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Portland Food Writers and Personalities Share the Most Exciting Openings of 2020

From Malka to GrindWitTryz

Two brown and shallot-covered rib racks sit on a plate next to one metal container of yellow-orange sauce and another silver container of avocado and grapefruit salad. A small Hawaiian roll sits to the side.
Ribs at Malka
Dina Avila / EPDX

Per tradition, Eater Portland ends the year by reflecting on the last twelve months of dining in a series we call Year in Eater. We reach out to Portland food writers and influencers for their perspectives on major trends, impressive newcomers, and standout meals, and share their responses in a single package. Of course, 2020 was a historic and catastrophic year for the restaurant industry, so our questions this year hinge on that reality. Still, many wanted to celebrate the restaurants, chefs, and trends that really stepped up this year, and lament the restaurants lost to 2020. Look back on past years here.

To state the obvious, this year was particularly difficult for most chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, and other food service workers. Some, however, seemed to persevere in a particularly challenging year, opening restaurants and food carts that added something distinct or crucial to the scene at large. In this edition of Year in Eater, Portland food writers and personalities share the newcomers that excited them most this year.

“While I’ve only sampled a mushroom quesadilla and cochinita torta from the daytime café, I’m excited by República’s wide-ranging concept. I’m a sucker for the multi-hued tortillas, courtesy of Doña Chapis; it’s also cool to see baked goods like pastes and puerquitos and the emphasis on women-owned and latinx wineries. I need to go back for the menudo and amazing-looking cheese board.” -Krista Garcia, Eater Portland contributor

There were so many, but I think República is a real standout. You have people who are so good at what they do—coffee roaster Angel Medina of Reforma Roasters, chef and guisado enthusiast Lauro Romero of King Tide, tortilla master Doña Chapis, pozole and menudo specialist Roberto Torres, pastry chef Olivia Bartruff, bartender Adriana Alvarez, and more—each contributing their talents to the soulful, creative menu. Their warmth and enthusiasm reminds me of having dinner at a Mexican friend’s house, while the simple yet artistic dishes are reminiscent of chic restaurants in Mexico City. There’s nothing else in Portland like it.” -Katherine Chew Hamilton, Portland Monthly food editor

The vegan scene had a lot of newcomers, but Mirisata stands out most. I was blown away by the curries at the first pop-up back in March; at the time, I had no idea that would be one of my last restaurant meals before lockdown. The food continues to wow with every visit, and it’s been exciting, not to mention impressive, to watch the transition from weekly pop-up to brick and mortar in the middle of a pandemic.” -Waz Wu, Eater Portland contributor

Pizza Doughnais, Portland Pizza Peddler, Union Burger, Rough Draft, The Farmer & The Beast, Derby Kenton, Batterfish, Frog & Snail, Matt & Memere’s, Pop Pizza.” -Bill Oakley, television writer and Instagram influencer

GrindWitTryz’s brick-and-mortar store was an exciting new open this year. It’s pretty cool to see how they’ve quickly become the most popular restaurant on Alberta Street—we never thought we’d see the day where Hawaiian/Filipino food would garner longer line-ups than a Salt & Straw in Portland!” -Vicki and Vanessa Ng, Instagram influencers

I didn’t go to a whole lot new this year, but I’ll just say I had the most fun at Nacheaux.” -Nick Woo, Eater Portland contributor

Man vs. Fries appeals to me as someone with a strong carbs/cheese addiction. The California burritos at this cart are big and gooey, and so is the crunchwrap. This is the kind of comfort food I crave after a long night of beer sampling and before an afternoon nap.” -Ron Scott, Eater Portland contributor

Fills Donuts! The ingenuity is as big as the flavor payoff. Hard not to swoon when it comes to Fills.” -Daniel Barnett, Eater Portland contributor

“Janessa and Chuck Stoltz spent a year renovating a chalet on Lacamas Lake transforming it into a swanky supper club and florist shop, Acorn & The Oak. The pandemic hit just as they were gearing up to open. Chef Daisuke Matsumoto and his wife Amy, of Pizzeria La Sorrentina, opened a brick and mortar homage to Southern Italian cooking right before indoor dining was shut down. I’m looking forward to seeing how both of these places grow when they are able to fully operate.” -Rachel Pinsky, Eater Portland and Columbian contributor

Well, I was a big fan of Carte Blanche when it was open on Hawthorne, so I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of its brick-and-mortar incarnation Malka. Despite the deeply unfortunate timing of its eventual opening (I still haven’t been able to see its beautifully decorated interior for myself), it has never disappointed. Its big, maximalist dishes are an antidote to these trying times. Speaking of big flavors, Oma’s Takeaway is another new favorite; I love the more casual twist on Gado Gado’s cuisine.” -Alex Frane, Eater Portland contributor

Tonari was the most exciting. I love the onigirazu and their saba caesar, but I’m sad they were never able to open up their dining room to the public. The space was absolutely beautiful.” -Seiji Nanbu, Eater Portland contributor

“So many of the newcomers I would mention have already been represented in this story or on this map, so instead, I’m going to actually say Jacobsen Valentine of the nonprofit kitchen Feed the Mass stood out to me most this year. Valentine was a culinary instructor initially, but this year he quickly transitioned from small-scale cooking classes to feeding hundreds of people every week. Chefs like Vitaly Paley and Gabriel Rucker — even food writers like Michael Russell — can be spotted among the volunteers, and the caliber of food they serve for free is exceptional (we’re talking restaurant quality). But just for fun, I’ll also say that the Italian food cart L’Unico (those pastas!) and the Turkish restaurant Lokanta (let me plunge head-first into their tarator please) also turned my head this year. Also, I’m super excited about the opening of Nightingale; I’m going to check that one out this week.” -Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor

More Year in Eater [EPDX]

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