Portland is arguably ground zero for the chef-driven explosion of creativity that fuelled the last decade of American cuisine. Bold culinary maestros in the city – often blending classic training with delicious rule-breaking and the Northwest’s bounty of fresh produce – have been one-upping each other for years, making it one of the best food towns in the country – and, arguably, the world.
Chef Gabriel Rucker has gained culinary fame and two James Beard awards for his daring mash-up of French and Northwestern-inspired fare. Standout dishes include Jamaican jerk foie gras with plantain, red curry rum sauce and banana kumquat relish, as well as the opulent pan-roasted Wagyu tri-tip with walnut Bordelaise sauce, pepper raisin relish and beef fat mash. Don’t be afraid to close out the meal with the foie gras profiteroles.
With lovely city views from the 15th floor of the Nines Hotel, Departure specializes in delicious modern pan-Asian fare: a standout dish, for instance, is the Japanese charcoal-grilled octopus with chili hazelnut and crispy potato. If you happen to be in town in December, don’t miss the “whole duck experience” – a perfectly cooked Peking duck with slivers of kumquat that you can fold into pancakes with lettuce and XO sauce. Finish it off with some duck fat ice cream.
An homage to the cafés that line the streets of Paris, Aaron Barnett’s St. Jack sports a casual bistro environment. The culinary experience can range from laid-back oysters and beers to decadent offerings such as roasted bone marrow with confit sardines and wild basil, or a 46-ounce bone-in rib-eye steak frites with optional seared foie gras or roasted bone marrow accompaniments.
Inspired by a combination of the wood-fired grills of Argentina and the culinary heritage of southern Europe, Ox boast a special grill that catches steak drippings, which are then blended with lemon and onion and routed back onto the steaks. Meat-lovers can try the filet mignon with chanterelles and caper brown butter or the maple-brined pork loin chop. For a change of pace, try the Hawaiian swordfish with golden raisin agrodolce, oregano and mint.
Chef Justin Woodward puts out a high-end tasting menu from his Michelin-starred digs, which fuses his playful and inventive style with a desire to honor the Pacific Northwest’s abundant fresh produce. Dishes change constantly, but previous bites have included bowls of crab and sake leeks; tiny beet chips wrapped around steak tartare; black brioche topped with chicken liver and malt; and even potato skin ice cream. A $75 wine pairing makes for a memorable splurge.
James Beard-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy offers an opulent six-course prix fixe menu that changes every two weeks as per available ingredients and her own whims. Everyone sits at a communal table, and dishes can range from Hawaiian bigeye tuna with tuna sauce Albufera, crispy garlic and yuzu candied limequats; to American Wagyu beef with Maine lobster gratin; to pork loin with a miso brown-butter demiglace, beer-pickled shimeji mushrooms and ginger chimichurri.