Portland's Best New Restaurants of 2017
Anyone who predicted that Portland’s restaurant boom would slow down in 2017 would be in the same boat as those who said the Cubs would never win the World Series... or someone who bought all-inclusive tickets to Fyre Festival. We had more than 100 restaurant openings this year, and likely as many closings. A few spots even qualified for both categories.
We saw a good bump this year in the areas that we’ve previously had trouble with, notably Chinese and high-end Mexican destinations. Otherwise, it has been an eclectic mix, including more Thai, coffee shops, and pizzerias. And while the trend is still on vegetables like it was in 2016, it’s also oscillating a bit towards the meatier ends of things.
Many of the joints that opened their doors to us were good. A few, like the new Buckman Public House and Peruvian restaurant La Leña, will likely soar to greatness in 2018 once they dial their core concepts in. Some places, however, were excellent from the jump. Without further ado, here are our 17 picks for Portland’s best new restaurants.
Portland’s hottest new prix fixe menu in a beautiful space
Nomad.PDX is not entirely new, as the dinner program was floating as a pop-up for a few years, most notably in a room above Shift Drinks. But in early 2016, it lost its nomadic ways and eventually settled into a beautiful brick-and-mortar space. Chef and owner Ryan Fox offers his tasting menu for $135 twice a night, at 6 and 8:30pm, a multi-course extravaganza of bold, inventive modern Northwest dishes featuring unique flavor combinations and ingredients. Those looking for a smaller sample of the menu can go into the gorgeous Ash Bar, which provides cocktails for the whole restaurant, as well as smaller à la carte plates and drinks. Either way it’s a unique and memorable experience.
Hip, modern Mexican cuisine from pedigreed chefs
Chalino is a Mexican restaurant inspired by the chefs’ trips through our neighboring country to the south. That said, dinner is reminiscent of Northwestern dining, with a mix of smaller and larger plates meant for sharing , as well as an option for an omakase-style chef’s tasting menu, La Experiencia. Luckily, the food here is exceptionally well prepared, with albacore ceviche, lamb barbacoa, smoked pork chop, mushroom quesadillas, and more. The bar is similarly impressive, adding another destination to the city’s growing mezcal scene, including some fun agave-based cocktails.
Inventive coffee roaster with the best coffee house food in town
Coming all the way from Australia, Proud Mary throws its cork-brimmed hat in the Portland coffee shop ring. While they roast their own coffee here and offer brews that challenge the top shops in town, the food is what elevates the spot. It’s eminently Instagrammable, with bright colors from local, organic fruits and vegetables topping parfaits and ricotta hotcakes, mushroom sauté, and potato hashes. Creative items like watermelon salad with sticky pork and harissa-marinated avocado on toast help to define it as a daring, innovative restaurant as much as it is a coffeehouse. It’s all served by friendly, knowledgeable servers with Aussie accents in an owner-designed-and-built space.
A beloved food cart heads indoors and only gets better
Tiffin Asha, one of our picks for Thrillist’s Prime 13 best new restaurants of the year, already had its fair share of stans for its N Mississippi food cart that first opened in 2013. Now that it's moved to a brick-and-mortar -- the downstairs of an apartment building -- in August, the restaurant's voice is stronger than ever, ensuring their South Indian plates get the attention the underserved cuisine is due. Cart favorites like the Hot Chick (a chicken pakora, pickled kale, and black cardamom infused-honey stuffed dosa) carried over to Tiffin Asha 2.0's menu, but the expansion of new dishes parade chef Elizabeth Golay's virile curiosity into the cuisine that her co-owner and partner, Sheila Bommakanti, grew up eating. Don't sleep on the Sweet & Salty dosa, where blue cheese and honey is flourished with fleur de sel, or the idli fries dipped in a house-made curry ketchup.
