Northwest Portland's best restaurants: Diner 2015 – OregonLive.com
Last week, we unveiled our ranked guide to Portland’s 101 best restaurants, plus Portland’s 2015 Restaurant of the Year, Rising Star and Cuisine of the Year award winners. This week, we’re slicing and dicing the 101 into a useful index, continuing today with our favorite restaurants in Northwest Portland, presented here in alphabetical order. For the Pearl District, see our guide to downtown Portland’s best restaurants. To see where we ranked these spots on our 101, go here. — Michael Russell
At Ataula, a breezy tapas bar with dark wood tables and a white bar flecked with color like a jawbreaker, chef Jose Chesa and his wife, Cristina Baez, present flavors that local Spanish food fans despaired of ever finding in Portland. Start with a gin tonico, then consider a pitch-perfect tortilla Española, crunchy salt-cod croquetas, seafood paella stocked with red peppers, shrimp, calamari and plump, caramel-crusted rice, each grain imbued with an ocean of flavor. The paellas are good, perhaps the best in Portland, even though the bottoms lack the crunchy crust known as soccarat. But the Rossejat negre — toasted, squid-ink-blackened fideo noodles — is even better. Best of all is the Ataula montadito, a small, open-faced sandwich with house-cured salmon, mascarpone yogurt and black-truffle honey on a crusty baguette. It’s gone in two bites, but those two are among the best I’ve found in Portland in years.
Order: Salt cod croquetas, ataula montadito (x2), paella or rossejat, gin-tonic.
Serving: Dinner, Tuesday-Saturday.
811 N.W. 21st Ave.
Not all risotto is created equal. At most Portland restaurants, you’re likely to find something closer to fried rice or hard porridge than this ultimate Italian comfort food. But Bar Mingo, the casual spot sandwiched between Caffe Mingo and Serratto, is different, mostly because its risotto is made to order and only available at a specific time. On Wednesdays, you might see chef Jerry Huisinga standing over a large pot, stirring stock and butter into fine carnaroli rice. There are plenty of reasons to visit this restaurant — the lasagne bolognese, cacio e pepe and approachable wine list come to mind — but Wednesday night’s risotto might be the best.
Order: The risotto, if you can get it.
Serving: Dinner daily; late-night, Friday-Saturday.
310 S.E. 28th Ave.
836 N.W. 23rd Ave.
If Bamboo Sushi cornered you at a party, you’d be looking for the exit. Before you can even order your real crab California roll and lychee martini, you’re faced with page after page touting the restaurant’s sustainability, environmentalism and other good deeds. Then again, in a town that likes its sushi cheap, quick and preferably pulled off a conveyor belt, Bamboo does offer raw fish that’s a cut above the rest. Sit at the bar and order chirashi, a big bowl of rice and raw fish, or grab a date and splurge on an omakase meal at the sushi counter. The latter might include quality amberjack or albacore belly nigiri, a flight of bright-orange salmon sashimi or horse mackerel served on the bone, its skeleton taken away when you’re finished and returned deep fried and crunchy. Calciyum. A flawed attempt to spin off a drinking food spot was aborted this year, a decision Bamboo disingenuously blamed on Portland — the land of izakayas — and its unworldly palate. Stick to fish.
Order: With a clear conscience.
Serving: Dinner nightly.
THE BENT BRICK
Bar food, elevated
The Bent Brick, an inviting Northwest Portland restaurant from Park Kitchen owner Scott Dolich, presents distinctive Northwest dishes with a light southern touch from an L-shaped brick building under I-405. The foams, powders and deconstructed dishes that once defined the restaurant are gone, along with Will Preisch, the opening-day chef who went on to found Holdfast Dining. In their place are a lineup of playful small plates and mains, including an octopus terrine, a board of good American ham and the occasional steelhead roe tea sandwiches. The bar, known for its domestic liquor selection and on-tap wine, remains strong under the direction of Michelle Ruocco. Order a house G&T at happy hour and sip it on the trellis-topped patio.
Order: Cocktails, domestic ham, steelhead roe tea sandwiches, anson mills grits, hanger steak, ricotta doughnuts.
Serving: Dinner, Tuesday-Sunday.
— Michael Russell
107 S.E. Washington St.
The big news out of OP this year was the bully tactics of the International Olympic Committee, who forced Portland’s favorite salumists to change their name from Olympic to Olympia Provisions. The slight name change hasn’t affected the quality of the restaurants, both run, superbly, by Executive Chef Alex Yoder. The Northwest location is a steady standby for sprightly salads, light pastas, rotisserie chicken, schmaltz-roasted potatoes. A recent meal at the Southeast Portland original was one of my surprise favorite meals of the year. The Mediterranean-leaning feast began with a burnished board of Spanish cheese. There was chorizo, both dried and fresh, plus scrambled eggs with tender nettles meant for spooning onto golden crostini and a trembling mass of savory beef short rib served on the bone. From “C” to “A”? That looks like an upgrade.
