Top 3 Restaurants in NW Portland
Portland in the national spotlight for food
Portland has made a name for itself in the restaurant world. In February 2015 GQ posted its list of 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015, featuring three Portland restaurants. Meanwhile two Portland-based chefs—Gregory Gourdet from Departure and Doug Adams from Imperial—were competing on Bravo's Top Chef for first place. While I encourage you to try out the newly famous Langbaan, Ataula, and Kachka, and feast on dishes from the now eminent chefs, I suggest that you first check out a few lesser known Portland essential restaurants. You'll enjoy the shorter wait times, tried and true dishes and libations, and expert service.
Versatile, Good for Everyone
My go-to Portland eatery is hands down Jo Bar and Rotisserie on NW 23rd. It's open from 11:30 every day and serves food and drinks until 10 pm weekdays, midnight on weekends. It's connected to the better known Papa Haydn, famous for its delectable deserts (you can order these while dining at Jo Bar). If you're looking for a reliable, friendly, relaxed spot in the Alphabet District this is your best bet. Like most places in Portland you can arrive in any attire—jeans, yoga pants, your Sunday best dress—and feel welcomed.
The best parts: Jo Bar has a wood oven and spit roasts many of their dishes. If you like wood-oven-fired pizza you're in luck! Don't worry, if you're not interested in the combos they're offering you can ask them to change out some of the ingredients. For starters at any meal I suggest the fondue and oysters. Their roasted beet niçoise—adapted from the tuna niçoise they've offered in the past—is a dependably tasty salad. A mix of starters and salads would be enough for a meal, especially when you add in the complimentary bread and butter. But if you're there for lunch or brunch you should try the cheese pasta entrée.
As a brunch spot this is a winner. It's not often crowded and you can sit at a window table for hours. Unlike some wood oven restaurants that don't start up the fire until the evening, Jo Bar offers wood-oven-fired pizza for brunch! Much of the fare is similar to the lunch or dinner menu, and they also offer specialty brunch cocktails.
Jo Bar also has a great Happy Hour special. Their New Craft Cocktails & House Classic Cocktails are $2 off the listed price and wine, beer, and well drinks are $1 off. The small plates are all reasonably priced and a few of the dishes are particular to this menu.
Bonus: they take reservations, have outdoor seating, and can open their windows on nice days for semi-al fresco dining!
Jo Bar & Rotisserie
Where to Eat
If you like oysters, The Parish is the place for you. If you like live music played while you eat, you will want to visit The Parish. If you're a fan of cajun food and—okay, just go to this restaurant. Located at 11th and NW Everett in the Pearl District, The Parish is open pretty much all day. Like Jo Bar, they offer lunch, happy hour, dinner, and Sunday brunch menus.
Outstanding qualities: Oysters, of course. This place is almost never busy, which I realize could be off-putting. But don't fear, this sister restaurant of EaT: An Oyster Bar is unassumingly successful. Because they're open throughout the day, every day, you'll see a steady stream of people coming in to enjoy the cuisine until late in the evenings.
My favorite time of day to go is for Sunday Brunch, but if you are looking for a good Happy Hour spot this will also serve you well. Their surprisingly early Happy Hour from 2-5 pm Monday-Saturday offers 3 oysters on the half shell for $4. That's barely more than you'll pay at the grocery store, and these come already shucked! The only baked oyster option is garlic butter and parmesan—the dinner menu has two other choices—but this is the best one anyway. You may get excited to see the Trumer Pils for only $2, but beware: this beer comes in a child-sized cup. Instead, try one of their cocktails or go for a house wine, it's pretty good!
I'll admit that the menus are pretty limited for vegetarian options. There is one veganizable main dish—the Hoppin' John—but you'd be better off opting for the Parish Salad and a few side dishes. If you think you don't like the stuff of bivalves but you're feeling adventurous try the Fried Oysters. They're lightly breaded and fried so you won't feel greasy, and the texture won't remind you of whatever comes to mind when you hear "oysters."
Not to be missed: oyster shooters! If you like bourbon and spice, try the Kentucky. For vodka lovers the Standard and Cajun shooters are both great.
If you live in Portland and haven't made it to Andina yet, log on to OpenTable right now and make your reservation! Around since 2003, this is a popular spot off 13th and NW Glisan, so you will actually need to make a reservation. Want to go now and can't get a table? Check out their bar. It's first come, first served, and it's where the nightly musicians are stationed. This place is good for vegans, meat lovers, pescetarians, and cocktail connoisseurs.
Tapas is the style of dining here, so expect to order a decent amount of plates. You should start with the solterito, a cylindrical potato dish with green beans, fresh corn,cotija cheese and tomatoes. The yuca rellena is also fantastic—who wouldn't like yuca filled with cheese? The sopa del día is usually very good, but often served cold, so make sure to ask. Nota Bene: they serve delicious bread with three different sauces so if you want to save a little money you can fill up on that.
Andina offers ostras on the half shell, along with choros (mussels) and conchas(scallops) but there are so many creative Peruvian dishes on the menu you may want to branch out. They have vegan/vegetarian and gluten free menus available to help narrow the choices for you. The quinotto chisaya mama is a dependably good vegetable dish of quinoa “risotto” and truffle oil.
Drinks? You must try the sacsayhuamán (prounounced "sexy woman"). Yes, it's habanero pepper vodka, but the heat is balanced with pureed passionfruit. If you're not up for something spicy the caipirinha is another great choice. They also have an extensive wine list, with many by the glass offerings. If you're there for Happy Hour you can enjoy anything from the cocktail list for $9 or select wines for $6 a glass. The best part? Oysters for $1.50 each! That's a steal considering the ambiance and location of the restaurant.
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Have you visited any of these spots?
Bright and Open
Although I decided to limit my review to the top three restaurants in NW Portland, I can't help but mention a few other restaurants worth trying. Here are a few other great spots in the neighborhood:
Paragon, located at the corner of 13th and NW Hoyt, is a trustworthy place when you are in the mood for a snack or drink but aren't sure where to go. This restaurant is a member of the Moana Restaurant Group and boasts a fireplace and stack of boardgames, but only in the bar—reserved for guests 21 and over. Stop in here when you need to warm up with a hot drink or want to take advantage of a good Happy Hour (4:30-6 pm and 9 pm-close daily). Try the Paragon Rosemary Mac & Cheese, only $4 at Happy Hour!
Ten blocks up the road is 23Hoyt, a Bruce Carey restaurant. This actually started as Balvo, but quickly shut down for redecorating and reopened as 23Hoyt. I don't think it needed to change, but I like the décor and vibe. It's a rather limited menu, but changes daily so you won't get bored. With a farm-to-table attitude 23Hoyt offers mostly meat dishes, but the chefs are always willing to work with vegetarians. Happy Hour is decent—$5 house wine and good deals on small plates. What's fun: occasionally they rent out the upstairs to groups for parties, painting classes, and more, so you'll feel the energy even in the main restaurant.
Irving Street Kitchen and Davis Street Tavern are also good choices. Reminiscent of Paragon or Jo Bar, these places welcome diners dressed as they are after work or dolled up for a night out. Both restaurants have great atmospheres at any time of day, but I suggest the Happy Hour deals at Davis Street and the Sunday Brunch—with one of the best Bloody Marys in town!—at Irving Street.