Why Portland’s Comfort Food Haunts Are More Important Than Its Hottest Restaurants

It’s all about nourishing the soul.

By Zach Dundas January 25, 2016 Published in the February 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Amy Martin

Portland is, as many will tell you, a great food town. (The minute I sat down to write this, the Washington Post proclaimed it the nation’s best. In your face, Charleston!) We have the farmers, the carts, the chefs sporting fish-and-wildlife tattoos, the cocktails that are 90 percent ice cube. All of it. Yet—much as I appreciate our good fortune—most of my culinary life is not about any of this. Instead, it’s about places like The Place.

The Place is not, obviously, The Place’s name, which is largely beside the point. Nor does the specific menu particularly matter. The Place serves a slightly above-average version of a ubiquitous ethnic cuisine. Others have based national food empires on this cuisine; The Place is solidly OK.

I call The Place The Place (stick with me) in part because I have one good friend whom I see almost nowhere else. We get lunch every month or two, and don’t even have to talk about where. The Place has become the backdrop to our relationship, like an imaginary shared living room that we both wander into from time to time, despite our inconvenient lives otherwise rendering most socializing next to impossible. The Place has become our place.

Beyond that, I have been eating at The Place approximately forever. We’re growing old together, The Place and I—I mean, preferably, maturing in a craggily handsome way, sort of Clooneyesque (but probably just growing older). At its oft-wobbly tables, I have experienced every mood, from personal-best elation to existential despair. I might go there later today.

This month’s cover feature on Portland’s comfort foods captures a core truth, via the able editing of Kelly Clarke. (That’s her, above, envisioned by our own Amy Martin, shoving a representation of me into a giant baked potato, like Han Solo with Luke and the tauntaun—anyway, it was right around New Year’s when we made this issue.) Sometimes, dining out is about adventure and excellence. More often, it’s about curing an emotional hunger for familiarity and generosity. As you discover the soul-satisfying goodness in our story, you’ll feed the same need I address at The Place. The best food is not the wildest, riskiest, or coolest. It’s the fare that warms your soul.

Editor in Chief

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