Over the past fifteen months we have been bringing you the best the Portland restaurant scene has to offer. We have profiled over 50 Portland area establishments and their chefs and owners, and yet we’ve barely scratched the surface.
It seems there is a new restaurant opening in Portland Metro by the day. While the new openings shine a light on Portland’s growth, according to ChefStable’s Kurt Hoffman on the Right at the Fork podcast, we may be reaching a saturation point.
“There’s been so many openings, and there’s such a fury around opening restaurants that I think we are going to have more closures in the first half of 2016 than we’ve seen in ten years,” Hoffman explained.
Still, the game remains afoot, and there are plenty of restaurants out there that are generating good buzz. We want to plug into that buzz and help keep the Portland restaurant scene thriving well into 2016, whether we’re reaching saturation point or not.
In that spirit, we want to take a moment to highlight Portland’s newest, hottest restaurants. We have two requirements to get on the list. First, they cannot have been previously profiled by Portland Metro Live and second, they must have opened within the past 6 months.
We’re equal opportunity, and as such have profiled coffee shops and food carts right alongside exclusive fine dining eateries, and we’re not stopping now. We’ll also have our sights set on these candidates for future profiles, so let these appetizers be a taste of things to come.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with chef Aaron Barnett last year when we profiled his hip French fine dining restaurant, St. Jacks. Since then, he’s been quite busy. Opened in September, La Moule, or “the mussel,” is Barnett’s newest French adventure in Portland.
Inspired during a trip to Belgium, Barnett decided to bring the “mussel bar” concept to Portland. Where St. Jacks has an unpretentious refinement, La Moule has a wilder feel. The interior has a European ambiance and comfortable air.
If you like mussels, this is your nirvana. The Thai mussel is cooked in a green curry paste, basil, lime, coconut milk and white wine. With Tommy Klus, formerly of Multnomah Whiskey Library, at the helm behind the bar, expect unique cocktails, unusual wines and plenty of Belgian beers.
When you have the pedigree of Erik Van Kley, who served for five years as executive chef at Little Bird, helming your own restaurant is only a matter of time. Opened in September, Taylor Railworks describes itself as offering “borderless” American cuisine.
The interior is stark and industrial, yet softened with weathered wood accents and soft lighting. Large open windows allow copious sunshine into the room. Exotic raw plates like the spaghetti & meatballs, cuttlefish, squid ink, mussels and chilies accompany equally unique dinners like the grilled Coulotte steak miso foie-gras butter, mushrooms and onion rings.
In what may be a sign of these tough times for new restaurants, sausage-genius Ken Norris closed his Beaverton brick-and-mortar last October. Fortunately, he had no intention of exiting stage left, but instead was merely downsizing.
Shortly after close, Norris opened the new downtown food cart, Clutch Sausagery. And although the menu may have downsized, Norris’ ambition did not. Simple nachos are elevated with masa, white cheddar sausage, queso fresco, hot sauce, lettuce and radish.
Proudly representing Northeast Portland, Pizza Jerk is brought to us by way of Bunk Sandwich owner Tommy Habetz. Speaking to east-coast eatery nostalgia, Pizza Jerk was an instant hit. With a simple interior that says “come one, come all!” Pizza Jerk is as unassuming as it is innovative.
While transplants will find their cravings satisfied with things like Connecticut-style clam pie, locals will revel in the fusion Dan Dan noodles with sweet pork, mustard greens and giardineira. Or enjoy pizza by-the-slice for a reasonable price.
Olympia Oyster Bar
If there’s one thing Portland loves just as much as pizza, it’s seafood, and you can put oysters up near the top of that list. Trying to ride that wave, Olympia Oyster Bar quietly opened in December and now finds itself with a routinely full house.
The relaxed atmosphere offers light colors and local art in an unassuming layout. Bartender Ryan Magarian, formerly of Over & Shaker and Hamlet, mixes up clever drinks and inventive oyster preparations. For those looking to try a non-oyster offering, the Steelhead tartare with sesame, ponzu, scallions and cilantro offers itself up as a worthy choice.
Opened four months ago, Wei Wei deserves all the publicity it can get. This small, mom-and-pop run restaurant serves authentic Taiwanese dishes in a clean, simple space set between a convenience store and a nail salon in a Sellwood strip mall.
Few establishments make their own noodles, but Wei Wei does. The ubiquitous beef noodle soup boasts thick noodles, braised beef pickled mustard greens, soft spinach, and green onions. Bathed in a fragrant broth the color of black tea, you’ll practically hear the sounds of Taipei outside the window.
While this list represents but a fraction of the new Portland restaurant openings, these eateries are gaining popularity and are worth a second look. We look forward to bringing you full profiles and exclusive interviews with the chefs and owners in the coming months.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is longtime journalist and blogger with over twelve years of professional writing experience. After a long career as an entertainment and political columnist, William now spends his time expounding on Portland restaurants, Portland plays and Android smartphone apps. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.