We Predict: Portland’s Best Restaurants 2016
This time last year, we noted 10 places poised for a close-up in Portland’s competitive scene. Only two of them vaulted to PoMo’s Best Restaurants 2015. Plans for some of the year’s real breakouts didn’t exist—even as concepts—including Coquine, our Rising Star of the Year. Another fave, the quasi-pop-up NomadPDX, didn’t find its legs until the summer. My point is this: what follows are our best guesses, gut instincts, and a little giddy excitement about what might be. What’s on your radar? Send ideas and tips in the comments below.
2200 NE Broadway St
Projected opening: end of January
Spanish-style doughnuts, made to order. Playful fillings. It’s breakfast food, drunk food, and addictive food, all at once. On the side, for dipping or sipping: dark Spanish drinking chocolate spun from superb local artisan bars. Could anything more perfect for Portland? We’ll soon find out. Jose Chesa and Christina Baez, the hearts and minds behind Northwest Portland’s Spanish standout Ataula, are readying to open the Rose City’s first xurreria. (Eat Beat first spilled the news here). Chesa (Portland Monthly’s 2014 Chef of the Year) has spent months perfecting the Spanish xurro (elongated fried pastry dough). His personal stamp? Fillings, dulce de leche to crema Catalana, and house dipping sauces. Meanwhile, drinking chocolate will get the full Portland treatment, made from top-notch chocolate from local Cocanu. 180 will share space with the couple’s other forthcoming project, the paella-focused Chesa (see below).
2200 NE Broadway St
Projected opening: February
Anyone who’s eaten at Ataula knows one thing: Jose Chesa loves his father (the restaurant’s namesake), paella, Catalonian traditions, modern techniques, and always, accessible ideas. They’ll all be on display at Chesa alongside a new toy: Spain’s coveted, charcoal-fired Josper oven. Chesa claims it just changes the paella’s character, infusing the whole thing with a smoky, campfire allure. The menu will play it small and tight with a handful of paellas, some tapas and finger foods, a few seafood surprises, Iberico ham, desserts, and lots of vermouth, sherry and txakoli wine.
8235 SE 13th St, Sellwood
Projected opening: Feb 8
Sellwood’s Either/Or coffee shop is a true gem, full of charm, rigor, fresh ideas, and crazy inventive coffee mocktails good enough to earn Portland Monthly’s tag as Best Drinks 2015. Now, owner Ro Tam (along with her musician brother, Simon) is applying her love of vintage style and craft to a new project next door, Tam, a Hong Kong won ton noodle shop. Their influences: music, filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, and their father, who survived Hong Kong’s streets by making won ton noodles. Expect a small slice of food and mood, led by won ton soup (pork-mushroom or veggie/vegan) focused on presentation and Hong Kong flavor.
1605 NE Killingsworth St
Projected opening Second week in February
Mope if you must about the wait list at Langbaan. We can’t help you. The Thai tasting-menu adventure on SE 28th (Portland Monthly’s Restaurant of the Year 2014 and Cuisine of the Year 2015) is still riding a hot streak, and booked through July. But if you’re looking for a fresh (and super casual) slice of Thai dining, read on. As we first reported in December, Langbaan’s Earl Ninsom has partnered with Portland bar man, Alan Akwai, and enlisted a team of Thai chefs to unleash one of his obsessions: little-known dishes from the middle of Southern Thailand, home of his grandfather. The goal is to serve “what the locals are eating.” That means lots of curries, and yes, Southern Thai fried chicken. Other menu intrigues: braised oxtail soup, curry broth with roti breads, charcoal-grilled, head-on shrimp, and a Langbaan treat: relish trays holding the likes of salted duck eggs, Thai-style jerky and smoked trout. Hours will be 11 am-10 pm, daily. For me, it can’t open soon enough.
Pine Street Market
133 SW Pine St
Projected opening: mid-February or March
One place might change everything this year: Portland’s first food hall, a multi-million dollar project that will unfold inside the entire ground floor of a historic downtown building. It’s ambitious and gutsy on various fronts (read our original story here). Mike Thelin, Feast co-founder and a man more connected than a wise guy, was tapped to curate the vendors. He’s recruited some of Portland’s top talents not just to open satellite projects, but to create or rethink their concepts.
So far, there are 8 tenants, each with a unique space. Among the possible breakouts: Pollo Bravo, a rollicking tapas bar-cum-rotisserie chicken spot from Toro Bravo’s John Gorham; OP Wurst, a place of hot dog madness from Portland’s charcuterie think tank, Olympia Provisions; Trifecta Annex, expert baker Ken Forkish’s new toast bar with seasonal toppings plus Roman-style pizza and pastries; Common Law, a French-Thai mash-up from classically trained Patrick McKee and Langbaan’s Earl Ninsom. Beef tongue banh mi, anyone? (original details here); and a mystery project from Salt & Straw that rethinks the presentation of ice cream and soft serve (or so we think). Pine Street Market is the one to watch.
527 SW 12th Avenue
Projected opening: early March
March will be a busy month, indeed, for Ox’s Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton. Lines that don’t quit at their Northeast Portland restaurant are, suddenly, the least of it. The couple’s first cookbook, Around the Fire, a compendium of the restaurant’s stories, recipes, and flame-fired secrets, drops on March 29. Weeks earlier, they’re hoping to open their second act downtown, in the just-closed Gruner space. SuperBite, a dinner-only spot, is already one of the most talked-about projects in Portland, even though dishes and details are still in the R&D stage. This much is clear: boldly flavored small plates are the focus (hence “SuperBite”). New-school Parisian bistros, seasonality, classic technique, and modernism will all factor in. So will flexibility: “We want it to be a choose-your-own-adventure type of dining experience.” The former Gruner, a beautiful space, is getting a new look, however sad, allowing SuperBite to create its own identity. As for Gruner’s next-door bar, Kask? The Dentons will keep the name and décor, with minor changes (hello, taller tables). Our prediction: good luck getting a seat.