Eating outside is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Right now, it’s also the law.
A week ago, another surge in positive coronavirus tests across Oregon prompted Gov. Kate Brown once again to impose harsher restrictions on businesses in 15 counties, including completely shutting down indoor dining in Portland. This time around, restaurants and bars were allowed to increase their outdoor seating, but that’s hardly stopped owners from arguing that their industry has shouldered a disproportionate share of the economic burden during the health crisis.
Whether or not the science supports such strict measures, all the grousing has obscured a plain truth: Nothing tastes better than a meal enjoyed in the open air.
It’s a fact anyone who’s ever bitten into a juicy pub burger on a sunny bar patio, pulled a perfectly grilled hot dog off a smoking camping stove, or given themselves brain freeze while licking a popsicle with their feet in the river would not dispute. But when it’s mandated by the state, well, that can take the fun out of anything.
That’s why this issue, in which we’ve rounded up 16 of the city’s best al fresco dining experiences, isn’t just a guide to the only ways to eat in public at the moment. It’s also meant as a reminder of just how satisfying eating outdoors can be—and how, during a warm Oregon summer, it becomes something bordering on magical.
Of course, that includes food carts, long one of Portland’s main cultural exports, which have experienced a COVID-spurred renaissance and where you can find everything from poke bowls to Himalayan dumplings to vegan soul food to our current obsession, smash burgers. And it also includes patios, which, in certain cases, completely transformed some of the city’s best restaurants during the pandemic. But it’s also more mercurial experiences, like munching a “pickle on a stick” in the stands of a collegiate baseball game, or being in the right place at the right time to procure a Choco Taco from the ice cream boat off Sauvie Island—possibly while naked.
A lot has been made of the damage done to the Portland food scene, and the recovery will be long. But there is still plenty of joy to be found—you just have to go outside.
—Matthew Singer, Arts & Culture Editor