We live in an age of double-speak, where down frequently means up and your eyes are not to be believed—much less your stomach. But even now, in this age of uncertainty, there is one fundamental truth to which no counterpunch can be thrown, no pundit parry thrusted, and that is this: If you want to know somewhere great to eat, ask a chef.
Chefs care the most about restaurants: their own, of course, but also everybody else’s. They tend to be wildly informed and opinionated about the food scene in which they operate, and this cuts both ways. No one is more critical than a chef, and in the same breath, no one is more complimentary. And to be given praise by the chef working down the street from your own kitchen is the truest, greatest compliment, because you know it was earned, and comes from a place of mutual respect. “Game recognizes game,” or so the modern idiom goes.
For this issue of the Feast Newsletter we turn outward, and talk to a staff meal’s worth of chefs across the city about where they like to eat when the lights are low and the shift is covered. You should listen to them and heed their advice when next selecting a dinner location, because if these chefs say somewhere is good, they mean it.
Jordan Michelman, Editor
WHERE OUR CHEF FRIENDS ARE EATING
Chef Luna Contreras of Chelo and Family Ml PDX
I love popping into Lokanta for snacks. Whether I am running errands or just need a spot to relax and always feel super welcome and have an awesome meal. This is also a spot where my personal values align with the business. I love chef Umut’s food so much! Umut is an outspoken and super humble chef. I believe Lokanta flies under the radar on so many levels. There is always so much depth of flavor and the story translates perfectly with the food and feel of the space: comfort food with layers of bright acid and depth. The peynirli side, cig kofte and the tahinli fava pate are great. Also don’t forget to get lots of bazlama. The bread is extremely delicious and everything is meant to be shared with the table. Talking about all of this makes me want to pop in for food today!
Chef Cody Auger of Takibi
The place I’ve been enjoying the most lately is Scotch Lodge. The food program is fun, creative and delicious. Chef Tim Artale is doing a great job with the menu and clearly not cutting any corners. The space is beautiful, too; You feel nice and cozy down there. Obviously the cocktail program is amazing as well. I don’t get to go eat out often anymore, but that’s the one place I really enjoy and come back to. I would go eat tomorrow if I could. My visits have been pretty spaced out and the menu changes often, but I’ve ordered the dash arancini whenever it’s been on the menu. I make something similar but I enjoy their version a lot.
Chef Rick Gencarelli of Lardo, Grassa, Bluto’s
I don’t generally eat sandwiches on my days off because my life is full of sandwiches but, I go to Binh Minh every chance I get. Located in a mini strip mall off of 82nd, it’s no frills, all killer, no filler–so affordable you’ll want to buy a bunch and make the people in your life happy. I get two #5’s (BBQ pork) and a Vietnamese iced coffee. So good! The bread is baked in house and is perfectly crunchy. You’ll be tempted to add extra meat for a small up-charge but I think it throws off the delicate balance. (You’re better off eating another sandwich.) I’ve been known to crush one in my car because I have a hard time waiting and it’s just so good while it’s still warm. Wash it all down with a super sweet and creamy iced coffee to help put the jalapeno fire out.
Chef Naomi Pomeroy of Ripe Cooperative
I love MeKha Noodle on Sandy Blvd! I love their turmeric noodles, the crispy spring rolls, and the dry combination Phnom Penh Noodles with seafood… plus their pho is super light and delicious
Chef John Conlin III of Tercet
My wife Kelly and I love the vibe at Murata. I’ve yet to have anything I didn’t like, and the service staff is knowledgeable and friendly while still being all-business. My favorite things on the menu are all the lightly cured oily fish, the saba (mackerel), the aji (horse mackerel), and the hohada (gizzard shad). In the fall they run a matsutake chicken rice that is an absolute stunner.
Chef Kasey Mills of Sesame Collective
My family’s go-to restaurant in Portland is always Porque No. My wife and I have been going there for over 10 years. It mainly started when my wife quit eating gluten because there are so many gluten-free options there. Now my kids call it “our taco shop” and treat the quesadilla there as if it were a holy object. I mainly love going here because the food is fresh, flavorful and extremely consistent. Over the years my favorites have gone from the carnitas tacos, to the queso asado, and now Hongos y Papas. The team at Porque is wonderful.
Chef Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish Nong’s Khao Man Gai! Nong’s chicken & rice with fresh chili peppers, plus the broth soup that comes with it is heaven! When I need nourishment this is my go to dish. I also really love Pie Spot—their breakfast sandwich w/ bacon is simply the best breakfast sandwich around. Gooey cheese, house-made English muffin, great value.
Pastry Chef Maya Erickson of Langbaan
My absolute favorite place to eat on a day off (when I’m feeling a bit fancy) is Jacqueline. It is a beautiful space, with fantastic food, excellent drinks and a lovely wine list. It really is the perfect date spot, whether a romantic evening out, platonic dinner or date with yourself. They also feature my favorite food, which is oysters and other raw and lightly cooked seafoods. My must orders are (at least) a dozen oysters, any of their ceviches or crudos and a glass of bubbles.
Here’s where we’re Feasting this week…
Have you been to Golden Triangle yet? It is a jump-up-and-down-with-conviction level recommendation, serving outstanding Lao-Cambodian food out of a little cart in Lents. Get the soft shell crab pepper stir fry, get the truly spicy larb salad, order something from the specials, go for lunch or dinner. You must try it…I love a pork cutlet, and I love a Caesar salad, and they are combining these food forms together right now at Piccone’s Corner for their lunch and dinner service (also get a leaf lard and marscapone cannoli)…this is far from breaking news in the Portland food world, but the charcuterie board and wood paneled bar dining scene inside Higgins remains a distinctly essential Portland experience in its 28th year, and has earned pride of place as my Number One go-to spot for taking friends from out-of-town…speaking of Higgins, I drank a very enjoyable bottle of Cho Wines Pinot Noir there on my last visit, and Dave and Lois Cho’s label should most definitely be on your radar (the Blanc de Blanc is especially good)…and since we’re talking about wine, allow me to direct you to Nil Wine Bar on SE Belmont—I’ve written extensively about natural wine over the last couple of years up and down the west coast, and I think what they’re doing at Nil can hang with anything in LA or SF, so if you’re curious about natural wine, or just want a glass of something unexpected, check them out…somehow we’ve reached issue 5 of this newsletter without me yet discussing Bae’s Chicken, with which my otherwise reserved spouse is obsessed to the point of exclamation and expletive—we get the spicy tenders, add a wing, add a thigh, with ranch and honey mustard and waffle fries—I will be placing this exact order upon completion of this dispatch…last but not least I’m very excited to be enjoying a city staycation this weekend, with nights booked at the Jupiter Next hotel and a late, luxuriously paced dinner at Tercet. More on that later…