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Mae's Maya Lovelace

Aviary

It takes audacity to put crunchy chicken skin at the center of a salad hosting cubes of fresh watermelon, the heady surprise of Thai chiles, watercress vines, and a carpet of baba ghanoush. Chef Sarah Pliner’s approach unfolds slowly on a seemingly random list of dishes, each its own constellation of cuisines and visual juxtapositions. France winks at Chinatown; Japan dances with India. Any given night turns up plenty of food and drink to tease the mind and make your tongue smile. And the drinks served in this cinder-block bunker’s attached bar are equally inventive.

Baker & Spice 

The coconut cream pie here is worth the trip alone: a mountain of creamy custard, just sweet enough, under a blizzard of toasted coconut in a wondrous, buttery crust. Cakes are old-fashioned magical, and while some pastries are better than others the standouts are from the sweet shop of heaven, including the addictive chocolate shortbread cookies and the Katie Bun, a hybrid of a croissant and a cinnamon bun. With a big counter up front and café tables for lounging, Baker & Spice doubles as Hillsdale’s unofficial community center and nursery school. 

Bakeshop

Kim Boyce’s tiny NE Portland bakery always puts the swagger in whole-grain treats, but lately she’s been baking some straight-up addictions. Think crusty maple swirls, strawberry tarts loaded with very good jam, and a peach handpie—its flaky pastry jaws clamped around voluptuous, fire-singed fruit chunks. The twice-baked almond croissant is a game changer, clad in a force field of crunch and oozing near-custardy almond paste. 

Beast

Naomi Pomeroy runs with the meat-worshipping bad boys of the Portland food scene, muscles flexed, elbows flying, but with lace showing underneath. Beast is her stage for sumptuous multicourse meals choreographed and assembled in the middle of the room. Pomeroy ships a deeply seasonal parade of mushroom soups, maple-glazed pork bellies, and foie gras bonbons in six-course prix fixe dinners that celebrate French comfort cooking, communal tables, and Oregon farm finds. The four-course brunch is the city’s best, embracing candied bacon and a no-brakes attitude in an atmosphere of Otis Redding and pure girl power. 

Besaw’s

The term “power breakfast” springs to mind as soon as you lean back against the jade green banquettes at Besaw’s gussied-up new digs. The 113-year-old café reopened five blocks east in 2016, adding lavish custom wallpaper and a gleaming deco ceiling to its weathered bar stools and OG neon sign to create a rarefied breakfasting mood not often found at Portland’s homier cafés. Local mixology outfit Bull in China’s “day drinkin’” cocktail menu turns out to be the ringer, anchored by the bright, sunrise-hued Master Cleanse, which upends a fresh carrot and apple juice health tonic with a jigger of smoky tequila, lemon tang, and cinnamon-cayenne agave, all rimmed with salt and cayenne. The spicy-sweet guzzler is an essential addition to your morning routine. 

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Big Egg's Arbor Lodge, a tower of thick-cut grilled portobellos and balsamic onions holding down an over-easy egg, served on toasty brioche lacquered with roasted-garlic aioli

Image: Karen Brooks

The Big Egg

This cart-turned-Alberta-café combines breakfast’s greatest mood enhancers in a short menu of a.m. sandwich triumphs. First and foremost? A perfect over-medium egg and salty smoked ham smooshed with stanky gorgonzola and maple syrup spiced with thyme and black pepper, caught between two craggy slabs of panko-crusted, cardamom-perfumed French toast. Each bite of this “French toast sandwich” releases a heady torrent of herby, pepper-smacked yolk and sticky meaty sweetness backed with massive, lemon-and-sugar- dusted brioche crunch. With this in your belly, you can go out and conquer the damn world. 

Broth Bar

In a spare, soothing space just off East Burnside, the longtime healthy food makers behind Salt Fire & Time pour salt-free broths—turkey to bison—made from local bones, carrot, onion, and bay leaves. That’s it. Simmered for three days to leach nutrients from the bones, the broths deliver a quick, deep charge of comfort when sipped straight. Soup it ain’t: think of these bone broths as savory tonics you can sip on the go or slurp as a light lunch with mix-and-match “bundles” of kelp noodles, confited organ meats, and oddball ghee and cocoa-butter “fat bombs.” The chicken broth is rich and familiar, the lamb surprisingly sweet with a gamey tang, and each is a warm, heartening smack in the face to stress.

