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.
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 These stories, then, distract from the actual talent at these Portland pizzerias, the backlash to the superlatives superseded the point of the piece in the first place.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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.