If you identify as a foodie (or refuse to identify as a “foodie” because, oy, but essentially are one regardless) you know that a trip to Portland, Oregon, will not be a vacation in the traditional sense. Sure, there is the Japanese Garden to check out, and the clubby recesses of the Multnomah Whisky Library to recede into, but chances are your primary focus will be on Olympic-level meal scheduling more than sightseeing. You would need to manipulate the space-time continuum to dine at every worthy locale in Portland, so consider adding a control to narrow down the list—for instance, relatively new spots making names for themselves amidst fierce culinary competition. Here, a selection of Portland restaurants to dine at now.
Tusk — Lauded as one of America’s best new restaurants, Tusk serves Middle Eastern-inflected cuisine with a focus on local produce—chefs Sam Smith and Wesley Johnson deftly integrate fruits into savoury dishes, and one bite of their edible flower-speckled crispy flatbread with chicken, herbs, and nectarine (or apple in winter) will make you wonder why everyone isn’t doing the same. The flavours are nuanced and gorgeous, from silky hummus to paprika-spiced lamb and pork skewers to layered, texturally perfect salads. The chefs’ confidence in simplicity, as in a special smoky grilled artichoke served with butter sauce, is refreshing. Order the tahini soft-serve sundae for dessert, it’s layered with a thick hot fudge sauce and is as perfectly pretty as the pink and mint-accented dining room.
Kachka — Enter East Portland’s Kachka and find yourself immediately immersed in a heady scape of Soviet-era kitsch—tchotchkes line the shelves behind the bar, vintage posters hang, and the tables are clothed in quaint orange and white plaid. Chef Bonnie Morales’s menu of homespun Russian dishes take you deeper into her world—each bite is to die for, from sour cherry–filled vareniki dumpings to caviar (six varieties) with blini and challah, to saucy cabbage rolls, to a tower of herring, potatoes, beets, and eggs. The rabbit in a clay pot—a traditional Belarusian dish—sees ultra tender meat melting into a porcini-studded, umami-rich sour cream-based brown gravy. With a shot of horseradish vodka, nothing is better.
Ray — Chef Jenn Louis turns out vegetable-driven Israeli-style dishes bright in hue and flavour at this airy, elegant neighbourhood spot. An octopus starter is rendered fork tender thanks to a braising method in which its cooking liquid never exceeds a simmer, and a wedge of cabbage (a vegetable that deserves to enjoy the attentions lavished on its relatives, kale and cauliflower, in recent years) is transformed through roasting into an indulgent, salty, buttery, caramelized delight. Spicy tomato shakshuka, tender flank steak, and braised lamb on rice garnished with fries are star mains. If you enjoy a crunch, try the biscotti-like Mandelbrot cookies for dessert.
Han Oak — This hip, casual Korean restaurant is also the residence of rising star chef Peter Cho, his wife, and son, making for a convivially intimate atmosphere—that slightly hidden, slightly private vibe that lacquers a layer of insider cool atop a great meal. The family feel extends to the menu, where “mom’s” cabbage and daikon kimchi is given pride of place, homey dumplings, noodles, and rice cakes feature heavily, often with a slightly Japanese twist (curry udon with pork katsu, anyone?) and desserts are light and fresh fruit-forward. Cho is a master of textures, and his creative takes on classic Korean fare are delicious.
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