Castagna

A culinary poet and dessert artist, chef Justin Woodward splices seasonal high points, technical feats, and concentrated sauces into spare compositions of strange beauty. His best ideas are excitedly out of the box, among them an edible “terrarium” with dreamy onion custard and hypergreen onion-stalk purée standing in for soil beneath a greenhouse of backyard leaves and flowers. Meanwhile, veteran restaurateur Monique Siu keeps the modern machine humming behind the scenes. Woodward’s Michelin star–caliber desserts remain one of Portland’s best-kept secrets.

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Coquine's short ribs

Coquine

Talented young Katy Millard is a beast in the kitchen, crafting thoughtful, everyday food and drink, day and night. Vegetables get top billing, rigor is a given, and yet you never forget you’re in laid-back Southeast Portland. Millard ponders finds from 10 farms for the day’s menu—perhaps a salad that digs into squash (wide, raw curls above, jewel-cut cooked chunks below, with sunflower pesto spackled in between) or crackling-skinned guinea hen heaped alongside eggplant-apple purée and buzzsaw cuts of green cauliflower roasted to the heavens. Every dish embodies the house ethos: light, naturalistic, and spot-on seasoned, yet underpinned by an iron framework of fundamental technique. 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.

Dame

At this NE Killingsworth boîte, au naturel is the only way to go. Rising-star sommelier Dana Frank and co-owner Jane Smith built their dark, soigné restaurant as a stronghold of natural wine: vintages pressed and bottled from unadulterated, imperfect, organically grown grapes, Oregon to Bosnia, with a light, seafood-and vegetable-focused menu that plays nicely with the curated list.

East Glisan Pizza Lounge

East Glisan’s self-proclaimed “pizza commander,” Vallery Markel, is so obsessed with pizza that in her spare time she cohosts her own podcast, Pie Talk, in the vein of NPR’s Car Talk. The crust on her pizza, a cracker-thin sourdough stratum that most closely resembles her native melting-pot Midwest style, comes loaded with farm-fresh bitter rapini, chile flake, and provolone along with a winter-appropriate kale, bacon, potato, and smoked mozzarella number set in a slick of cream. It helps that Markel trained under Italian matriarch Cathy Whims, who taught her the secrets to the perfect meatball pie, crowned with excellent, golfball-size pork rounds bound in garlic, thyme, and leftover pizza sourdough crumbs.

Eb & Bean

The dye-free sprinkles have landed. So have organic gummi bears, gluten-free animal crackers, Pinkleton’s Curious Caramel Corn, and crushed chocolate-gobbed cookies from Portland’s lauded Bakeshop. Carefully curated toppings star at Eb & Bean, an artisan, soft-serve frozen yogurt pioneer that features the milk of happy, co-op cows, one table (communal), and blackboard shout-outs to local purveyors. Dessert fiends are already hooked on the aptly named “Tart” fro-yo, squiggled beneath a brisk blast of marionberry compote and the wild crunch of oat streusel. 

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Either/Or's Tanglewood chai latte

Image: Karen Brooks

Either/Or

It’s not a microroaster or coffee-bean think tank, but Sellwood’s Either/Or percolates with fresh energy—every inch, every sip of this Scandinavia-meets-vintage coffee shop is considered. Owner Ro Tam ferrets out fine roasters for artful lattes while crafting seasonal sodas like grapefruit and honey with cracked black peppercorn and a float of pomegranate seeds. Espresso flights include a daily “taste pairing”; recently it came in the form of shaved ice, papaya spears, and orange blossom water. The house Tanglewood Chai is the big find, hot or cold, reverberating cinnamon and rippling with fresh ginger. Tam, wisely, has bottled it. 

The Feisty Lamb

Miami-import Micah Edelstein’s (mostly) one-woman bistro makes its stand with eclectic world food in a memento-packed space. There’s South African accents and colossal ambition at brunch and dinner, where she personally mounts each dish like an art project. Farm-raised lamb is the favored meat in the house—a nice break in Porkland. The lamb burger benefits from a crown of thin, crispy, rosemaried potatoes, and “ketchup,” a.k.a. a 17-ingredient tomato and pinot noir potion slow-cooked like jam. You want anything with lamb bacon: charred bits of delicious, cured in a wealth of botanicals and rose petals, then smoked over patio-grown herbs. What should be one of the city’s most exciting new restaurants is hobbled by long waits and inconsistent dishes that don’t always match their labor-intensive price tags. Brunch is your best bet, with curry waffles sided by sticky, spicy, lacquered lamb belly evoking serious Asian pork bun juju.

