The Woodsman Tavern's roasted trout in crazy water is crazy—like a fox. Chef Jason Barwikowski has created a trifecta of salty, savory and acidic that makes me want each bite more than the one I've had before. I've been there twice in 2012, paycheck and pants size be damned, and both times it's been a revelation. The trout, though bone in, is easy to consume—right down to the tiny cheeks and other odd spots pried out when I still wanted more. The sun-dried tomatoes cut the sweetness of the trout, and the crazy water broth is best soaked up with bread or, if you're as crazy for this dish as I am, tilted directly from bowl into mouth. No shame. ANDREA DAMEWOOD.
XO sauce—aka "caviar of the east"—is a self-consciously decadent Hong Kong sauce featuring scallop, shrimp and sometimes ham: It's a smoky smack to the umami centers. I discovered it via Tanuki's Kani XO dish, which combines the scallopy sauce with sesame oil, ginger, scallions, shoyu and lime to create the most addictive substance known to man—somewhat ahead of heroin and nicotine—which chef Janis Martin then uses to dose a pair of tender crab claws. I never had a chance. MATTHEW KORFHAGE
Portland may be a paradise for vegetarians compared to most of the country, but you still often feel like you're being served the same meals over and over again. This was apparently the year of the farro rissotto, and I'll be very happy if another spoonful never passes my lips again. So my 2012 picks go to two dishes I expected to bore the tits off me, but ended up being the highlights of the meals. First was a beet salad at the ever-reliable wine and small plates joint Navarre. The simple plate of beet, peach and mint I was served on a balmy summer evening was a welcome reprieve, the juicy chunks of fruit and flecks of fresh herb highlighting the beetroot at its sweet and savory best. Second was tempura green beans at WW's 2012 Restaurant of the Year, Aviary. The beans themselves come fried with just enough tempura batter to keep them crispy but not so much as to disguise the identity of the vegetable inside—but it's the accompanying spicy green curry sauce that has you scraping the plate clean. RUTH BROWN.
Nothing quite matches the neo-rustic, wood-oven-cooked dishes at Ned Ludd for that ultimate Portlandish dine-out encounter. And the best dish I've had at Ned Ludd this year is its pork "noodles" combined with bits of smoky pork hock. Those noodles aren't pasta, though. They're thin strips of pork skin. Slightly gelatinous, but if you didn't know better, you might not even notice. It's a splendid exhibition of nose-to-tail cooking. And eating it gives you that Portlandish post cibum glow. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
I'll admit it: At first, I wasn't very excited about Smallwares, the newish "inauthentic Asian" joint on Northwest Fremont Street. That simple menu—more or less an ingredient list—didn't tip me off about how crazy fun the food would be. But when the fried kale landed on my table, it was clear something exciting was going on. Deeply green leaves are coated in rice batter and lightly fried then covered with smoky candied bacon and a light dressing of bright mint and fish sauce. As I said at the time, it's culinary wizardry. I couldn't figure how one tiny plate could smoothly juggle five huge flavors then, and I can't now. MARTIN CIZMAR.
The cat has long been out of the bag on Laurelhurst Market. Those perfectly prepared steaks, the roasted marrowbone that launched a Gangnam Style-style drinking craze called bone luging, and that Smoke Signals cocktail, which I request a doggie bag for, taking home the unmelted portion of the smoked ice cube. But one late October night, accompanying my steak were a pair of "marrow coins"—gluttony-laced hedonism wherein a dollop of majestic marrow was deep-fried resembling a latke, hold the tuber. BRIAN YAEGER.
Much on the menu of Aviary could be listed here (crispy pig ear, anyone?), but it was the charred octopus that most delighted my taste buds in 2012. Served on fat scallion pancakes with slightly sweet green papaya, delicate long beans and crunchy cashews, the dish is a wonder of both texture and taste. I shared it with my parents, and they, ever generous, allowed me to devour the last, tender coil. REBECCA JACOBSON.
It's big. It's greasy. It falls apart with one bite, splattering globs of meat, onions, beans, cheese and ranchero sauce on the tray below. In other words, La Sirenita's Special Burrito is everything a burrito should be. And it costs less than $6. Best thing I ate this year? I live down the street from the restaurant and make a journalist's wage. It's the only thing I ate this year. MATTHEW SINGER.