It’s getting hard to open a restaurant in Portland. Rents are high, real estate is tough, and there’s a big shortage of good line cooks and other kitchen staff.
So it’s not a surprise that many openings in 2017 were in hotels (with big money backers), imports from other cities, or second efforts from known chefs. That said, there’s a solid handful of yummy eats that debuted this year to which I’ve returned (or really want to get back to).
ChalinoWhat I Said: At the corner of Fremont and Williams, an area being re-developed faster than contractors can fire a nail gun, restaurants have also been opening at hyperspeed. Most have been ambitious concepts with poor execution, or, even worse, cynical money-makers that do nothing to advance the city’s food culture. Chalino breaks this mold with inventiveness and new flavors sure to surprise even the most jaded palate.
Why I go back: The beef-stock blended Michelada is an amazing pre-dinner flavor punch, the chips with Thai-chile infused salsa and chunky guac are a treat, and the seasonally-influenced plates have been almost uniformly vibrant and unique. I can’t wait for the nettle sopes to come back in season.
StackedWhat I said: While I hate that the name of this restaurant makes me think of boobs, I will say that Stacked is definitely the tits. With insanely inventive sammies on Pearl Bakery bread, like an open-faced bison tartare ($9/$18) and a deeply decadent braised oxtail French dip ($13.50) served warm with oodles of caramelized onion and mushrooms, Stacked is headed into what seems to be the final sandwich frontier.
Why I go back: Run by a classically trained chef, Stacked has continued to evolve through 2017, starting a brunch that’s a no-wait hidden gem, and continuing to pump out brilliant combinations between two slices of bread. And the fried turkey skins available during happy hour—all fat and crisp with just a hint of sweet—are perhaps the best bar snack.
Güero No. 1 Tortas
What I said: Order the unforgettable hamburguesa ($10), an ode to the street hamburgers of Mexico, with Painted Hills beef, American cheese, a thick tamarind tomato, guac, pickled jalapeno and habanero slaw, and an amazing layer of crisped chicharrón cheese that adds so much more than you’ll ever know.
Why I go back: The margs, that burger, and those spicy cart bowls full of all sorts of good stuff. I honestly can’t think of a better meal for under $10. Güero was great as a cart and is superb as a fast-casual place to meet friends.
Farmhouse ThaiWhat I said: In this case, it’s okay to judge the book by its cover, because the food is uniformly as good as it looks. Farmhouse has basic curries and noodle dishes (the pad thai is serviceable), but it’s the specials that make Farmhouse such an exciting addition to an already crowded Thai scene.
Why I go back: It’s really all about one dish—the panang neua. Resplendent in orange panang curry, it’s a huge braised beef short rib that tumbles from the bone into that bright sauce. Other dishes are great too, but get that beef.
The Baker’s MarkWhat I said: The Baker’s Mark makes all of its bread fresh on-site, an airy roll that does a good job of giving way when you bite into the stack of mostly traditional toppings that include Boar’s Head cold cuts sliced to order and Olympia Provisions.
Why I go back: Sometimes I just want a really, really good warm turkey sandwich with bacon, shredded lettuce, mayo, and Italian dressing. There aren’t any tricks or twists—just solid ingredients and execution.
What I said: Imperfect is a new CSA-type delivery service where those heart-shaped tomatoes, overly stemmy kale, and dented squash are sold at a discount. The produce is totally edible, just not up to beauty standards.
Why I go back: Okay, this isn’t technically a restaurant, but Imperfect is a great deal ($15 or so plus delivery for 7-9 pounds of organic fruits and veg a week), and it’s a noble cause.
TBH, the place I was most frequenting (due to the trilogy of price, proximity, and deliciousness) was Big’s Chicken, which burned down in its infancy. Owners say it will be back. Also, Omerta, which was a very promising old-school/high-end Italian joint that fell victim to the changing mood of the Provenance hotel chain a few months after opening.