16 Portland Restaurants for Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions
Every month, we dig through our restaurant listings to bring you a themed (and non-comprehensive!) roundup of places to eat out in Portland. In the January 2018 issue, we highlight 16 spots for guilt-free noshing.
Andina aims for the peaks, with high-end Peruvian fusion cooking not often seen outside of Lima, but with enough local ingredients to keep it grounded in Portland. Colorful pepper sauces over hunks of beef or lamb, fanciful ceviches, and quinoa “risottos” appeal to a wide range of appetites. The jewel-toned bar is a perpetual Pearl District hot spot, with playful Latin-inspired cocktails like the Sacsayhuaman, a seductive dance of sweet, fire, and passion fruit. Forget trying to sound it out and just order it by its nickname: “sexy woman.”
A team of worldly chefs takes inspiration from Tel Aviv, with a menu of standout meatless Israeli dishes—often spiced with vivid green parsley-cilantro tsug and puckery mango and mustard seed amba. Inside the former vegan-Italian stalwart Portobello, Aviv focuses on vegan Israeli recipes both traditional and modern—think falafel bowls and soy curl shawarma fries smothered in hummus, tahini, and a trio of house-made sauces, plus bourekas (pastries) and pita baked in-house.
A checklist of sustainable catches informs Bamboo’s nonpreachy menu, an in-depth list of sake love, creative sushi, and playful, visual rolls drawn from the Pacific Coast. Even the California rolls rise above the mundane, holding only certified local Dungeness crab while keeping prices on par with most places serving the fake stuff. Adventure is part of the house philosophy, and on any night you might find horse mackerel and Scottish trout, not to mention a darn good burger, fat with high-quality American Waygu beef.
Inside this Ikea-chic vegan haven, a world of fresh-fruit smoothies and healthful bowls awaits. You want the walnut taco salad: a frill of sliced avocado, a mountain of greens from Greenville Farms, plus chunky pico de gallo, crunchy walnut paste, and a garlicky cashew “nacho” spread primed by tangy bell pepper. Mix in a side of rice for the full taco salad effect.
When Top Chef star Gregory Gourdet took over the Nines hotel’s astro-sleek 15th-floor restaurant in 2010, it was better known for its bridge-and-tunnel singles scene than for its eats. Since then, the gregarious, telegenic chef has turned the dining room into a lively hub for creative, ambitious pan-Asian cuisine, a spot where Oregon’s produce, meats, and seafood are transmuted into bold yet comforting dishes that sizzle and pop with the big, bright flavors of chile, lime, and ginger. (Plus, entire vegan, gluten-free, and paleo menus.) Visiting the restaurant, with its Vegas-style decks and unparalleled views of the city, is an expensive but giddy-making surprise: it’s as if you went into a dressing room to try on a pair of gaudy Ed Hardy jeans and came out clad in an Armani suit.
Chef Aaron Adams’s self-assured Buckman dining room boasts whimsical modernist vegan tasting menus and grand, self-imposed sourcing limits. (Nearly everything on the menu comes from less than 100 miles away.) Sit at his long chef’s counter, and his pure devotion to local fruits and vegetables shines. Carrots cook sous vide in their own sweet juices before getting seared black in cast iron, like steaks. Skinned, dehydrated tomatoes masquerade as strawberries, each a one-bite burst of late-summer salty sweetness. One dish holds the lilting sense memory of sitting in a grassy field as a kid; another tastes like clarified pond scum, little rounds of Swiss chard standing in for lily pads. Farm Spirit isn’t just “great for a vegan restaurant.” It’s great. Period.
In Portland, Jamba Juice kiosks and Smoothie King drive-thrus have little hope. Green smoothies rule—packed with enough local fruits, vegetables, honey, and even algae to satisfy our mountain-scaling physiques and above-average IQs. In 2011, Nate Higgins and Nick Armour opened Kure Juice Bar, a ramshackle operation inside a tin shed on SE Hawthorne Boulevard. Now a mini empire, Kure draws lines out the door with its “Extra Mile” smoothie, a heavenly blend of kale, almond butter, and coconut, along with healthful bowls brimming with things like acai berries, probiotics, and matcha.
John Taboada pioneered a new east-side indie food style with this 33-seat eatery in 2002, filled with local-farm gestalt, scholarly European village recipes, and his own definition of how a restaurant could be run—freewheeling, food-focused, and tenderly priced. In a city that prides itself on a farm-to-table ethos, nobody embraces the philosophy more completely: ninety percent of the produce is grown within the city limits. You won’t find a more original seasonal menu anywhere—if it’s on the list, it was made from scratch in the kitchen.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably already heard of “Nong,” Portland’s food-cart queen, and creator of the best chicken and rice you can imagine, bundled old-school-style in butcher paper bound with a rubber band. Each packet holds perfect grains of rice simmered with great hunks of galangal root, poached chicken, a cilantro bouquet, and Nong’s addictive, nose-tingling sauce. Additional Nong’s outposts, including a SE Ankeny Street brick and mortar restaurant, have grown around the city, but the flagship downtown cart is still the beacon.
