If you’re a foodie, you’ve likely been to Portland or it’s on your bucket list. This Pacific Northwest palate-pleaser has made its mark as one of the nation’s most innovative and diverse food towns, whether it’s the fantastical creations of Voodoo Doughnuts, a heaping bucket of Maya Lovelace’s three-fat fried chicken or the decadent beef cheek bourguignon at Gabriel Rucker’s Le Pigeon.

Portland is home to 12 dining districts, 500 food carts and 20-plus farmers markets, and several of its chefs have been recognized with James Beard Foundation Awards, considered the Oscars of the culinary world. Complementing the food is a burgeoning mix of urban wineries, breweries and distilleries.

For groups meeting in Portland, it all makes for memorable—and easy—ways to build out a locally seasoned agenda.

“In terms of culinary capitals in the U.S., we’re definitely one of the most accessible,” said Marcus Hibdon, director of communications and public relations for Travel Portland. “It’s easy to get into our restaurants, eat the food of the best chefs and find a seat at the best wine bar.”

Portland food trends have run the gamut over the years, and the culinary scene continues to evolve, bringing exciting new concepts to the table.

Hibdon, Travel Portland’s resident expert on all things food and drink, gave us a taste of the latest and greatest epicurean happenings in town.

Chef-Driven Restaurants Elevate New Hotels With Flavor

One notable culinary movement is on the new hotel scene, according to Hibdon, particularly at the city’s meetings-friendly boutique hotels.

“We’re undergoing a large expansion of our lodging opportunities, and most of the hotels are really investing in high-end, chef-driven dining options,” he said. “That’s new for Portland. If we went back about 10 years, there were few chef-driven restaurants in our hotels.

“Now some of the best chefs in Portland are opening in these new properties,” he added.

The most recent signature hotel restaurant newcomers are:

  • Bullard, Rosa Rosa, Tope and La Neta.

Lan Roc Pork Chop at Bullard, Credit: Provenance Hotels
Lan Roc Pork Chop at Bullard, Credit: Provenance Hotels

Bullard by Doug Adams, one of the city’s most anticipated restaurants, opened in December 2018 at Provenance Hotels’ new Woodlark in downtown Portland. Adams, a Top Chef alumni and former chef de cuisine at Portland’s Imperial, looked to his roots for Bullard, named after his Texas hometown, as well as time he spent in Oregon and Montana.

“It’s that meat-heavy Southern comfort food with a twist, and it’s getting a lot of great attention,” Hibdon said.

Vitaly Paley, one of the most decorated chefs in Portland, and wife Kimberly are the masterminds behind Rosa Rosa, which debuted in November 2018 at Dossier, another Provenance Hotel in downtown Portland.

Rosa Rosa’s innovative concept is based on their recent travels through Eastern Europe.

“It’s a confluence of Roman, Eastern European and Ottoman Empire cuisines, and it’s a lot different than what we’ve seen in Portland before,” Hibdon said, pointing to the Paley’s as gastronomic trailblazers in Portland.

They helped put the city on the culinary map in the 1990s with Paley’s Place and have opened other standout hotel restaurants in recent years, including Headwater in the Heathman Hotel and Imperial in the Hotel Lucia.

“Headwater is seafood-focused and excellent, and Imperial is high-level American comfort food with a lot of Pacific Northwest mainstays like steelhead salmon, root vegetables and hazelnuts—ingredients that Oregon produces really well,” he added.

Tope Dining Experience, Credit: The Hoxton
Tope Dining Experience, Credit: The Hoxton

Josh McFadden of Submarine Hospitality is the chef behind two fresh dining establishments at the new Hoxton Hotel in Old Town Chinatown: Tope, which opened in January 2019, and La Neta, which opened in November 2018.

“Tope is a great spot on the rooftop of the Hoxton, with Mexican-inspired street food, mezcal-focused cocktails and city views,” Hibdon said. “La Neta, on the first floor of the hotel, is another cool restaurant that does Mexican-inspired food with Pacific Northwest influences.”

