Where Do Portland's Best Chefs Eat on their Own Time?

From pop-up chefs who gorge on Asian noodles, empire-builders who lunch at “prison-like” taquerias, and a James Beard Award winner who swears by Elmer’s—Portland chefs devour this town.

By Kelly Clarke October 21, 2014

As a companion to our Best Restaurants 2014 package, we queried some of the city's most respected chefs on where they eat when they're off the clock. The answers were heartfelt, hilarious, and always delicious. 

WHO: Tommy Habetz, Bunk Sandwiches (and soon-to-be-open Moon Pizza)
WHERE HE EATS: The city’s hidden kitchen treasure is Jerry Huisinga at Bar Mingo, according to Habetz. “He’s one of the most natural and gifted chefs I know,” says the chef, who worked with Huisinga at Genoa. “Bar Mingo’s got a super solid traditional Italian menu and really great pastas. Jerry is the man.”

WHO: Tyler Malek, Salt & Straw
WHERE HE EATS: “It’s not exactly a profound statement saying Aviary is amazing but they keep creating and I keep enjoying,” says ice cream wunderkind Malek. “Every visit leaves me with more ideas to create in my own kitchen. This one restaurant is comprised of the sweetest, most intelligent, and most creative collection of chef-minds in Portland.”

WHO: Sarah Pliner, Aviary 
WHERE SHE EATS: Chef Pliner taps humble Southeast Portland Vietnamese soup spot Pho Hung as her favorite local restaurant:  “I get the #6: delicious broth and a good balance of noodles, meat, and herbs,” she says.  

WHO: Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon
WHERE HE EATS: When it comes to “unappreciated spots,” Rucker comes out swinging for a local, all-American chain: Elmer’s Restaurant at Mall 205. “It’s a great place to have a family breakfast, and the biscuits and gravy kick ass,” he swears.

WHO: Erik Van Kley, Little Bird
WHERE HE EATS:Accanto is my go-to spot,” says Van Kley, of the SE Belmont Italian trattoria. “Always a comfortable meal, always a good negroni.”→

WHO: Micah Camden, Little Big Burger, Blue Star Donut, Son of a Biscuit, Boxer Ramen, etc., etc., etc.
WHERE HE EATS: Where does comfort king Camden head for breakfast? Surprisingly, it’s vegan/gluten-free haven Harlow, to devour the Arcadian bowl with quinoa, poached eggs, and avocado. “That dish crosses the line from the typical I- know-it’s-good-for-me-bowl-of-blasé to holy-shit-this-is-fucking-great.” Taqueria Santa Cruz in St. Johns is where he heads for lunch: “This place has the ambiance of a prison cafeteria. The fluorescent lights would make the healthiest person look ill, it reeks of hand sanitizer and latex for some reason,” he admits. “But the second you bite in to one of those little tacos you'll be singing their praises far and wide.” And for dinner? It’s all about the flatbread at North Williams’ Lincoln. “The accouterments of this dish rotates but the flat bread recipe—which I’ve tried to steal on numerous occasions—stays the same,” he says. “I’ve told [chef] Jenn Louis that this dish alone could warrant it’s own restaurant.”

WHO: Jenn Louis, Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern
WHERE SHE EATS: Louis’s fave afternoon getaway is Hillsboro’s low-key Helvetia Tavern. “Everyone loves it. They serve old-school griddle burgers, and that is really all you need,” she says. I like to split the Jumbo burger with [husband and biz partner] David. It’s a big dude with lots of meat, bacon, and the works.” 

WHO: John Gorham, Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons/Alder, Mediterranean Exploration Company
WHERE HE EATS: “The place we were at the most this summer was The Deck on Marine Drive,” says Gorham, name-dropping a floating restaurant along the Columbia River. “The food is nothing special, but the view is amazing. I always get the clam strips and a mojito. It reminds me of being on the Chesapeake Bay.”

