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.
It is incredibly difficult to keep a restaurant open during the best of times. Margins are slim, it requires a lot of labor to do it well, and, in many cases, customers think they should be paying less. This year, then, was exceptionally challenging for practically every independent restaurant: Capacity limits, dining room shutdowns, and workplace outbreaks made keeping a restaurant open more challenging than it has been in current memory. 2020 has consisted of brutal closure after brutal closure, and its destruction will likely carry on in 2021. Many restaurants are currently hibernating, hoping to survive the winter; that doesn’t mean they will. We asked Portland food writers and personalities for the closures that hurt them the most this year; these are the spots that hurt us the most. For a longer list of 2020 closures, check out this piece.
“Irving Street Kitchen was one of the first places I went to when I moved here seven years ago. The chill vibe and comforting food made me happy that I had moved to the Portland area. I was also sad to see RosyCakes bakery, next to Paper Tiger Coffee Roasters, close. Grabbing a cinnamon roll from RosyCakes and washing it down with a cup of coffee from Paper Tiger was a breakfast favorite.” -Rachel Pinsky, Eater Portland and Columbian contributor
“There are too many to list. A particularly sentimental closure was Le Bistro Montage – we loved taking our friends from out-of-town there after a night out. It was one of the few Portland restaurants where you could actually dine-in late night (complete with oyster shooters), and their waiters and tinfoil takeout sculptures were always a hoot.” -Vicki and Vanessa Ng, Instagram influencers
“It’s a tie for me. The first was seeing Shift Drinks close. It was one of my favorite cocktail bars in the city, and definitely my favorite place to drink downtown. It wasn’t my favorite physical space, but the owners and staff more than made up for it: Excellent and affordable wine and cocktails, plus a bar menu that transcended the usual pub-grub style of dining with fresh bruschetta and other snacks. The second, at the end of the year, was Bar King. It opened at such an unfortunate time and never got a chance to show off what it could really do. I’m fairly convinced, from just the odd bits I tried, read about, or heard about, it would have been 2020’s restaurant of the year in a just world.” -Alex Frane, Eater Portland contributor
“I’d have to say Kargi Gogo. I’d been wanting to try Georgian food for years, and I tried one of their bake-at-home cheese boats and was immediately enamored (and I never got to go back and try the khinkali!). I think the fact that Portland has so many restaurants serving underrepresented cuisines is part of what makes the city so special, and it’s sad to see any of them close.” -Katherine Chew Hamilton, Portland Monthly food editor
“I’m not sure I would characterize the demise of Toro Bravo and Pok Pok as sad, but both of those closures do signal the end of an era in Portland dining. Personally, I’m bummed that Crackerjack’s closed since it’s getting harder and harder to find friendly no-frills local joints as every prime Portland neighborhood has become more of the same.” -Krista Garcia, Eater Portland contributor
“Stella Taco (a great neighborhood joint), Imperial (best fried chicken I ever ate in Portland), and Tasty & Daughters.” -Bill Oakley, television writer and Instagram influencer
“No Bones Beach Club. I have many memories of nacho and cocktail happy hours with friends, and it was one of the first restaurants where I attended a vegan meetup not long after moving here. I know many would have wanted to support No Bones through takeout and delivery too.” -Waz Wu, Eater Portland contributor
“While Pok Pok was pretty sad, Bar King may have been the toughest pill to swallow — a spot with so much thought, talent and drive behind it never really got a chance to get off the ground and get going.” -Nick Woo, Eater Portland contributor
“Seeing Pok Pok close was definitely shocking to me, as I’m sure it was to other Portlanders.” -Ron Scott, Eater Portland contributor
“Oui at Southeast Wine Collective was a huge bummer. This city shines a little less brightly without Althea Grey Potter’s food in it.” -Daniel Barnett, Eater Portland contributor
“Giraffe for sure. It was my little comfort corner in the inner Southeast, and the easiest way to get my hands on curry donuts. I will forever miss stopping by for a sandwich or ochazuke.” -Seiji Nanbu, Eater Portland contributor
“There are just so many, it feels unfair to leave any off this list. I want to try to avoid mentioning some of the real gut-punch closures previously mentioned here, so I’ll say that I feel a specific sadness for the now-closed restaurants that meant so much to me as a teenager and as a young professional. I ate my first dim sum at Wong’s King when I was 15, and quickly fell in love with shu mai and har gow. I have memories of giggly meals of crispy pig ears, cocktails, and clay pot chicken at Aviary. I once locked my keys in my car at Liberty Glass, and spent a cozy evening inside drinking beers while someone drove over to help me out. I remember going with my mom to Beast for her birthday and gushing over dishes on the drive home. Those experiences helped me fall in love with this field and this city; they pulled me back here after I moved across the country. Those meals were foundational for me as a food writer and as a diner, and even beyond that — they were settings for formative moments in my life. And, as I reflect, I also acknowledge that these are just my relationships with these places: They have all their own stories, dreams, and characters. They all added something distinct to the narrative of the city: The impact of Beast on communal dining culture in Portland, the casual hominess of Liberty Glass, the long history of Wong’s King as a dim sum destination. There are hundreds — thousands — of people who have their own stories and memories of these places. Watching them dissolve off the map is surreal, like watching the path behind you disappear as you walk forward. That’s a universal sadness, one that extends beyond any individual closure.” -Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor
• More Year in Eater [EPDX]