyd Center security guards. Actually, maybe they’re more like those hungry young cellphone peddlers: The sale made, don’t expect anyone to refill your water or fetch extra sauce. Service and atmosphere are far better at places like Pho Van and Pho Hung, but if you’re going for pho, don’t you want to go all the way? The bowls in this massive noodle warehouse—I would not be surprised to learn it’s the largest single dining room in the city—are superb, with shaves of pink beef cooked by the kiss of hot broth and a heaping pile of sprouts and herbs. You can complain the broth is a little too sweet, and I have, but the Vietnamese folk filling the place seem to disagree. Tofu-filled salad rolls and the bo la lot, beef wrapped in betel leaves, served atop mint sprigs, carrot and cucumber, are other strong bets—provided your order is correctly understood. That’s far from a sure thing, but at least there won’t be any delay. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Ideal meal: Salad rolls and pho with lean and fatty brisket and round steak.

Best deal: Everything less expensive than the most expensive entree on the menu, which is the dac biet cuon ($13.45).

9 am-9 pm daily. $.

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Wine Bar/Small Plates

2nd Story

2005 SE 11th Ave., 741-9693, 2ndstorypdx.com.

[WORTH A CLIMB] Erin McBride does wonderful things with beets. And kale. And sometimes peaches. The Ohio-born farm girl made desserts at Higgins and cooked with Lincoln’s Jenn Louis for years before she teamed up with friends to open 2nd Story, a small bistro/bar upstairs from the couple’s Cellar Door Coffee in Southeast Portland. Nothing about this small-plates dinner spot crammed into three rooms of a former house makes a lot of sense. There’s old soul on the iPod, Oregon and French wines, and candlelit tables for canoodling, but McBride’s light, fresh flavors and excellent jams and pickles scream to be admired during daylight hours at brunch or lunch. Regardless, there’s also a big wood bar where you can sip a quince-spiked gin and tonic and other house-infused elixirs. The shareable menu veers from creamy soups and salads to cannelloni and grilled cheese, but she’s almost always serving something involving pig—for better or worse. Start and end your meal with things in jars. A double handful of restaurants in town are making their own great pickles, and 2nd Story is one of them: tart golden beets and curry-laced cauliflower florets, punchy string beans and sweet zucchini bread ‘n’ butters served in a squat glass jar big enough to give two diners pucker face. Later, order the silky caramel pudding for dessert, again served in one of those jars. And again, you can share it—but your faces will be all smiles this time. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Soup, pickles, quinoa, steak, pudding.

Best deal: Half bottle of local wine ($11-$20).

5 pm-close Wednesday-Saturday. $$.

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Bar Avignon

2138 SE Division St., 517-0808, baravignon.com

[GLASS HOUSE] The cornerstone of this convivial Southeast Division Street corner boîte is a sharp list of Northwest, French and Spanish wines. But those bottles, and two dozen excellent by-the-glass options, are just one of the charms of this boisterously romantic spot. Try sharing a big bowl of plump mussels in creamy wine sauce and a tiny plate of tender octopus paired with green goddess dressing in a raised booth, or nibbling a trio of international cheeses and a flight of rieslings while perched elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors at the long bar that takes up much of the wee, dimly lit dining room. There’s not a lot of bargains to be found here, but the quality of the wine and the short menu of seasonal Northwest/Euro eats are worth the price tags. The staff is game to answer any and all vino questions, but after you’ve got a glass under your belt, transition to one of the bar’s wickedly well-balanced booze concoctions like a Cherry Heering-laced Blood and  Sand. KELLY CLARKE.

Ideal meal: Share rosemary-paprika hazelnuts, Spanish octopus salad and a bottle of whatever co-owner Randy Goodman tells you to drink.

Best deal: Those tarragon-spiked mussels are only $7 and the red, white or pink “wine of the day” is $5 during weekday happy hour (5-6 pm Monday-Friday).

5 pm- “close” daily. $$.

