Every real city deserves a Higgins, the sort of restaurant that could only be downtown—somewhere between the theater and the courthouse—and anyone in the bar could be a notable figure in the community: a lawyer, a reporter or the mayor. That Portland is home to such an institution, which has thrived for more than two decades, with bar and dining room busy from open to close, is a testament to the city's sophistication as a restaurant town.
The servers at Higgins know what you should order, and if you sit in the dark, leather-elbow-patched jacket of a bar, they'll tell you—the waitstaff is altogether more uptight in the more formal dining room, resplendent in white tablecloths and Portland power suits. On a given visit, that menu recommendation might be a fresh plate of heirloom tomato salad with burrata, basil, good balsamic and roasted garlic ($18.50), or prosciutto di Parma with Charentais melon topped with fancy olive oil and sherry vinegar ($18.50). You have to get the charcuterie board ($21), featuring a deep bench of some dozen-odd of the restaurant's famed house-cured meats, plus pickles and crackers.
The bartender will insist on a side of bread ($2 per person), defining its necessity as "a moral issue." You might get a glass of wine—local bubbly Argyle Brut 2014 is $15 a glass—but what you really want is beer from the restaurant's much-loved rare and vintage bottle offerings or from the ever-changing and rightly revered chalkboard tap list, which might include kegs from breweries like Crooked Stave, North Coast and Firestone Walker.
Have we had it too good for too long? If Higgins had opened in 2018, diners would be naked in the streets raving about it. Instead we've got a restaurant that's pleasantly dug into the Portland dining scene—if it's been a moment since you've been, you simply have to go.
Pro tip: No foolies, the staff here is deeply knowledgeable about chef Greg Higgins' ever-changing expression of seasonal Pacific Northwest food. Ask for recommendations. If the server seems tight-lipped, wander over to the bar and ask there—you won't be led wrong.