The Pacific Northwest has long been known for its regional abundance. The Kalapuya, Molalla, Clackamas, and other Native Americans who lived in the Willamette Valley ate remarkably well. And it wasn’t just the sheer abundance of the game, camas roots, filberts, mushrooms, truffles, berries, and wild greens. It was also the clever way of cooking—for example, smoking salmon over open fires or roasting it on cedar planks. Their legends are notable for their gratitude over their good fortune.
Modern chefs in Portland are equally fortunate. They carry on that same tradition of using regional ingredients and preparing them in clever ways. While most chefs aren’t serving camas roots—yet—they have a lot to work with. The Willamette Valley provides some of the most fruitful farmland in the nation, and we also have a mild climate with a decently long growing season. Like the rest of the nation, we are losing family farms. Yet a small but significant countertrend is also noticeable: The area has seen a revival of small, specialty farms in recent years, and local chefs make good use of these farms and the many farmers’ markets in the area. The Portland chapter of the Chefs Collaborative, a national organization dedicated to serving Americans sustainably produced food that is local and seasonal, has instituted an innovative program called the Farmer-Chef Connection. This program brings farmers, fisheries, and other small purveyors together with Portland restaurants, a win-win situation for everyone: The chefs get the best and freshest produce imaginable, the farmers get to sell directly to the chef, and we customers get the best food.
But the love of the local does not stop at produce. It also extends to the raising of specialty meats such as rabbit, to the crafting of perfect goat cheeses, to the baking of ideal loaves of crusty, chewy bread. And just as earlier inhabitants of the Willamette Valley migrated from Asia, Portland chefs also reflect our nomadic origins in their variety of culinary influences, from Alaska to Zanzibar. For a city of our size, we have an outsize reputation as a food mecca, a reputation that grows daily. As the New York Times recently noted, Portland is enjoying “a golden age of dining and drinking.”
Which raises the question of what you should drink with all this bounty. Our region is known especially for its excellent wine and beer, its fine coffee roasters and tea houses. We share the climate of the Burgundy region of France, and many of the varietal grapes that grow well there also grow well here. Hops—the ingredient that gives beer its piquancy—also grow well here. And while coffee and tea don’t grow here, chilly, wet winters have given local roasters and tea brewers the necessary impetus to perfect those beverages.
Below are some of our favorite restaurants, both classic and new. This chapter divides restaurants into their geographic locations and by food type. Portland’s destination restaurants are found all over the city. Talented chefs are working kitchens all over town, and many neighborhood places are also destinations for loyal followers and adventuresome people looking for something new. Unless noted, all the restaurants listed take the usual credit cards. By Oregon law restaurants have no-smoking policies, and as of January 2009, so do bars and taverns.
Some anthropologists claim that beer, rather than bread, enticed human tribes to abandon the ways of the nomad and settle down to develop agriculture. It was a powerful inspiration. By 3000 BC, the Sumerians were so devoted to the craft of brewing that it had a patron goddess: Ninkasi. If Ninkasi were looking for new recruits for her cult, she would have to look no further than Portland, where new disciples are born every day. Portland may have more microbreweries and brewpubs than any city in the nation—32 at last count—reflecting a climate hospitable to hops and a fanatic devotion to the homegrown. Our climate is excellent for growing hops (we grow at least 14 varieties) and barley, and beer brewing is a long tradition. Combine these resources with the do-it-yourself ethos left over from Oregon’s hippie days, and you have a revolution in the making. All over the area, commercial brewers and backyard enthusiasts are creating microbrews, cask-conditioned ales, and other delights.
Some well known names in brewing legend here include Mike and Brian McMenamin, two brothers who have become not just brewers but real estate developers, hoteliers, and visionaries. They have more than 30 enterprises—including pubs, restaurants, hotels, inns, and theaters—throughout the city and beyond, stretching far south into the Willamette Valley and north to Washington. While their shadow has grown long, nonetheless, their pubs are wonderfully Oregon experiences. Many of them have splendid gardens and appealing interiors, and they all have good beer, from old standards such as Crystal, Ruby, Hammerhead, and Terminator Stout, to seasonal and other special beers.
Other important beer names are Fred Eckhardt, the beer writer whose most frequent label is “legendary,” because his book The Essentials of Beer Style is regarded as the gospel by homebrewers and international beer judges; the Widmer Brothers, who made hefewiezen a household word (at least around here); and Henry Weinhard, the progenitor of beer production in the area. But many of the best beers in the area don’t have well-known names or even their own pubs. Hair of the Dog—who named one of their special ales “Fred” after Fred Eckhardt—is one to keep your eye out for at taps throughout town.
Pubs and brewpubs have fast become a way of life for Oregonians, and many of them are very family-friendly, offering simple food and sometimes even craft-brewed root beer. As long as a pub is also a restaurant, most of them will allow children until 10 p.m. in designated areas. It is very common to see families in these pubs, so if you want to bring the little ones, don’t be shy.
On a chilly Oregon morning, nothing is more enticing than the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. According to the Daily Beast, Portland is the second-most caffeinated city in the US, with residents spending an average of $33 per month on americanos, macchiatos, lattes, and other coffee to go. Portlanders have a well-established tradition of hanging out in coffeehouses that predates Starbucks, so you will find all throughout the city many different kinds of coffeehouse aesthetic, from the sleek urbane to the shabby chic. And the word coffeehouse may mean anything from a small espresso bar to a café to a bakery to a combination of tavern and coffeehouse.
Below, we’ve listed some of the much-loved coffeehouses in the area. We also encourage you to explore for yourself to find your own favorites, because so many good coffeehouses are out there that we could never list them all. We’ve omitted Starbucks, since you’ll find them everywhere, without even trying. You’ll also find Peet’s Coffee & Tea—Berkeley’s riposte to Starbucks—which has made incursions into the Portland market. Peet’s has always been excellent, and even if Peet’s, like Starbucks, is no longer a small, local business, these Portland shops are welcome variations in the coffee landscape. But our hearts are truly with our homegrown coffee shops, and this is your guide to them.