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Top Ten Portland Restaurants – and Overrated – May 2017

New Year, New List: Zusman’s Best Restaurants in Portland – and the Overrated Ones

As Jerome J. Garcia and Robert C. Hunter once wrote, “The winter was so hard and cold, froze ten feet ‘neath the ground.” Portland’s darkest season made me want to flee or sleep, in turns. But at last Springy things are sprung in Stumptown and everyone is looking for a good spot to eat.

Despite the City’s best (and continuing) efforts to ruin dining out in Portland through aggressively myopic urban planning—witness the horrors visited on North Williams Avenue and Southeast Division Street—and the uncertain impact of an impending increased minimum wage, the 20-year-long expansion of local Restaurant options has barely missed a beat. Go figure.

So, here we go again, with the latest update of my unvarnished Top 10 (and then some) of the best Portland restaurants. The upper echelon is mostly unchanged, but note plenty of movement in the next tier. I’ve included some sweets spots because dessert is the most important meal of the day, or something like that. Also, scroll down if you want shout outs to well-loved sorta-but-not-quite restaurants. Also debuting here: my “All-Overrated Team,” the places you hear about endlessly, often through the amplifier of potent PR and complacent or complicit media, that aren’t nearly as compelling as “everyone” says.

The Top 10ish Portland Restaurants (in no particular order)

  1. Coquine Restaurant Portland
    Coquine, Portland

    Coquine: A sexy exception to New American overload. The proximity to perfection each plate achieves is uncanny. Presentation, flavor and temperature are unerring across the range from appetizers to pasta to the pate de fruit on the  mignardise tray at the end. The chef, Katy Millard, and front of the house boss, Ksandek Podbielski, spouse of Katy, even manage to produce Portland’s best chocolate chip cookie and seasonal popsicles during daytime café hours.

  2. Ox: Argentina meets Oregon here, which means lots of meat along with a rotation of seasonally changing, but always creative salads and veg dishes. The clam chowder is a lovely briny balm when the winds of November come early and all winter long. Chefs Denton (Gabi and Greg) were deserving recipients of their 2017 Beard award.
  3. Aviary: One of Portland’s underappreciated gems is helmed by the massively talented but equally introverted chef Sarah Pliner. Here, the boundary between Eastern and Western cuisines fades deliciously into the background. In terms of pure creativity and bang for the buck, Aviary has no local peer.
  4. Castagna Summer Squash Dumpling of Chicken and ShrimpCastagna: Where to take your visiting food snob friends who stare down their noses at food carts, cement floors and open beam architecture. Castagna has become Portland’s modernist/naturalist institution. Owner Monique Siu deserves all credit for her acuity at selecting two chefs in a row with the talent to make it work and sticking with stylish fine dining that is increasingly uncool.
  5. Kachka: Portland has a wealth of massively talented female chefs and Bonnie Morales, a first generation Russian-American, has conquered the formidable task of making Russian cuisine lively and luscious—and that’s before delving into the impressive vodka selection on offer here. Figure you’ve heard of none of the dishes on the menu, except maybe the dumplings, and that they will all blow you away. Kachka, Da!
  6. Nodoguro:  In a minimalist space with a four-decades long culinary history, Ryan Roadhouse presents selections of fish flown in regularly from Japan or intricately composed plates which may or may not showcase seafood. The offerings are always dramatic and the impression profound. With only a dozen or so diners per seating, this is a tough reservation to score, but always worthwhile for lovers of sophisticated Japanese food.
  7. Ataula PortlandAtaula/Chesa: Though the place is always packed, it’s hard to say how many Portlanders actually realize that Ataula is every bit the equal of Barcelona’s best contemporary Spanish restaurants. Of course, that’s chef Jose Chesa’s heritage and every dish he creates is a compelling presentation of explosive flavors and satisfying textures. Meanwhile, over at Chesa, the focus is on wonderfully done wood-fire cooked paellas with a suckling pig special that’s pure goodness.
  8. Le Pigeon/Little Bird: Gabriel Rucker’s maniacally twisted takes on French food have ruled the roost on East Burnside for a decade now and the tiny, cramped space is justifiably jammed with locals and visitors damn near every night. The more conventional avian downtown is also wonderful for its range of bistro traditions, plus a much lauded burger.
  9. Holdfast: Consider this small quasi-restaurant–it’s only open three days a week and shares space with a winery–modernist/naturalist fine dining for the too-cool-for-tablecloths crowd. The dishes served on the prix fixe menu are playful and delicious technical masterpieces. The creative team behind Holdfast’s food, Will Preisch and Joel Stocks, are fine fellows who have happily interacted with each night’s diners and one another through over 500 seatings.
  10. St. Jack/La Moule: Chef Aaron Barnett is a hockey fan who likes guts, bold flavors and plate parties–all with the French-Canadian accent of his birthplace in the Great White North. The MacKenzie brothers would be especially enamored of Barnett’s rich and satisfying versions of classics such as Coquille St. Jacques or Duck à l’{fill in a tart seasonal fruit name}. Meanwhile, bar flies at St Jack and everyone at its Southeast Portland cousin can groove on burgers, poutine and simpler but equally delectable fare
  11. Apizza Scholls: It’s funny that some still try to argue that Portland pizza has an upper tier when the truth is that there’s no competition at all. Regardless of pie category, the deeply burnished crusts and top quality components on top have kept Scholls in a league of its own for the last decade. The Caesar salad is also best in town and watch out for the deep-dish pies they’ve been experimenting with recently. Accept no substitute.

