If Navarre were in Europe, it'd be that hole-in-the-wall restaurant you'd come home bragging you discovered, only to find it's a Rick Steves favorite. Though many Portland restaurants pride themselves on being farm-to-table, Navarre feels distinctly different. With bowls of tomatoes, along with pickling jars and dozens of bottles of wine lining the shelves, along with long, light wood, community tables and an exposed kitchen filled with gleaming copper pots and jars of desserts, you quickly get the sense that you're in your grandma's Italian kitchen. Except that your dinner is highly customizable, with a 50-deep wine list and a regular and seasonal menu laid out as checklists. You choose your plates, which come in small or large portions, ranging from $1 to $32. I'd recommend sticking to the small plates, ordering six or seven for three people. Then settle into the bread, a generous platter of delicious, charred cubes of sourdough that melt in your mouth without spreads, but made even better by a tiny carafe of grassy or fruity olive oil or a slab of French butter. The French cheese plate ($7-$18) comes on a wooden board with three big chunks that pair well with the salami plate ($7). Next, we ordered small plates of perfectly pink hanger steak ($11 small, $32 large) and chewy leg of lamb ($12, $30), along with crunchy braised greens ($6-$15)—which were among the best bites of the night. It's easy to spend casual hours at Navarre, not breaking the spell until you see dozens of empty plates sitting on your table.
Eat: Actually just get the $32 tasting menu…
Drink: …and the $18 wine pairings.
Most popular dish: The trout ($10, $30).
Noise level: 45/100
Expected wait: Navarre only takes reservations for six or more, but on a busy Friday night, you won't wait longer than 30 minutes. Luckily, you can grab a drink at Angel Face next door, which is also owned by Navarre owner John Taboada.
Who you'll eat with: In-laws, hip young couples with one baby, 25-year-old dudes in beanies sitting at the kitchen's counter, groups of girls wearing slightly different all-black outfits.
Year opened: 2002