Year In Review

Our Food Writers’ Best Bites of 2022 at Portland Restaurants

After another year of eating our way through Portland, at your service, these are the dishes we’re still chewing on.

By Matthew Trueherz, Karen Brooks, and Katherine Chew Hamilton December 29, 2022

Café Olli's pomodoro pizza with stracciatella and anchovies

For the first time since the pandemic hit, we’ve had a substantial chunk of time to go out and eat. It hasn’t been an easy year for restaurants (or diners), but there has been an exciting series of new favorites and old standbys charging Portland’s remarkable food scene. Working hard as professional eaters, we found more than a few reminders of the joy that dining out can bring.  

From a whole crab (pinchers to pinchers?) approach to fine dining, to of course two examples of pizza capable of calming existential woes, to the heat of Portland’s bubbling Sichuan scene and the fury that is everything Gregory Gourdet, Portland’s chefs have given us loads to pore over this year. Here’s what we’re still dreaming of.  

Berlu: The Dungeness crab course that changed everything 

Every once in a while, a kitchen can change your perspective on what something familiar can be. I thought I knew Dungeness crab—a high point and signature of Northwest menus. Until one night at Berlu earlier this year, when chef Vince Nguyen created a mini-feast of Vietnamese tradition and imagination, using every part of the crab in multiple dishes laid out all at once—an idea we pray will become an annual event. Spinach-wrapped legs were grilled with a brush of tamarind-black pepper glaze. Knuckles and claw meat bobbed in glorious hot chao porridge simmered in a broth of crab stock and shells. Even crab butter got into the act, served alongside warm popovers and a terrine of foie gras and crab fat. A bowl of herbs and lettuces completed the scene. Only thing missing: crab dessert. If anyone can do it, it’s Nguyen, whose daring ideas made him our 2022 chef of the year. 605 SE Belmont St —Karen Brooks 

Café Olli: Pomodoro pie with stracciatella and anchovies that nails the details   

Walking into Café Olli, you might see chef and owner Taylor Manning casually standing over a pizza or two steaming on a tray in front of him. He’s not letting your pie go cold, but giving the crust a moment’s rest, preventing the wood oven's char from going limp (like when a cake recipe tells you to turn it out onto a rack for a crisper crust). Details like this are what set Olli’s pizza—all of their food, really—apart. The pomodoro pie, simply that wonderfully bewitched crust adorned with a garlic-flecked, oven roasted tomato concentrate, is best dressed with the additions of stracciatella and anchovies. Each slice gets its own mound of the mythical cheese (a cousin to burrata) and its own salt-cured anchovy fillet. It’s a dance of texture, luxury, and the spike of a good anchovy. 3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd —Matthew Trueherz 

Davenport: The quiet confidence of rabbit agnolotti  

Kevin Gibson has been quietly putting together one of Portland’s most considered menus in a humble but elegant dining room next door to the East Burnside Heart Coffee for close to a decade. He’s a real chef’s chef: his dishes are remarkable for their restraint, celebrated for what’s not there, rather than what is. Agnolotti, the Piedmontese folded ravioli, were served this fall plump with braised rabbit in an almost-translucent brodo. A white bowl of quaint, delicate pasta, topped with nothing but a whisper of parmesan and a few shreds of carrot. It was a lesson in the power of simplicity: Rabbit soup for the soul. 2215 E Burnside St —MT 

En Vida PDX: Medianoche makes the case for sandwich of the year  

The search for the perfect Cubano is a life’s work. And then there’s the Cubano’s cousin, medianoche, which swaps firm crusty bread for a sweet egg bread similar to Hawaiian rolls. Neighborhood pan-Latin spot En Vida delivers the goods: ham, Swiss, yellow mustard hot-pressed into a sandwich with a warm, toasty snap. What makes this one special? The pickles inside are sweet, tangy, and house-made, and the shredded mojo pork gets crisped and caramelized on the edges to deepen the flavor. Before it’s grill-pressed, the kitchen dips the medianoche in a little pork fat to double the pleasure. Our kind of midnight snack. 1303 NE Fremont St —KB 

Excellent Cuisine: Red rice shrimp rolls exploring new dimensions of texture  

Rice noodle rolls, or cheung fun, are a staple at the dim sum table—especially the version with plump shrimp wrapped in silky rice noodles, topped with light, slightly sweet seasoned soy sauce and snipped with scissors. And while the classic version at Excellent Cuisine is forgettable verging on bad (the soy sauce is far too sweet), the red rice version breaks new ground in the dim sum world. Though the red color doesn’t give the rice wrapper a distinct flavor, it’s what’s on the inside that counts: succulent chopped shrimp filling that’s lightly coated in fried eggy batter reminiscent of Chinese fried dough sticks for a three-in-one textural journey. Dip them in the provided hoisin sauce, salty dark soy sauce, or both. Warning: you may have to chase down one of the carts to get your hands on them. 8733 SE Division St —Katherine Chew Hamilton 