The Next 15 (or so)

  1. Biwa/Noraneko/Parasol: The commonly-owned trio of restaurants offer, between them, Portland’s best Japanese food. Composed dishes from Biwa, ramen and burgers at Noraneko, okonomiyaki (and booze) from Parasol all earn high marks for quality and creativity.
  2. Grassa/Lardo: Fine dining chef from Back East moves to Portland, runs food cart, then opens first-rate sandwich shops and pasta joints. Deliciousness ensues. Fave sandwich: porchetta. Fave pasta: carbonara.
  3. Pie Spot: 😢😢😢. Currently doing catering only as the retail shop itself was damaged in a fire.] The signature mini pies are notable for an insanely high crust-to-filling ratio, beautiful deep golden buttery crusts and easy-to-love fillings such as chocolate/peanut butter, pecan and marionberry. My go-to dessert venue serves savory pies, too.
  4. Laurelhurst Market: A steakhouse that perfectly captures the ineffable Portland vibe. No pretense, nothing too fancy. Just great steaks (and a few other entrees), with an ample selection of salads, sides and sweets to finish.
  5. Hat Yai Portland
    Hat Yai

    Hat Yai: Southern Thai Food is hot, real hot. And they serve the uncut dope here along with yummy chicken, savory and sweet roti and a handful of other treats, all otherwise unavailable in Portland.

  6. Cool Moon: Creative, but not disgusting, ice cream flavors, hold the hype. The kulfi, a cardamom/pistachio concoction is the standard bearer. Most varieties rotate, but try to catch Midnight Munchies, caramel cocoa nib swirl or Thai ice tea.
  7. Paiche: For those who fell in love with the ceviches of Lima, this is where you want to go. The few cooked dishes fare equally well under the watch of chef/dad/surfer dude Jose Luis de Cossio. The fish here is flown in fresh from Hawaii.There’s another Peruvian restaurant in town that gets a lot of fawning attention. Go here instead.
  8. Pinolo: Have I mentioned I have a fondness for frozen confections? Fresh fruit sorbettos find their highest and best expression here. Between them and a selection of equally excellent gelati, I’d stack it up against the competition anywhere on the planet. Yes, including Italy.
  9. Taylor Railworks
    Taylor Railworks

    Taylor Railworks: Erik Van Kley is a flavor-combination conjurer with a flair for mixing ingredients and ideas from around the world. “The Boxer”, featuring hamachi tartare and apples, and “Noodles al la Johnny” with crab and prawns  are menu standards. Most everything else comes and goes. An under-the-radar star.

  10. Pho Oregon: Seriously, kids, ramen is for lemmings and posers. If soup is on your mind, nothing beats a steaming bowl of the super concentrated beef broth here, heavily perfumed with five spice, cinnamon and whatever other magic they toss in the stockpot. Order the one with everything, including all the naughty bits.
  11. Danwei Canting: The Beijing street food they serve here encompasses dishes from all over the PRC, altered only a little for Western palates. Though the year is young, this is my favorite among relative newbies. Try the hot, numbing chicken dish, la zi ji; shoestring potatoes and a dish of  peanuts in sweetened black vinegar.
  12. Tiffin Asha: The southern Indian dosas here are worth driving across town for. Your best alternative is way the hell out west in Hillsboro, and this is just as good. The menu’s overall vegetarian and naturally gluten-negative focus will please all the special needs diners you still hang out with because they’re otherwise nice.
  13. The Original Pancake House PortlandOriginal Pancake House: The OPH has been slinging Brobdingnagian breakfasts, including their massive Dutch Baby and apple pancake, in deep Southwest Portland for close to 70 years. They were offering fresh fruit in season before it was fashionable.  If you’re going to wait in line for a morning meal, skip the precious, mostly mediocre spots in town and head here. [FD: cash or check only, atm in the lobby]
  14. Poke Mon: Dumb name, but superlative renditions of the Hawaiian marinated raw fish over rice specialty. Abundantly talented Colin Yoshimoto is the culinary guiding force here, a quick hop up Southeast Hawthorne, which easily bests the better funded competition at twice rebranded but still forgettable “Quickfish” downtown.
  15. Mi Mero Mole: Now down to a single Old Town outlet, this remains the primary in-town venue for the stewed meats and veg concoctions known as guisados, which can be used to fill enchanting tacos, burritos and other Mexican standards. MMM’s owner, Nick Zukin, is a friend, but has riled enough other writers to be unjustifiably ignored on most lists. Prickly personality aside, his dedication to the craft of Mexican cooking knows no bounds.

