Where Does PoMo Food Critic Karen Brooks Eat Off-Duty?
My dining-out life is driven by deadlines. Whatever place I’m writing about, that’s where you’ll find me. In 2022, I obsessed over Kann (our Restaurant of the Year), Berlu (Chef of the Year), and all-day Cafe Olli. They join my short list, along with the restaurants below—places where I take out of town friends or just seek shelter from the storm. What unites them all: spots with their own ideas for food and space and community, not easily duplicated. Great pastries don't hurt, either.
To blow the minds of visiting eaters or just entertain my heart, this is my place. Nowhere else delivers a comparable parade of Indonesian-Malaysian-Chinese(ish) foods buzz-sawed with family traditions and boundary-shredding ideas. This is where a grandma-worthy babi kecap (sweet soy pork) exists happily alongside a steak glazed in anchovies, tamarind, and raisins, then parked beneath charred pickled red onion rings. 1801 NE César E. Chávez Blvd
The whiskey list is big enough for a Library of Congress number, and the cocktails are imaginative and fantastic—perhaps smoke-infused before our eyes or bursting with lusciousness (hello, ube-laced Painkiller Cobbler). But know this: one of Portland’s most playfully inventive restaurant hides here, backed by some very good pastas and one major soft-shell crab sandwich. 215 SE Ninth Ave
I come to this indie café for everything: breakfast, scratch-made bread and jam, farm-fresh ingredients spun into salads and scones, a roast chicken to crow about, and a tiny market worth scanning. The nostalgia-driven pastry case owns me. But mostly I come for a sense of community. If the coffee were better, I might never leave. 5202 N Albina Ave
Everything here speaks deep into my soul. Yes, that includes two turntables. Then there’s what’s arguably the city’s best cheeseburger and without question its wildest nachos, not to mention James Beard’s famed onion and butter sandwich, perfectly expressed, and all backed by careful cocktails. 5424 NE 30th Ave
The only rule here is no expectations, no judgments. In this Korean home-turned-restaurant experiment from Peter Cho and Sun Young Park, wandering formats unfold in a magical indoor-outdoor space brought to life by charming eccentrics who double as staff. That might mean Korean BBQ or hot pots and caviar seaweed butter potato chips. As the last diners are served, out come disco lights and a karaoke machine. You in? 511 NE 24th Ave