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Portland Food Writers’ Best Restaurant Meals of 2021

From tasting menus to takeout snacks, Vietnamese to Mexican, these restaurant meals blew away Portland food writers across the city this year

A bowl of yellow rice sits over a dark brown pile of beans, topped with chanterelles, nasturtium, and black beans.
Rice risotto with nixtamalized beans at Republica
Molly J. Smith/EPDX

Each December, 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. Look back on past years here.

“Ooh, this is a tough one — Instead of choosing a single meal, I’m going to Mr.-Potato-Head one together: Miang som on Langbaan’s patio, the geoduck ceviche served on Quaintrelle’s last night in North Portland, the bhel puri at the Gado Gado James Beard dinner, the shrimp aguachile at República, the lobster-and-tendon soup on the Berlu tasting menu (with those springy-juicy lobster meatballs — what is the DEAL with those??), that charcoal-roasted game hen at Oma’s Hideaway, and, finally, the chocolate-passionfruit Andino at Andina, a brownie layered with chocolate and passionfruit mousse with torched meringue. If you were to *force* me to pick one restaurant meal, it’d probably have to be a tie between an early-summer tasting menu at República and my last tasting menu dinner at Berlu.”
-Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor

“I have to go with the República tasting menu I had this fall, which my friend described as “an adult Disneyland.” From the escamoles-smoked, coffee-rubbed kanpachi tostada to the plum granita heirloom tomato aguachile to the mezcal that tastes like jalapeños, it really felt like there was excitement, creativity, and playfulness at every turn.”
-Katherine Chew Hamilton, Portland Monthly food editor

“My best restaurant meals this year were, unsurprisingly, not just about the food, but the experience of dining at a restaurant. In March, I had an exceptional dinner on the Nightingale patio – this was my first meal out in almost a year and my introduction to Luna’s cooking. At República, I was wowed by the summer tasting menu, especially the complex mole in the porcini entree. My latest visit to Top Burmese for the soothing tofu khao soi, seated outside with a light sprinkle of rain, roaring traffic, and flickering lights was a night to remember.”
-Waz Wu, Eater Portland contributor

Malka—their Bellflower salad with fish sauce-glazed chicken tenders is a *chef’s kiss* perfect meal. The sheer amount of textures and flavors they pack in that dish while still having all the ingredients make sense is remarkable. I’ve only had takeout from there and I’m very much looking forward to the day I get to enjoy a meal in their charming dining room.”
-Janey Wong, Portland Mercury food and drink columnist

“I don’t want to undercut the Portland scene, but my summer birthday trip to L.A. was exciting to get to eat things that city excels at i.e. Thai (and Korean) food! Yes, yes, we have good Thai here too, though I love the default spice levels and sheer variety that restaurants like Jitlada–iconic for a reason–offer. It’s a small thing, but I also love being able to order crispy pork in any stir-fry or curry, and that’s super hard to find here. My best sit-down Portland restaurant meal definitely was the República tasting menu, though. I love their whole vibe and how the whole experience is more than just about the food on the plate.”
-Krista Garcia, Eater Portland contributor

“In Portland, Vince Nguyen of Berlu pivoted throughout the pandemic — bakery, noodles, night market. But he recently re-instituted his tasting menu. There was a different focus from his pre-pandemic tasting menu. The current concept emphasizes dishes from his Vietnamese heritage. There are very few people in the world who have had as many Michelin-starred meals as I have experienced. My October Berlu meal was a Michelin-level experience, and it is my favorite current PDX restaurant.”
-Gary Okazaki (“Gary the Foodie”), renowned globe-trotting eater

“Gado Gado’s sister restaurant Oma’s Hideaway got a lot of attention in food media this year, and for a good reason! I am obsessed with the original though, whose small plates have always been a mind-blowing fusion of salty-sour-sweet spices whenever I visit, and an opportunity to eat some of the only Indonesian/Indonesian-inspired food in town. I’m looking forward to trying out the new tasting menu concept eventually. I was also pretty enchanted by Hapa Ramen’s summer curry ramen, which is gone now and dearly missed.”
-Katrina Yentch, Eater Portland contributor

“In the month of September we tentatively, and with great trepidation, sent our kid back
to pre-school for the first time since 2019. On the end of her first week, we celebrated with Friday night dinner at Portland’s venerable, frankly slept on sushi institution Murata. We sat in the tatami room. Service was perfect, sashimi was perfect, chawanmushi and tsukemono and tempura were perfect. Very little has changed inside this restaurant since 1988 and the level of quality and service are extremely high. It was a special occasion, and so I’m biased, but this was my favorite meal of the year.”
-Jordan Michelman, Sprudge co-founder and beverage writer

“For pure comfort food, I don’t think I’ve ever been as satisfied with any Portland dish as I was with the coconut noodle soup from Top Burmese — it’s pure, rich, creamy bliss. Everything from that restaurant group absolutely slaps (I’m sorry). The only thing that competed was a crunch wrap from Birrieria PDX on 82nd, which is sheer indulgence. For the full experience, Quaintrelle still brings it at its new location. Its playful, colorful tasting menu eschews many of the cliches attached to prix fixe dining—it’s neither overly fussy nor overly rich, with satisfying courses made with local ingredients and lots of herbs and spices over butter and salt; plus, Camille Cavan continues to make some of the best drinks in town.”
-Alex Frane, Eater Portland guest editor and contributor

“I have barely eaten inside any restaurants since February 2020 so if a cart counts as a restaurant, then my best meal was at the cart Skidbladnir where I had not only the great lamb sandwich but also the utterly spectacular Norwegian-style meatballs. This is a dish I reminisce about regularly and probably my top meal of 2021. If a cart does not count as a restaurant, then the best meal I had was at Oma’s Hideaway (outside at a picnic bench) where I had an assortment of wonderful dishes, most notably the luscious Omazing Burger which blew my mind with its innovative flavors while still being a somewhat-normal burger.” -Bill Oakley, fast food influencer

“I remember enjoying halibut with lentils in a mango sauce at Elements Restaurant. I dined at Acorn & The Oak several times in their outdoor space on Lacamas Lake. I loved their classic wedge salad with a velvety avocado green goddess dressing and pork and beans with slices of pork tenderloin and creamy borlotti beans garnished with diced peaches and tomatoes. Dining at The Grocery Cocktail & Social made life feel somewhat normal again. I almost cried when I returned to my upstairs perch to sip an absinthe-laced Wednesday Addams cocktail and eat a Grocery Burger with bacon jam and sweet onions.”
-Rachel Pinsky, Eater Portland contributor, Washington correspondent

Year in Eater [EPDX]