1239 SW Broadway, 222-9070, higginsportland.com.
Every two years, computers double in power while dropping in cost. The
restaurant world’s evolution isn’t quite so speedy, but it gets there.
The best restaurant in Portland when it opened in 1994, Greg Higgins’
locavore landmark is today far better as a place to discuss the history
of Portland food over $12 burgers and $6 pints of Blue Dot than as
somewhere you should send Mr. Franklin for a special meal. Higgins’
downtown dining room set the blueprint for much of what is right with
Northwest fare, but you can now get a better meal at the brand-new Old
Salt for about half the price. Compare Higgins’ whole pig plate
($29.75), which has a big and juicy slice of pork loin, a heavy chorizo
link, fat-dripping ribs and a belly atop a bed of classic barbecue-style
baked beans to Old Salt’s version, a grilled pork plate with loin,
ribs, cracklings and fresh green beans slathered in a mustard-seed
sauce. Old Salt’s $15 plate is not only tastier, it’s half the price.
What’s to like about Higgins: great location, professional but unstuffy
service, a warm and lively bar area, well-chosen wine and beer lists,
well-composed entrees, standard-setting charcuterie and generous
portions of seasonal salads. On the other hand, one of our specials, a
chinook salmon plate ($39) was a mess, served with a bright pink center
and no warmer than room temperature. Worse, it was washed in a
saccharine purple berry sauce. A rice pudding dessert was more like
soup, and an appetizer of roasted figs, cured pork shoulder, mild cheese
and an umbrella-sized radicchio leaf ($14.50) came out a confused
jumble of flavors and textures. Higgins has been one of our 100 or so
favorite restaurants for nearly 20 years. It remains so this year, but
not by much.
Ideal meal: If I went again, it’d be to drink a first-batch bottle of Hair of the Dog’s Adam ($75) with a burger.
Best deal: At lunch, you can get the chorizo as a sandwich with a cup of soup or a salad for only $10.
Pro tip: Higgins was an early supporter of craft beer, and has one of the best lists in town. As an earlier supporter of now-legendary Russian River, he’s one of the few allotted a keg of Pliny the Younger, a limited-release Triple IPA that draws lines around the block. Start putting out feelers in February and you just might skip that line.
11:30 am-midnight Monday-Friday, 4 pm-midnight Saturday-Sunday. $$$.