Notable New Restaurants:

Chalino is a Mexicanish restaurant helmed by New York transplant and local kitchen wanderer Johnny Leach that opened in a high design building along N. Williams Ave. Food good, prices punitive on initial visit…Hard to say who’s really running Jackrabbit, the meaty, beaty, big and bouncy spot that went into the lobby of the Hilton Executive Tower earlier this spring. The “name” behind it is San Francisco celeb chef Chris Cosentino, with local exec Chris Diminno. Haven’t seen either of them around since week one, though in fairness, the kitchen is hidden from view…Big’s Chicken, chef Ben Bettinger’s new coop, is slinging roast chicken and jo jos…Johanna Ware is back with Ware’s at The Zipper micro eatery center on NE Sandy.


Everyone who eats at Mae, the Southern food spot compressed into the back room behind Old Salt restaurant, loves it and the folksy yarns from its guiding spirit chef Maya Lovelace. It’s understandably a hot ticket, especially the fried chicken that Lovelace sometimes sells by the bucket to go. Otherwise score a seat for a multicourse meal, now served three nights a week.

The restaurant hidden behind a false door shtick has grown a little tired, but Earl Ninsom’s regional Thai prix fixe menus served at Langbaan still wow the crowds that pack into the tiny space it shares with Ninsom’s principal eatery, PaaDee, another Thai restaurant. Now that Langbaan is up to four nights a week, maybe it will be easier for most folks to check it out.

Contemporary Korean food isn’t a particularly well-established branch of gastronomy, But Peter Cho’s efforts at Han Oak are slowly changing that in Portland. Noodle and dumpling nights on Sunday and Monday feature the ultimate Asian stoner food, budae jjigae (with ramen noodles, cheese, spam, hot dog, kimchi, tofu and whatever in a moderately spiced broth) that actually traces its origin to the time of privation following the Korean civil war in the early 1950s.

When you try a cheesesteak from Grant’s Philly Cheesesteaks, you’re instantly transported to the City of Brotherly Love in all its downscale glory. Get the regular cheesesteak with grilled onions, sweet and hot peppers and provolone. Then get a side of Whiz (yes, fake cheese from a jar) for dunking, better to nosh away your sorrows as you watch any of the pathetic sports teams that call Philadelphia home.

The All-Overrated Team

My friend John Curtas, a food writer in Las Vegas, has his Vegas Bottom 10. But I’m a lot nicer than John and couldn’t pen such a thing in ever-so-mellow Portland. Instead, I bring you a short compendium of the places your friend’s friend who just moved to Portland from Brooklyn is apt to gush over, even if she hasn’t been, because “everyone” says they’re great, even though they’re really not. It’s nothing personal,and It won’t hurt my feelings a bit if you go despite my warning, though I reserve the right to say, “I told you so.”

Kenny & Zuke’s Deli: A parody of the creative Jewish deli that opened 10 years ago.

Ava Gene’s: Had some great dishes here, never a great meal.

Beast: Well past its pull date.

Screen Door: Great gobs of cheap Southernish glop.

Salt & Straw: The regular ice cream flavors are done better elsewhere. The clever flavors are mostly just gross.

Navarre: Minimalism run amok

Luce: A dubious ascent to national notoriety

Voodoo Donut: Just possibly the worst donuts ever made. For drunk punks and gullible tourists only.

The post Top Ten Portland Restaurants – and Overrated – May 2017 appeared first on Portland Food and Drink.

This post first appeared on Portland Food And Drink - Throwing Ourselves On Th, please read the originial post: here

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Top Ten Portland Restaurants – and Overrated – May 2017


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