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.
This year, Eater sites around the country skipped over the usual end-of-year Eater Awards for a reason: It didn’t feel quite right to name a best restaurant or chef or food cart in a year this difficult for everyone. But we still ate out (or in), and we still have memories of meals that carried us through the indescribably hard times. Perhaps it’s too obvious to say, but food writers write about food because they love it. They love the experience of sitting at a bar or in a restaurant, ordering a beverage, feeling the warmth and convivial energy of the space, and eating something challenging or nostalgic or intricate or exquisitely simple. That love didn’t go away this year; if anything, it grew stronger, a yearning for an experience that was too unsafe to recreate. But some meals, even if they were served in to-go boxes or on chilly patios, made all the noise of this year fade. Some meals, from the Great Before, have kept us going. It doesn’t feel right to ignore the people who pulled that off, either. So, below, we share the meals that blew us away this year — our favorite meals, served onsite or taken home.
“My last dine-in meal was Quaintrelle, the weekend before everything shut down. I went in for Portland dining month, and everything was exceptional. Takeout is much harder, but I did finally order from Ranch Pizza, and I have done so just about once a month (or more) since.” -Alex Frane, Eater Portland contributor
“Sometimes it’s hard to separate the dining experience from the food. Looking way back to early March, I’m not sure if the signature roasted bone marrow and parsley salad served at the St. John at The Hoxton dinner series was stellar, or that I’m fondly remembering sharing a table with appreciative strangers (and even hugging a few upon leaving!?). Either way, I’m glad that my last fancy-ish meal in public stuck with me through the year.” -Krista Garcia, Eater Portland contributor
“I had a dreamy takeout dinner from Oma’s Takeaway: corn fritters to start, a refreshing pineapple-grape-cashew salad, fried sweet-spicy curry chicken wings, and aromatic nasi lemak. I was also a loyal devotee of their summertime ambrosia salad made with rainbow marshmallows, local stone fruit, and matcha whipped cream.” -Katherine Chew Hamilton, Portland Monthly food editor
“On the first night of phase one reopening, I had a spectacular meal at Oui Wine Bar, which included delicious scallops, a beautiful salad, crisp exterior/soft interior smashed potatoes, and a pitch-perfect roast chicken. Sad to see it close, but grateful for the wonderful meals Chef Althea has made for me in the past.” -Nick Woo, Eater Portland contributor
“This is probably cheating, but Vanessa made her first reservation at The Painted Lady in Newberg right in the beginning of March. It was an excellent ‘last supper’ before the world turned upside-down. Vicki had an incredible outdoor meal at Ox in September. Their celebrated bone marrow clam chowder was divine, as was their grilled beef skirt steak.” -Vicki and Vanessa Ng, Instagram influencers
“It’s impossible to call anything the ‘best’ right now. I haven’t been making the rounds and eating everything on the menu like I normally do as a food writer covering Vancouver. My work this year wasn’t discovering the next great dish or cocktail; it was writing about how business owners continued to struggle to stay in business. I ate for my own entertainment and not to dig for story ideas.” -Rachel Pinsky, Eater Portland and Columbian contributor
“I think my most memorable meal was actually in Seattle, over at Meet Korean BBQ. The quality of the meat and the side dishes was incredible, and even the indoor dining felt very safe. If we’re talking Portland though, I think my favorite was dinner at Langbaan. The a la carte dishes they served were both affordable and fantastic. My favorite dish there was the cuttlefish, which was grilled to perfection and served with an incredibly addicting sauce.” -Seiji Nanbu, Eater Portland contributor
“Sitting in the courtyard of Quaintrelle, surrounded by lush plants and flowers, and eating plate after plate of banger dishes is a hard scenario to beat for me.” -Daniel Barnett, Eater Portland contributor
“This one took me a long time to answer. There are an endless array of options to choose from in this town when it comes to eating, but I will say the one that took me by surprise was the brunch menu at Mazama Brewing in Hillsboro. Like many Portlanders, I’m a huge brunch lover. The fried chicken Benedict at Mazama is one of the best eggs bennies in town, and even the fried chicken can stand up to some of the local heavyweights.” -Ron Scott, Eater Portland contributor
“My original answer to this question involved a dinner at Quaintrelle, but considering it was named by two separate Eater freelancers, I’ll go for my two favorite meals before the pandemic truly hit. I’ll start with the last meal I had at a restaurant before everything shut down: Back when the Cho-Park family still lived within Han Oak, I treated a friend to dinner there for his birthday. The weather was surprisingly warm that day, and we sat in the courtyard. It was one of those classic Han Oak experiences, where kids are toddling around, dishes are flying out of the kitchen, and everyone feels oddly united, as if it were more a dinner party than a dinner out. We ate dumplings and banchan, slurped noodles, drank kimchi micheladas, and Peter Cho stopped by our table to sear slices of ribeye, a topping for a Parasite-nod jajangmyeon. We ended that night at a dive bar, one of my favorite ways to end a night in any context; it felt like one of those ideal Portland evenings, a gift before everything got so, so much worse.
“I’ll end with a meal I can never have again: I had a raised eyebrow about Bar King before it opened, but my first meal there was too spectacular to write off. Chef Shaun King rolled out the most ornate looking, crispy-skinned duck, served alongside rice pilaf with a smack of duck fat; Jamie King made a dreamy, crystalline cocktail with some hit of jasmine and maybe yuzu — it’s been a few months since then. I couldn’t forget a delicately sliced hamachi, served in a pool of bacon ponzu and sorrel. The idea that a restaurant of that caliber would close mere months after its opening date is just devastating to me.” -Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor
• More Year in Eater [EPDX]