Ah, 2023 for a food writer: Another year over, another eleventy billion calories consumed.

After a decade of people paying me to eat food in Portland (pinch me!), it's easy to get palate fatigue—ah, yet another slice of (very good) pizza from another new (very good) pizza place.

But, this is Portland, and the chefs here are always innovating. In 2023, we were #blessed with some great, delicious finds. Here’s my recap of dishes that brought my mouth and I great joy:

Saba Battera Roll at Kaede 

I don’t make Top 10 restaurant lists, but if I did, Kaede would be my number one for 2023. I made good on my promise to be a regular, and have returned monthly, bringing joy to my senses and detriment to my bank account. Much of the sushi is served seasonally and flown in from Japan. Pro Tip: Look for rarities like threeline grunt or ankimo (monkfish liver).

At this point, though, the saba battera roll qualifies for the signature bite at Kaede: First, Chef Shinji Uehara flattens salty mackerel and layers on fresh wasabi. Then, the fish is rolled over chives and the rice, pressed around the outside, and blanketed in a paper-thin slice of kombu. It’s what the ocean wishes it tasted like. (Kaede, 8216 SE 13th Ave., kaedepdx.com)

French onion soup at L'Orange. COURTESY OF L'ORANGE

French Onion Soup at L’Orange

This soup takes up a lot of my mental space. I want to be eating it. I want to be swimming in it. I want to become this soup. Chef Joel Stocks took French onion soup—one of the world’s top soups, as it is—and somehow made it into one of the top soups I’ve ever eaten.

The base is still rich broth with caramelized onion, but then this food hero went and made roast garlic bread pudding (BREAD PUDDING!) to layer on the top, crisped on the outside. It's the perfect vehicle for soaking up flavor. The whole shebang arrives under a generous lid of broiled gruyere. Oh, and it’s only $10.  (L'Orange, 2005 SE 11th Ave., lorangepdx.com)

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Pow Wow Burger at Javelina

The dishes Chef Alexa Numkena-Anderson creates are a tribute to her Native American heritage, and this summer we began to see (and taste!) her recipes at pop-ups around town. The whole menu is great, but the Pow Wow burger is the stand out for me. It’s your typical beef patty with American cheese, grilled onion, and lettuce. But Numkena-Anderson adds tombstone sauce: a bright condiment with mayo, mustard, ketchup, Secret Aardvark hot sauce, and Hatch green chiles that gives it all an amazing kick. The coup de grace? The burger comes on thick, fluffy fry bread that elevates the decadence without going over the top. Here’s to hoping that 2024 sees a Javelina brick-and-mortar. (Pop-ups planned at various locations; follow @javelina.pdx for more info.)

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Chocolate XLB Dumplings at Din Tai Fung

If loving chocolate lava cake makes me a basic bitch, then I Live, Laugh, Love this dessert from Din Tai Fung.

After stuffing ourselves silly during the Taiwanese chain’s opening at Pioneer Square, we found room for what turned out to be the highlight of the meal. Instead of a savory porky soup xiao long bao, these geniuses decided to wrap a chocolate truffle in a thin layer of mochi, with DTF’s signature 18 folds, and steam it. Each bite is a burst of decadent cocoa lava, accompanied by the soft chewiness only mochi can provide. (Din Tai Fung, 700 SW 5th Avenue, Suite 1040, dintaifungusa.com)

Tuna Toast at Heavenly Creatures

I miss La Moule, which closed in July. It remains my saddest closure of 2023. But I take some consolation in Heavenly Creatures, another bright star in Chef Aaron Barnett's constellation of restaurants. Here, the focus is heavily on the wine, which is always excellent. But every time I’ve been back, I order my favorite dish that they serve: yellowtail toast. 

Thick slices of young yellowtail are served raw on an ample slice of toast coated with tonnato (a condiment of tuna, anchovies, and mayonnaise), and mustard seed and capers to provide brightness. It’s big enough to share with a friend, but I’m not going to. (Heavenly Creatures, 2218 NE Broadway, heavenlycreaturespdx.com)

Vale la Pena at Libre

Opening a mescal and dessert bar on Southeast Clinton was the best damn idea. Libre is the perfect place to end the night; it's moodily lit, with plenty of dark corners for doing naughty deeds—especially if those naughty deeds involve eating way too much dessert, way too late at night.

The most striking dessert on this new spot’s menu is certainly the Vale la Pena, a crème brûlée made with a sesame mole from Mexico City. Chef and co-owner Gabriella Martinez finishes it with a dollop of bone marrow ice cream (think rich, not meaty), a chocolate tuile, and citrus cream. It’ll take you a few bites to really process what’s happening, but by then you won’t want to stop. (Libre, 2601 SE Clinton, librepdx.com)

Chef Dopson finishing a pasta dish in Pastifico d’Oro's wood-fired hearth oven.  PHOTO BY SEAN BASCOM

Tajarin al Tartufo Nero at Pastifico d’Oro

In late May, I plunged my fork into a nest of Tajarin al Tartufo Nero, finely hand-cut egg noodles, topped simply with cultured butter sauce and shaved Italian black summer truffles. Salty and creamy, with the gentle funk of truffle, it was like the bowl of buttered egg Kluski noodles my grandmother made for me as a child, but elevated to an 11. It was a comforting hug, followed by a sexy slap. (Pastifico d’Oro, 8737 N. Lombard, doropdx.com)

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Stuffing Sandwich at Meat Cheese Bread

Mark your calendars: this is on special around Thanksgiving and that’s it. Served piping hot, it’s two “slices” of stuffing bread pudding, roast turkey, cranberry apple chutney, and sharp cheddar cheese. You need a fork to eat it, and you will be tempted to lick the paper it’s served on. (Meat Cheese Bread, 1406 SE Stark, meatcheesebread.com)