Portland Food Writers’ Go-to Dining Destinations and Favorite Newcomers in 2021

Each December, Eater Portland ends the year by reflecting on the last twelve months of dining in a series we call Year in Eater. We reach out to Portland food writers and influencers for their perspectives on major trends, impressive newcomers, and standout meals, and share their responses in a single package. Look back on past years here.

When restaurants and bars began to reopen and diners started to get vaccinated, some Portlanders had the joy of returning to their old haunts in-person, becoming a regular once again. Others — immunocompromised diners, parents of young children, the particularly cautious — avoided dining onsite through the year, instead subsisting on takeout and delivery. Either way, Portland’s food writers did find themselves gravitating toward a handful of favorites, however they were enjoying them. In our first installment of Year in Eater 2021, we asked Portland’s food writers — for Eater and other publications — which restaurants they kept visiting this year, again and again, from the tried-and-true to the brand-new.

“My partner is living with long COVID, which means his diet is now extremely limited — no dairy, no alliums, no gluten, etc. For that reason, one of the only restaurants where he can eat comfortably is Mama Bird in Northwest Portland — Gabe’s chicken gets a simple pineapple juice and salt brine, which is a) tasty and b) Ben-safe. It became an almost-weekly tradition for us — chicken and potatoes for Ben, sweet potatoes with vadouvan yogurt for me. On my own, however, I spent quite a bit of time at República, Oma’s Hideaway, Langbaan, and Toki, plus neighborhood standbys like Eem, Jinju, and Sweedeedee. Ooh, and for sweet weekend treats, you *know* I was headed to Berlu Bakery or Fills for pastries.”
-Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor

Mole Mole is quickly becoming a go-to for me; you could probably choose anything at random from their massive menu and be happy, but I particularly like their green enchiladas. Erica’s Soul Food when I want a meal that feels home-cooked, especially meatloaf. Sweedeedee when I want something simple but satisfying (especially pasta and cake). Ruthie’s when I want something hearty but a little fancy, like the roast pork coppa with peaches and padron peppers I had this summer.”
-Katherine Chew Hamilton, Portland Monthly food editor

“I frequented many of my favorites from 2020, like Boxcar, Jade Rabbit, and Mirisata. The rotating menus at Mama Dút and Plant Based Papi bring me back again and again. Throughout the summer, hummus and salads at Alley Mezza and coconut ceviche at Mestizo were my go-tos. República’s new-to-me mushroom taco blew my mind. The vegetable-heavy plates at Chelo are real standouts too.”
-Waz Wu, Eater Portland contributor

“I’m a creature of habit, so I’m afraid my regular spots are the same as ever: Sushi Ichiban, Taqueria El Cazador, and Life of Pie. In terms of newcomers, Mitate. Nino and Summer are making some serious magic in that little lavender cart and even if you’re not vegan, you owe it to your taste buds to go eat their sushi.”
-Janey Wong, Portland Mercury food and drink columnist

“I hate to say this, but my go-tos for 2021 are practically identical to 2020! I still mostly ordered takeout and delivery rather than dining in, which means my repertoire is fairly limited. I probably eat chirashi from Kashiwagi once a week, though. It fills the gap between “fancy” and meh sushi and is a great value, as well. The regular chirashi comes with a variety of tuna, salmon, mackerel, snapper, shrimp, roe, tamago, and furikake-sprinkled rice. You get scallops and octopus if you upgrade to deluxe. It’s a perfect tiny mid-week splurge that’s much better quality than other places in the same price range. Not new either, but I love being able to order bun bo hue or Phnom Penh noodles delivered from Mekha. Their broth is so stellar and it arrives still hot.”
-Krista Garcia, Eater Portland contributor

“One of my long-time PDX go-to destinations is Santo Domingo Taqueria, which is in my neighborhood. Since it opened 16 years ago, I have visited this spot hundreds of times. For me, it is quintessential comfort food. In my rotation are tacos, tortas, and chilaquiles. A go-to pasta spot was Montelupo Italian Market for both dining in and also delivery. Super-solid pasta at very reasonable prices. My go-to bar throughout the pandemic was Scotch Lodge. I was the first customer on the first day of its opening in May of 2019 and have been there a plethora of times. Naturally the cocktails are killer, and Tim Artale’s food is an under-the-radar highlight with one of my favorite dishes in PDX being his crab sandwich. When it comes to newcomers, Thom on NE Alberta has a VERY limited menu, but everything on the menu is well-executed and delectable, especially the grilled pork with vermicelli noodles and the five-spice chicken and rice.”
-Gary Okazaki (“Gary the Foodie”), renowned globe-trotting eater