Hà VL

Owners Ha “Christina” Luu and William Voung are artisans, crafting small-batch regional Vietnamese soups with flavorful free-range chickens, meticulously skimmed broths, and noodles fully soaked before taking a dip in the boiling pot to assure an extra bounce of chewy goodness. Every day brings two options, but Thursday delivers the ultimate double bill: snail noodle soup, with fresh-ground ginger sauce for dipping, and shredded chicken noodle soup as you wish your grandmother could make it, with punctuation marks of sliced pork and ribbons of fried egg. Come early: the goods are often gone by noon. (If they’re sold out, you can still score a glass of their vaunted Vietnamese iced coffee.) 

Kachka

Portland is surveying a new frontier: Russia. Kachka’s boisterous take on the country’s traditional cuisine, as reimagined by chef Bonnie Morales and her husband, Israel, centers on vodka and all the requisite cured fish, dumplings, and cabbage-wrapped meat that come with the territory. With its small tables groaning under plates of vareniki bulging with tangy farmers cheese and satisfying beef tongue (fried to a crisp but meltingly tender inside), plus caviar and traditional Soviet sweets, Kachka just might kick-start a homegrown Russian revolution.

Lauretta Jean’s

Lauretta Jean’s is many things: a pie sanctuary, a biscuit destination, a date haven. The room, folksy and spare, is given to Neil Young croons and small tables. Feast your eyes on the glass counter, home to peak-season pies and custardy beauties in all-butter crusts. The city’s best biscuits bracket a wealth of possibilities, from pulled pork with apple barbecue sauce to plump breakfast sausage slapped with hot cheddar and homemade tomato jam. The meatloaf sandwich will make your day. And where else will you find cocktails and the perfect pie until 10 p.m.? Would you like a Cat’s Pajamas (Campari, Prosecco, grapefruit, and tequila) or a double-crusted pear pie? Both, of course.

Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty

Think wood-fired California designer pizza, by way of fine Oregon farmers: beautifully bronzed and constructed, light on cheese and sauce. Chef Sarah Minnick's pies arrive dressed for the weather—perhaps wild nettles with crispy pancetta or slivers of black trumpet mushrooms boosted by parsley, citrus, and garlic. Sure, you can knock off a Tolstoy chapter before your order arrives, but that allows more time to contemplate the inventive salads and luscious ice creams.

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Southern pride—biscuits and pickles to fried chicken—at Mae

Image: Karen Brooks

Mae

This rollicking, communal Appalachian feast served three days a week in the back room of Old Salt Marketplace is at the head of the local pop-up dinner pack. Here, North Carolina native Maya Lovelace digs into her granny’s recipe file, armed with techniques earned on the line at Charleston, South Carolina’s famed Husk and local farm connections from her kitchen tour at Beast. Upsides: the dip and relish tray, fluffy Angel biscuits hot from the oven, true Southern corn bread, bacon-perfumed fried chicken, heritage grains, and a welcome emphasis on farm-fresh pickles, salads, and sides. The nice cup of coffee comes from beans roasted in Lovelace’s own oven, courtesy of partner/barista Zach Lefler. Downside: Lard, have mercy, Mae is almost punishing in its Southernness—salty, heavy, and generous to a fault. Through it all, the air fills with the sounds of the South, Atlanta hip-hop to furious banjo picking. BYO wine, whiskey, or whatever. (Lovelace is also one of the leaders of #deliciousresistance. The political action group banded together some of Portland's greatest chefs for a "Not My President's Day" fundraiser for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette.)

Måurice

Kristen Murray curates every molecule of flavor at her strange and delightful French-Scandinavian “pastry luncheonette,” where the experience veers from twee to revelatory, varying by the day and the plate. You’ll meet both Murray’s sweet-craft and her nana’s lefse; bitter salads; and a vermouth happy hour. One visit lands you her “chocolate box”—black sesame seed cake, banana mousse, and chocolate mousse housed in glossy chocolate walls so stunning it belongs in the window at Barneys. The next yields bostock, a thick slice of brioche coated with walnut paste and poached fruit like an otherworldly French toast. It’s a gutsy spot—580 square feet of technical skill, refined palate, and tunnel-vision fervor. 

