Perhaps surprisingly given that it's just an hour or so from the Pacific, Portland isn't really a a seafood city.
We don't have a long history of plank-roasted trout—we're Porklandia.
And yet, there are several elite seafood spots in the city. Here are our favorites.
Where to begin at this delightful surprise of a Cajun-creole bistro tucked into a row of faux-Tudor bars on Fremont? Start with the crab—a Louisiana blue soft-shell crab ($14), lightly battered whole with its eight legs akimbo, ready to pick and pull into a bed of cotija cream and pico de gallo made from green tomatoes. It's the single best dish I've had this year, and epitomizes Acadia's strengths: meats and seafoods prepared with bright sauces and a cloudburst of vegetables, like plated van Gogh paintings. Most Cajun joints rely on their jambalayas and gumbo, but while these staples are more than serviceable here—with a dark, spicy stock and plenty of Gulf shrimp—new head chef Seamus Foran successfully aims to create hallmark dishes that aren't on other Portland menus. An almond-crusted sea bream ($26) comes garlanded like a bride, with floral sprigs, corn and more of that blue crab. Hush puppies are stacked like batting-practice baseballs above a marmalade fragrant with orange peel. The hanger steak is larceny at $30—a cut of meat this tender, swimming in a red wine reduction, buoyed by Anna potatoes and local chanterelles, barely seems possible at its price. It's a blissful dream.
What happened to dinner at Broder Nord? You didn't really love it. But we loved it very much, and it's back—sort of—at a cheery, domestic, fish-happy restaurant called Jacqueline in the former St. Jack space.
At a new restaurant named after a fictional submarine piloted by secular saint Bill Murray, whose somber visage graces the wall behind the bar, former Nord chef Derek Hanson's Jacqueline feels familiar, especially the whole chicken slow-roasted in tarragon vinegar brine ($21) and served atop toasted bread soaked in drippings. It's impossibly moist, even the white meat. Other dishes, like a subtle smoked sablefish with pickled garlic scapes ($10) and a chanterelle and oyster mushroom frisee dish ($13), smack of Scandinavian restraint.
But Jacqueline also clocks in with a knockout cioppino ($23)—the spicy, tomato-based Italian seafood stew native to the West Coast. The dish has already achieved a note-perfect rendition, stuffed with crab claws, clams, mussels, smoked oysters and beautiful herbal depth.
Elsewhere, the menu looks east, channeling Momofuku and the already-missed Smallwares with charred Brussels sprouts soaked in a mint basil fish sauce ($10), and throws a bacon dashi alongside maitakes onto its seared scallops.
The cocktail menu keeps it simple and classic with old-school gems like a boulevardier and the Corpse Reviver #2 (all $9) while beer, wine and vermouth come in a small but carefully curated assortment, including Priorat vermut that also graces a blackberry sorbet. Like Bill Murray himself, it is all sweetness and tobacco.
The stately, plump mussels at La Moule best all comers—particularly a simple garlic-butter-chili Mariniere ($16) whose depth rivals the sea it was hauled from. But the menu has broadened of late, and so your shells may include a buttered lobster BLT ($37)—with, yes, bacon, lettuce and tomato—a geoduck clam crudo mixing mint with ginger and basil, and even a recent nacho plate served with bay scallops, shrimp and shellfish Mornay. There's steak-and-burger turf with all that surf, sure, and those great pork rinds from sister restaurant St. Jack. But like a pirate, La Moule's true love is the sea.
Dim, sepia-toned steakhouse El Gaucho remains a stirringly foreign experience below the Benson Hotel—a place where meticulously coiffed and tuxedo-vested servers make tableside Caesar salad ($14) for elegant arts patrons and West Hills scions with Kardashian hair. Flamenco plays nightly (including Beatles medleys), and a brigade of cooks sears aged steaks to perfection in a kitchen lit like a theater. For the big spender, a $74 filet mignon and lobster surf and turf is available topped with a note-perfect béarnaise. But the plebs can get that same beautiful sauce on Angus steak frites during happy hour for $18.
Chef Jose Luis de Cossio quite simply makes the best ceviche that Portland has ever seen, soaking his limes for hours and tasting each one individually before using it in the citrus-cured fish that is the pride of Peru, his home country.