WHO: Cathy Whims, Nostrana and Oven & Shaker
WHERE SHE EATS: “I go to Caffe Allora for lunch,” says Whims, who has high praise for the tiny Pearl District eatery. “Eddie Severa—a true Roman natural home cook—makes pure, simple, in-season Italian fare that transports me straight to Lazio.”

Paella Ataula, with prawns, cuttlefish, mussels, calamari, and clams

WHO: Vitaly Paley, Paley’s Place, Imperial, and the Portland Penny Diner
←WHERE HE EATS: Paley’s first choice for dinner in PDX? Ataula, home of PoMo’s 2014 Chef of the Year Jose Chesa. “The experience is always spectacular. The food is complex yet easy to understand and most definitely very tasty and fun to eat,” says the chef. “I crave their patatas bravas.”

WHO: Rodney Muirhead, Podnah’s Pit
WHERE HE EATS: “One of my favorite neighborhood bars to hit both for drinks and food is Free House,” says Muirhead. “It’s an offshoot of Olympic Provisions, so you know the food is going to be good. Great staff, great drinks, and a killer hamburger.”

WHO: Anthony Cafiero, Ración
WHERE HE EATS: Where does Cafiero head after a long shift? “Little Bird delivers a late-night dining experience second to none,” he says. “And you gotta like Slow Bar—eat excellent ceviche, organic salad, and a kick-ass burger while listening to Black Sabbath and watching a cult horror movie.”

WHO: Aaron Barnett, St Jack
WHERE HE EATS:Daruma Sushi + Saké is super small, amazingly friendly, and very cute,” says Chef Barnett, who lives near the NE Fremont spot. “The sushi is perfect. Don’t go looking for monster rolls. Everything here is about balance, texture, and technique. I could eat here daily.”

WHO: Philippe Boulot, Multnomah Athletic Club
WHERE HE EATS: NE Alberta’s intensely original, globe-trotting Aviary. “I think they are the most skilled cooks in Portland right now,” Boulot, who won a James Beard Award in 2001 for his work at the Heathman Restaurant, says of Aviary’s triad of chefs: Sarah Pliner, Jasper Shen, and Kat Whitehead. “Sarah Pliner’s cooking and complexity is pretty exceptional. Everything on the menu is quite amazing. I just like all of it.”

Little T American Baker on SE Division

WHO: Chris Israel, Gruner
WHERE HE EATS: The Teutonic-minded chef makes a beeline for Tim Healea’s Little T Baker→. “Tim consistently surprises and delights with his masterful creations like sweet potato donuts, chocolate croissants, and his ham and cheese pretzel croissant,” he says. “It doesn't get any better than this. Seriously!”

WHO: Will Preisch and Joel Stocks, Holdfast
WHERE THEY EAT: Both pop up masters trend Asian for their off hours eats: “Biwa is one of my favorite places in town. Very casual, super comfortable and open late (for Portland),” says Preisch. “Their isobeyaki is awesome, really though I just trust the italics and “!” signs on the menu, you can't go wrong.” “Frank’s Noodle House on NE Broadway is an every other week must,” Stocks swears. “There is no better weekend hangover cure than a spicy pork noodle to go with a side of kimchi.”

WHO: Patrick McKee, Paley’s Place
WHERE HE EATS: Ataula is actually two-for-two for recs from the Paley’s crew: “It’s always my first choice on where to go or to recommend,” swears McKee. “Jose’s food is always very delicious, creative, and heartfelt. From his Xupa-Xup to his foie gras pitufo, it’s always spot on!”

WHO: Nora Antene and Andrew Mace, Limited Company
WHERE THEY EAT: The pop up team and Le Pigeon kitchen mates rave about Langbaan’s more laid-back mother restaurant PaaDee: “Its pomelo salad with a couple of sides of sticky rice is perfect for the winter time.”

WHO: Doug Adams, chef de cuisine at Imperial
WHERE HE EATS: The Top Chef contender also has major love for PaaDee: “It’s my favorite spot on my day off. The steak salad doused in fish sauce is so refreshing—big chunks of romaine, cucumber, and green onion. It’s perfect.”

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