The 2015 Portland Restaurant Halftime Report
Portland’s food scene moves fast. Nowadays, a restaurant is old news before you can even sample your first bite. We’re halfway through the year, which means it’s time to take stock. Here’s a rundown of need-to-know spots for 2015—those we’ve already tried and were blown away by, the ones that we think will have a major impact in the years to come (if and when they open), and others that have shuttered, leaving a void of cupcakes, great service, or whatever other gifts they gave the food community.
Le Vieux: We liked their “Old World Mediterranean” gusto, but wanted more of that Proustian yum-factor. We’ll be back to try Le Vieux’s newer, more condensed menu, which focuses on the greater Mediterranean landscape, rather than rotating from France to Spain to Italy on a monthly basis.
Smokehouse Tavern: An early visit showed promise as one of the best barbecue spots in Southeast Portland. Helmed by owner B. J. Smith, the tavern has the same metaphorical butcher block as the original Smokehouse 21 on NW 21st Avenue (beef brisket to pork cheeks), but the second restaurant is amped up with a full-fledged cocktail menu, a few stylish starters, and even brunch.
P.R.E.A.M.: The pizza pop-up turned brick-and-mortar from former Ned Luddites Nicholas Ford and Brandon Gomez delivers a pizza party like you’ve never experienced. Yes, the pizza and soda fountain cocktails are great, but it’s the full ride—Wu-Tang to graffiti mural—that makes this place creative and immersive.
Noraneko: Nearly eight years after Biwa first served its cult-forming burger with barbecued pork belly and kimchi mayo, Noraneko opened its doors underneath the Hawthorne Bridge. Is it a juice bar? A late-night noodle den? A new-age health food café, complete with house kombucha? It’s early to say, but we’re digging lighter, healthier side of ramen.
Holdfast: Two-plus years ago, Will Preisch’s naturalist Nordic-Oregon menus vaulted into the top tier of Portland dining; diners scrambled for seats, and this magazine named Preisch 2013’s Rising Star Chef. Early this year, Preisch and copilot Joel Stocks moved into Fausse Piste winery in Southeast Portland. Our takeaway? It’s fun, dramatic, and real. It’s the new date night in Portland, and it’s now a bona fide food destination—as could only be imagined by two avant bros.
Chizu: You can be forgiven for doing a double take when entering Chizu, a dead ringer for a sushi bar. Sushi, the epitome of the perfect bite, is merely the inspiration for one man’s mission to share his 20-year cheese odyssey. Grab a sake and revel in owner Steve Jones’s fan-boy enthusiasm.
Hamlet: The atmospheric ham and sherry bar from chef Cathy Whims, bartender Ryan Magarian, and restaurateur Kurt Huffman opened in early May, with rightfully spendy bites of world renowned Spanish pigs and seriously interesting cocktails. Expect a full report from Eat Beat in the coming weeks.
Renata: The much buzzed about Italian eatery from front-of-house French Laundry alums Sandra and Nick Arnerich and Matthew Sigler, formerly of San Francisco’s Flour + Water technically opened on June 1, though they’ve been hosting dinner since mid-May. The Oregonian annointed them Restaurant of the Year 2015 after only two weeks of officially opening, angering chefs, local publications, and everyone inbetween. The jury’s still out on their upscale wood-fired pasta and pizza operation, but you can expect our early thoughts in the upcoming August issue.
Farm Spirit: Portobello Vegan Trattoria co-founder Aaron Adams just opened his all-vegan tasting menu restaurant at 1414 S.E. Morrison St. We’re talking maitake mushroom torchon on toast with fried hazelnuts and stone fruit. Dinner is available by reservation only, Wednesday through Saturday. Check out the website for more details.
Altabira and Citizen Baker: The man behind pre-theater haunt Nel Centro, and the now-shuttered Lauro in Southeast Portland, has launched a two part operation: the sky-high beer-centric restaurant Altabira City Tavern and smaller Citizen Baker cafe, a double-barreled blast for the Modera team’s new Hotel Eastlund, located right across the street the Oregon Convention Center. The two eateries may help transform the rapidly changing Lloyd District from a fast food wasteland to a chic dining go-to.
Not Yet Opened
Burrasca: The celebrated Florentine cart will go brick-and-mortar with hand-made pastas, an all-Tuscan bar, and 'Big Night' charm, inside the former Block’s Café space. Projected Opening: First week of July.
Coquine: Katy Millard, who bootstrapped her way through some of France’s finest kitchens and earned major sous chef stripes at San Francisco’s famed Coi, is transforming her occasional pop-up into a 32-seat restaurant at the edge of Mt Tabor at 6839 SE Belmont Ave. With help from Millard's husband and gracious wine host Ksandek Podbielski, Coquine will soon launch for dinner with charcoal-grilled whole chickens and seasonal accompaniments. Later, Millard plans to add a coffee shop and lunch hours with house-made pastries, sandwiches, and salads, not to mention a popsicle program featuring summer fruit pops, butterscotch pudding pops, and chocolate fudgescicles. Projected Opening: Mid July
Rose VL Deli: Food pilgrims know one absolute truth about Portland’s Asian eats scene: HA & VL serves the best collection of Vietnamese soups this side of Saigon. Ha “Christina” Luu and William Voung H. (the HA and VL of the name) are coming out of semi-retirement to launch Rose VL Deli, an expanded dinner-only spin-off at 6424 SE Powell Boulevard, with more menu choices and more rarely seen noodle soups. Rose VL Deli should open in the coming weeks, though we still don’t have a hard date.
Tastebud: Mark Doxtader, known for his brassica-topped pizzas and superlative roasted chicken dinners, is still on track to open his new Tastebud restaurant in Multnomah Village at 7783 SW Capitol Highway. After nearly a year in delays, his new projected opening is October 2015. Jason Barwikowski, his original chef-talent, is no longer in the picture, Doxtader tells Eat Beat. More as it becomes available.
Moon Pizza: Bunk Sandwiches Tommy Habetz titillated the food world with his news of an East-Coast-style pizza shop at SE 20th Avenue near Powell Boulevard. Still no updates on the family-centric pizza shop, which was set to open last winter. It’s unclear whether or not Moon Pizza will open at all, or if it will be at the southeast location. More as it becomes available.
Sugar Cube: Kir Jenson shut down her gluttonous sweet shop on May 3, 2015, much to the chagrin of cupcake and mallow pie lovers everywhere. Jenson says “I’m closing up shop for a ‘higher calling’—wink-wink, nod-nod. Stay tuned for details.”
Besaw’s: The 112-year-old bistro on the corner of Northwest 23rd and Savier Street will close as developer C.E. John takes over the space. Owner Cana Flug will keep the Besaw’s name and reopen in a new undisclosed space just a few blocks away.
Who did we miss? Which restaraunts are you betting the farm on? Let us know in the comments below!