QuickFish Poke Bar
Poke gets the artisan treatment at Bamboo’s QuickFish, next door to the sustainable sushi chain’s downtown spot. Step up to the bar for a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure bender of raw fish, sauces, and toppings—seaweed salad to sesame brittle. The seafood is top-notch, 100 percent sustainable, and rigorously vetted, so don’t expect Hawaii’s famously cheap poke-by-the-pound prices. Overwhelmed? Just order the Bamboo Bowl, with honkin’ cubes of Oregon albacore and a sweet cilantro aioli, topped with confetti strips of nori and crunchy fried shallots.
Shizuku by Chef Naoko
In 2016, Chef Naoko’s food-dork-favorite bento café morphed into Shizuku, a culinary sanctuary designed by famed Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma. Portland’s most unusual table is here for the asking: a low-riding “floating platform” tea table in the corner, bordered by a contemplative stone garden designed by Japanese Garden curator Sadafumi Uchiyama. Slip off your shoes, and sit on floor pads. Order a bento, hop around the menu, or reserve the $65 ocean kaiseki feast and contemplate: how did we get so lucky?
It takes only a single crunchy bite of pakora to fall for the Sudra—maybe two if you’re a vegan-skeptic. The India–meets–New Mexico microsaloon’s florets of quick-pickled broccoli and cauliflower, dunked in spiced chickpea flour batter and served straight from the fryer, are truly habit-forming. Veggie-centric trays come in two sizes: generous and gargantuan, each heaped with an assortment of mellow house curries, dosas, salads, and bright chutneys. The bar specializes in boozy, juice-based concoctions. There’s a subtle hand at the seasoning control board, and the results are pretty, genuine plates that satisfy.
Tusk blasted into Portland in the summer 0f 2016 like a shot of vitamin D, a breezy, glass-walled, feel-good-rocking California dream even a shaggy-sweatered Portlander could embrace. The mode is spiritually Middle Eastern, freethinking in form, and deep in Oregon farm connections. The kitchen’s daily-changing salads, lamb tartares, and rose-petaled feta plates reveal the antidote to Portland’s usual blood sausage/mac and cheese gout aesthetic: healthy, visual, super-fresh, and super-local. Hummus is shockingly light, like garbanzo whipped cream. Oven-fresh whole-grain pita tastes like the missing link between buttered wheat toast and pizza char. At Tusk, meat is but a nibble, a garnish. Chef/co-owner Sam Smith is exciting, his thinking modern but free of deconstructions and foams, powered by shockwaves of whole spices.
Mexican in spicing, farm-forward in spirit, this Portland chainlet boasts specials like local salmon tacos with crisped skins, fresh tomatoes, and avocado-tomatillo dressing. Vegetables are the main event, but meat is taken seriously: gringas (soft, rolled tacos) come hot off the press, puffing and steaming with maize perfume, rolled with braised Sweet Briar Farm pork and dark, musky mole.
Vivienne Kitchen & Pantry
There are no gimmicks or flashy flavors at Hollywood’s Vivienne Kitchen & Pantry, a low-key, light-filled café where you can play book hermit with a mug of Extracto coffee and a bowl of nutty porridge, surrounded by unironic china and the wavering croon of Lou Reed. The formerly fusty coffee shop turns out breakfast sandwiches oozing with with brie and tarragon aioli, alongside silky polenta wedges set in bowls of pork braised in cumin and grapefruit. A humble morning porridge takes top marks: a toothsome mingle of salted oats and toasted quinoa, creamy with half-and-half and barely sweetened with brown sugar. It comes sided with good yogurt, shards of toasted coconut, pistachios, and ever-changing fruit variants. It’s a perfectly pleasant breakfast for any day of the week.
Wolf and Bear’s
Tanna Tenhoopen Dolinksy and Jeremy Garb have propagated a die-hard community of regulars who line up for homemade hummus, a grand Iraqi-style breakfast wrap, and one of the finest falafels around. (Since launching their ramshackle cart in 2009, Dolinsky and Garb have opened three locations across the city.) Crisped, sprouted garbanzo patties are slotted into warm pita, swathed in homemade tahini paste and creamy labneh, then layered with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and grilled eggplant. The Sabich, an ingenious combo of sliced hard-boiled egg, hummus, eggplant, and crisp cucumbers folded in a pita with tangy mango pickle amba, makes for a revelatory morning ritual.