EVEN RESTAURANTS weren’t immune to the dumpster fire that was 2016—we lost more than a few good spots to the tumult of Portland’s urban churn (RIP Smallwares, Umai, the Lotus Cardroom, and so many more).
At the same time, this year’s also been kind to the city’s eaters, with more fantastic openings than 2015 by far. What follows isn’t a comprehensive list of best new restaurants (if it were, SuperBite, Jacqueline, Tusk, and Chesa would also be included)—it’s more of a compilation of places that have worked their way through my cholesterol-hardened heart.
What I said: “You will leave pop-up restaurant Mae stuffed to the goddamn gills with chicken fried in three kinds of fat, possibly having hugged chef Maya Lovelace, and definitely not stoked about having to work in the morning.” [“Mae Will Leave You Stuffed and Longing for More,” Last Supper, Feb 3]
Why I go back: Lovelace is a mighty fine chef and human being, who has expanded her service from the Wednesday-only 10-course exercise in stuffing oneself silly, to include a $35 “lighter” prix fixe meal on Mondays and a Sunday brunch. She’s nabbed Eater Portland’s Chef of the Year Award, and is the winner of my personal award Person Whose Food You Should Be Eating Now.
What I said: “Right now, my unqualified answer to the best brunch in Portland is Expatriate.... I want to eat the Expatriate congee ($8) every morning. It’s a savory bowl of rice porridge straight off a flight from Taipei, with all the trappings—dashi, Chinese celery, fried garlic and shallots, fish sauce ponzu, and an oversize poached duck egg.” [“Naomi Pomeroy Transforms Brunch at Expatriate,” Last Supper, June 8]
Why I go back: Since June, I’ve gone back a handful of times for brunch (without any wait!) and to have one of my favorite cocktails of the year: the David Howitt, with cold brew, bourbon, milk, crème de cacao, cinnamon syrup, a whole egg, and Averna. It’s right where I want to be at 11 am on a Sunday.
What I said: “Biting into the deeply unctuous and smoky brisket pastrami—cured for four days before smoking and steaming—with the tart coleslaw and dressing dripping over your trembling pinkies is to know what those Carl’s Jr. ads were talking about when they said, ‘If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.’” [“Pastrami Zombie Will Invade Your Brain,” Last Supper, Sept 14]
Why I go back: See above. Best new sandwich of the year.
What I said: “The tonkotsu pork ramen... has a Carlton Farms pork shoyu broth that’s so fortified it’s milky white, although there’s not an ounce of dairy in the whole restaurant... each bite involves pork on pork on pork... then some more pork for good measure.” [“Marukin’s Miraculous Noodle Machine,” Last Supper, April 13]
Why I go back: At $11 a bowl (although there are new optional add-ons), Marukin embodies the spirit of the ramen-ya: just the good stuff, no gimmicks required.
What I said: “I ordered the curried cauliflower ($14)... The velvety texture clung to my spoon, and the citrus notes were a bright wake-up call among the rich Middle Eastern flavors. I’ve wanted to eat it every day since I tried it.” [“DarSalam’s New Downtown Spot Is an Oasis,” Last Supper, Feb 10]
Why I go back: It’s got a killer lunch buffet, and the corner booth with sunken seating is the ultimate hang spot. Oh, and don’t miss that amaze cauliflower and lamb marga (Iraqi stew).
What I said: “The depth of flavor in almost every dish recalls the haute prix fixe of Langbaan (which is forever booked up), but the cost and casual atmosphere are a lot like PaaDee.” [“Good Luck Not Eating Everything in Sight at the Addictive Hat Yai,” Last Supper, July 6]
Why I go back: The Southern Thai fried chicken. The roti. The complex specials and sheer heat of the ground pork. The super reasonable prices.
What I said: “I’m still dreaming about a Korean fried cauliflower, resplendent in a glaze of gochujang and tamarind... one of the single most inspiring bites I’ve had this year—a bright orange crunchy shell of spice and complexity around a cruciferous vegetable that’s attained its highest possible purpose.” [“The Lowdown on Han Oak,” Last Supper, May 18]
Why I go back: Chef Peter Cho moved from a $65 prix fixe meal, which would have iced me out of many return visits, to a $35-per-person experience that allows him to play with the format. The cauliflower and insanely good dumpling soup are permanent (and necessary) à la carte additions.
What I said: “Mussels can be an eater’s biggest folly, but La Moule’s are among the fattiest, creamiest I’ve ever encountered, heaped high with a variety of complex broth options.” [“Mussel Flexing at La Moule,” Last Supper, Dec 2, 2015]
Why I go back: La Moule technically opened late last year, but I like it so much, I’m sneaking it into 2016’s list. The atmosphere, food, and cocktails make it one of the places I’m most likely to meet friends.
What I said: The pizzas are a “New York/New Haven hybrid with a thin crust that can only sustain a few toppings before folding, and a generous edge of dough that’s a salty delight to eat. And the sauce... it’s my platonic ideal—fire engine red, acidic, and bright with very little sweetness.” [“Pizza Jerk Pays Tribute to Parlors of Yore,” Last Supper, Feb 17]
Why I go back: NE 42nd is a culinary treasure, and Pizza Jerk is one big-ass gem. After a tragic fire Pizza Jerk has risen from the flames, even better, with new delicious pasta dishes and cast-iron pizza that’s unrivaled in Portland. This is a once-a-monther in the Damewood house.