Willamette Week's annual Cheap Eats is out. Editor Ben Waterhouse calls the guide a "gastronomic stimulus package." And with over 150 places to dine throughout the city and a round-up of food carts and coffeehouses, it's one of the most comprehensive guides to inexpensive eats in PDX. Willamette Week has also rolled out the umpteenth edition of "Hot Chefs, Cheap Eats," where top chefs share their bottom-feeding habits including Kurt Huffman's take on Montage: "the service isn’t good; the kitchen looks like it’s openly violating health codes. But the mac and cheese is good." Wow. Today, Eater checks in with Waterhouse to see what to make of this year's wallet-proof offerings.
How much weight did you gain doing Cheap Eats?
None this year, thanks to my decision to review mostly Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants and space my 14 reviews over six weeks. But I still haven't lost the five pounds I gained doing Restaurant Guide.
What was the biggest surprise about this year's guide?
Kurt Huffman eats at Montage.
What is one discovery in the guide that those of us on a budget should make a bee-line for?
Best Taste, a tiny dim sum and Chinese BBQ place across the street from Wong's King, is my new favorite restaurant. They'll sell you half a duck for $7.50.
Name three joints that you would've like to include but didn't have the space for?
Bun Bo Hue Minh (8560 SE Division St.), Quan Chuc (7901 SE Powell Blvd.) and Breken Kitchen (1800 NW 16th Ave.). All three restaurants only came to my attention after we'd finished copy for the guide, but all three sound delicious.
Why is Stumptown not in the coffeehouse roundup?
We focus on new coffeehouses or those (like Extracto and Coffeehouse NW) that have done something new in the last year. Stumptown hasn't changed much since the Ace location opened.
This might be the last year for Hot Chefs, Cheap Eats. Is that true and why? Were you surprised at the honesty of the chefs in that story?
I'm usually surprised when chefs aren't honest. You don't make it far in the kitchen when you're afraid to piss people off. I don't know if this is the last year for Hot Chefs, Cheap Eats, but I would like to come up with a replacement. We've been doing the feature for nearly ten years, and, while I still enjoy reading it every year, the format no longer feels uniquely our own. The Oregonian and Portland Monthly now both run similar stories nearly quarterly, and I think it may be time for us to come up with something new for them to steal. Maybe we'll make the chefs pose nude. Of course, if we meet a bunch of interesting new Hot Chefs this year, we may just fall back on what's worked.
Don't you think Burgerville's sweet potato fries should have been in the $7 or less feature?
Does anyone not know about Burgerville's sweet potato fries already?
Why do you think this is the biggest Cheap Eats?
We included over 180 places to eat, all told. That's the most we've ever reviewed in one issue. Of course, many of those reviews were quite short; the page count is still smaller than it was in the pre-recession days.