Best for: A refined taste of the Big Easy that goes beyond gumbo.
Acadia isn't exactly bringing Mardi Gras to Northeast Fremont—it's a subdued restaurant next door to a bunch of subdued bars, more conducive to an anniversary dinner than Hurricane-fueled bro-downs. But its Cajun-Creole fare tastes like New Orleans, or at least how you imagine New Orleans tastes. The most eye-popping dish is the soft-shelled crab ($36), battered whole with its legs splayed practically off the plate and topped with a dollop of jalapeño tartar, served in a crawfish étouffée with a mound of white rice. Across the menu, the plating at Acadia will have you instinctively reaching for your phone—the seabream ($28) arrives in a pool of orangy shrimp bisque, with a mound of almonds piled on top and rimmed by bright red and yellow tomatoes. But the true highlight is among the appetizers: the barbecue shrimp ($15), served head-on in a positively addictive lemon and white wine roux. One complaint: Servers are weirdly stingy about the bread. The dish doesn't come with nearly enough to sop up the sauce, and Acadia doles out extras two small pieces at a time. At that point, you might as well just pour the leftovers into a glass for easier access. That's how they do it in Louisiana…I think. MATTHEW SINGER.
Best for: Quintessential Portland sushi.
Multiple locations; visit bamboosushi.com for addresses, phone numbers and hours. $$$.
Everything about Bamboo Sushi feels sleek, and its dishes show off seafood's sophisticated side. That said, one of the restaurant's most popular rolls, the Green Machine ($11), is fish-free and instead stuffed with tempura-fried beans, green onions and avocado. It's the drizzle of cilantro sweet chile oil that makes the dish a favorite, even among the sushi-wary. More adventurous eaters should try the Kimono roll ($14), which is filled with seasoned crab and cucumber and topped with paper-thin shaved apple and a leaf of aromatic fried sage. Chasing the Dragon ($13)—shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, cucumbers and avocado—will appease diners after a little extra heat. But the spice is only complementary to the delicate fish and not at all overwhelming. ELISE HERRON.
Best for: One dollar happy-hour oysters and the new avocado toast—without avocados.
Jacqueline is one of those tucked-into-a-corner restaurants that's so adorable you can't help but want to squeeze it like some sort of big-eyed puppy. Everywhere you turn, there's something that is almost too precious: the sky-blue door, the orange figurine walrus, the loopy cursive font on the menu. But underneath the cute veneer is the soul of a salty angler who's crossed the treacherous Columbia River Bar more than a time or two. If you're observant, it's possible to spot men with bulging forearms hauling large tubs of oysters to the kitchen, as if there were a portal to Netarts just beyond view. And if you simply glance at the tables around you, you can't help but notice that almost everyone has a large metal tray brimming with those bivalves on ice, which are a mere buck apiece during happy hour, along with heavily discounted cans of Rainier—a drink any grizzled fisherman would surely endorse. Finesse meets an unvarnished edge on the menu, too, particularly in a dish like the whole fried sea bass ($25). The fish arrives with head and tail intact, it's mouth skewered by a small silver saber, bathed in a brick red chile- and cashew-based salsa macha and topped by a bouquet of cilantro and tiny purple flowers. Like the little building it occupies, Jacqueline is particularly adept at making creatures of the ocean look downright darling. Take the Dungeness crab toast ($15), which is so pretty it should be populating every Instagram feed in town. Sure, mounding mashed avocado on crunchy slices of bread is all the rage, but from now on you should be requesting this sweet, shredded meat layered on a warm, miniature baguette dressed with creamy saffron hollandaise and Calabrians—the Ferrari of chiles. If I could, I'd order it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. ANDI PREWITT.
Best for: Mussels in an old-school bar that keeps the liquor flowing until midnight.
Come for the consistently plump, life-affirming mussels (marnière or three other preparations, $22), luxuriating in a sauce worth sopping up with all the bread you can afford. Stay for the excellence up and down the menu, including some of the best fries this side of Belgium ($6), and your choice of four sauces led by an aioli that is as sharp and rich as you hoped it would be. But don't limit yourself to the classics: The basil spätzle ($22) with blistered tomatoes, corn and mushrooms or the pan-roasted halibut ($29), as tender inside as it is crisp outside, provide options for non-bivalvers. In addition to an old-school bar, a killer whiskey list and a happy hour that makes every day feel like your birthday, La Moule is that rarest of top-quality Portland restaurants—one that keeps serving until midnight. NIGEL JAQUISS.
