Restaurant Guide 2013: Ox

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

[SOUTH AMERICAN STEAKS] Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is burning. The scent of fire still wafts from the embers of the Monroe Apartments—a five-story apartment building torched to the ground in an apparent August arson—and only grows stronger seven blocks south, at the most celebrated chunk of gentrification in this street's history. The secret weapon of Ox is its ventilation system, which bathes adjacent waiting room Whey Bar and the surrounding neighborhood in the smell of wood-fired meats. It's as if the stainless-steel, cuboid grill were a portal to a Cannon Beach bonfire. Yet nothing I tried on the Argentine-inflected menu quite matched this anticipation. The 16-ounce rib-eye, the house anchor at $38, exceeds any other Portland steak-house cut, but doesn't rival the revelatory beef presentations offered at Old Salt or Castagna. However, it's much, much bigger—and nearly triples in size if you spring for 36 ounces at $75. Brawny overkill is the dominant mode at Ox, whether it's the hulking pork loin chop ($22, in a smart maple brine) or the $13 sauteed mushrooms, which include foie gras in an already butter-soaked bowl. Everything exists to remind you of its largess, and the effect, while truly luscious, is also troublingly rich. AARON MESH.

Ideal meal: Clam chowder with smoked marrow ($13), the rib-eye, the mushrooms.

Best deal: The $5 empanadas, which bear no small resemblance to Whiffies Fried Pies.

Pro tip: The $5 ricotta next door at Whey Bar features the spectacular house chimichurri, and is my favorite item on the premises.

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

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