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Clockwise from top left: Seasonal meringue pie, the Milk Glass crew, Tartine sandwich, and maple-glazed cinnamon roll

Image: Karen Brooks

Milk Glass Mrkt

In 2005, Nancye Benson paved the way for PDX’s food cart revolution with morning treats conjured in a vintage trailer oven on N Mississippi Avenue. Now, her signature Moxie Rx cart dishes have found a permanent home: a super-cute retro-mod café filled with curated groceries and some fresh ideas. Chomp right into a cheddar biscuit sandwich—not just the usual fried-egg number, but an herby omelet neatly folded and tucked beneath meaty bacon (or salmon, or roasted peppers) and an ooze of hot white cheese. Scan the counter for daily treats, from serious muffins to crispy-edge bread-pudding cakes—and remember, it’s never too early for Benson’s epic ginger lime macaroons. 

Mother’s Bistro

Cookbook author and comfort-food matriarch Lisa Schroeder serves all the classics Mom used to make—that is, if your mom put smoked salmon and caramelized onions in the mac and cheese. She even shares her motherly love with a “Mother of the Month” menu, with special dishes from cooks who earned their stripes the hard way: raising kids. The raucous Sunday brunch is known for its rich portobello mushroom scramble and cornflake-crusted challah French toast—made for the kiddies, but sophisticated enough for adults. 

Muscadine

The décor at Laura Rhoman’s Southern diner is little more than treasured sacks of White Lily flour, dog-eared cookbooks, and a kitchen full of very engaged crockpots. When you rip into her fried chicken you’ll want to share wild-eyed yelps of glee, the only legitimate response to its utter perfection inside and out. The meat is ambrosial, dark-only and juicy as all get out, and the crust is unlike any other: crisp skin beneath a flaky layer of super-crunch. Order buttermilk style or the fiery Nashville Hot, glazed in homemade lard and cayenne. That chicken is the choice centerpiece of Muscadine’s “Meat + Three” plate, a checklist of Southern desires culled from heirloom ingredients and catfish-country recipes. Wise ordering will land you a pile of criminally creamy grits, laboriously braised collard greens, and sausage gravy that could make anything better, even water.

Nostrana

Local food legend Cathy Whims presents Italian home cooking as it should be—stripped down, honest, powered by wood fire. No place in Portland is better suited to please a diverse crowd: foodies, kids, wine lovers, your adventure-fearing relatives. The mandatory preamble is the Caesar-esque insalata Nostrana. Pasta with tomato butter embodies simple purity, but desserts—hot-from-the-oven fruit crisps and intensive chocolate bodino—can make you gasp. The bistecca alla Fiorentina is arguably the city’s best steak: 2.5 pounds, cooked over oak fire, and big enough for four.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably already heard of “Nong,” Portland’s food-cart queen, and creator of the best chicken and rice you can imagine, bundled old-school-style in butcher paper bound with a rubber band. Each packet holds perfect grains of rice simmered with great hunks of galangal root, poached chicken, a cilantro bouquet, and Nong’s addictive, nose-tingling sauce. Additional Nong’s outposts, including a SE Ankeny Street brick and mortar restaurant, have grown around the city, but the flagship downtown cart is still the beacon. 

Oui Presse

Oui Presse owner Shawna McKeown has nailed the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich, complete with crusty-soft Japanese white bread right from the oven, fresh-ground peanuts, flavorful jam, a schmear of butter, and, for good measure, flaky sea salt. This sweet little shop of coffee, snacks, and news continues to surprise, from the well-curated magazine rack to the handicrafts, small-batch ice creams, lovely daily soups, good toast and jam, and fine chocolate chip cookies with milk, of course. The café's hazelnut espresso coffee cake—find the recipe here—is another standout.

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Pastrami Zombie's Montreal-style sandwich

Pastrami Zombie

There’s something refreshing about an honest sandwich: no coffee aioli, no plum-thyme conserva, no foie gras gravy. At Pastrami Zombie, the cart version of Ashland’s cult-worshipped Sammich shop, owner Melissa McMillan channels that blue-collar magic through the cart’s Montreal-style pastrami: natural Angus brisket, brined for four days, smoked with black oak, and sliced thick. Best sample it in Reuben form, with crunchy slaw and Russian dressing, the rye bread soaked with smoky, fatty goodness. This is not your Jewish deli pastrami. 

Pix Patisserie/Bar Vivant

At Cheryl Wakerhauser’s Pix Patisserie/Bar Vivant, napkins litter the floor, scarlet damask lines the walls, and champagne enthusiasts play a game of pétanque in the courtyard. Portland seems miles away in this world of wacky European vitality and sparkling wine obsession. In its newest iteration on East Burnside, Pix brings savory Spanish tapas, an expanded cocktail menu and a beautiful space to Wakerhauser’s sweet equation.