Best for: The only Japanese expat-approved sushi in Portland.
200 SW Market St., 503-227-0080. 11:30 am-2 pm and 5:30-9:30 pm Monday-Friday, 5:30-9:30 pm Saturday. $$$.
The only "fusion" happening at this traditional sushi restaurant is the varied patrons connected by a single common factor: a desire to eat the truest Japanese cuisine in town, in an authentic, serene environment. Though sushi chefs and waitstaff wear kimonos, and shoes must be removed before entering the tatami mat dining rooms, there is no touristy kitsch or Japantown décor in sight. The shelves hold only stacks of ceramic dishes and the wooden platforms to be filled with an assortment of fresh, jewel-toned nigiri. In that same vein of function and form before flash, the details that make Murata so special extend far beyond the healthy, deep rose-red hue to every buttery bite of tuna. Upon arrival, a hot towel is provided for hands and face, followed by a trio of seaweed salad, hamachi poke so good you'll try to lick the dish, and a few edamame beans. The inside-out, tempura tuna roll ($11.95) is topped with a dollop of spicy Kewpie mayonnaise, and even the zucchini slabs in the veggie tempura ($10.25) feature delicate floral carvings. LAUREN YOSHIKO.
Best for: Sushi worth waiting for…and you will probably have to wait.
It may lack the heritage of its better Japanese counterparts, but Nimblefish serves dynamite sushi every night—probably the best in town—and Portlanders have noticed. The spartan space, housing a long sushi bar with two cutting stations and single communal table, serves a couple dozen diners at a time and is typically full with at least a short wait. Factor in the extra time. The fish includes varieties from Japan and the Pacific Northwest not commonly seen around town. A recent local choice, mirugai (aka geoduck, $6.50 each), comes from the Washington coast and may be the sweetest, most wonderful bivalve in the world. Iwashi ($4.50), a variety of sardine from Hokkaido, is unmistakably a creature of the sea, as are multiple types of variously priced Japanese mackerel. For a switch, the piney pungency of Oregon matsutake mushroom ($5) has no equal. Or go bold and sample the traditional sticky-textured, umami blast of a natto (fermented soybean) and green onion hand roll ($3). Sake, beer, wine and a splendid line of non-alcoholic, fruit-flavored kefir beverages ($4.50) round out the menu. Beware if you come hungry, the bill can easily top a Benjie. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
Best for: Refined Japanese cuisine in a calming, exquisite environment designed by a 2020 Tokyo Olympics stadium architect.
Serenity touches the soul the moment you walk into chef Naoko Tamura's restaurant on downtown Portland's west edge. Just inside the door is a scrupulously maintained miniature rock garden and past that is the exquisitely designed dining room—all light wood furnishings and matting that hangs from the ceiling, framing the table below in luxurious swirls and circles. The interior stands in stark contrast to the din outside. And the food is unlike anything else one is apt to find around town. Dinner ($65 per person) is a kaiseki-style affair, meaning there are multiple small courses, some served in a red and black lacquered bento box, each of the nine compartments boasting a jewellike morsel that is both ornate and delicious. On a visit in late summer, one of the standouts included halibut nanbanzuke, fried fish presented with bits of pickled vegetables and a rectangle of delicate Dungeness crab omelet. The meal's true highlight, however, was the next course: a classic pairing of soba noodles in a light soy- and mirin-based dipping sauce with shrimp tempura, which was meaty and sweet in contrast to the batter's crunch. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
Best for: A decadent night of rare sake and sushi so fresh it's practically an antidepressant.
Sake is on the marquee at Zilla, and with good reason—this unassuming nook in the Alberta neighborhood has amassed one of the most voluminous selections of the rice wine in the entire country, pouring rare and just plain weird stuff a more expert enthusiast will have to contextualize for you. (Honestly, bringing along someone who knows their sake is recommended, but in lieu of that, flights are available for $16 to $30.) The sushi, however, is equally impressive, and just as well sourced. There's line-caught maguro tuna from Hawaii and cold-grown scallops from Hokkaido, but if you didn't know any better, you'd think owners Kate Koo and Sam Saltos were fishing them straight from some secret ocean right out their back window. Items like the scallop sashimi ($22)—each piece veiled by a paper-thin scrim of lime—are so fresh it'll send an ecstatic shiver through your system. If the range of choices overwhelms you, order omakase ($45, $75) and let the chefs do the choosing for you. MATTHEW SINGER.