Casual Mexican spot helping make Portland a sandwich mecca
Guero is the Mexican restaurant Portland needed. Its speciality: tortas, sandwiches with a variety of toppings, from the Mexican-style hamburguesa to the vegetarian refrito with refried beans. However, the one that reigns supreme is the classic ahogada, with carnitas, habanero slaw, and cilantro on grilled bolillo (a sort of Mexican baguette). The entire thing is drenched in achiote, a spicy tomato sauce, making for a deliciously sopping mess. The restaurant also serves a rice and bean bowl, a pozole, mezcal, cocktails, and beer.
Breakout sandwich shop vying for dominance with homemade ingredients
Between Bunk, Lardo, East Side Delicatessen, and others, Portland has no dearth of sandwich shops, and adding another one to the mix could have been seen as redundant. But that was before Stacked landed, a creation from Gabriel Pascuzzi, where every ingredient in the sandwich (save for the bun) is made in-house, including cured meats and pickled vegetables. The turkey Reuben, oxtail French dip, and vegan gyro are all standouts, and should definitely be ordered with a side of salt and vinegar chips. Stacked also has a happy hour that features snacks, burger and drink specials, and a recently added Saturday brunch menu with, of course, breakfast sandwiches, as well as sweets and hashes.
Chinese comfort food with a great happy hour you’ll wanna bring friends to
Chinese comfort food is the focus at XLB, and its main dish is its namesake: xiao long bao, garlic and ginger pork dumplings. The bao menu includes other tasty treats, including steamed buns with pork and cabbage, mushroom and chives, and chili shrimp wontons. Delicious noodle dishes and shared plates of five-spice popcorn chicken or bok choy with oyster sauce makes it a great place for groups or dates, especially during happy hour from 5 to 6pm each day when you can find discounted beer and wine, as well as a bao and beer special.
Jenn Louis finds her best cuisine by going Israeli with small, shared plates
Restaurateur Jenn Louis closed Sunshine Tavern in 2016, and then Lincoln in 2017, but what she lost in those she gained back in her best venture to date with Ray. The restaurant celebrates Israeli street food with a series of small and large shareable dishes. The vividly pink beet hummus is a must for any table, topped with grated egg and turmeric pickled cabbage. Split some small plates with a group, like lamb flatbread and carrots with Moroccan spices and honey, or just go all in with shakshuka for four, a beautiful dish of eggs poached in spiced tomatoes.
A famous chef’s monument to meat and excess
It’s one of the few places in the city where you can order brains. Famous chef Chris Cosentino opened his first non-Californian restaurant in March, and it happened to be in downtown Portland at the base of the new Duniway Hotel. Cosentino brings his signature loves to Jackrabbit: gin and indulgence. The bar is stocked with over 60 gins, and on the dinner menu you can find a whole roasted pork head with brainaise (yes, it’s brain mayonnaise), a full braised rabbit stuffed with 60 cloves of garlic, steak with vegetables and bone marrow dip, and a dinner featuring 36 oysters, 12 clams, house charcuterie and “untraditional garnishes.” The vegetable dishes, as well as the breakfast and lunch menus, are slightly more reserved, though no less meat focused.
Strong contender for best Vietnamese drinking snacks in Portland
Lighting strikes twice with Short Round, the eastside offshoot of Fish Sauce. Here you can find Vietnamese street food and drinks all day, including lunch and two happy hours. And while the banh mi and bibimbap are great, it’s the Vietnamese drinking snacks that steal the show. The best way to come here is in a group; grab some cocktails or beer, and every small dish on the menu -- anchovies, soy sauce geoduck, grilled tofu, salt and pepper squid, and, of course, the wings. Select a choice between fish sauce, lemongrass, or chojang vinaigrette, or just place an order of each, and you’ll be wondering if Pok Pok’s famous wings still rule Portland.
Hip vegan pizza and ice cream shop that’s redefining what counts as great pies
Who knew vegan pizza could be so good? That’s the question surrounding Virtuous Pie, an entirely veggie-based pizza shop that joined the lower Division crowd. Cashew nut cheeses, mushroom meat substitutes, and more manage to mimic traditional pizza ingredients without seeming like they’re pretending to be anything they aren’t. And because pizza and ice cream are the consummate”junk food” couple, Virtuous Pie also offers vegan ice cream, with flavors like double chocolate and salted caramel, or lavender and lemon. You can also find locals beers and wine by the glass and bottle, and on-tap kombucha.