In a humble, half-hidden restaurant huddled between Barbur Boulevard and the river, de Cossio makes some of the most extraordinary food in Portland—including multiple versions of ceviche each day ($28-$30), each with its own creamy leche de tigre, a bright sauce imbued with the essence of Peruvian peppers.
De Cossio was executive chef of perhaps the most famous cebichería in Peru—Gastón Acurio's La Mar in Lima—before the Pearl District Peruvian castle Andina lured him to Portland. But at his own Paiche, he's allowed to make the ingredients truly sing.
His leche de tigre is luxuriantly dense to the point of creamy, never overacidic despite an explosive burst of lime flavor, balanced against the sharp bitterness of onion and airy texture of cancha, a delicate toasted corn. Meanwhile, an octopus saltado boomed out its savory depths—a refined take on the food of countless street stalls—and de Cossio shares Peru's devotion to the potato as well, with causas that have ascended to full-plate symphonies of fruit and spicy yellow Peruvian huancaina sauce, with a bass note of hand-emulsified, starch-rich potato enriched with oil.
De Cossio will tell you he only can do two things well: surf and make the food he grew up with. Judging from how he cooks, he must be one hell of a surfer.
Poke Mon may be one of the city's most on-trend spots, with its name, it's six flavors of La Croix in its case, and the dozens of mint-colored succulents decorated the Hawthorne Boulevard restaurants. But Chef Colin Yoshimoto, who grew up eating poke on Oahu, and has worked at some of the best sushi spots in the city, first at Nob Hill's now-closed Hiroshi and then alongside chef Ryan Roadhouse at high-end Japanese pop-up Nodoguro, wants to make people from Hawaii feel nostalgic. You can get meaty chunks of salmon and albacore, but also on the grapefruit, cucumber, red onion and avocado in Poke Mon's six signature bowls. The bowls are splattered with Japanese-inspired sauces, like the garlic ponzu sauce, a citrus shoyu infused with roasted garlic that stains both the pink salmon and grapefruit chunks in the garlic salmon poke with a deliciously salty flavor. Combined with the restaurant's selection of 20 sakes and the high-quality fish chunks, you feel like you're in a very good Japanese restaurant—but only spending about $10 a bowl.
Southpark has become, again, a restaurant to care about in Portland. The old-school paella is gone, replaced by a modern small-plates menu that recently included a pistachio-brittle beet salad ($8) and an octopus, melon and blood sausage dish ($15) that were both ambitious and frankly terrific. On the new, elbowed oyster bar up top—where chefs steam over from the kitchen to angrily grab whole crabs by the claws—there's a 20-foot seafood counter display with 13 kinds of oyster even in July (half-dozens are a hefty $18), including varietals from New Zealand and Canada. Refugees from New England will behold a treat rare on the West Coast: briny half-shell clams the size of a child's fist.
Olympia Oyster Bar
After a tendentious start and a chef change, Maylin Chavez's Olympia has figured out how to make itself indispensable to the neighborhood, with a chilaquiles and shakshouka brunch on weekends and a premium oyster happy hour that rivals any in Portland before 6:30 pm every weekday but Monday. That's in addition to earth-shattering $9 half-dozens on Tuesdays and $2.50-a-shell happy-hour prices on its more adventurous oyster constructions involving yuzu and phyllo strands.
At Tapalaya, you can get solid versions of all the old classics, but the most interesting plates stem from New Orleans-raised chef Anh Luu's Viet-Cajun upbringing. These include a terrific lemongrass-pesto blackened catfish small plate ($8) made with Luu's own personal take on blackening seasoning, grits with pork belly doused in pho ($11), crawfish that take lemongrass in the boil, and excellent happy-hour wings that get the Vietnamese fish-sauce treatment.
EaT: An Oyster Bar
Cajun sister the Parish in the Pearl is gone—but EaT is still serving farm-fresh oysters in countless forms, including alcoholic shooters with chili-infused heat that lingers, baked oysters with a touch of absinthe flavor, and an oyster po'boy with comeback sauce that tickles the palate with pickling, not to mention plenty of catfish. But the owners have indicated they expect the place to change a bit over the coming months as they double down on the place—with reformulated cocktail menus and happy hours.
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