525 SW Morrison St., 802-5370, departureportland.com.
Departure comes with baggage. Located on the 15th floor of the swank Nines hotel downtown, sometimes that’s literal. A recent visit included one tourist who sat with his wheeled luggage. But proto-celebuchef Gregory Gourdet is able to take off from simple crowd-pleasing dishes to offerings that would be at home at any of the city’s most avant-garde restaurants. Grilled octopus with curried watermelon, avocado and crispy sausage is a revelation ($15), with lobster-soft octopus playing perfectly with the slightly sweet and well-spiced melon. A skirt steak with crispy elephant garlic slid right off its bamboo skewer and into my belly. Crispy pork belly with pickled cherries, ginger and pumpkin seeds ($12) is super rich, so add a plate of deconstructed Brussels sprouts with chili, lime and mint to cut it. Some dishes are total misses: the $16 big-eye tuna poke drowned in chili oil and ponzu could have just as easily been tofu. But it’s a small-plate format, so a bad order doesn’t doom a diner. Departure also gives a nod to townies with separate vegan and gluten-free menus. The décor—mostly white and retro-futuristic—is a welcome, ahem, departure from the Pendleton aesthetic favored in most Portland joints. And the view—both of the fairly bro-ish clientele, Pioneer Courthouse Square and the West Hills below—truly takes off. It’s the perfect spot to grab a few early bites with a cocktail after work, or sneak a sexy post-concert meal. ANDREA DAMEWOOD.
Pro Tip: If you’re going for the food and not the club crowd, make a reservation for a weeknight before 8 pm.
Dinner nightly, lunch weekends. $$$.
1408 SW 6th Ave., 484-1099, nelcentro.com.
Let’s just get this out of the way now—even though it’s helmed by vaunted local chef David Machado (Vindalho, Lauro Kitchen), Nel Centro is a hotel restaurant. It’s seamlessly integrated into the base of the Hotel Modera, and very much follows the Modera aesthetic: all polished concrete, open spaces and pop-mod touches. This—paired with a menu of competent versions of French and Italian crowd-pleasers (gnudi, wood-fired pizzas, duck leg confit)—has become a magnet for downtown power-lunchers and -players since the restaurant’s 2009 opening. They come in droves for lunch and in mobs for happy hour, munching fried calamari under jewel-toned globe lights, discussing mergers and acquisitions and everything else you’d expect from middle-aged men still wearing their Dolce & Gabbana button-ups. Order a bottle of Ferrando Canavese Bianco Castello di Loranzé ($48, it goes with pretty much anything on the menu) and a plate of pappardelle with wild boar ragu ($19) and enjoy the show. KAT MERCK.
Pro Tip: Nel Centro takes reservations for lunch and dinner. If it’s a nice day, make them so you can be assured a space on the enormous patio.
Breakfast Monday-Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Sunday, dinner nightly. $$-$$$.
410 SW Broadway, 228-7222, imperialpdx.com.
You won’t wonder who owns Imperial, the Northwest bistro that took over the ground floor in the stylish Hotel Lucia last fall. The name of chef Vitaly Paley, who has run Paley’s Place in the Alphabet District since 1995, is stamped all over the restaurant, down to the napkin bands. The kitchen, however, is the domain of protégé Ben Bettinger, formerly of Beaker & Flask, who uses a large wood-fired grill to prepare fancified comfort food for diners ensconced in padded chairs in Imperial’s cocoon of warm French oak. The menu, which has been dumbed down a bit since the restaurant opened, ostensibly tracks the evolution of Oregon food—Paley actually used the local historical society for research—all the way from raw oysters and rotisserie clams up through the lunch menu’s “fancy grilled cheese and tomato soup combo” ($10). Many entrees arrive on a log slab. A wood-fired grill faces out, bathing diners with campfire warmth felt through the eyes, if not on the skin. Tag-team service is gracious if also a little flighty. We’ve had the best experiences with seasonal salads and large pieces of grilled meat. If you’re looking for a low-key breakfast downtown, Imperial makes a mean stack of flapjacks topped with berries ($9). MARTIN CIZMAR.
Pro Tip: A burger is $6 during happy hour until 6 pm. Be careful with the beers, though—a pint of Rainier is $5.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$$.
1014 SW Stark St., 228-3333, clydecommon.com.
In 2011, Clyde Common was declared one of the world’s best hotel bars by a conglomerate of bartending industry professionals, an honor akin to being singled out as the world’s best dentist-office waiting room. After six years in business, Clyde Common is a New Portland institution unto itself, to the point that most of us forget it’s even attached to the Ace Hotel. Formerly the site of the much grungier Ben Stark, the airy wood-and-glass enclosure opened in 2007, serving mixologist-baiting cocktails and an ever-shifting menu of upscale European fare. It has since landed in national magazines and helped usher in the downtown-as-tourist-destination era. All that would seem to add up to a place locals would feel conflicted about, but Clyde Common is hard to dismiss as bourgeoisie, particularly at happy hour, when those fancy drinks (try the lavender-accented B.M.O.C.) are $5, and at dinner, which frequently rotates but stays exceptional. On a recent visit, the highlights were crispy-skinned salmon, served on subtly sweet black rice, and an appetizer of scallops and Spanish pasta served in squid-ink vinaigrette so dark it looks like you’re eating the Alien. My dining companion called it “mature macaroni.” MATTHEW SINGER.
Pro Tip: At happy hour, a top-notch burger with french fries—augmented with harissa chili sauce and creme fraiche—will set you back a measly $9.
Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Friday and all day Saturday, brunch Sunday. $$-$$$.