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, Eater Portland writers and food personalities talk through the dining grievances of 2019. For more year-in-review stuff, take a look at our 2019 retrospective package.
Gary Okazaki, Instagram influencer and co-host of the podcast Walk-ins Welcome with Gary & Michael:
Food carts put PDX in the culinary spotlight. But with the city’s growth and prosperity, the food carts and pods are under siege. Food carts won’t die but they’ll become less ubiquitous, which is truly disappointing for both PDX diners and the city as a whole.
Joy Church, Eater Portland contributor and Portland Culinary Alliance Vice President:
Portland is fortunate to have some incredibly gifted, motivated, and highly-skilled service professionals, but there are not enough to fill the growing number of restaurants and bars. Therefore, lackluster hospitality in the service sector continues to be troublesome. It seems likely that this is due to managers and owners — hit with an increasing minimum wage, healthcare costs, and exorbitant rents — tightening the number of staff scheduled per shift and hiring those with lesser experience. From the guest perceptive, it often shows up in the form of under-informed, disengaged servers with little experience or interest in hospitality.
Michael C. Zusman, Willamette Week restaurant critic:
It’s been a sad-ass year in town. Too many restaurants of consequence closing and mediocre “concepts” opening. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and am concerned that, due to a complex combination of causes, Portland as bona fide culinary destination is on a steepening decline. I don’t see it coming back any time soon either.
All the more reason to save those shekels and see what else is out there beyond local borders. I say that knowing that it’s tough to get away when you’re younger, working full-time, with lots of expenses and maybe a young family. Still, for those who love to eat, there’s a wide world of amazing food to try, most of which you can’t get in Portland, and you want to do it before your clock ticks down to :00.
Krista Garcia, Eater Portland contributor:
It seems silly to complain about too much fried chicken and pizza—especially since I love fried chicken and pizza—but it feels like we’re at a comfort food saturation point. Also, cocktails creeping past the $14 mark (though they are few and far between).
Alex Frane, Eater Portland guest editor and contributor:
People missing restaurants, especially spots like Bhuna. It’s such a fantastic spot — affordable, delicious, real, and yet people still seem to wander past it rather than go inside for one of the amazing rice bowls.
Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor:
Like many of the folks here, I do think Portland restaurants have a consistency issue. This is absolutely normal for new restaurants, but it’s amazing the variance of experience I’ll have within the same month at a single, established restaurant. I think Joy is right: The city has a lot of restaurants, but not necessarily enough talent to fill in the gaps — that means some lackluster service, and a few fill-in chefs that are not quite where they need to be.