La Neta Menu Items, Credit: The Hoxton
La Neta Menu Items, Credit: The Hoxton

McFadden’s Submarine Hospitality owns two other popular Portland restaurants: Ava Gene’s, specializing in handmade Italian pasta, and Tusk, centered on vegetable-driven Middle Eastern food.

Ethnic Innovations Further Diversify Portland’s Culinary Mix

Portland has long been known for its pioneering spirit when it comes to ethnic cuisine.

Eastern European-inspired restaurants are one of the city’s strongest culinary trends of late, according to Hibdon, with Rosa Rosa and two other additions: Kachka, which expanded in July 2018 to a larger location, and Delores, which opened in December 2018. Kachka can be credited with introducing Portland to Eastern European cuisine, according to Hibdon.

Kachka brought high-level Russian food into Portland in a really fun space—like you’re at your Russian grandma’s house,” Hibdon said. “Their larger restaurant has a private dining area that’s great for Russian-style dinner parties for groups.”

Kachka Restaurant, Credit: Carly Diaz
Kachka Restaurant, Credit: Carly Diaz

Kachka also houses a Russian grocery store, where guests can pick up grab-and-go delicacies and taste Kachka’s line of vodka infusions.

Top Chef alum BJ Smith is bringing “Polish-ish” dishes to the city with his new restaurant Delores.

“It’s inspired by his late mother and some of the Polish-infused comfort dishes he ate while growing up—so smoked beets with truffle demi-glace and great pierogis with things like caviar and truffles,” Hibdon said.

A Dish at Delores, Credit: Mikola Accuardi
A Dish at Delores, Credit: Mikola Accuardi

The ambience is also an ode to his mother and things she liked, including pink flamingos and quails decorating the walls.

Asian cuisine is another specialty in Portland, with mainstays such as the renowned Pok Pok. Two notable additions are introducing unique new concepts: Magna, which will open in summer 2019 and EEM, which opened in February 2019.

Chef Carlo Lamagna, well known for his creations at Portland restaurant favorite Clyde Common, is honoring his Filipino roots at the new Magna and introducing Portland to a new realm of flavors.

“This is going to be his take on elevating Filipino food to a higher level,” Hibdon said, pointing to dishes such as crab noodles and sticky rice with bone marrow and kalamansi gel.

Earl Ninsom of Portland restaurants Langbaan and Paadee and Matt Vicedomini of Matt’s BBQ are the chefs behind the new EEM, an innovative Thai barbecue restaurant and bar.

“Ninsom is one of the city’s favorite chefs right now, and EEM is a bit of a fusion with Thai curries and spices complementing smoked meats by Vicedomini, who has been popular for his incredible barbecue food park, Matt’s BBQ,” Hibdon said.

“EEM’s food is amazing, and it’s in a great spot just a five-minute ride from the convention center on North Williams, a really hip area of the city," he added.

An Influx of Wine Bars and Urban Wineries Pour into Portland

Portland’s proximity to Oregon’s renowned Willamette Valley wine region makes it a magnet for wine lovers, but the varietals that are getting the most attention lately reside within city limits.

“We’re having a real wine bar moment, with several cool ones popping up to add to the nice mix we already have, and a lot are chef-driven, going beyond traditional expectations of a wine bar, and open for private events,” Hibdon said.

Four top options are Canard, Enoteca Nostrana, Bar Norman and Oui!, according to Hibdon.

Canard by Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Little Bird fame, opened in April 2018 next to Le Pigeon and features a playful, French-inspired menu, an expansive wine list and innovative “low-proof” cocktails.

“Rucker is the most decorated chef in Portland, having won multiple James Beard Awards, including Best Chef Northwest and Rising Star, and he’s also won Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award,” Hibdon said.

