Each year, when the time comes to plan our November issue, we Portland Monthly editors face the happy challenge of distilling the essence of a year in one of the country’s great food cities. Sometimes, no single restaurant or chef steps forward to put their stamp on the scene—last year, for example, we anointed two “rising stars” rather than a single restaurant of the year. Often, we find ourselves drawn to singular experiences, standout dishes, and notable culinary visions rather than the old, amuse bouche-to-stately port model of destination dining.
In 2017, that feels like Portland: a food city built on individualistic riffs, narrow-but-deep experiments, and mercurial explosions of flavor and invention. Don’t get us wrong: we’d love it if someone here cracked Champagne on a grand battleship of top-tier fine-dining. We’d love a Cascadian Noma, fired with global ambition. But right now, Portland food is a constellation of smaller, weirder little worlds of their own. To know it requires a sense of adventure—we offer our annual Best Restaurants feature as a road map.
You could start with the Restaurant of the Year. Yes, there is one, undisputed in our eyes: Han Oak. As Karen Brooks writes, Peter Cho’s inventive take on a Korean restaurant “rewrites the rules, charms hearts, and dominates the conversation.”
Our chefs of the year, Sam Smith of Tusk and Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene’s, have collaborated to define a style of cooking and eating that’s starting to feel like it’s just how we order, eat, and cook.
Bar Casa Vale certainly has a tale to tell: the vibrant Spanish drinking/dining spot barely survived the brutal times of winter 2016. Now it’s the place for intense woodfired bites and horizon-expanding drinks.
Three “unrestaurants”—Tournant, Jolie Laide, and Shipwreck—moved beyond the gimmickry of pop-ups to prove that fun can operate on its own damn schedule.
The most prim and proper entrant on our list, Russian Tea Experience at Headwaters, is a legendary chef’s dreamy recreation of old-world elegance. We’ll take it.
In an era that is, well, somewhat depressing, Güero’s supremely joyful take on the Mexican torta feel like a national necessity. Likewise the rocket-fuel affogato Cubano at Fifty Licks. The fact that you can walk from one to the other around East Burnside and 28th: bonus.
Of Duck House, a newcomer downtown, Kelly Clarke writes: “A throwback Chinese restaurant in a defunct brewpub…[is] a Szechuan-style haven for crisp-skinned Peking duck and simmering fish stew.” And the dumplings…the dummmmmpliiiiiiiings.
For at least four reasons, Providore is the city’s greatest food hall—a fantasy grocery store, fish market, and roast-chicken stand that would serve very well as a triumphant conclusion to a tour of this city’s tastiest places.