The Bent Brick

1639 NW Marshall St., 688-1655, thebentbrick.com.

[DRINKING FOOD] This casual, airy Slabtown offshoot of Park Kitchen, Scott Dolich’s endlessly pleasing restaurant at the edge of the Pearl, combines practical considerations with lofty ambitions. As an excellent, affordable cocktail and wine bar in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, it hosts chatty post-work crowds for snacks and a drink or two, but Dolich and executive chef Will Preisch are pursuing new extremes of the regionalist culinary philosophy pioneered up the street, at Paley’s Place. You’ll find no imported spirits at the bar, and almost no bottles on the wine list—nearly all of Bent Brick’s Oregon and Washington vintages are served from taps, straight from the barrel. Preisch’s menu, at its best, offers inspired collisions of fast and slow  food: Padrón peppers, which have their own AOC in Spain, are stuffed with cheese, breaded and deep-fried. The salade aux lardons comes with fried pickles and “deviled egg sauce.” Country ham is accented by powdered Frank’s hot sauce; fried chicken livers are served on waffles, with a smear of liver pâté and a sprinkling of gooseberries. Can’t choose? For $55, Preisch will serve you every one of the 19 dishes on the menu. If that sounds like too much food (it is), just get the tender poached mussels and a glass of Eyrie Pinot Blanc. BEN WATERHOUSE.

Ideal meal: Eat the whole menu. Whatever plans you had can wait.

Best deal: For $30, you get three items from the “small” section of the menu. (They aren’t small, trust me.) The only catch is, you don’t get to choose which ones.

5-9:30 pm daily. $$-$$$.

Evoe

3731 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-1010, pastaworks.com/evoe.

[A FINE PICKLE] You might think Evoe is named after extra-virgin olive oil, but its namesake is rather a singing cry to the wine god Bacchus in Virgil’s Aeneid. This makes much more sense, because it’s not oil but rather ferment and vinegar that give this little restaurant attached to Pastaworks its true flavor—from a small, well-balanced wine list to a vast array of briny pickle jars that could be used as set pieces in a film about science gone mad. Conceived as a testing ground for the wares found at its upscale grocer host, Kevin Gibson’s Evoe is a casually reverent shrine to its own ingredients. Each $9 sandwich is a four-corners blend of starchy, savory, sweet and acidic, from the sardines, pâté mousse and pickled fennel of their gallego sandwich to their nutty, sweet Maréchal grilled-cheese sandwich spiked with Dijon and shallots. Evoe’s pickle plate should adorn every meal. Its bright acidity, bold spicing and outright variety—from mustardy cucumber to tart okra, pungent gooseberries and sweet peppers—could shame all by itself the citywide pickle throwdown hosted by Kenny & Zuke’s each year. A recent purslane, peach and speck salad was successful as well, bonded in its bitter, sweet and salt by a light vinaigrette. And while the ingredients do most of the talking, if you get the chefs going on a lazy afternoon, they’ll tell their own stories. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Ideal meal: A pickle plate, a gallego or hearty muffaletta sandwich, and a glass of wine are always available. But you’re best off if you show up early enough to chat up the chefs and see what’s good that day on the highly protean menu.

Best deal: Any of the classic sandwiches are $9 and satisfying—especially the meaty muffaletta stacked with spicy tapenade.

Noon-7 pm Wednesday-Sunday. $-$$.

