As the year comes to a close, Eater sites across the country are celebrating the highlights and bemoaning the lows of 2019. Here in Portland, Eater contributors and food personalities are sharing their thoughts on the year in a series we call the Year in Eater. In this edition, we talk through our favorite newcomers this year. For more year-in-review stuff, take a look at our 2019 retrospective package.
Michael C. Zusman, Willamette Week restaurant critic:
Bullard and Eem sort of ran away with the prize this year. Bullard not only set a high bar locally for its distinctive Tex-egon cooking, but also for hotel restaurants everywhere. Most of such places epitomize mediocrity. I don’t know (or care) much else about The Woodlark, but the folks staying there are damn lucky to have such a wonderful restaurant on the ground floor. Meanwhile, Eem is blowing everyone away—including the top national barbecue maven, Daniel Vaughn—with its collaborative melding of Thai and barbecue ingredients and ideas.
In the next tier, I would anoint Wajan. Sure, Gado Gado is justifiably super popular, but Wajan delivers a focused approach to Indonesian food that approximates what one might get in Indonesia. The three fiery sambals and an order of nasi campur (sampler plate surrounding a mound of rice) are reason enough to visit. But there are plenty of other options. Honestly, I’m just tickled that quality Indonesian food has re-surfaced in Portland.
Also pleased to see new Sichuanese energy at Szechuan Garden (the schlep to deep Beaverton notwithstanding) and the efforts to keep fine dining alive and thriving locally at Erizo and Berlu.
Gary Okazaki, Instagram influencer and co-host of the podcast Walk-ins Welcome with Gary & Michael:
“My favorite new restaurant in Portland is Vince Nguyen’s Berlu. I ate Vince’s food at his first pop-up ever; it was not even called JolieLaide at the time. There has been vast growth from that initial popup to my 3 meals at Berlu. Vince’s food is evocative and personal; his presentations are also dazzling. After Berlu and in order: Gado Gado, Bullard, Eem, and Fermenter. G-Love and Magna Kusina have improved significantly on second visits. Dottir has had an impressive start, too.”
Joy Church, Eater Portland contributor and Portland Culinary Alliance Vice President:
“Eem, Scotch Lodge, Akadi, and Favela Brazilian Cafe all brought refreshing and welcome twists to Portland’s food and beverage scene. Gado Gado’s post modernist approach to menu development and its enthusiastic energy are an inspiration. I’m excited to see where the continuing evolution of Fermenter lands, especially as vegan dining establishes itself as far more than a passing trend.”
Krista Garcia, Eater Portland contributor:
“Erizo, Eem, Ben and Esther’s (mostly because I’m a bagel fiend), Sibeiho because Singaporean and Malaysian food are so scarce in Portland.”
Vicki and Vanessa Ng, Instagram influencers behind @foodbellypdx:
“2019 was definitely Eem’s year. The holy trinity behind the #eemdreemteem was bound to be a recipe for success, and it’s great to see them movin’ and shakin’ on a national level as well.”
Alex Frane, Eater Portland guest editor and contributor:
“Jojo, Holy Trinity, Hapa Ramen, and Gado Gado. More than just an amazing Instagram account, Jojo has delicious fried chicken and jojos, and Holy Trinity is making national news for its Texas barbecue. More than that, though, the two have demonstrated a major shift in my immediate neighborhood, Creston-Kenilworth, by bringing some serious food to a mostly barren stretch of town. Hapa Ramen might be my new favorite ramen restaurant in town, with a much more limited menu and a smaller space than Afuri, but rich, delicious ramens and an excellent whisky selection. Finally, Gado Gado may have been overshadowed a bit by the plethora of amazing new restaurants that opened this year, but I think it’s doing something really creative, fun, and damn delicious.”
Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor:
I agree with basically everything that’s been mentioned — Eem, Fermenter, Berlu, Erizo, Gado Gado. Scotch Lodge rules, not just as a bar but as a restaurant — I think about its fettuccine and those brie sticks a lot. In terms of places that haven’t been mentioned, I hope more people make the trek to St. Johns for Gracie’s, which makes a truly exceptional margherita. Mae is better than it’s ever been in that new spot — go, go, go. I know there were some other great bakeries that came out this year, but damn Jinju came in hot.
• More Year in Eater roundups [Eater Portland]
• More 2019 retrospective content [Eater Portland]