Revelry

Every aspect of this high-style, vintage clubhouse reflects a determination to combine great food with a verve found in Portland design and music but often lacking in our dining scene. The house bumps with great music, street art murals, and Asian eats from kimchi pancakes to noodles—nominally Korean, but open to global beats. Sexy lighting and painterly gray reflect off found boomboxes mounted on the wall like Warhol totems. The lovingly detailed black sesame tuna rice bowl looks straight outta Bon Appétit. Meanwhile, late-night DJs unleash old-school hip-hop in a valiant effort to awaken sleepy Portland. Where else, in this town, can you sample LL Cool J with seaweed noodles and sweet crab that bounce and soothe like an inside-out Chinatown seafood dumpling—at midnight? The first Portland foray of Seattle chef-restaurateurs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, Revelry’s crowning achievement is a play on Korean fried chicken, a plate of red-orange chunks, dense, saucy, smoky, full of chiles and gochujang fumes. If General Tso’s got a promotion, it would taste like this: a glorious mess beneath a sticky haze of peanut brittle dust.

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Naoko Tamura, a.k.a. Chef Naoko, prepares a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Tamura hopes to make the labor-intensive ritual a signature in her new space, designed by esteemed architect Kengo Kuma.

Shizuku by Chef Naoko

Japanese families and in-the-know locals come for Naoko Tamura’s Oregon-inspired Japanese comfort foods. Bento is the star of the lunch-only menu: light, healthy, artful, and fashioned with farm-fresh ingredients. The chalkboard overhead reads like a road map of respected Oregon producers. Each lacquered box contains five compartments holding thoughtful bites: sweet omelet, silky tofu, market-fresh greens, rice, and a changing main attraction, from lightly fried wild Oregon lingcod to farm-coddled chicken in a tomato braise. If you’re still hungry, the miso soup is fantastically perfumed, and the browned strips of pressed, gooey, rice-cake “mocheese” are terrific. (Plus, the downtown space recently got a high-design makeover from star Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.)

Suzette Crêperie

Suzette boasts a cocktail menu, a $3 happy hour, and a killer brunch, not to mention superlative crêpes, layered with quality ingredients and from-scratch accessories. Owner Jehnee Rains has A-list chops, with pastry stints in Berkeley at Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse and in Portland at Bluehour and the late Ripe. Her sweet tooth shines in dessert crêpes like the “Chocolat,” a cocoa lover’s dark fantasy folded with Rains’s homemade version of Nutella, chocolate sauce, candied hazelnuts, and cinnamon ice cream. Savory options range from vegan and kid-friendly to create-your-own crêpes. 

Tanuki

Tanuki is a cave of debauchery, with unbeatable izakaya (Japanese bar food) and a knockout drink list. The menu is a dizzying array of pickled plums, kimchi spice, and fermented noodles, but don’t panic—there’s an easy way out. Order omakase: you name the price, and chef-owner Janis Martin will unleash a parade of spicy, salty, and sometimes unidentifiable plates for the whole table, from cinnamon-spiked, tea-stained quail eggs to Netarts oysters under an avalanche of shaved kimchi ice. Just remember the rules from the original Tanuki on NW 21st Avenue: no sushi, no kids. 

Xico

Oaxaca is represented at Xico—but so is Oregon: playful notes, purist notions, and fresh-ground masa fill out a room that feels like a beach hut with pearls. A few dishes seem destined for iconic status. They include a crispy, smoldering mass of chile-glazed chips with cotija cheese and a pozole makeover, starring a whole roasted trout (in place of the usual pig’s head) and a broth you’d be happy to swim in. Among the desserts is a dark chocolate–dipped oblong of coconut, almonds, and raisins that would make the Mounds folks blush.


The Gastronaut Report

The top reviewed women-run restaurants on Portland Monthly’s local food app.

  • Kachka: “Vodka flight is a must!” wittywitbeck
  • Nostrana: “The only place where I have experienced Douglas fir sorbet (spoiler: it was amazing).”aGo2girl
  • Beast: “Essential Portland experience. Don’t miss it.” Mahogany
  • Revelry: “The peanut brittle fried chicken is outrageously good” Pdxfoodie
  • Aviary: “Fried chicken skin with watermelon and baba ghanoush? Can’t make this stuff up.” Food4life
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