Summer dining guide: 17 new (and recently reopened) Portland restaurants to try right now

Behind an old door in Northeast Portland marked by an odd little man-cat hybrid, one of the city’s best restaurants recently staged a surprise revival.

Housed inside a dimly lit former tavern, the temporary pop-up came from Nodoguro owners Ryan and Elena Roadhouse, and was a chance to revisit the flavors of the couple’s elusive, exclusive Japanese chef’s counter — dashi-infused sungold tomatoes, impeccably sourced sashimi, perfect rice bowls blanketed in salmon and brilliant salmon roe.

But like a green shoot poking through a burnt forest, it was also the latest sign that Portland’s once-overachieving restaurant scene could be approaching something resembling a recovery. All across the city, popular chefs are unfurling long-awaited projects, newcomers are sprouting fresh perspectives and old favorites, many torched by the pandemic, are mounting comebacks directly from their charred rootstock.

That’s not to say things look as they did, or that we should want them to. Many locals remain wary of dining indoors, or even on one of Portland’s many great patios. Efforts to improve working conditions in the restaurant industry remain a work in progress, with a full accounting of change, positive or otherwise, unlikely for years

And some scene-defining restaurants aren’t coming back. Of the 40 places highlighted in our final pre-COVID restaurant guide, at least nine are permanently shuttered (Acadia, Ataula, Bistro Agnes, Holdfast Dining, Ned Ludd, Paley’s Place, Pok Pok, Toro Bravo and Trifecta, which closed just before the pandemic), three remain “temporarily” closed (Abyssinian Kitchen, Ava Gene’s and Olympia Provisions NW), one shifted to a restaurant-market model (Beast, now Ripe Cooperative) and one went back to its pop-up roots (Nodoguro).

Even so, the caliber and pace of restaurant openings appear to be picking up. In early July, we listed 22 intriguing new Portland restaurants to know for 2022, and still received emails about places readers thought we missed. And that’s all before the official opening of Gregory Gourdet’s upcoming wood-fired Haitian restaurant Kann, perhaps the most anticipated debut of the past three years.

And so, three months ago, we made a list of all the intriguing new places to open in the past year or so, then set out to hit them all. It was a chance to start researching our annual guide to Portland’s best new restaurants, catch up on recent openings we’ve missed and gather intel for anyone who might be hungry to venture back out.

Here are three lessons we learned about Portland’s new dining scene, plus 17 places to go if you’re not sure where to begin.

Steaks and chops, Thai-style, sit on the bar counter at Northwest Portland's new Phuket Cafe.

Steaks and chops, Thai-style, from Northwest Portland’s new Phuket Cafe.Michael Russell | The Oregonian

Every restaurant is a steakhouse, with or without the steak

When Oregon lifted its COVID-19 restrictions in 2021, it wasn’t clear that people were ready to return to restaurants, or what they wanted to eat when they did. One year later, an answer is emerging: When people do go out, they’re looking to go big.

Call it The Roaring 20s, 2.0

Due to rising food and labor costs, prices have gone up throughout the city, with an average dinner at many of the popular new restaurants we visited reaching or surpassing $300 for two, including tip. Many of those restaurants are leaning into the ritz, offering the trappings of a steakhouse, even when they don’t serve actual steak.

Caesar salads are everywhere. Ditto oysters. And then there’s the shrimp cocktail, the once dominant American hors d’oeuvre, more recently confined to older-school haunts such as Jake’s Crawfish, Ringside Steakhouse or Clyde’s Prime Rib. But venture out today, and you might find a deconstructed shrimp cocktail with cocktail sauce and minced tamarind at Sunshine Noodles (2175 N.W. Raleigh St., #105), chef Diane Lam’s Cambodian-inspired noodle spot; or five plump shrimp chilling with fresh lettuce wraps at the just opened second location of Canard (1500 Washington St., Oregon City).

At Phuket Cafe (1818 N.W. 23rd Place), the latest smash hit from chef-owner Earl Ninsom (Hat Yai, PaaDee), prawns come floating in turmeric curry. But in many other ways, the restaurant — which shares its home with the relocated Langbaan — has steakhouse vibes, down to the dry-aged ribeyes and pork chops pulled from the open charcoal grill. Still, this food is anything but staid. That steak is served sliced with the bone and a fiery tomato relish for dipping. And you’ve never had veggie sides like the sticky curry-glazed fried potatoes or broccolini with abalone and oyster sauce at Morton’s.

