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Mae's Maya Lovelace

Who’s behind many of Portland’s top restaurants? Women. Here’s a (non-comprehensive!) roundup of some of our favorite lady-run spots.

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 Northeast Portland bakery puts the swagger in whole-grain treats, with straight-up addictions like the twice-baked almond croissant, a force field of crunch oozing near-custardy almond paste. The seasons are Boyce’s playground: 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.

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Naomi Pomeroy at Beast

Beast

Surely you’ve heard of Naomi Pomeroy. She’s the firebrand. The meat queen-turned-celebrity chef. The cookbook author and James Beard Award winner. Over a decade in, Pomeroy’s Beast is no longer your sassy little sister kicking out foie gras bonbons, candied bacon, and intense chocolate truffle cake. Today’s incarnation is all grown up: prix fixe menus remain the mode for dinner and Sunday brunch, but flavors are now more familiar to followers of seasonal contemporary cooking, from pretty pastas to citrus-poached octopus terrine. If you want an adventure, go to Pomeroy’s Expatriate bar across the street. If you want something accessible, confident, and beautiful, shared with strangers at a table, Beast is your animal.

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. 

Bete-Lukas

After nearly a decade on SE Division Street, as micro-chains replace dives and condominiums grow over area parks, Bete-Lukas has remained Portland’s stalwart Ethiopian restaurant. On the second floor of a nondescript apartment building, in a dim room likely unchanged since the ’90s, lentil sambusa, serrano-stewed kale, and earthy, cardamom-spiced beef kitfo are rushed out to tables atop big platters of tangy, spongy injera. When in doubt, claw into the veggie and beef combos, which serve as a primer to Ethiopia’s world of complex spices and braises.

Castagna

Meditations on Oregon’s grocery cart are the focal point of Castagna’s nightly slate of tasting menus. One of the country’s best young chefs, with his own slate of technical moves and poetic plating, Justin Woodward soars above most farm-to-tablers. This is where celery root struts like Rihanna and slow-roasted carrots looks like magic Lincoln Logs and taste like sweet potato pie. Yes, an all-vegetable option is possible. Everything hums beautifully here—the wines, the service, the cocktails—thanks to veteran restaurateur Monique Siu, once a cofounder of Portland’s legendary Zefiro.

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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. Originally built by rising-star sommelier Dana Frank (although she’s since departed), the dark, soigné restaurant is 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 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.

Kachka

Kachka’s boisterous take on Russia’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

Purists, don’t bother. Sarah Minnick is the bold auteur of the Portland pizza, free-thinking and deeply connected to adventurous local farmers and Northwest cheeses ... and her pies terrific. You’ll find yourself digging into combinations that could be considered crimes in a Jersey ’za shop. A pie of roasted apricots, fresh fenugreek greens, and pink echinacea flowers? You bet, and typically the weirder it sounds, the better it is. Three bites in, it becomes clear why Italian pizza master Franco Pepe is a fan. For dessert, don’t miss one of the last reminders of what real ice cream tastes like, with seasonal flavors so ripe they could have fallen from a tree.

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

Image: Karen Brooks

Mae

This rollicking, communal Appalachian feast served Monday and Wednesday nights 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.

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 Murray’s sweet-craft, her nana’s lefse, and delicate seafood. One visit lands you her “chocolate box”—black sesame seed cake, banana mousse, and chocolate mousse housed in glossy chocolate walls worthy of 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. Nowaways, her signature Moxie Rx cart dishes have a permanent home inside 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.

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.

→ Nostrana’s new 40-seat wine bar next door, Enoteca Nostrana, features a pasta bar with high-end Italian condiments, from Calabrian chiles to fried capers.

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 brick-and-mortars on SE Ankeny and on SW 13th Avenue, mean you can get your KMG fix in a variety of settings and on either side of the river.

→ Nong opened her second brick-and-mortar in March at 417 SW 13th Ave, with wine and beer on tap (including a special “Nong’s” Breakside lager).

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.

Pix Patisserie/Bar Vivant

At dessert hero Cheryl Wakerhauser’s Pix Pâtisserie/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. Wakerhauser has been baking bonbons and French macarons since she opened in 2001, but in 2012 Pix moved to East Burnside, bringing savory Spanish tapas, an expanded cocktail menu, and a beautiful space to the 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.

Rose VL Deli

Rose VL is the sequel to Hà VL, courtesy Vietnamese soup master Christina Luu and William Vuong. The pair emerged from semiretirement to open this strip mall dinner spot, carting rarely seen regional Vietnamese noodle soups with them, some not available at Hà VL. Look for two different soups each day—“Dry Chicken Noodle” to the VL Special Noodle Soups, heaped with a dozen flavors, aromas, herbs and no shortage of homemade BBQ pork exuberance. Luu’s fantastic Vietnamese iced coffee is dripped to order. Sundays bring on Hà VL’s legendary mi Quang turmeric noodles, spiced to take your breath away beneath roasted peanuts and a puffy sesame cracker.

Sammich

Ashland’s greatest food gift to Portland is this sandwich shop’s pastrami: fatty, dark red, and deeply smoky after hours over smoldering black oak. Try it—as the Chicagoans do—in Reuben form, or capping the Sammich Burger griddled with ground Angus beef and special “Sammich sauce.” The 24-seat eatery also hosts a gut-busting lineup of non-pastrami options, from a Chicago Italian Beef served “wet,” to the Timbo cheesesteak, served only “slightly wet.” You can’t miss outspoken owner Melissa McMillan, often seen chopping wood for her smoker out front and enforcing the mandatory Chicago Cubs dress code.

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Naoko Tamura, a.k.a. Chef Naoko, prepares a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Shizuku by Chef Naoko

In 2016, Chef Naoko’s food-dork-favorite bento café morphed into Shizuku, a culinary sanctuary designed by famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Portland’s most unusual table is here for the asking: a low-riding “floating platform” tea table in the corner, bordered by a contemplative stone garden designed by Japanese Garden curator Sadafumi Uchiyama. Slip off your shoes, and sit on floor pads. Order a bento, hop around the menu, or reserve the $65 ocean kaiseki feast and contemplate: how did we get so lucky?

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

The Mexican state of 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.

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