Lauro Kitchen nabbed Bite Club's vote for WW's Restaurant of the Year by virtue of its super-relaxed neighborhood vibe and those preserved lemons chef David Machado tosses into his authentic Moroccan tagine of chicken. But there are other new to-die-for restaurants that deserve your patronage--if not your abject worship--for their own innovative dishes and individualistic flair. Call 'em Portland's culinary wild bunch. In case you're feeling a bit behind the gastro-buzz curve, we've concocted a cheat sheet to make you sound like a clever cookie when you're picking out a restaurant. It'll be our little secret.
Andina (1314 NW Glisan St., 228-9535)
The Skinny: Back when this South American import landed in the Pearl District, we were turned off by its humdrum Peruvian pot roast-style dishes. But over the past year, Andina has spiced up its game and racked up some national-magazine clips by concentrating chef Emmanuel Piqueras Villaran's Liman flair into zingy seafood marinades and eye-popping presentations.
Neighbors: Cargo, Pearl condo dwellers, Little Wing Cafe.
Calling Card: Festive yellow, blue and rust-colored napkins, a dynamite Latin bar band.
Bring: Flats or kitten-heeled shoes--you'll be wobblin' out the door after two cups of Xocoatl, Andina's dangerous concoction of hazelnut-espresso vodka and peppery dark chocolate.
Nuestra Cocina (2135 SE Division St., 232-2135)
The Skinny: At this muy refined house of Mexican food, lavish renditions of chef Ben Gonzales' childhood favorites make even taco-cart diehards perk up, sit down and dig in.
Neighbors: Division Street's New Seasons Market, urban hippies, Fuego cart commissary kitchen.
Calling Card: Inviting courtyard lights outside, earthy tilework inside, plus those zesty dishes--welcome to a neighborhood fiesta.
Bring: Your own tortilla chips. Nuestra's come with a price tag.
Eleni's Philoxenia (112 NW 9th Ave., 227-2158)
The Skinny: Owner Eleni Touhouliotis doubled her fan base when she created this stylish sister restaurant for her Sellwood-by-way-of-Crete gem Eleni's Estiatorio.
Neighbors: Mark Woolley Gallery, Fuller's Coffee Shop, money.
Calling Card: Upscale Greek fare sans the Zorba clichés.
Bring: A blank slate. Comparisons with the former resident of Philoxenia's Pearl District digs, Cafe Azul, will get you nowhere.
Password(s): Pan-fried calamari.
Basilico (500 NW 21st Ave., 223-2772)
The Skinny: Owners/Italian expats Luca Viola and Sharon De Mayo will save you a bundle on airfare. That's because chef Paul Ornstein's interpretations of Roman cucina della casa (from delicate soups to flash-fried revelations) are like takin' a European vacation one bite at a time.
Neighbors: Blue Moon Tavern, Trader Joe's Supermarket, the ghost of Zefiro.
Calling Card: Crisp-fabulous Sardinian flatbread.
Bring: Fodor's Rome.
Password(s): "Salt me, fry me, olive oil me, baby."
Ciao Vito (2203 NE Alberta St., 282-5522)
The Skinny: Locals cried foul when they caught wind of chef Vito DiLullo's plan to plant a classy, pricey pasta haven atop Chez What's laid-back bones. But since Ciao Vito opened, we haven't heard a peep outta the Alberta Streeters--all their mouths are full.
Neighbors: Disenfranchised arty kids, La Sirenita, La Bonita.
Calling Card: Fresh pasta and a bomb-ass happy-hour menu.
Bring: Your checkbook.
Password(s): Arrivederci, Caffe Mingo.
clarklewis (1001 SE Water Ave., 235-2294)
The Skinny: Bite Club is still smartin' over the fact that ripe's Michael and Naomi Hebberoy, in cahoots with chef Morgan Brownlow, let everybody in on the secret that the Eastside Industrial District is, like, the coolest place to hang out in Portland. Still, with rustic dishes created from local bounty and that dynamite new bar, who can complain for long?
Neighbors: Water Street Dance Project, Lippman Company Party Supply, hype.
Calling Card: Orange T-shirts on the kitchen staff.
Bring: Earplugs and trend-chaser repellent. On a Friday night, you'll need both.
Password(s): "Fresh from the Portland Farmers Market."
At a recent press lunch, Bite Club's editor must have been distracted by chef Rolland Wesen's duck-and-endive salad, with the intoxicating smoky taste of his signature pomegranate-molasses vinaigrette. What other excuse can she claim for misquoting the Rivers chef? His wife, Claudine, isn't a chef, Wesen clarifies, although she has years of experience playing the No. 2 role in food demonstrations, thanks to working with her father, France's culinary monarch, Jacques Pépin. Wesen and other local chefs will be cooking up an epic five-course feast for the Oregon Food Bank's "Red Haute Blues." Saturday's spendy gala is sold out, but check OFB's website (www.oregonfoodbank.org) for more ways to help the hungry.
For the ultimate dishy experience, check out
's special pullout
in this issue!