The casual pizza bar Downtown needed
Vitaly Paley’s sandwich and cocktail shop, the Penny Diner, never quite clicked. It always felt like more of an afterthought to Imperial, which it was attached to, than its own project. Luckily, its replacement, The Crown, shares none of those drawbacks. Instead, it’s a bold new pizza shop that reflects Paley’s time in New York while offering some unique takes, like a fried chicken pizza with ranch, honey, and hot sauce. It also benefits from having Nick Cifuni, formerly of Bit House Saloon holding down the bar, which is open until the early hours of the morning, something that Downtown badly needed. Even the wallpaper is an improvement, a mélange of animals and merrily crowned figures.
Michelin recognized Thai restaurant that really warrants more Thai in our city
At first glance, Portland didn’t really need another Thai restaurant, especially on Hawthorne, which already has its fair share. But Farmhouse Kitchen Thai, an offshoot of the Michelin recognized restaurant of the same name in San Francisco, distinguishes itself with rarer, street-food inspired items in an eclectic, wild atmosphere. You can still find the ubiquitous red curries and pad kee mow, but you can also grab things like larb tuna, diced raw with herbs and spices and served with mango and wonton chips, or a wagyu beef salad. The cocktail menu, too, is a mix of classic Thai and modern takes. Try an iced Thai beer and shot of Mekhong “golden spirit,” or a tequila drink with tamarind vinegar and dehydrated chili.
Grownup hot dog stand with great wine and cocktails
Poor Honky Tonk Taco. It never stood a chance against a bevy of criticism and slow traffic, lasting only a few months before shuttering forever. Luckily, owners Nate Tilden and Co. decided to keep the space and do what they do best: make sausages, hot dogs, and drinks. So they brought the OP Wurst model over from Pine Street Market to Division, where you can find delicious meats like the Portland dog, with kale, pork belly and hazelnuts, or the Pok Pok dog, honoring the neighboring Thai spot with pickled green papaya salad and red curry ketchup. And of course you can always order a platter of sausages with sauerkraut and potato salad. All of it is best with a bottle of riesling or a few cocktails.
Community minded, wood-fired pizzeria where your purchases go to charity
Micah Camden placed his mark on the city’s food scene long ago with Little Big Burger, Boxer Ramen, and Blue Star Donuts. But in February he branched into the pizza scene with Heart Pizza, a small-scale pizzeria with simple, wood oven-fired Neapolitan style pies for $12 to $13. The name is not mistake: $1 from each pizza sold goes to a charity or nonprofit.
A joint that proves Thai needs no meat to be delicious
Thai food naturally lends itself to good vegetarian and vegan dishes, more so than many other cuisines. KaTi is no exception, working not in spite of the lack of meat, but because of it, with a focus on delivering the best possible vegetables, sauces, tofu, tempeh, and more. Even dishes traditionally made with fish sauce are made with a specially crafted vegetarian substitute, and KaTi’s incredibly popular pad Thai is just as good without the eggs for those that are vegan. It also boasts a great cocktail program, with Asian-inspired drinks.
Casual, Oaxacan fine dining at its absolute best
An elegant restaurant featuring modern takes on classic Oaxacan cuisine, Alto Bajo is helping to rid diners of any bias toward hotel restaurants. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with items like the carne asada fries and chorizo corn dog making it a great lunch destination, though it’s at dinner that the restaurant truly shines. Its signature item is the mole. Chef Chip Barnes has made three: the slightly sweet tamarindo; a rich and spicy rojo; and tart amarillo, each of which is paired with specific dishes. However, the main act is the shareable pollo carbon, perfectly roasted Mary’s chicken served with rice, beans, and tortillas with pickled onions and habanero slaw. It’ll surely keep diners coming back for more.
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