“I made trips at least once every couple weeks to Khao Moo Dang, whose egg noodles and aromatic broths were a regular craving for me. I also frequented Danwei Canting for speedy and saucy meals, and Pho Mekha for decadent avocado shakes and hu tieu — a Southern Vietnamese specialty! Also loved stopping by Berlu and An Xuyen on the weekends for pandan-flavored pastries. They aren’t super new, but my partner and I finally got around to visiting Montelupo Italian Market’s epic circus tent of an outdoor dining venue for our anniversary, and it was affordable, quick, and delicious.”
-Katrina Yentch, Eater Portland contributor

“I leaned on regulars in 2021 that made for smart takeout, particularly as applicable for sharing with my five-year-old: Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Fish & Rice, Luc Lac, Kati Thai, and Grindwittryz are all in regular rotation. We also continued cooking at home a ton in 2021, and made go-to destinations out of shopping with Milk Glass Mrkt, Kachka Lavka, Uwajimaya, World Foods, and Providore. Although they technically opened in late 2020, I have been consistently impressed by the food and vibe at Tinker Tavern in Montavilla. They make some of the city’s best bar food, and they show live sports with a fun, engaged crowd. I deeply missed both of these things in 2020 and find myself going there now a couple of times a month for their outstanding hot wings and Canadian lager.”
-Jordan Michelman, Sprudge co-founder and beverage writer

“My go-tos were Acorn & The Oak and The Grocery Cocktail & Social. I really like the quirky, updated supper club vibe and lake views at Acorn & The Oak. I missed going to The Grocery during the pandemic. I love their cocktails and the Grocery Burger. My favorite spot is the couch in the loft upstairs. Re: newcomers, Dos Alas blew my mind. After peering through the window into the lobby during their long buildout, I was shocked when I walked up the stairs into the main area. I haven’t seen such a glamorous spot anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. It’s like a trip to Vegas or some distant glittery planet. The food and drink live up to the promise of the space.”
Rachel Pinsky, Eater Portland contributor, Washington correspondent

“My regular go-tos were Off the Griddle, Flying Fish, Yuan Su, Fernando’s Alegria at the Portland Mercado, Henry Higgins Boiled Bagels, and Cloud City Ice Cream. If I had to pick a theme that ties those all together, it’s unpretentious, flavor-forward comfort food executed perfectly — I needed that a lot in 2021. Cicoria, the new pizza concept from Ava Gene’s, was my favorite newcomer. I became a fan of their super-thin, crispy party-cut pizzas when they were doing takeout-only through Division Street Grocers in 2020, and the new restaurant location takes what I love about Ava Gene’s and puts it into a casual pizza spot. I highly recommend the pepperoncini lover’s pizza. (Honorable mention: Vegan Junk Food, where you can get literally any “unhealthy” food item you can imagine, veganized.)”
Blair Stenvick, Portland Mercury arts & culture editor

“My obsession with Malka carried over from 2021, as did my habit of getting Big’s Chicken delivered. I also made a point to eat at some of the pizzerias I had missed earlier, like Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty and Gracie’s. Other staples included Prey & Tell, Matta, the Sudra, and Kati. As for newcomers: On the cocktail front, Midnight has been a killer cocktail bar since it opened, with a distinct atmosphere and my kind of boozy, amari-obsessed cocktail menu. And for food, probably Moore Food & Co for the fabulous patio space and incredible sandwiches.”
-Alex Frane, Eater Portland guest editor and contributor

“More than any other place, I went to the cart Summit Shack. Their chicken parmesan sandwich is the best I have ever eaten, as are their fried pickles. Honestly, everything I have ever tried there has been terrific — the smash burger, the porchetta, everything. I’m kind of afraid to try the apparently-delicious but also alarmingly-hot spicy chicken sandwich. The newcomer that excited me most was the Core pod (where Summit Shack is), which has a great and well-curated selection of carts including Papi Sal’s and Cobra Dog (since departed I think) and several more I am dying to try. Plus the parking is great.”
-Bill Oakley, fast food influencer

Year in Eater [EPDX]