While this is kind of a top ten list — it provides ten places in a rough order of which I'd want to visit over another — it is not a definitive list of all Portland has to offer. It is an attempt to solidify which restaurants form the constellation of Portland-only standouts that make this peninsular city the gem it is. Meaning, which places contribute most to making our wee Portland's food scene the lauded one that we know and salivate over.
10- Street and Co.
Of the old guard of “nice” Portland restaurants, I’d pick Street and Company over Fore Street any day. Street & Co. does seafood and Portland stands stalwart, if it stands for any one thing, as a seafood town. Why do I prefer S&C’s fish to the fancy fare of Fore Street? Because Fore Street aims at the high mark of “Best Restaurant in Portland” which it is patently not — at least not anymore. Street and Co. aims at the more reachable goal of “Amazing Goddamned Seafood” and they’ve struck the fish-shaped nail on the head every time I’ve dined. Get the Sole Francaise. Just get it.
9 - Hot Suppa!
The ever-present wait — while a testimony to Hot Suppa’s iron-forked brunch domination — has become a bit burdensome. However, the line doesn’t make the hotness any less legitimate as THE Portland brunch spot. In fact, it just goes to show that they've been doing something very right, very consistently. The omelets and eggs are cooked to such perfection that they will send you into a hot stupor! The rest of the menu can, arguably, be challenged by other joints such as Bayside American Cafe (née Bintliff’s) and Caiola’s Sunday brunch to name just two. But the eggs will always put Hot Suppa! one chicken-sized step ahead.
8 - Slab
1lb of gluten and glory with which to pack your stomach: behold the hand slab. Specials and most other menu items — the caponata and spicy meat wedge — stand the test of deliciousness. However, you are coming for the hand slab. Don’t argue. Don’t complain. You are coming for the hand slab. Hush child… Eat...
The pasta is homemade. The sauces are homemade. The Mozzarella di Bufala is so fresh you’ll be on the lookout for actual buffalo. And the flavor of the Ravioli Goat Cheese Al Pomodoro cannot be described, it must be befriended, understood and, finally, come to terms with. Paciarino is Italy in Portland.
6 – Tandem Coffee and Bakery
While there are other formidable coffee shop contenders — Bard and Speckled Axe to name two — they cannot halt the juggernaut of joe that is Tandem. I originally would go for the coffee, since I do enjoy the roasting work of Tandem’s Blue Bottle pedigreed founders. However the mind behind the “and Bakery” is what gives Tandem its magic. Velvet, buttery quiche with a flake-apart crust. A cheddar jalapeno biscuit to rule them all. Briana Holt, the baker, holds the crusty, impeccably seasoned keys to my heart.
P.S. As a brief aside, two other bakeries of considerable note are Standard Baking Co. and Scratch Baking Co. if you’re into that sort of thing.
5 - Ohno Café
Breakfast Sandwich #1. It wins. If you live within walking distance of Ohno, I envy your taste buds. Ohno drips with authenticity, shunning both flash and nouveau-Portland restaurant style. The crunchy, locals-only vibe which girds its interior comes from a figurative stream of actual locals. All the Ohno sandwiches have their merits, but the #1 is #1.
4 – Eventide Oyster Co.
Oooooo! Putting Eventide at 4?! Boo, hiss! Brrr! You monster! And now I explain. Their oysters are, without question, the best oysters I’ve ever had in my life — get a Winter Point and attempt to tell me, to my face, that you are not a different person for eating it. Their lobster roll descended from the shining firmament. Eventide has taken the caterpillar of the by-the-sea dining experience and nursed it into a beautiful butterfly using the chrysalis of their minds. The reason Eventide is not higher on the list? I have never gotten fully full at Eventide; I, personally, cannot afford to. Simply put: every bite is delicious, but most dishes are little more than 2-3 bites (I say most, since those that offer more cost more). Go to Eventide as the appetizer, get oysters, a lobster roll and some sweet sweet bubbly, then go to Five Guys and get full.
3 - Isa Bistro
A new challenger appears! Isa is the bellwether of Portland’s expanding culinary footprint into the Bayside area. First and foremost, Isa is an impressive restaurant: effortlessly classy, devastatingly tasty and well worth revisiting again and again. The question is, will its proximity to Preble St. continue to scare away the loafer-monkeys? Or will Isa, a worthy, welcome spot, be the gentrifying straw that breaks Bayside’s back? Regardless, all you need to know is that the Grilled Octopus appetizer is so tender it can be sliced with a fork and the Braised Rabbit — over a mélange of garganelli and English peas — satisfies one in ways both deep and unquantifiable.
2 - Dutch’s
My hard-on for Dutch’s is actually audible. Meaning, if you put your ear near it, you can hear a high-pitched wine not unlike a well-struck tuning fork. Dutch’s Traditional Breakfast sandwich, featuring homemade biscuits and sausage, is what I would miss the most if I were, suddenly, to perish. Their hash browns stand unrivaled from here to Timbuktu and then back around the other way. Every sandwich I’ve sampled has struck my personal, private bullseye. I have preached the gospel of Dutch’s to unwilling and willing ears alike. I will continue to. Am I pleased that their interior looks like a cross between a Cumby farms and a meat locker? No sir! But I don’t care. They have seats at which I can eat their heavenly fare. That is enough. Hosana! Thy will is Dutch.
1 - Central Provisions
No contest. Not a question. Chosen without even a hint of hesitation. This is my favorite restaurant in Portland. Not because the ambience is cozy, comfortable, and chic. Not because the cocktail and beer selection is probably the best in town. Not because every single bite I have ever put into my mouth has made me close my eyes and groan. It is because Central Provisions provided me with something I didn’t know I needed. Before C.P. I’d eschewed tapas as an effete way to spend more money. After C.P. I understood that tapas-style meals provide a wider sampling of delicious food in one sitting, leaving one not only full, but more fully satisfied. Every time has been as mind-blowing as the first. Apologies, Central. I gush. I yearn. I love.
Pai Men Miyake
Portland’s nearly only source of traditional Japanese ramen is great. I eat there often. However, their ramen, while tasty, is not the best I’ve had, even in the past month. Boston’s and New York’s ramen games are so strong that I feared putting Pai Men on the list would open Portland’s scene up to a comparison that it could not — at this point in time — win. I really like Pai Men and will continue to eat there often. It just didn’t make the list.