In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Oregon’s subsequent dine-in shutdown, Portland’s once-vibrant restaurant and bar scene is now quiet. There are no multi-course fine dining experiences with wine pairings in grand dining rooms, no long lines for brunch, no crowded patios at iconic dives. Happy hour hangouts are relegated to online platforms. And while a number of Portland restaurants have kept their doors open for takeout and even delivery, it’s not quite the same experience as settling in for a meal at a favorite haunt.
The future of the industry is unclear — it’s unlikely that every restaurant will be able to reopen, even with government responses like the recent moratorium on commercial evictions. Besides the catastrophic job loss, there’s a loss to the culture of the city. Those who write about food or work in Portland’s restaurant world are feeling that loss, and thinking about their favorite meals. Below, some of Portland’s food personalities share the one dining experience they’re missing the most right now, or the first one they will grab once all of this is somehow — hopefully — over.
Waz Wu, Eater Portland contributor and director of Veganizer
I’ve lost track of how many days I’ve been in quarantine, but staying home with cats is not all bad, especially when they want to help out on Baby Blue at-home pizza night (Is it still vegan if a cat helps shape the pizza dough?). With many restaurants still offering delivery, some of my favorites like Ichiza Kitchen’s chili oil wontons, Van Hanh’s spicy hue, and The Sudra’s soy curl curry are only a few clicks away. However, I’ve been daydreaming of the next time I’ll get to enjoy shared plates and cocktails with friends. Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I experienced that, which goes to show much I took it for granted. Even after places start to re-open, the restaurant scene as we know it won’t be the same, and when we can finally step out of isolation and gather together for a meal, it’s going to feel so surreal.
Gary “the Foodie” Okazaki, Instagram influencer and co-host of the podcast Walk-ins Welcome with Gary & Michael
The meal I miss most is Nodoguro’s Supahardcore. Also, I had recently been going to my local Whole Foods Market to partake in the salad bar, which had been the one way I consume vegetables. The only vegetables I eat now is Reser’s Potato Salad.
Rachel Pinsky, Eater Portland contributor
I miss sipping a creamy Hojicha latte at Soro Soro Coffee & Dessert while nibbling on a tiny cream puff. When someone orders the Snow Affogato, everyone watches as hot espresso swirls over a disappearing mountain of cotton candy. Soro Soro is a comforting, peaceful space filled with small smiling cakes and cookies, miniature flower filled pots that say hello, and a treasure hunt of carefully placed knick-knacks.
Michael Russell, the Oregonian’s restaurant critic and reporter
I had my second meal at Ping Yang Pow, the new supper club above Pok Pok NW, exactly one week before the NBA suspended its season indefinitely, thereby making the creeping coronavirus pandemic real for most Portlanders. After a rocky first visit, when I was made to wait around downstairs for 10 minutes, even though my dining companion — a visiting writer — had already been seated upstairs, this one was eye-opening. I went with an old friend who had spent time in Thailand, and though the check-in experience was similarly Curb Your Enthusiasm-level awkward, the food was truly fantastic. There were the massive splits of grilled langoustine, the fluffy Dungeness crab fried rice, the sultry ribeye steak dressed up like drunken noodles and the one thing I can’t stop thinking about — simple pea shoot tips that chef Thanyawan “Thanya” Kaewket wok-fries with garlic, pork fat and smoked oyster sauce and tops with a whole Fresno chile. Pull apart that glistening chile to impart some menacing spice to a dish you’ve had a million times before, only never quite this good. With wonders like these, it’s easy to see why Pok Pok owner Andy Ricker built this charcoal-fired loft where the talented Kaewket can shine. I can’t wait to go back once this is all over.
Seiji Nanbu, Eater Portland contributor
Byron Beck, Portland celebrity spotter and general troublemaker
What am I missing most about the Portland dining experience? The thing I miss most is dining! I miss sitting at the bar at Radar and eating steak frites. I miss going to Abigail Hall on Tuesday when they serve the best Mom’s tacos. I miss going to The Mock Crest Tavern for pudding shots and onion rings. And eating brunch outside at Swift and Union...really miss that, too.
Sam Hill, Eater Portland contributor
Maybe it’s because my quarantine diet has consisted of so many cheese and cracker snacks, but I’ve been jonesing for a trip to Bartini for some fondue and a few happy hour martinis. Living just a few blocks away, trips here with my girlfriend have always been spontaneous, post-work treats after long days (a huge loss during this period when every day drags). We’ve made it a goal to eventually try every drink on the bar’s enormous cocktail list and have kept a detailed, not-so-serious ranking. The Bird of Paradise, a combination of coconut rum, mango purée and pineapple juice, topped with a dash of cinnamon, is my top cocktail so far and I always opt for the Swiss, Gruyère and port wine fondue option.
Karen Locke, Oregon spirits writer
The one meal I’m missing right now is the Veggies Yassa from Akadi. It’s the most memorable dish I’ve eaten this year so far. This “dijon sauce” curry is more complex and rich in flavor than I can find the words to describe, but I will say it tastes like it was lovingly stewed all day. Once you try it, you won’t forget it. I don’t often emulate getting off while eating, but I think I may have the first time I tried this.
Alex Frane, Eater Portland contributor and guest editor
I can’t think of a dish or meal I miss above all else. I’d probably opt for some sort of Southeast bar crawl if I had my choice — Scotch Lodge, Normandie, Rum Club, Bar Casa Vale. But what I miss the most is invariably running into someone I know, an off-work distiller or bartender or fellow writer. You can buy a cookbook and perfectly replicate your favorite dish from your favorite restaurant, but the community behind this world can’t be replicated.
Carrie Welch and Jannie Huang, co-founders of Feast Portland and Little Green Pickle PR
We miss going to dim sum almost every Saturday. We go to Ocean City where the kids, Taylor especially, are the regulars and known for eating all of the beef noodles. We miss going to Normandie and watching our kids devour their well-thought-out Normandie board, while we sip wines from Landmass. We also miss eating 20 gildas, all the jamon and watching Taylor drink the chocolate that comes with the churros at Urdaneta. We eat out often as a family and this time has made us miss all of our restaurant friends, who take such amazing care of us and make us feel like we’re part of their family.
Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor
When I was a kid, I grew up in a corner of sorta-rural Oregon, an only child on a nine-acre plot. I’ve always been okay being alone, but I love cities because of the way you can be alone together; I love being by myself in a crowded dining room, sitting at a bar or chef’s counter, joking with a bartender or riffing with a neighbor. It’s a reminder of our shared humanity, that no matter how alone you feel, we can share this space, enjoying the only art form that keeps us all alive. Walking into a bar after a long day, with no need to talk to anyone, is sometimes the only way I can get my brain to shut off, to observe and relax. There are so many places where I love to do this — Over a bowl of noodles at Scotch Lodge, Marukin, or Han Oak; sipping wine at Bar Norman, Sardine Head, or Oui; ordering a Diplomatic Pouch at Expatriate or a tomato pie at Gracie’s. That’s what’s so devastating about this whole thing — It’s never just about the food; it’s about dining, about the sound of the room and the heat of the kitchen and the people, in service of something beautiful and necessary.