Portland, Oregon, is a city we regularly check in with, and that’s because the dining scene is thrillingly and endlessly diverse, with new spots popping up all the time. The year 2016 proved to be no different. But before we get to our list, we’d like to include a few honorable mentions — places that aren’t new-new or don’t fit neatly into the classic sit-down restaurant category.
Pizza Jerk (by Bunk’s Tommy Habetz) reopened in September after an unfortunate fire. We’re happy to report that it’s still spot-on, delivering Portlanders crispy, gigantic pies in a fuss-free and gloriously judgment-free — you can order ranch for dipping! — environment. The poke craze shows no signs of slowing, and the cutely named Poke Mon is turning out exceptional versions, from traditional to original (like Kimchi Tako), in a casual, counter-service spot. We’d also be remiss if we covered the city’s dining scene without mentioning the best new food truck of the year, Boke Dokie, with its winning combination of juicy fried chicken and tofu sandwiches.
Now, our compilation of some of Portland’s best and brightest restaurant openings of 2016. (This is by no means a definitive list, just some recommendations of what really stood out for us this year.)
Chef Peter Cho — he cut his culinary chops with April Bloomfield at the Spotted Pig — is proving there’s lots more to Korean food than kimchi and barbecue (as much as we love both). As the reservations-only spot is open just for weekend dinner, Sunday brunch and special dinner series, Han Oak is one of the hottest tickets in town. But once you get in, you’ll be rewarded with a fun communal experience (with a hip-hop soundtrack) and Cho’s creative takes on Korean classics. Depending on the season, his banchan could include earthy, miso-braised greens topped with creamy tofu, while ssäm might star non-traditional cuts of meat, like smoked hanger steak.
511 NE 24th Ave., 971-255-0032, hanoakpdx.com
It’s tough to imagine a more charming, warm and buzzy spot now in Portland than this restaurant by chef Javier Canteras. While the food undoubtedly has Basque roots, the fun flourishes and presentations are uniquely the chef’s own. One of his best-selling pintxos, in fact, features tender lamb of leg skewered on a cinnamon stick. It’s finished with a salty-sweet kalimotxo (a drink consisting of red wine and cola) glaze and pickled cherry, and is equal parts pretty — just try to leave here without snapping at least a few food pics — and lip-smackingly delicious.
3033 NE Alberta St., 503-288-1990, urdanetapdx.com
This contemporary, French-inspired bistro and bar in southeast Portland is the kind of spot every city deserves. The cocktail program is elegant but approachable. For example: the Artichoke Spritz, made with Cynar, Italian vermouth and soda, makes for a lovely session cocktail — it’s easy to drop in for a quiet drink or two. But it’s the food by chef Jason Roberts that’ll keep you coming back over and over again. While meat is on the menu, Roberts lovingly puts the spotlight on seasonal and simply but elegantly prepared vegetables. (Anything with carrots is a must.) You’ll never leave Rue feeling weighed down — just deeply nourished and satisfied.
1005 SE Ankeny St., 503-231-3748, ruepdx.com
Headwaters at the Heathman
Only a beloved Portland chef like Vitaly Paley could take on revamping the historic, iconic Heathman Restaurant, which shuttered in March. Now, after a sweeping renovation, it’s reopened as Headwaters. And as with all of Paley’s restaurants, the food is fresh and approachable, with a strong focus on Pacific Northwest meat, seafood and produce. But it’s the introduction of a daily Russian tea, the first of its kind, that sets this restaurant apart from the rest. For $38, you’ll receive a tiered stand of traditional sweet and savory bites (like steopka, a walnut and sour cream cake, and buterbrodi, open-face rye sandwiches) and your choice of Smith Teamakers tea.
1001 SW Broadway, 503-790-7752, headwaterspdx.com
The Waiting Room
The name takes inspiration from the forever-cool Fugazi song, so right off the bat you know this’ll be a hit. Even the 1902 Victorian house it’s housed in is cool and oozes familiarity and warmth, so you feel like you’re eating in someone’s home — which is the goal of chefs Thomas Dunklin and Kyle Rourke. As for the food? It’s comforting, familiar and the kind of stuff you crave often, like a rotating selection of pristine oysters with original accoutrements (think pine-nut oil, Parmesan, and cranberry juice) and everyone’s favorite, fried chicken. The Waiting Room’s version is faultless with its golden, craggy crust and super-tender meat. Terrific on its own, the grilled lemon, hot sauce and local honey it arrives with just pushes it over the edge.
2327 NW Kearney St., 503-477-4380, thewaitingroompdx.com
The Hairy Lobster
Owned by husband-and wife-team David and Mellisa Root, this restaurant is shaking up Portland’s dining scene. For starters, the space is huge. (We recommend nabbing a seat at the chef’s counter for a cozier experience.) The design is refreshingly un-Portland, too, with its cobalt blue wall covered by door knockers and cheeky painting by Chilean artist Carlos Valenzuela. The menu of shared plates is divided into three categories (barn, fish, and water), but no visit would be complete without the pillowy parker house rolls and decadent mushroom bisque, made with foraged fungi. Given Mellisa’s background as a pastry chef, ending your meal on a sweet note is a must.
900 NW 11th Ave., 971-229-1166, thehairylobster.com
The dining room at Tusk is certainly a looker. Bright white and flooded with natural light, it gives off the chic, laid-back and vaguely feminine vibe that’s now the norm in southern California. But it’s the cuisine, rooted in Middle Eastern techniques and inspired by local produce, that’s keeping both locals and hungry tourists alike abuzz. Executive chef Sam Smith, who formerly worked at Philly’s Zahav, draws upon his culinary background to turn out impossibly fluffy hummus and flatbreads, expertly grilled skewers and colorful small plates of vegetables, fruits and grains.
2448 E. Burnside St., 503-894-8082, tuskpdx.com
Pine Street Market
As the city’s first food hall, Pine Street Market has brought together some of the most beloved local restaurants and food purveyors while injecting a much-needed shot of energy into a sleepy pocket of downtown. Obviously, there’s plenty to pick from, but Trifecta Annex by James Beard Award–winning author and baker Ken Forkish is a no-brainer, with its perfectly crisp and chewy pizzas and croissants. Also not to be missed: Kim Jong Smokehouse, a collaboration between BJ Smith (Smokehouse Tavern), Han Ly Hwang (Kim Jong Grillin) and restaurateur Earl Ninsom (Langbaan and Hat Yai), specializing in Korean bibimbap topped with assorted smoked meats and veggies, and pulled pork steamed buns. 126 SW 2nd Ave., pinestreetpdx.com