A succulent lamb chop and summer-ready cocktail from Takibi, the year-old restaurant attached to Japanese outdoor gear specialist Snow Peak.

A succulent lamb chop and summer-ready cocktail from Takibi, the year-old restaurant attached to Japanese outdoor gear specialist Snow Peak.Michael Russell | The Oregonian

Also in Northwest Portland, Takibi (2275 N.W. Flanders St.), a year-old restaurant attached to the showroom of Japanese outdoor gear specialists Snow Peak, is rightfully known for a cocktail program led by bartending legend Jim Meehan (Please Don’t Tell) and rising Portland star Lydia McLuen (Dottír). But the izakaya menu, now overseen by Nimblefish’s Cody Auger, offers plenty to recommend, including delicate sashimi aged in-house or flash-cooked over burning straw; crave-worthy chicken karaage; and steaks pulled from the gorgeous grill. Izakaya or not, the charred, bone-in lamb chop — when properly trimmed — can be the star of a meal.

When Pasture (1413 N.E. Alberta St.) first opened, chefs Kei Ohdera and John Schaible planned to pull steaks straight from the butcher counter and sear them to order alongside small plates and wine, two nights a week. But after an initial run, the restaurant has zeroed in on lunch, specifically a lineup of tasty sandwiches, many made with house-cured meats, and one of the city’s best burgers, made with course-ground beef and lamb and a healthy slab of what tastes like gruyere. This is the place to go for anyone missing the sandwiches at the recently closed Tails & Trotters.

Speaking of cocktails, Pacific Standard (100 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), the new lobby bar at Icelandic hostel KEX from former Clyde Common duo Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Benjamin “Banjo” Amberg, boasts a tavern menu that’s right on trend. Yes, there’s a jumbo prawn cocktail with garlic aioli, but you’ll also find Willapa Bay oysters, “Tijuana-style” Caesar salads and a grilled hanger steak frites. And this might be the only restaurant in the world where French onion dip comes with Ruffles and an optional $100 caviar supplement.

Old restaurants make a cautious comeback

The short-lived Nodoguro pop-up wrapped up in mid-July, but the Roadhouses plan to return in a new space, with a new menu, likely focusing on sushi.

They’re not the only old restaurant mounting a comeback. Davenport (2215 E. Burnside St.), the home of longtime local chef Kevin Gibson’s deft, seasonal cooking, quietly reopened last year after an extended closure. Berlu (605 S.E. Belmont St.), which reinvented itself as a bakery, noodle shop and even night market during the pandemic, also rebooted last year, adding flavors from chef Vince Nguyen’s Vietnamese heritage to its signature tasting menu.

Wood-fired Italian restaurant Renata (626 S.E. Main St.), which pivoted to selling wholesale pizza during the pandemic, recently reopened with limited dinner service, three nights a week. And Han Oak (511 N.E. 24th Ave.), the modern Korean restaurant that was our 2017 Restaurant of the Year, reopened in February with a new hot pot format focused on gently aged, beautifully marbled meats. After an early summer break, the restaurant reopened again, this time serving some of those same quality ingredients marinated and grilled, Korean-style, over live coals.

Akadi (1001 S.E. Division St.), chef Fatou Ouattara’s popular West African restaurant, reopened in May in a larger space filled with sunset colors and cool hanging plants. Ouattara, who closed her original restaurant in 2020, traveled back to Ivory Coast to learn more about the ingredients and recipes of her homeland. In practice, that looks like a handful of new dishes added to the familiar jollof rice, poisson braisé (grilled fish) and mafe (peanut butter stew), most notably a new lineup of tropical fruit cheesecakes. Reservations — and patience, as food can be slow to arrive — are recommended.

