OVER THE PAST YEAR, I've reviewed 31 different restaurants across the city, returning to each over and over again to sample as much of the menu as possible. As a whole, I'd say Portland's restaurateurs are not only doing a fine job, but our local chefs continue to make Portland the dominant culinary presence on the West Coast (suck it, Seattle and LA!).
How do they do it? By making dishes like the ones that follow. These are the plates of my dreams, from those 31 reviews, the ones I can still savor when I close my eyes; meals that make me think that sometimes, I may have the best job in Portland.Lucky Strike
You may have to hunt out the chicken pieces among the dried red chili peppers, but once they leave your chopsticks and hit your palate, you begin to understand Sichuan heat. Tender chicken imbued with serious flavors of smoky wok char, followed by an insistent burn. It's what you came for. Nut up and enjoy.
March 26: Portobello Vegan Trattoria
If my job didn't necessitate a viciously carnivorous lifestyle, knowing Portobello existed might be enough to convince me to go vegan. In this dish, meaty braised tempeh is tucked in a skillfully crafted pocket of pasta, balanced by hints of sage and a bright Meyer lemon sauce. Meat? Never heard of it.
April 23: Taste of Jakarta
There is much good at Taste of Jakarta, but I constantly crave this rice dish—a huge pile of fried rice combined with their astounding fried chicken, crunchy little shallots, and hard-boiled egg. Throw in a dollop of chili paste and you're in flavor heaven. At least until you find yourself panting slightly, staring down at an empty paper plate.
April 30: Ping
A wonderful duck leg stew that left me wondering why everything else on the menu didn't even come close. Tender meat in deeply savory, shiitake-tinged broth. A light sweetness. A hint of heat and cinnamon. A burst of sour tones from a yellow chili dipping sauce. You can have the skewers. Just pass me a spoon.
July 16: Red Onion Thai
I'd suggest anything off of Red Onion's now-public menu of Thai specials, but I'm particularly fond of this fiery ground pork concoction in a tomato-based broth. The accompanying house-made pork rinds pop and crackle on your tongue as you eat, adding that extra level of pure enjoyment.
September 3: Taste Unique
This small shop on Division continues to amaze. Whenever I can, I stop in to pick up a veggie lasagna with smoked provolone, mushrooms, and zucchini. Each ingredient presents itself distinctly while harmonizing with the rest. Creamy, gooey, and delicious. Thank you, chef Toscano, from the bottom of my stomach.
September 24: Laurelhurst Market
Cippolini onion, Samurai Rice Ale broth, plump mussels, crisp French fries, and a dollop of aioli all combine for one hell of a mesmerizing eating experience. You can easily get lost in the textures and flavors of this one.
November 19: Nel Centro
Perfectly prepared gnocchi with lovely soft centers are permeated with tanginess from the ragu's heady garlic and red wine notes. Paired with the heft of tender boar meat, the contrast is fantastic. While not the most dynamic dish, I still think about it all the time with a fond sigh.