As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. This year, we asked the group seven questions running the gamut from best dining neighborhood of the year to top restaurant newcomers, and we'll be rolling out their expert opinions all week long. Responses are cut, pasted, and (mostly) unedited herein. Readers, please share your survey answers in the comments.
Q. What were the top Portland restaurant newcomers of 2016?
Michael Russell, The Oregonian’s food reporter and critic
For anyone who missed my September survey, my favorite new restaurants were: Abyssinian Kitchen, Chesa, Han Oak, Hat Yai, La Moule, Mae, Nodoguro (which finally feels complete in its new home), Paiche, SuperBite, and Taylor Railworks (in alphabetical order). If I were writing today, I’d probably add Dame, Tusk, and, maybe, Revelry. And while it’s no longer brand new, Coquine, The Oregonian’s 2016 Restaurant of the Year, continued to shine this year. Ignoring pop-ups, it’s the most consistently excellent restaurant to open in the past two years.
Kelly Clarke, senior editor, Portland Monthly
Tokyo import Afuri is already off to an impressive start — from its dramatic Southeast space, to its ambitious roster of Japanese fare, especially the insanely good robata-grilled, miso-marinated black cod. I called their light, soulful, yuzu-whispering shio ramen bowl the Astrud Gilberto of the ramen world, and I am sticking to it. Bonus: They’ve got the coolest plating of potstickers in town: a wheel of juicy, lacy edged dumplings shaped like the glaive from Krull (!!!).
As for other restaurants, Peruvian oddball Paiche is uneven but, at times, amazing. Tusk has turned tangy house flatbread and silky hummus into a dish worth braving a wait for (although other offerings can fall flat). Southern pop-up Mae has a newish brunch which manages to shove an Appalachian’s grandma’s kitchen into Old Salt's drafty backroom, and I want to live there every weekend: Chef Maya Lovelace's sumac-dusted shrimp and grits with smoky bacon sauce are creamy, savory heaven. And who knew I would be obsessed with a Mediterranean chicken takeout window on the side of Providore Fine Foods market? That’d be Arrosto.
Gary Okazaki, professional glutton (aka Gary the Foodie)
None of the new PDX restaurants were "game-changers,” but there were a plethora of solid new restaurants. At the top of the list is Dame. If one considers Dame a wine bar, then it instantly becomes a "game-changing" wine bar: a well-curated wine list from super-somm and co-owner Dana Frank, along with some of the best bar food in PDX, courtesy of Eli Dahlin. If one considers Dame a restaurant, it still remains my favorite new restaurant in PDX for 2016. After Dame, my favorites were (in order): Chesa, SuperBite, Han Oak, and Mae.
I am not a huge food cart guy, but my top newcomer was Pastrami Zombie, followed by Le Pantry and Gumba.
My favorite new restaurant in the USA is the exhilarating In Situ (San Francisco) from Corey Lee. The last time I was this excited about a new place was when Chicago's Next opened in 2011. I was at In Situ the second day after it opened and was hooked at the first bite of my first dish: shrimp grits from Wylie Dufresne.
Michael Zusman, cookbook author, restaurant critic (and judge)
Not counting reopenings and additional locations:
2. Poke Mon
4. Hat Yai
Andrea Damewood, restaurant critic, Portland Mercury
Overall, I was happier with the openings this year than last (not to say that there weren't some good newcomers in 2015, too). Mae has been an absolute gem. Han Oak is hitting its stride in a wonderful way, and I wish the very best for SuperBite. And while Portland is fast becoming a place where eating out is no longer cheap, some of my new favorites still hit that sweet spot of tasty and not too expensive: Hat Yai, Poke Mon, Marukin, and Pastrami Zombie come to mind.
Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast Portland
This was the best year for openings in a few years. Han Oak is a great addition, and I'm also a huge fan of Tusk, as the combination of big flavor and light touch is welcome in Portland. I can't get enough of Chesa, and it's great to see a respected Seattle chef in the Portland mix with Rachel Yang's Revelry. It's not in Portland, but The Suttle Lodge is a game changer, and more chefs and Portland hoteliers will take a chance on new ventures around the state as a result. So kudos to Jack Barron, Donald Kenney, Joshua McFadden, and Co.
Andrea Slonecker, food stylist, cookbook writer, and recipe editor for Kinfolk Magazine
I’m currently co-writing a book with one of the owners of Dame (Dana Frank), so I know how much has gone into the opening, and I'm so pleased with the result: a super interesting wine list and fish-filled menu — plus, gorgeous interior design. I also love all the vibrant vegetable dishes that Sam Smith is doing at Tusk, and that space is simply stunning. The sherry list and spot-on pintxos and tapas at Bar Casa Vale make it my new go-to for late night.