During the glory days of Portland’s Gilded Age—the 1870s to about 1900—hotels were the finest dining in the city. The Portland Hotel was the best place to eat in the state, before it was demolished in 1951 to make way for a parking lot; Mark Twain ate there during his only visit to the City of Roses. And the loss of the wonderful Blue and Gold Room inside Hotel Multnomah (now a bland Embassy Suites) was one of Portland’s great tragedies.
Luckily, everything old is new again, and over the past year, Portland hotels have announced a new dining option or restaurant remodel every few months. On the horizon is Doug Adams's Bullard, which is slated to open spring 2018 in the upcoming Woodlark (formerly Cornelius Hotel, built in 1908 and a former gay bathhouse). And the new Mexican restaurant Alto Bajo is poised to throw open the doors this spring inside the Hi-Lo Hotel.
And with the opening of Jackrabbit and Headwaters, luxurious, old-school hotel dining is already making a comeback. Here’s who’s who in the ever-evolving Portland hotel dining scene:
Jackrabbit: The downtown Hilton, built in the 1960s, is now known as the Duniway, and where once stood the high-end hotel chain restaurant Canlis (still holding court in Seattle), there’s now the offal-happy Jackrabbit, helmed by Top Chef Masters' Chris Cosentino.
Headwaters: Chef Vitaly Paley is spearheading seafood’s much-awaited renaissance in the Heathman’s updated restaurant space. The spectacular Russian tea service features an array of tiny, immaculate cakes (thanks to pastry chef Elizabeth Clements) and savory zakuski.
Imperial: In case you just can’t get enough of Paley-in-hotels, the powerhouse chef is also behind Hotel Lucia’s restaurant. And it happens to be one of the best in town, hotel or not, for comforting brunch plates and wood-fire-grilled meats.
Departure: Celebrity chef Greg Gourdet’s upscale Asian-inspired menu is a collection of comforting bowls and small, beautiful foods, with separate vegan and gluten-free menus for the special-needs diner at your table.
Gracie’s: Aside from its brief closure in 2006, when the old Hotel Mallory was converted into today’s Hotel deLuxe, Gracie’s is one of the longest continually operating restaurants in the city. The short menu ably covers the expected bases, but its English-style Afternoon Tea, with finger sandwiches and petit fours, is a truly opulent way to while away the afternoon.
Nel Centro: Another good happy hour option to drink away the rush hour blues, Hotel Modera’s Italian spot serves a restrained menu of pastas, proteins, and beautifully plated vegetable sides. It’s also a go-to spot for a power lunch.
Red Star Tavern: With its recently retooled menu by chef Dolan Lane (Meriwether's), the ground floor of the Hotel Monaco is a great place to dine on American fare that is simultaneously rustic and chic. The cocktail program continues to be a standout, with well-priced on-tap options.
El Gaucho: Okay, the Palm Court is the real Benson Hotel restaurant, but El Gaucho is where to find old-school service and watch local sports heroes and corporate diners armed with expense accounts in their natural environment. It even has a cigar room, which you can book for your entire meal.
Altabira City Tavern: Hotel Eastlund’s sixth-floor restaurant offers a broad menu of very well-prepared food (and a surprisingly generous happy hour), conveniently located across the street from the Convention Center. You can see the entire Westside through its windows and out on the rooftop patio.
Doug Fir Lounge: Compared with the rest of the places on this list, the Jupiter Hotel’s restaurant and popular music venue is down-right low-key. The hip, softwood-themed bar serves up three square meals and happy hour, giving you a wide range of comfort food, bar snacks, and Northwest-inspired fare.