14 Things You Must Eat and Drink This Winter

From flaming cocktails to Sichuan hot pot, we've got more than a dozen tips for giving your appetite a big, warm hug.

By Benjamin Tepler and Tuck Woodstock Edited by Kelly Clarke December 1, 2014 Published in the December 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Treat your Belly to Some Comfort Food

Sichuan Hot Pot, Chongqing Huo Guo →

The bubbling tabletop cauldrons of DIY Chinese soup at this SE 82nd Avenue kitchen double as fragrant, flu-fighting steam treatments for your face. Grab some friends and order the half and half pot: rich “secret” broth bobs with pleasantly bitter, smoky medicinal nuts and gogi berries on one side and the lip-searingly hot, chile oil–slicked house spicy base on the other. Then, pick and choose your soup ingredients from a laundry list of savory proteins and veggies, plus springy house-made fish balls hiding pork centers, ribbony Shanxi knife-cut noodles, and delicate pork dumplings. Everything comes on the side so you can flavor your pot exactly to your tastes. Just dip and dunk your way to full-belly happiness. 

Cassoulet, Little Bird

This fancified white bean casserole positively radiates good cheer. Each forkful of chef Erik Van Kley’s lovingly crafted take on the slow-cooked French classic reveals another meaty treasure—a thick hunk of savory pork belly, a fall-apart bite of confit duck leg, or an entire garlicky Riesling house sausage—along with tiny pops of herb pistou, bread crumbs, and crunchy duck skin. And just to make sure the ragout tastes extra luxurious, the kitchen simmers the beans with roasted, puréed pigskin. “It’s our secret weapon,” laughs Van Kley.

Bo Kho, Pho An

You know what’s good? Hearty French beef stew. You know what’s even better? Rich Vietnamese beef stew swimming with carrots and stalks of lemongrass, amped up with a sweet-and-spicy mix of Asian flavors, from star anise to five-spice powder. Bonus: each mixing bowl–size order at this humble Northeast Portland standby comes with a mini baguette for proper dunking. If it’s any colder than 58 degrees outside you should be eating this right now.

“Mom’s Meatloaf,”  Portland Penny Diner

Vitaly Paley’s grab-and-go diner serves some of the best meat loaf outside of a home kitchen. Rustic slabs of tender, spiced pork and beef are served on a bed of crazy-buttery whipped spuds. It’s all absolutely smothered in a great kitchen-sink gravy that contains everything from chicken sausage to braised rabbit drippings or wood-fire-smoked mushrooms, depending on the week. 

Sample the City's Best Belly-Warming Cocktails

Baba Sima’s Tonic, Kachka 

This ornate flaming cup, heady with brandy, overproof rum, and silky Townshend’s Crème de la Earl Grey tea, is a refined descendant of the strong black tea and booze cure-all that chef Bonnie Morales’s Belarussian babushka used to ward off sniffles for generations. Watching the staffers ceremoniously prepare each delicate glass table-side, setting sugar cubes alight with alchemic flash, the air heavy with a haze of orange zest, is a reliable remedy for cocktail boredom.

Heart of the Sun, Ración 

Modernist bartender Justin Siemer crafts a frosty alternative to eggnog’s saccharine clog: a frothy brandy, raisiny Banyuls, and whole-egg flip with a toasty charge of Siemer’s own Blackheart coffee liqueur, topped off with a shower of nutmeg. Ask for a warmed shot glass of that amazing caffeine elixir on the side—Siemer makes each batch by hand, “brewing” Heart Coffee's Guatemalan grind with baking spices and rum in an immersion circulator.

Jolly Old Elf, The Fireside 

Bar pro Sue Erikson lends hot cocoa some serious smolder: she swirls dark, 61 percent Valrhona chocolate and milk with the smoky, slow burn of Ancho Reyes chile liquor, tequila, and habanero tincture. The merry-making concoction (pictured above) is draped with a rough square of house-made marshmallow, spiked with Angostura and orange Curaçao bitters and torched to Yule log perfection. 

Curl Up at the City’s Coziest Spots

Image: Karen Brooks

  • Townshend’s Tea: Flickering candles warm each cup at this tranquil haven, accented with cushy couches and the sweet smell of tea leaves.
  • Honors Bar & Detention Bar: The Kennedy School’s tiny twin pubs—converted from janitors’ closets—stay toasty thanks to antique potbellied stoves and stacks of firewood nestled under the bars’ benches.
  • Coava Coffee Hawthorne: Sip a meticulous mocha whisked with good Cocanú chocolate in front of the café’s modern hearth (right).
  • Tidbit Food Farm and Garden: Dozens of carts circle like covered wagons around tented, light-strung picnic benches, and a fabulous fire pit.
  • Old Town Brewing Co: Rustic wooden booths, wrought-iron chandeliers, impressive woodpiles, and a two-story stone fireplace lend this pizza bar a cozy ski lodge vibe.
  • Teote: A covered patio, fire pit, and major Latin American spice.

Eat Crabs—While They’re in Season! 

With winter’s icy tides, Oregon’s Dungeness crabs finally pack enough sweet meat under their shells to warrant a full-on boil. To up your crab game beyond butter and Old Bay, we enlisted the help of Top Chef star and Departure chef Gregory Gourdet. His Asian ketchup gives the crustaceans a sweet, tart coating, finger-licking required.

Tamarind Ketchup

Makes roughly 1 cup

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sweat ½ cup roughly chopped shallots,
6 roughly chopped garlic cloves,
2 tbsp peeled ginger in ¼-inch-thick slices, and one quarter of a red jalapeño over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized, around 10 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, 3 tbsp tamarind purée, ¼ cup crushed tomatoes, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp soy sauce, ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp palm sugar (or brown sugar), and 2 tsp fresh-squeezed lime juice and cook for about 12 minutes, or until sauce thickens. Purée in a blender until smooth and season with salt and sugar if needed. In a bowl toss whole crabs with some sauce and cilantro. Serve with more tamarind ketchup for dipping.

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