Nobody needs to be reminded what a shit year it was for Portland's food scene. Empires toppled, neighborhood hangouts shuttered, thousands lost work. And it's still not over.
The devastation was the headline from March on. But even among the carnage, there was still culinary joy to be found, primarily in the scrappiness of the city's restaurateurs who adapted, pivoted and innovated on the fly to make what they could out of this rotted Chopped basket of a year.
Here are 12 of the meals and moments from 2020 that WW's food writers will actually remember fondly.
Best Takeout Meal: Smoked Meatloaf from Bullard
Bullard smokes it if it's got it, and I enjoyed this special occasion meal even more than the restaurant's fabled beef rib or "San Antonio Chicken." Robustly smoky, super juicy and fatty, the all-beef loaf is generously glazed with housemade "BBQ ketchup" and comes in a foil pan with reheating instructions. One order ($28) with a side of mashed potatoes ($9) and four dinner rolls ($6) kept my wife and I fed on election night for almost as long as it took for the networks to call Pennsylvania. JASON COHEN.
Best Pandemic Trend: Home Pickup and Delivery Pop-Ups
Call it innovation, desperation or just keeping busy: Shutdown Portland is awash in on-the-fly food, from both professional artisans and home kitchens. I've had Batch Chocolates personally delivered by owner Jeremy Karp, ordered pizza from both a guy who makes Chicago-style pizza in his apartment and a music-business Twitter friend, scored cinnamon date bread at the doorstep of the Sunday Bread Project's Hope Tejedas and picked up chai masala spice mix right out of the garage of Thali Supper Club's Leena Ezekiel. Sometimes it's for charity or a suggested donation, sometimes it's for sale—but the experience is always more communal than transactional. JC.
Best Opportunity to Repurpose Your Tweezers: Urdaneta
Urdaneta has been piercing Basque pintxos with fancy wooden toothpicks since 2016—now you can, too. Chef Javier Canteras was one of Portland's early adopters of the meal kit pivot when Urdaneta debuted "Tapas Party" kits this summer, packaged with precise quantities of labeled proteins, sauces, toppings and spices to assemble four tapas plates, plus dessert. Think HelloFresh, but with a sous vide octopus tentacle you're tasked with charring. With detailed plating instructions, Contreras gives you the tools to craft a professional-grade plate that will have your ego climbing with each tapered swipe of romesco. ELIZA ROTHSTEIN.
Best Dinner and a Donation: Sardine Head
Many restaurants shifted to a market model amid the pandemic, selling bread, butter, milk, pasta and other staples. Sardine Head has done this, but better. Chef and owner Elizabeth Pettigrew stocks goods you can't buy at Fred Meyer, like quarts of saffron buckwheat cream, crustacean kari gosse broth, and natural wine curated by Simon Lowry that tastes like a "pine-lemon jolly rancher (if they existed)." Pettigrew hand-delivers your order, and periodically sends the full week's earnings to a nonprofit or individual who could use it. Monitor Sardine Head's Instagram page for the latest information on where proceeds move, and to snag surprise offerings like aperol ice cream to add to your order via DM. ER.
Best Adjustment: Apizza Scholls
During its decadelong run, Portland's top pizza joint has taught there are certain rules you follow to ensure a great pie. Regulars know that three toppings is the limit. Your Apizza dons, Kim Nyland and Brian Spangler, have also viewed pizzas to go with suspicion. Oven-to-table is optimal because taste and texture begin to decline almost as soon as the pie escapes the oven. The duo have clearly taken many deep cleansing breaths in 2020 and made the unthinkable move of going takeout only—and the quality of their thick-rimmed, char-kissed pies remains high. As if that weren't radical enough, chief pizzaiolo Spangler has also begun making luscious calzones, but only 10 a night weekdays. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
Best Cart Pod: John’s Marketplace
The carts adjoining the Powell Boulevard branch of bottled-beer emporium John's Marketplace feature plenty of choice bites, from honest-to-goodness muffaletta sandwiches on specialty bread to crawfish étoufée from Matt & Mamere's to massive fried chicken sandwiches from JoJo's to Holy Trinity's standout Texas barbecue. Abundant covered seating allows meals on the premises, and the beer window at John's provides plenty of hop hound-friendly beverage choices. MCZ.
