The Portland restaurant scene at the turn of the millennium is now, 16 years later, almost unrecognizable.
In the year 2000, Willamette Week's Restaurant of the Year served mac and cheese and an "overdone" meatloaf sandwich. At downtown's Mother's Bistro—which named a mother of the week—our critic dined next to a guy who ate his meal with a nice, tall glass of milk who reminded her of a time before we knew about "pinot-noir-infused marionberries."
Thank God, we now live in the post-pinot-noir-infused marionberry age.
This week, as we release our annual Restaurant Guide—look for it around town—we took a moment to ponder the future of Portland food.
Over the past 16 years, our food scene has ballooned from a meat-and-taters town punctuated by a few notables like Paley's, Higgins and Zefiro to a seedbed for out-of-town chefs who've moved here to make their names and careers. The Feast festival has made this city an annual junket for national magazine writers eager to gush about our quaint food paradise.
Well, Portland food is about to change again. And in this issue, we're looking at what the near future of food here might look like.
Portland is no longer a scrappy upstart with potential—and in part that means competition. Food carts long ago reached their saturation point, and with new construction rolling in, the pods are starting to close as often as they open. Restaurants were never a sure thing, but the market's as tight as its ever been, and with new labor laws, we may have to get used to even very good restaurants dying young.
To prepare you, we talked to two restaurateurs whose restaurants closed right after we named them among the 100 best in the city, and visited others seeking fresh territory on our uncharted northern frontier.
Growing up also means we are becoming a true global food city, with seemingly every Japanese ramen outlet choosing Portland as its American launching point. And Portland is returning the favor by expanding all over the globe.
Meanwhile, some enterprising fishermen are taking the same farm-to-fork philosophy that put Portland on the map in the first place and applying it to fish—and in the process of mapping out a sustainable future for seafood they might be helping turn our almost-coastal river town into the seafood capital it's never been but should be.
But if all goes wrong, and we're stuck in a dystopian food-scarce future—which, by the way, we always have been—you can always live on futuristic substances that put all your nutritional needs in a little bottle. We did, anyway. And we sort of liked it.
The future is always exciting and scary. Portland food will be no different. Here's your guide.