Order: Start with some Olympic, er Olympia Provisions charcuterie, then keep your eyes out for that short rib.
Serving: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch weekends.
Paley’s Place, chef Vitaly Paley’s 20-year-old restaurant, turns out classic French fare with snout-to-tail and farm-to-table twists. Despite its reputation as a fine-dining haven, the hushed restaurant, found past the charming porch of an old Northwest Portland Victorian, is more approachable than you might think — for the curious, there’s often room at the bar, and all entrees are available as half portions. That starts with the build-your-own charcuterie plate, which might include beef tongue pastrami and rich, pistachio-studded mortadella, both excellent. Longtime Executive Chef Patrick McKee left the restaurant last year, replaced by similarly long-serving chef Luis Cabanas. If Paley’s eye for talent holds, the restaurant should be in good hands.
Order: At its heart, Paley’s is a wine place. Pick a pinot to pair with steelhead, or snag something more forceful to stand up to crisp sweetbreads with super-soft boudin blanc sausage or escargot in bordelaise with its roasted marrow.
Serving: Dinner daily.
One of Portland’s oldest family-owned restaurants and still the city’s best traditional steakhouse, RingSide at 70 has a clubby, Rat Pack-era charm, quality steaks and some of the city’s most on-the-ball servers. You won’t find bavette steak, pork secreto or other trendy cuts popular at modern meat houses. RingSide stays on Main Street with juicy rib-eye steaks, thick pork chops and fat lobster tails, all seared to order and delivered with a smile and a fluffy baked potato. Save room for the bananas Foster, with caramelized bananas, vanilla ice cream and a wonderfully decadent rum-caramel sauce. You’re better off leaving your budget (and your diet) at the door. But if your wallet is light, show up before 6 p.m., when RingSide offers a reduced-cost, two-course meal with salad or soup and roast chicken, sole with beurre blanc or beef medallions.
Order: Onion rings, the chilled shellfish platter, a rib eye steak and a Manhattan.
Serving: Dinner and late-night daily.
Smoked meat emporium
413 N.W. 21st Ave.
This tight-quartered Northwest Portland barbecue spot recently expanded with a new tavern housed inside a one-time light bar in the same suburbany complex as Nostrana. The new, tchotchke-filled sister, decked out by “Project Runway” winner Michelle Lesniak, features the same ribs, brisket, pulled pork, hot links and juicy, Kansas City-style burnt ends, plus some intriguing, whole-hog bar snacks. Sit at the bar for a Timbers game and scarf deviled eggs crowned with a little sausage cap, or stop by after 10 p.m. for the limited-edition “10 at 10” burger, a lardcore Quadrophenia of thin patties coddled in gooey yellow American cheese topped with bacon and bone marrow.
Order: Deviled eggs, a plate of ribs or burnt ends and a frosty beer.
Serving: Dinner daily at Smokehouse 21, dinner, late-night and weekend brunch at Smokehouse Tavern.
Le food coma
Bouchons, the Lyonnaise restaurants that inspired St. Jack, are the kind of places where the wine hits the table before you glance at the menu and the rich food doesn’t stop until belts are loosened and shirt buttons are in need of repair. For years, St. Jack, the flagship of Kurt Huffman’s ChefStable restaurant group, conjured this ambiance — a marriage of hospitality and excess — from a charming, tumble-down building on Southeast Clinton Street. Last year, Huffman, chef Aaron Barnett and their team packed and moved the restaurant across the river, adding a luxe cocktail bar and an instant patina to a new development on Northwest 23rd Avenue. The menu, with its Gallic, snout-to-tail approach with braised escargots, seared foie gras and roasted bone marrow, survived intact. There’s good chicken liver mousse with port-poached prunes; crunchy, espellette-dusted pork rinds spilling out of their paper bag; and tablier de sapeur, thin pieces of deep-fried tripe meant for dipping in a caper aioli. Consider a salad, maybe the one with bacon and bacon-fried coutons, as a healthy base for clams meunière, oxtail Bourguignon, duck a l’orange, a truly great steak frites or the lovely fisherman’s stew, with its plump scallops, mussels and creamy, garlic-stocked broth. The rolling cheese cart and table-side dessert service promised for the new location never materialized. Instead, we make do with the impressive a la carte cheese list and the baked-to-order madeleines, small, soft, golden-crusted cakes in a tight-lipped ceramic bowl, still warm to the touch under a shower of powdered sugar. Let the food coma commence.
Order: Tablier de sapeur, fisherman’s stew, rib eye steak frites, cheese, baked-to-order madeleines.
Serving: Dinner and late-night (in the bar) daily.
— Michael Russell