2015 was year of tectonic shifts for Portland restaurants. Institutions crumbled to make way for budding empires, culinary icons finally made good on their long-stewing dream restaurants, and a fresh wave of talent erupted on the scene, flowing up the west coast from San Francisco. Here, the Eat Beat team marks the passing of some of the city’s most notable restaurants in 2015, along with the biggest openings and what they mean for dining in Portland in 2016.
Closed in 2015
Ración was a Spanish-leaning house of tweezer food and good cheer led by the youthful, high-energy chef Anthony Cafiero. It imagined modernist cuisine for the Everyman. Molecular gastronomy usually intimidates; Ración took the opposite approach. “The food doesn’t achieve Michelin shine,” said brooks in her 2013 review. “But Ración may be the most fun room in town.”
The longtime sugar-pusher moved on from her Northeast Alberta Street bakery to pursue a more flexible roster of dessert-related projects—from a possible follow up to her 2012 cookbook to collaborations with local chefs—and an all-new “sugar high.” Recently, the roving baker reemerged at Renata, the highbrow wood-fired Italian spot that Portland Monthly named (with reservations) one of the city’s best restaurants of 2015. The Sugar Cube was one of our Best Restaurants 2013.
Opened in 2009 by iconic Portland chef Chris Israel and ChefStable head Kurt Huffman, Alsatian-leaning Gruner was—in its prime—one of the city’s great dining experiences (read our original review here). In March 2016, Ox owners Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez will take over the space, along with Gruner’s sister bar, Kask.
The East Burnside eatery from chef Scott Snyder worked to push the boundaries of modern Middle Eastern cooking in Portland. While it struggled to find its footing (“Levant has only transported us to a Hilton Hotel dining room on a Middle Eastern night,” writes Portland Monthly food critic in 2014) over the course of two years, its best dishes came at brunch, with halvah croissants and harissa-spiced Bloody Marys.
Writes Brooks: Hokusei delivered “the paramount sushi experience: a journey, doused in whimsy, steeped in discovery, and showcasing the best nigiri in the city.” Hokusei was one of our Best Restaurants 2012.
Opened in 2015
The ramen shop from Biwa owners Gabe Rosen and Kina Voelz isn’t quite what people expected from the duo that invented the cult-forming barbecued pork belly and kimchi mayo burger in 2007: Is it a juice bar? A late-night noodle den? A new-age health food café, complete with house kombucha? We’re still not sure, but we’re digging lighter, healthier side of ramen.
James Beard Award nominee Cathy Whims and her Oven & Shaker partners—Chefstable’s Kurt Huffman and cocktail emissary Ryan Magarian— created a sexy-meets-geeky boîte that gives a handful of Spanish, Italian, and American hams the tasting-room treatment usually reserved for cheese or wine. But “to be clear,” writes senior editor Kelly Clarke, “this is a place for sampling and sipping, not gorging—unless you’re game to drop $100 on tapas and charcuterie.” Read the full review here.
The pizza pop-up turned brick-and-mortar from former Ned Luddites Nicholas Ford and Brandon Gomez delivers a pizza party like you’ve never experienced. Yes, the pizza and soda fountain cocktails are great, but it’s the full ride—Wu-Tang to graffiti mural—that makes this place creative and immersive.
Two years ago, Will Preisch’s pop-up, Holdfast, bolted out of nowhere with naturalist Nordic-meets-Oregon menus that vaulted into the top tier of Portland dining, becoming this magazine’s 2013’s Rising Star Chef. Preisch and copilot Joel Stocks took an important step forward in 2015 by moving into the front room of Fausse Piste winery. “It’s the new date night in Portland,” writes Brooks, “and it’s now a bona fide food destination—as could only be imagined by two avant bros.” Read the full review here.
Renata was stunted at birth after the Oregonian crowned it “Restaurant of the Year” at age 17 (days, not years), heaping summer-blockbuster expectations and huge crowds on a budding project. In her Best Restaurants 2015 “love letter,” Brooks writes: “You seem like a great person. Truthfully, I could be a slave to your tomato leaf cavatelli, with its jade-green luster, perfect texture, and firecracking house sausage. It was the best pasta of the year, emphatically. You can be that good. I’ll be back soon, and hope you will, too.”
One of our Best Restaurants 2015, cheese star Steve Jones’ Chizu is “Portland’s most unapologetically myopic den of food enthusiasm,” writes Brooks. “The downtown sushi-style spot serves around 30 ever-changing cheeses a day, each with a backstory, worshipped on wooden boards and paired with a personal playlist of beer, wine, and music, Peruvian Afro-harp to ’70s Japanese rock.”
At La Moule, St. Jack’s Aaron Barnett brings dedicated mussels and fries to the city with a globe-spanning take on Belgium’s fave dish. For Portland, La Moule is more than a novelty: Sure, it’s the only place in town where you can sit in the dark slurping seafood broth and hard-to-find Trappist beers. But it’s also just a great neighborhood bar, teeming with late-night energy and strong, smart cocktails. Read our first impressions here.
When Erik Van Kley flew the coop at Little Bird in early 2015, who’d have guessed that the talented chef would return with a vibrant detour to the American South by way of Asia. Inside, Van Kley flaunts intricate sashimi, soy-sauced grits, and pickled radish–topped pork chops on casually chic plates in an industrial clubhouse space near the east-side train tracks. Prime seats: chef’s counter.
The talented young Katy Millard, a survivor of the fiery trenches of multiple star-spangled kitchens in France and a veteran of California’s famed Coi, is the mastermind behind one of Portland Monthly’s Best Restaurants 2015. “It’s Michelin around the corner, a high-end homey cuisine that stands in beautiful contrast to Portland’s usual bacon-heavy, stoner-dude munchies, writes Brooks. “It’s only the beginning for Coquine, but this star is already shooting.”
After nearly a year of delays, a name change, and a location swap, the new pizzeria from Bunk Sandwich honcho Tommy Habetz is finally open. Pizza Jerk leans towards the New Haven, East Coast-style pies of Habetz’s youth, with traditional and nontraditional inspirations available by the slice. Pizza Jerk also sports a small pasta menu—classic spaghetti and meatballs, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), and something called “duck dan dan,” an Italian take on the Chinese dish, with ground duck and Sichuan peppercorns. It’s too early to say, but early reports have been overwhelmingly positive.
Days stretched into months; months into years. A noteworthy chef came and went before the restaurant even opened. The opening of Tastebud 2.0 has been like Waiting for Godot. But in October, Mark Doxtader, a wood-fired pioneer, bagel-meister supreme and farmers market pizza star, finally opened the doors to his Kickstarter-funded Multnomah Village spot. Early weeks had two hour-long waits for a pizza-intensive menu backed by lusty, whole roasted chickens and sided by a small collection of flame-fired vegetables and modest but well-chosen beers and wines. We’ll be back soon for a closer look.