Best Sweet Spot: JinJu Patisserie
For aficionados of laminated pastries, JinJu is a precious gem. The best known variation is the croissant, which at JinJu is dark, golden-baked, buttery perfection—if you can get your hands on one before they sell out. But the crown jewel of the lot is the weekend-only gianduja kouign amann, a carmelized sugar-encrusted, crown-shaped pastry with a center core of hazelnut-kissed chocolate cream. It is truly world class. Order it and you might forget for a moment that it's still 2020. MCZ.
Best Splurge: Kate’s Ice Cream
The "it" ice cream of 2020 was undoubtedly Kate's Ice Cream's Marionberry Cobbler. Founder Katelyn Williams distills Oregon summer into one perfect pint, blending Marionberry jam and housemade walnut oat streusel into a vanilla base that smacks of warm afternoons. Somehow, it's also vegan and gluten-free. When COVID hit, Williams threw open the garage doors of her production space on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and began selling scoops and pints in the airy courtyard, and she's still doing it through the winter. Pints run about $12. But for those of us who can't stomach cow's milk, or just want a lighter footprint, it's worth the relative wallet dent. ANDREA DAMEWOOD.
Best Local Delivery Box: MilkRun
MilkRun is your dream CSA box: hyperlocal, seasonal, customizable and dropped right at your door. A recent produce box delivery included gorgeous blue oyster mushrooms from Columbia Mushroom Company, vibrant organic red ursa kale from Gathering Together Farms in Junction City, and red anjou pears from Kiyokawa in Hood River. But the add-ons—Szechuan-style bacon from Revel Meat Co., tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtamal, Sleeping Beauty Cheese from Briar Rose Creamery, the delicious Silent Night holiday tea blend from Smith Tea, to name a few—are what really make this box a beauty. MilkRun says the average distance its items travel is 35 miles—delivered pandemic-safe and freshness sound. ANDREA DAMEWOOD.
Best Makeshift Outdoor Dining Plaza: Ankeny Street Promenade
I was sitting at a picnic table with a locally made IPA in one hand and an ice cream sandwich in the other, waiting on my tandoori chicken tacos, when a naked bicyclist nearly crashed into me. Startled, I look up to see more topless riders weaving around patio tables. That's when I realized I was dining in the middle of a bike thoroughfare during the Naked Bike Ride. This happened at Rainbow Road, a blocklong section of Ankeny off the busy strips of boutiques and restaurants along Northeast 28th. On one side is Gorges Beer Co., on the other Tap & Table gastropub and Asian fusion Taco-Ish, and during the warmer months, Ruby Jewel parked a mobile ice cream trailer in the street. Aside from the risk of being flattened by a nudist, you could drink in the streets and order anything from a burger to a tofu taco without interacting with a single human. It was my go-to for the peak Portland COVID experience all summer long, and with any luck, it will become a permanent attraction. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH.
Best Literal Beer Garden: TopWire Hop Project at Crosby Hop Farm
Oregon beer nerds are blessed to live near where a significant portion of the world's hops are grown. But until Crosby Hop Farm opened up its TopWire Hop Project beer garden in late July, most had never visited where their favorite beer ingredients are grown. Find the rural road that leads to Lupulin Lane and you will soon be drinking estate-grown fresh hop IPAs among 18-foot-high rows of centennial hops. On my visit, I could hear the bines rustling in the wind and smell the pungent floral scent of their aromatic cones in the air. It's an ephemeral experience: Hop season lasts for only a small window of time, and it was cut even shorter this year by the wildfires. Luckily, Crosby escaped unscathed, and its secluded beer garden will return next year, as the hop bines rise again. EJG.
Best Distanced Drink: The Old Gold
One Sunday evening in July, not long after the bars and restaurants first reopened, I wandered past the Old Gold on North Killingsworth. There were a couple small parties at the picnic tables on the porch, but absolutely no one seated on the improvised patio alongside Spitz. A whole bar to myself—the ultimate in outdoor distanced drinking. I sat down, ordered and paid for an old fashioned on my phone, had a 10-second masked interaction with the server, and was out of there in 15 minutes. Not exactly a social hangout, but I sure wish I could do it again now. JC.