Most of us don't seek out lines. We just don't want to wait. Hell, apps like LineAngel and TaskRabbit allow you to pay someone to queue up at pretty much any destination that's regularly clogged with bodies—from the DMV to the Apple Store. On occasion, though, I will look for a line. Going out of my way to take a number becomes a point of pride—proof I earned the reward at the end of one of those processions that shuffle along more slowly than a funeral dirge.
Eight years ago, standing in one of those rows of would-be customers sparked my serious interest in barbecue. Thick with people hungry for Sunday lunch, the line at Pappy's Smokehouse in midtown St. Louis rippled through the dining hall like a marbled ribbon of fat in a brisket. And that was only half of my journey to sample some of the legendary meat. The bus I planned on hopping didn't operate on weekends, so the 45-minute walk to get there took me through some rough blocks dotted with abandoned brick factories and crumbling bars.
Inside, there was a mouthwatering spectacle to keep me motivated while in idle: dozens of diners tucking into trays piled high with dry-rubbed ribs, hot links and turkey breast. I eventually reached the counter and ordered my own meal: a pulled-pork sandwich, vinegar-heavy coleslaw and potato salad.
For once, smoke didn't obscure. It provided clarity. The tender shreds of meat were eye-openingly flavorful, and I soon learned I wasn't the only one discovering the sanctity of cuts cooked low and slow. Though I was hunkered down near the Mississippi River at the time, good barbecue was on Portland's radar, too. Just months after my 2011 visit to Pappy's, this publication named Podnah's Pit its Restaurant of the Year.
Now, nearly a decade later, local purveyors of smoked protein in this city have only gotten better, which is why two of the three restaurants featured in this guide clearly know their way around a pit.
Our Chef of the Year has been featured in these pages before, when he helmed the kitchen at Imperial (2015's Restaurant of the Year). After construction delays and years of waiting, Doug Adams is back with his very own project, Bullard. The Texas native has bucked the swagger of his youth in favor of a leadership role that is downright nurturing in its approach—though the meat is still as bold as ever.
Barbecue is an integral component of our Supergroup of the Year, Eem, but it's not necessarily the star. That's because Matt Vicedomini's meats, which have propelled a couple of food carts to citywide—and now even national—prominence, share top billing with Earl Ninsom's Thai flavors as well as a bar program by Eric Nelson, whose roaming booze-fueled pirate bash Shipwreck has been a hit. It's a joining of forces that can't help but inspire comparisons to the '60s Cream team of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and so far Eem's culinary compositions have generated rock-star buzz.
Once again this fall, we are introducing a Newcomer of the Year. Thomas and Mariah Pisha-Duffly are the husband-and-wife team behind the pop-up turned brick-and-mortar, Gado Gado. The name itself, loosely translated as "mix mix," is a hint at what to expect: dishes that hop the borders of multiple Southeast Asian countries while keeping one foot planted in Indonesia.
Since I started serving as editor of this guide last year, I'm often asked for restaurant recommendations by friends and strangers alike—but their questions are more specific than I would have expected. Usually, there's a particular type of food in mind: Where's the best pizza? Who's making the best wings? What breweries have not only good beer but also great food?
Those queries resulted in the reorganization of our listings of restaurants, food carts, bars and, this year, markets. So if you're in the mood for burgers one night and dumplings another, you know exactly which page to flip to for assistance.
Finally, this issue of Willamette Week's Guide to Food + Drink brings you rankings of some of Portland's quirkier foodstuffs—sides, snacks and indulgences you might not expect to find in a compendium of eateries that includes white tablecloth establishments and wine bars. Which is why we made room for them. The lists will point you to everything from the city's top sushi delivered via conveyor belt to dishes that contain Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
I still keep an eye out for lines. Chances are good they'll lead to something delicious. And when that food is also authentic and representative of a particular time and place, you realize that it was worth the wait after all.