Portland Metro’s Hottest Summer Restaurants – 2016
There’s been a lot of talk about how saturated the Portland restaurant scene may or may not be. Fact is, the market waits for no one. People are coming to Portland, and as a result, more restaurants are opening. It’s a simple matter of cause and effect.
In this spirit, why not take a brief look at the positive side of Portland’s vibrant food scene? After all, we live in a picturesque urban landscape flanked on all sides by rivers, forests and mountains. In Portland, nature’s abundance does not come in short supply.
A Top Food City “Stumptown” – Portland’s nickname, acquired in the mid-19th century when logging had reduced most of Oregon to, well, stumps – has quickly ascended to the upper echelons of America’s best food cities. Are we surprised that James Beard himself, the dean of American cooking, was a native Oregonian?
Speaking of Oregon in his 1964 memoir “Delights & Prejudices,” Beard said that with the exception of Paris, no place on earth had done so much to influence his professional life than Oregon. When you consider everything from Oregon’s 300 different types of truffles to Hood strawberries so plump and juicy they’re practically bursting, it’s not hard to imagine Beard’s inspiration.
It could be argued that for all of their great statuses and accolades, cities like Chicago and New York were left following in Portland’s footsteps where freshness and sustainability are concerned. Imagine that the phrase “farm-to-table” is now a cliché in the Portland restaurant scene.
Serving only the freshest, most sustainable ingredients has become a base expectation akin to making sure condiments are available. It’s almost unspoken.
You can trace the roots of this movement back to 1991, when a few enterprising food radicals – one of which was a gentleman named Bruce Carey – redefined the scene with Zefiro, which redefined the combination of culinary aesthetics with responsible cooking.
Today, Portland boasts one of the world’s only sustainable sushi restaurants. And although they are sadly scheduled to close, Natural Selection elevated Portland’s vegetarian pedigree to the level of fine dining.
Despite all the heated rhetoric about Portland’s (over?) heated restaurant scene, the dreamers keep dreaming and the builders keep building. While not all of these are brand new openings, we expect these to be our summer favorites. We hope to bring you full profiles of each of these establishments in the months to come.
While we do admit a little bias, having covered Ox last year, we expect SuperBite to live up to its namesake. Brought to you by the 2016 James Beard Award finalists behind Ox, SuperBites opened this past April and offers up a menu full of flavor in a comfortable setting.
Bites include the mouth-watering Dungeness crab in artichoke custard. Set atop an onion ring sprinkled with tarragon and mandarin, it’s hard to think of a worse way to spend six bucks.
In-house accompaniments include creations like a hibiscus ponzu and porcini-miso marshmallow. Yup, we’ll wind up taking all of that.
Move over orange, it looks like ramen is the new black. With this Japanese staple taking America by storm, Portland has been no exception to the onslaught.
Enter Marukin Ramen, the Tokyo-based franchise who recently opened up their first Portland location. Unsurprisingly, the hordes of tight jeans and man buns have descended upon Marukin to sample its wide variety of ramens.
Marukin specializes in tonkotsu-style ramen, which is very meaty and substantial. Showing a great special awareness, Marukin has specially developed vegetarian ramens for the Portland market. Fortunately, we don’t think they are letting anyone bathe in ramen yet, though one never knows with the depths of Portland’s weirdness.
Also opened in April, Americano provides a healthy dose of humor to both its food and aesthetic. Don’t expect to walk into a quiet room, and we aren’t talking about the sound.
While Americano recently did an about-face where the food is concerned, they are now back on track with the experienced John Willis, who hails from the likes of Navarre and Luce.
Whether you are looking for a coffee straight from the French press, a bite to eat or a vermouth-focused cocktail, Americano aims to please.
Well on his way to becoming a Portland restaurant scene icon, John Gorham, of Toro Bravo, Tasty n’ Sons and Tasty n’ Alder, is at it again with not one, but two Pollo Bravo openings. This time, Pollo Bravo aims to fill its own niche.
Made using ingredients direct from Spain, Pollo Bravo serves up delectable Spanish tapas alongside a knockout rotisserie chicken. With such offerings as bacon wrapped dates with olive oil and sea salt alongside a chilled heirloom tomato soup with crispy capers, and it’s no wonder Pollo Bravo is going strong.
We just love bringing you the details on hot new openings that might lie off the beaten path. This time, we’re putting our spotlight on Hat Yai, a casual Thai restaurant that brings something new to Portland’s crowded family of Thai restaurants.
Named for the Southern Thai city of Hat Yai, owner Alan Akwai brought in chefs in straight from the source in Thailand. With a bartender background, expect a playful pairing of both cocktails and authentic dishes as you embark on your Southern Thai cuisine journey.
So as you head out on your summer adventures in and around Portland, don’t let the pessimists keep you from having faith in Portland’s exploding food scene. What better way to express your optimism than by trying any one of these five establishments? We know we will be, and we’ll meet you right back here to tell you all about it.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a published author, poet and longtime journalist who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over twelve years. He currently works from his home in the Pacific Northwest profiling restaurants, reviewing local plays and reporting on regional, national and international travel.