Jacqueline: Whole smoked trout with just enough kitsch 

Often theatrical dishes wind up being more style than substance: that’s not the case with Jacqueline’s whole smoked trout. From McFarland Springs in Northern California, the exemplar of sustainably farmed trout gets little more than a trip through the smoker and a final gloss in the oven before it hits the table. Cooking the fish whole yields unprecedentedly tender results, with a concentrated but subtle flavor that really can’t be achieved by any other means. It sits on a cedar plank scattered with a few sea weeds and shells, sidled with grilled lemon wedges. It’s simple, and a little celebratory—what’s more regal than a whole fish!—but is 100 percent gimmick free. 2039 SE Clinton St —MT 

 

Kann's peanut-creamed collard greens

Image: Karen Brooks

Kann: Crudo with watermelon granita and peanut creamed collard greens  

Kann cracked open a world of Haitian flavors, the real and the imagined. I’d come back for at least a half-dozen dishes, but appreciate a kitchen willing to whack stars to make room for new ideas. Fingers crossed that at least these two pantheon dishes stick around. Summer’s watermelon shaved ice—glistening over butterfish crudo, then finished with fiery watermelon juice poured on top tableside—was as exciting a dish as I can remember. It doubled as chef Gregory Gourdet’s inventive tribute to Haitian fresco, a classic icy treat drizzled with thick syrup. Seasonal fruit variations keep the spirit alive, including fall’s green apple. Meanwhile, Kann’s rich, nutty collards are MVP-caliber, glossed in house peanut butter and coconut cream, then garnished with the wondrous pop and surprise of whole pickled boiled peanuts. 548 SE Ash St —KB 

Lovely’s Fifty Fifty: Designer-worthy pizza with Prada potatoes two ways and curly kale-parsley pesto 

To those potato pizza naysayers who lament, “It’s carbs on carbs!,” a slice of Netflix Chef’s Table: Pizza star Sarah Minnick’s potato pizza just might convert them. The taters are certainly worthy of their designer label, creamy and tender and flavorful morsels on the bottom and paper-thin roasted slices on top, with an herby, hearty pesto livening up the whole thing. Like most of her farmers market-inspired creations, it came and went in a blink of an eye, but each microseason is guaranteed to bring a pizza of equal intrigue. 4039 N Mississippi Ave —KCH 

Sichuan Taste’s eggplant with century egg

Sichuan Taste: Ugly but delicious eggplant with century egg and pepper 

In Portland’s steadily growing Sichuan scene, Sichuan Taste is a newcomer and a sleeper hit, a quiet downtown storefront that deserves to be at the top of your must-eat list. This cold starter isn’t much of a looker, but that just makes its explosive, complex taste all the more delightful, with eggplant cooked until almost creamy, chunks of rich, salty preserved egg, and mashed green peppers, seeds and all, that set the fiery mood for the chile-filled meal to follow. 515 SW Fourth Ave —KCH 

Sousol's beef patties

Image: Karen Brooks

Sousol: Holy-shit bar bites no one is talking about 

The Godzilla that is Kann overshadowed even its own dark subterranean bar, despite sharing a playful Caribbean cabinet and heat-seeking mindset. The menu, small but adventurous, is full of the complex sweat and thrills rarely found in bars. I’m obsessed with the candied nuts, a hotbed of peanuts, cashews, pecans, and almonds glazed in a syrup of black peppers, habaneros, paprika, and thyme, then oven-roasted into a kind of sweet-hot brittle. Trust me, you can’t stop eating it. They’re the wind up to a pair of warm, rich, samosa-like beef patties bound in a turmeric-curry crust. Hiding inside: vividly spiced beef and toasted crumbs from Kann’s plantain muffins upstairs. The capper is pineapple: roasted and juiced, perfumed with vanilla, cinnamon, and star anise, then transformed into shaved pineapple ice dressed with mint leaves and olive oil. Dig deep to find little pockets of guava purée and coconut cream. Inhale and swoon. 227 SE Sixth Ave —KB 

Sweedeedee's black beans and scrambled eggs

Image: Karen Brooks

Sweedeedee: The breakfast of champions that is scrambled eggs & black beans    

At some point reality hits: one cannot live on this indie café's bodacious French toast and daily pastries alone, though God knows I’ve tried. Protein has its role. This is the year I fell hard for Sweedeedee’s fluffy scrambled eggs, lovingly kaleidoscoped with juicy black beans, crusty fried potatoes, pickled red onions, and sour cream. Regulars know to add the final blessing: Hot Mama’s hot sauce, spooned on top. Ask for it. 5202 N Albina Ave —KB 

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