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A woman in a black mask stands in the window of St. Beatrix in Portland, Oregon. She stands behind a window built into the front facade of the building.
Jessie Marie Smith, owner of St. Beatrix. Smith appeared in the fifth most-read piece of the year, exploring vitriolic customer confrontations at Portland restaurants.
Molly J. Smith / EPDX

The Most Read Eater Portland Stories of 2021 (and Six You May Have Missed)

The food news events that caught the most attention in 2021

Brooke Jackson-Glidden is the editor of Eater Portland.

In January 2021, it was clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would define this year the way it did the year before. There were already tense discussions surrounding vaccine eligibility, restaurant reopening, and financial relief among Oregon politicians and food service workers. Some Portlanders were optimistic restaurants would be back to maskless full capacity in a matter of months; others were starting to fear COVID-19 would become a permanent facet of life. However, as more people got vaccinated and cases began to drop, there was more room to talk about other things happening in Portland — movie releases, chains, new openings, controversial articles. And, for many Portlanders, talking about anything else provided a modicum of relief.

When sifting through the most-read Eater Portland stories this year, COVID-19 certainly has a presence; however, the split between stories related to the pandemic and those not reflects what it was like to live through the year — a tug-of-war between relative normalcy and the snags that kept us from moving forward. See the full list below, as well as a few stories you may have missed.

10. Please Stop Calling Portland America’s Best Pizza City. We Don’t Care.

After Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya, known for their Modernist cookbooks, called Portland the country’s best pizza city in a piece for Bloomberg, the response online was, overwhelmingly, self-righteous rage from East Coasters. When international pizza consultant Anthony Falco said the same thing years before, the internet backlash was similar. However, when we talked to Portland pizzaiolos, they had very little interest in being considered The Country’s Best — they just wanted to make (and eat) good pizza. These stories, then, distract from the actual talent at these Portland pizzerias, the backlash to the superlatives superseded the point of the piece in the first place. Long story short, our response op-ed to the Bloomberg piece got a lot of reads — and a lot of hate mail.

The dome of the church, lined with wood beams, looms over long wooden tables made of dark fir, with a white-tile-lined bar below stained glass windows.
The interior at Steeplejack
Molly J. Smith / EPDX

9. Look Inside Steeplejack, the Friendly Pub-Style Brewery in a Stunning, 111-Year-Old Church

Compared to places like Las Vegas and New York, Portland isn’t known for its sprawling restaurants and massive developments — part of the city’s charm comes from its underdog restaurant scene, and those restaurant owners often can’t afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on design. So when this brewery took a massive historic church and turned it into a beer hall, it became one of the most interesting places to drink in the city.

8. A Guide to the Killer Carts at the New Food Cart Pod Collective Oregon Eateries

Owners Hanry Ho and Mandy Kao turned this SE 82nd food cart pod into something of a community hub, with events and an indoor food hall. Their judicious evaluation of carts for the pod (Ho and Kao do a tasting for each cart before they offer them a lease) means it’s consistently stocked with strong chefs; this piece broke down the initial crop of carts, which have changed significantly since this story first ran.

7. Seattle Dumpling Sensation Dough Zone Will Open a Massive Portland Restaurant

As far as Seattle chains go, Dough Zone may be one of the more universally beloved, thanks to its expertly crafted xiao long bao and sheng jian bao. For years, Portland has been thirsty for more Chinese restaurants and dumpling shops, which made the news of Dough Zone’s impending arrival exciting for Portland’s XLB hunters.

Nicolas Cage and a pig.
Nicolas Cage in the 2021 film ‘Pig’
Courtesy Neon

6. ‘Pig’s’ Idea of Portland’s Restaurant Scene Is Mostly Detached From Reality

This Portland-filmed movie about a retired chef-turned-truffle-hunter searching for his stolen pig was not just an introspective reflection on grief and the ephemerality of life; it was also a searing critique of the restaurant industry. This piece explores the city’s depiction of Portland, and the validity of its portrait of our restaurant world (hint: the Portland in Pig has nothing to do with the Portland we dine in every day).

5. Portland Restaurant Workers Say Customer Attacks Are at an All-Time High

When the state lifted its COVID-19 mandates, many restaurant and bar owners decided to keep a few in place voluntarily — mask requirements, social distancing. However, some employees of those restaurants and bars experienced vitriolic responses from customers: people spat on, screamed at, and threatened to rape food service workers trying to enforce safety measures. “I’ve experienced sexual harassment, abuse, but to have it almost every day, it feels all the more impactful,” said St. Beatrix owner Jess Smith in this piece. “It’s all the time.”

4. Shake Shack’s First Oregon Location Opens April 16

The national fixation on Shake Shack (and, similarly, In N Out) meant that when the first Oregon location prepared to open, many fast food aficionados were worked up into a frenzy. However, any story about a chain entering Portland comes with a certain number of angry readers, frustrated with mammoth restaurant groups entering the market while independent restaurants close in droves.

A group of seven employees wearing masks hold up fists outside the Voodoo Doughnut location in Portland’s Old Town.
Employees of Voodoo Doughnut on strike during a heat wave
Doughnut Workers United / Official

3. Voodoo Doughnut Employees Say the Company Is Firing Them for Participating in a Heat-Related Strike

The summer’s record-breaking heat wave created numerous issues for Portland restaurants, bars, and cafes, with equipment failing and workers suffering the effects of heat exhaustion. However, the specific case at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland’s Old Town caught the attention of Eater Portland readers, as employees went on strike out of concern for their health.

2. Oregon Will Fully Reopen by June 30

Of course, the announcement of Oregon’s “grand reopening” — the first time Portlanders could pack their restaurants and bars to full capacity with maskless diners since March 2020 — was big news for Portland diners and restaurant workers. Unfortunately, with the rise of the delta variant, mask requirements returned in August.

1. Portland Restaurants and Bars Will Shut Down Indoor Dining Once Again Starting April 30

The indoor dining shutdown in April — the county’s third since the pandemic began — was only two months after restaurants had reopened in February. For those who may have forgotten, this indoor dining shutdown lasted a week.

Lex Grant, wearing a black Jordan hoodie, a mask, and plastic gloves, places two pieces of chicken in a takeout container of cabbage and rice
Lex Grant cooking at a pop-up this winter.
Christina Hall / Official

Six Stories from 2021 You May Have Missed

‘Buy Black’ Was a Boon for Deadstock Coffee. It Was Also a Burden.

No Restaurant? No Problem: Chefs Have Found a Certain Freedom in Selling Meals on Instagram.

The Snow Didn’t Stop. Neither Did Chef Lex Grant.

The Story Behind Taste Tickler, One of the Pacific Northwest’s Iconic Teriyaki Sub Shops

The Stimulus Package Allocates Over $28 Billion for Restaurants. Oregon Has a Lot To Do With That.

Portland Restaurant Workers Want to Keep Cooking. They Just Can’t Afford To.

Get the Picnic Gear Because the World’s Largest Charcuterie Board Is About to Hit Portland

Coming Attractions

The Latest Updates on the Restaurant-Packed Portland Ritz-Carlton Building

What We Know About the Ritz-Carlton Portland’s Enchanted Forest of a Lobby Bar