It was a devastating year for our still-ballooning restaurant scene. We lost some cherished spots to slow service (thanks a lot, icepocalypse!). Then came the terrible fires and big developer cart pod buy-outs. But all is not lost: we now have some amazing new places to eat, including three genuinely game-changing sandwich shops. Here’s how the year shook out:
An elegant temple to fancy cured pork and booze and one of Portland Monthly’s Best New Restaurants 2015, Hamlet shut its doors in May. From our 2015 restaurant review: “[Hamlet is] a food affair, swaddled in an eternal dusk of cushy leather banquettes and Portuguese-tiled walls. You’ll nibble warm, teeny olives and sip gin-melon cocktails, then leave perfumed with ham and sherry, wearing a drowsy smile on your face.” Says chef and co-owner Cathy Whims: “In the two years Hamlet was open it had stellar reviews, but the reality is the concept never ignited in the neighborhood the way we expected it to.”
In July, a three-alarm fire tore through the smoked chicken shack from the Laurelhurst Market team. The tiny operation, started out of the indie steakhouse’s parking lot, earned a cult following for its dry-rubbed, Fresno-chile-marinated chicken, smoked over oak and grilled, with sweet Alabama-style “white gold” sauce (essentially mayo with vinegar and sugar). Big’s is still searching for a new home, but in the meantime, you can find a recipe for the DIY smoked and grilled chicken right here.
Chesa opened in 2016 as a big, fine dining gamble in a non-foodie neighborhood, while other Portland restaurateurs were embracing the fast-casual movement and fried chicken madness. It banked on a menu of rigorously made, Barcelona-style paellas alongside playful tapas. The restaurant made PoMo’s list of Best Restaurants 2016. Now the Chesa space serves as a private event hall, community class hub, and "creative wonderland" called the Nightwood, while 180 continues to serve its xurros and drinking chocolate up front.
One of Food & Wine's Chefs of the Year 2008, Jenn Louis closed her almost decade-old eatery in March. (Her other restaurant, Sunshine Tavern, was sold in late 2016.) A week later, Louis opened Ray, an Israeli restaurant that Portland Monthly food critic Karen Brooks described as “Lincoln’s cousin after a year on the kibbutz.” Read her full review here.
James Beard Award-winning chefs Greg and Gabi Denton will close downtown’s two-year-old SuperBite after New Year’s Eve to launch Bistro Agnes, a Parisian bistro named for Greg Denton’s grandmother. SuperBite gambled big on umami-pushing bites, but even as it expanded ideas (backed by a great happy hour, a super cheeseburger, and some terrific cocktails), it forgot the Denton secret: lusty pleasures, simple to audacious. “We tried to cram a lot of ideas into a restaurant, and that confused the message,” said the Dentons in a phone interview. “We wanted to please everyone.” Bistro Agnes, meanwhile, is slated to open mid-January, starting with daily hours for lunch and dinner, with a weekend brunch to follow once the kitchen gets its legs.
Pesto-rubbed leg of lamb; wedge salad jammed with fried shiitakes and tomatoes, either oil-cured or heirloom; oxtail French dip dunked in braising juice. We called it in our 2017 Best Restaurants issue: Stacked Sandwich Shop is some next-level sand-gineering. In a city obsessed with sandwiches, Stacked feels like an evolution.
At Proud Mary, the first stateside outpost of Melbourne’s coffee and brunch operation, “hash” means an addictive stack of crisp potato cakes, the thickest bacon, and poached eggs pooled in anchovy-amped cream sauce. “Coffee” can be a $10 wine glass of blossom-heady Panamanian Geisha or a Cup of Excellence competition Costa Rican roast that tastes of hot cross buns. (And don’t bus your own table. They are not having it.) Maybe all Portland needed to get a great coffee + brunch spot was … Australians?
Do you remember fun? In a year (era?) seemingly determined to suck the élan right out of our collective eyeballs, we need Güero. We need its exuberant soundtrack; we need its verdantly plant-decked, radiantly tiled room. Most of all, we need its version of Jalisco’s bodacious torta ahogada: a pork shoulder sandwich aswim in vibrant achiote sauce. The other tortas are good; the ahogada elevated a former food cart to Bon Appétit’s roster of the 50 best new restaurants in the nation.
Yes, 2017 was a major year for Portland’s sandwich scene. After a yearlong test run with her Pastrami Zombie food cart, owner Melissa McMillan officially opened her Chicago-style, Italian beef-centric brick-and-mortar in December. The expanded menu includes sandwiches, salads, a smoker out front for smoked birds, and a mandatory Chicago Cubs dress code. And, of course, the reason people freak out over Sammich in the first place: McMillan’s Montreal-style pastrami. It's natural Angus brisket, brined for four days, smoked with black oak, and sliced thick. New Yorkers, take note: this is not your Jewish deli pastrami.
Okay, we haven’t actually been to the new Roe, which opened this month at 515 SW Broadway, above Morgan’s Alley. But we’ve had enough food from modernist seafood enthusiast Trent Pierce to know this is a big deal. The old Southeast Division location closed in the spring of 2017, along with the incongruously unappealing B + T Oyster Bar in front. The new downtown Roe will have a “Theatre” menu (three quick courses “to get you to the theatre, show or film on time” for $110 per person) and a “Roe” menu: seven courses, $155 per person. Stay tuned.