Though it only opened last fall, the all-day Cafe Olli (3925 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), feels a bit like a rebirth, opening in the former Ned Ludd space with a crew of talented chefs, bakers and front-of-house pros, many from Submarine Hospitality group restaurants Ava Gene’s and Tusk. You can stop by after 9 a.m. for pastries, breads and other breakfast-y things, but the move is to wait until 3 p.m., when the brick oven starts firing thin-crusted pizzas with beautifully char-dappled edge crusts. After visiting all of Portland’s many pandemic-time pizzerias, the simple tomato pie with translucent strips of garlic and a dollop of stracciatella added to each slice was the single most impressive pizza we tried.

Pad Thai at Southeast Belmont Street's new Rukdiew Cafe can come topped with a fried trout fillet or soft shell crab.

Pad Thai at Southeast Belmont Street’s new Rukdiew Cafe can come topped with a fried trout fillet or soft shell crab.Michael Russell | The Oregonian

Is it time to have fun again? Yes (kind of)

Even with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on the decline, it remains important to take care when dining indoors, both for your own health and that of those around you. But after more than two years of masks and social distancing, new Portland restaurants seem to be embracing a festive atmosphere once more. That could mean anything from seating guests outdoors in a mock Thai train car at Phuket Cafe, or topping pad Thai with fried trout or soft shell crab at Rukdiew Cafe (2534 S.E. Belmont St.), a colorful new Thai spot with a wonderfully spicy khao soi.

Before the pandemic, Portland chefs seemed determined to reinvent the red sauce Italian joint, with restaurants and pop-ups including Omerta, Il Solito and Ava Geno’s whipping out red-checked tablecloths and menus filled with garlic bread, sauce-splattered pastas and chicken cacciatore (whether the format actually needed reinventing is another story).

But none of those since-closed concepts nailed what’s great about Italian-American food like Gabbiano’s (5411 N.E. 30th Ave.). This new restaurant in a breezy Concordia neighborhood space fills up five nights a week with happy people eating big salads, bigger plates of chicken Parmesan, sauce-drenched cups of fried mozzarella and more lemon drops and espresso martinis than a full season of “Below Deck.” The food is good, the vibe is great and there’s usually an ice-cold tropical slushie rotating near the front.

Paradise Mariscos (2821 N.E. Davis St.) might be the biggest surprise of the year, a delightful Mexican seafood restaurant popping up four nights a week on the parking lot behind Güero from now until the end of summer. Led by chef Adán Fausto, who cooked at high-level California kitchens, Paradise puts a clever spin on the familiar, adding pickled pinto beans to a plate of shrimp and mussels; stuffing flautas with decadent black cod and melting cheese; or mixing a little koji-marinated octopus in with the chorizo and confited potato in the pambazo, a petite sandwich painted with guajillo chile sauce. The decor is pure pastel-toned Los Angeles, by way of tropical Tulum, with misters and shady plants keeping things cool, even on hot days.

You can get throwback smash burgers from Burger Stevens, smoked brisket tacos from Matt’s BBQ Tacos, or a date-night worthy meal — starting with fresh-shucked oysters, finishing with a composed dessert — from Poppyseed. But if there’s one reason Hinterland (2216 S.E. 50th Ave.) is setting a new standard for food cart pods, it’s the bar. That’s in large part thanks to Taylor Gehrts (Trifecta), whose drinks list includes a dozen taps of great Northwest beer and two cocktails for each of the pod’s five carts. My favorites: a boozy amaretto root beer float and a vermouth-heavy “reverse Manhattan” designed to pair with food from Burger Stevens.


Greek-style skewers at Rick Gencarelli’s new Mediterranean-inspired Bluto’sMark Graves/The Oregonian

Early visions of flaming saganaki cheese, free-flowing ouzo cocktails, plated smashed with a cry of “Opa!” and other totems of a lively Greek-American restaurant didn’t quite materialize at Bluto’s (2838 S.E. Belmont St.). Instead, the fun comes in the form of Lardo owner Rick Gencarelli and chef Barry Fitzpatrick’s cooking, with wedge salads drizzled in “ranchziki,” spiced lamb and chicken skewers grilled on an open hearth and little rounds of mochi-soft flatbread ripped and dragged through tahini-rich hummus. Despite being counter-service, the vibe is more date night than “Animal House,” but the food keeps things entertaining.

— Michael Russell