“Canard is one of the cooler places in Portland right now—really creative French-influenced food,” he added. “It’s what you might expect as bar bistro snacks at a really high level—things like steam burgers, country fried duck with morels and foie gras dumplings.”

Enoteca Nostrana Bar, Credit: John Valls
Enoteca Nostrana Bar, Credit: John Valls

Enoteca Nostrana, which opened in April 2018 next to Nostrana restaurant, has also made a bold statement, according to Hibdon.

“It’s owned by Cathy Whims, a multiple James Beard award nominee and pioneer Portland chef since the early days, and it’s amazing,” he said, pointing to the natural and experimental European wines, Oregon varietals and regional Italian fare. “You get all the great food from Nostrana, and there’s a private area upstairs that is wonderful for group events.”

Private Dining Room at Enoteca Nostrana, Credit: John Valls
Private Dining Room at Enoteca Nostrana, Credit: John Valls

Natural wine expert Dana Frank opened Bar Norman in July 2018.

“Bar Norman is wonderful, focusing exclusively on natural wines, a very old way of making wine that is fermented by naturally occurring yeast,” Hibdon said. “Frank is a big part of the urban wine industry that is really strong in Portland right now.”

​Dana Frank Enjoying Wine Outside of Bar Norman, Credit: Chris Corbin
Dana Frank Enjoying Wine Outside of Bar Norman, Credit: Chris Corbin

Chef Althea Grey Potter’s seasonal and inventive family-style dishes are the specialty at Oui! Wine Bar + Restaurant, which opened in December 2017 in the Southeast Wine Collective, one of the first urban wineries in Portland.

Wine pairings from the collective’s resident winemakers complement the cuisine.

“Oui! Does an amazing job with full buyouts, and they’re a great option for meeting and convention groups,” Hibdon said.

Oui Wine Bar and Restaurant, Credit: Southeast Wine Collective
Oui Wine Bar and Restaurant, Credit: Southeast Wine Collective

Southeast Wine Collective is one of Portland’s 20-plus urban wineries, which is an increasingly popular way of experiencing food and drink in the city.

“Our urban wine scene is fully fledged, having been growing and developing for the past several years,” Hibdon said. “It’s a full-blown experience and a fun evolution of wine.

“The wineries are beautiful, the wines are incredible, and it really does feel like you’re at a winery outside of town, then you walk out the door, and you’re in the city,” he added.

“It’s great for groups meeting here because if they don’t have a chance to get down to wine country they can still have a true wine experience,” Hibdon concluded.

The personal experience and accessibility to cutting-edge winemakers sets the urban winery experience apart, according to Hibdon.

“They have small teams with tons of passion, and you have a chance to talk to the people who are making and sourcing the wine,” he said, pointing to the PDX Urban Wineries website to explore Portland’s association of small urban winemakers.

“They might get pinot from the Willamette Valley, syrah from Southern Oregon, chardonnay from Eastern Washington or small lots of other varietals to be more experimental,” he added.

One of the larger urban wineries is Coopers Hall, which Hibdon said is a nice choice for group events. It features a winery specializing in keg production of a range of varietals and a taproom and restaurant.

Dozens of wines are offered on tap, and chef Keith Morris dishes out a menu focusing on seasonal, local ingredients with influences from his French and Alsatian background.

On the tour side, Hibdon recommends the PDX Urban Wine Tour by Portland Short Bus, a fun trip aboard a yellow school bus that visits the industrial warehouses and hip wine-tasting bars throughout town.

No matter how groups experience Portland’s food and drink scene, they’re sure to take note of the great collaboration that makes it an unforgettable culinary hub.

“In Portland, chefs partner with farmers, farmers partner with bartenders, wine and spirit makers work with restaurants on their cuisine—everyone collaborates on such a high level, which you don’t find in the same way in other culinary capitals,” Hibdon said.

“There’s not a lot of competition here," he added. "It’s just a giant love fest and it shows in what you experience on your plate or in your glass.”

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