Today, the process of choosing this year’s stars in the Portland restaurant world — the Eater Awards winners for 2019 — continues apace. This year was a particularly tough one: 2019 has involved countless notable openings stacked with talent, from Vietnamese soul food carts to Southern supper clubs. After fielding many solid ideas from readers during the course of our month-long nomination period, it’s time to narrow the playing field. There are four finalists in three categories: Restaurant of the Year, Design of the Year, and Food Cart of the Year.
Here they are:
Restaurant of the Year Finalists
Eem: Thai barbecue bar Eem will make Portland history as one of the city’s best culinary mashups, combining the talents of one of Portland’s top Thai restaurateurs, one of the city’s hottest pit bosses, and a leader in the local non-alcoholic cocktail movement. But beyond the talent behind the scenes, Eem remains one of the city’s best parties any night of the week.
Gado Gado: At Thomas and Maria Pisha-Duffly’s off-the-cuff, innovative Indonesian restaurant, diners find intoxicating layers of flavor in simple melon salads and intricate noodle soups. With some New England vibes and outstanding dumplings, Gado Gado shows off the chef’s Bostonian-Indonesian-Chinese heritage and while never taking itself too seriously.
Mae: Maya Lovelace is at her absolute best at Mae in its final form, in an intimate supper club space behind her fried chicken restaurant Yonder. Still, in a year dominated by fried chicken, Mae sheds light on a side of Southern cooking outside the world of poultry and dredge, redefining the genre with dishes like potlikker consomme.
Magna: Filipino food remains a drastically under-represented cuisine in Portland’s restaurant market, but chef Carlo Lamagna has honored classic dishes with refreshing twists and refinement. Magna feels like a family affair — an affair that just happens to involve squiggly squid-ink noodles piled high with crab.
Design of the Year Finalists
Abigail Hall & Bullard: The design of every dining space within the posh Woodlark hotel exemplifies the distinct personalities of Holler Hospitality. At Bullard, rustic lodge gets a steakhouse edge with chef Doug Adams performing in an open kitchen space, while the cocktail bar down the hall is a powerful lounge with contemporary femininity, a portrait of Holler partner Jennifer Quist.
Mae & Yonder: A loving take on Southern meat-and-threes, Yonder’s felt menu board and pops of haint blue give it the cheer of a North Carolina afternoon. But in the back, the striking mural by local artist Ezra Butt creates a distinct mood change for the two-in-one restaurant space.
Scotch Lodge: A subterranean cocktail den, Scotch Lodge’s moody blues, greens, and ambers exude exclusivity without the actual inaccessibility. Dodging any of the cheesy speakeasy cliches, Scotch Lodge’s elusive elegance makes the entire space feel like a secret.
Wajan: There’s nothing exactly polished about Wajan, but it doesn’t need to be: This Indonesian cafe lovingly recreates the quintessential warung absolutely bursting with Jakartan homages. It feels escapist without coming across as exploitative.
Food Cart of the Year Finalists
Jojo PDX: Jojo stands out as a Portland icon for its social media alone, but luckily this Creston-Kenilworth cart’s hulking fried chicken sandwiches are similarly obsession-inducing. Owner Justin Hintze doesn’t hold back with spice, sauce, or smoke, topping chicken with potato salad and sambal mayo on a crisped bun, with a side of crispy-crackly jojos for gut-busting good measure.
Matta: Instead of serving a wide array of Vietnamese staples at this Alberta cart, owners Richard and Sophia Le instead focus on two specific dishes each day, rotating through plates like sweet and fragrant thit kho (pork belly) and mint-green pandan doughnuts. With this kind of honed-in focus, most dishes simply stun.
Matt’s BBQ Tacos: It starts with a fluffy flour tortilla. Then, that tortilla gets a dose of fat-marbled brisket, or pico-scrambled eggs, or cheese-loaded jalapeno sausage. Topped off with some killer salsas, the tacos at this Hawthorne cart are an absolute sensation. Portland barbecue master Matt Vicedomini has struck gold.
Holy Trinity: Portland is already spoiled on the barbecue front; it didn’t need another hardcore talent with a smoker. But the Texas barbecue at Jojo’s neighbor, Holy Trinity, is far better than it needs to be, with gorgeous brisket, well-seasoned sausages, and knockout green-chile-cheese grits.
All of these finalists have either opened or come into their own in a new way since we declared the winners last year. All of them were key contributors to making 2019 a great year of eating in Portland. So please, take a moment to give these brave finalists a round of applause. Winners will be crowned, with much fanfare, on December 10, 2019.
Correction: Monday November 18, 2019, 1:16 p.m.
This story has been corrected to show that Jojo is in Creston-Kenilworth, not Foster-Powell.