Navarre

10 NE 28th Ave., 232-3555, navarreportland.blogspot.com.

[STUFFED DATES] You’re young and a bit broke, but you’ve got a special lady or fella to impress. You’re going to go to Navarre—because it’s cool, intimate and affordable, and there are candles—and this is how you’re going to do it: Go early in the week—service at this Mediterranean-meets-PNW small-plates joint is friendly but casual, and suffers during peak traffic. “I know a great little place where there’s no line,” you can say smoothly as you cycle down Burnside. Order five-to-six small plates (ranging from $4 to $10 each) from the check-box menu between the two of you. If you’re particularly broke or hungry, make one of those dishes the generous $1 Ken’s bread plate. Splurge on something meaty, like the leg of lamb or the parchment paper-wrapped trout, then fight your instincts and go for the weirdest-sounding vegetable-focused items from the specials list. Navarre is at its best when taking simple seasonal produce and presenting it in unlikely ways. A beet, peach and mint salad on my last visit had us fork-dueling for the last bite, while a potato gratin sat forgotten. Besides, casually ordering garlic scapes and nettles will make you look learned and adventurous—“maybe in bed, too?” your paramour will wonder. You must order wine, so take advantage of the one-third bottle option, and pour judiciously. Spend your final pennies (well, $6) on a slice of pie to share, and you, my friend, are getting laid tonight. You’re welcome. RUTH BROWN.

Ideal meal: Whatever sounds kooky on the specials menu.

Best deal: For $32 per person, the kitchen will decide your whole meal for you. 

4:30-10:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30-11:30 pm Friday, 9:30 am-11:30 pm Saturday, 9:30 am-10:30 pm Sunday. $$-$$$.
  

Olympic Provisions

1632 NW Thurman St., 894-8136, olympicprovisions.com/northwest.

[SAUSAGEFEST] The Olympic Provisions in Northwest is a small salumeria-turned-cafe tucked away at the north end of Slabtown. The white-tiled walls and wooden counters and tabletops exude a sense of old-time simplicity. You can feel the heat of the rotisserie chicken in front of you while sitting at the bar, and the chefs will take time to talk charcuterie with you. This place feels like the neighborhood butcher shop—albeit cleaner—that’s always been there. Of course, the Northwest Olympic Provisions has only been open for a year. It differs from the original Southeast location by being more Italian-focused. But let’s be frank: You came here for the salami. The dance of fennel and pepper on your taste buds with each bite of finocchiona, the zest and cumin of loukanika, and the wonderful array of Spanish chorizos that line the counters. The lament of a saucissonhead like me is the inexplicable dearth of salami in the chef’s-choice charcuterie plate, which consists of the salami of the month and four other standbys. The pork rillettes is nice and salty. I’m glad they found a way to make bologna palatable. But I just want more sausage. JOHN LOCANTHI.

Ideal meal: Charcuterie: finocchiona, loukanika, chorizo Navarre, chorizo Rioja; pecorino and crostini.

Best deal: Happy-hour charcuterie with three meats and a micro pint for $9.

11 am-3 pm Monday, 11 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, 3-10 pm Saturday, brunch 10 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$-$$$.


Toro Bravo

120 NE Russell St., 281-4464, torobravopdx.com.

The elegant chiaroscuro lighting in this North Portland alcove is reflected in the small plates served up by John Gorham, dense and dark with Spanish sauces and creams. From the complimentary saucer of seasoned pumpkin seeds that opens each meal to an espresso-doused twin scoop of almond ice cream that might give you the energy to get up from the table, every dish feels laden with duende: that rich Catalan sadness that makes you want to cry out in agonized pleasure. Since Portland doesn’t make high art—the children of loggers, we prefer our aesthetic experiences to be consumed—consider this our intimate theater. That said, Toro is not above reproach. Too many items rely on mayonnaise of one flavor or another, often greasily overwhelming other ingredients. But try anything with tomatoes: the green tomato-rubbed bread, the meatballs, and most especially the braised green beans. Try the coppa steak, because you never knew that a cut of meat so longed for olives. Try a bowl of hand-cut noodles with whatever Gorham feels like pairing them. Try to get your party to order fewer than 10 tapas—but you’ll fail, because nowhere else does excess come with such dignity. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Tomato-rubbed bread, Padrón peppers, green beans, noodles, Coppa steak, ad infinitum. 

Best deal: The $30 chef’s tasting menu has actually gone up in price by one Abe Lincoln, but it’s still a bargain tour. 

5-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 pm Friday-Saturday. $$-$$$.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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