Oregon’s most famous wine region — known for its exceptional pinot noir — doesn’t have the same high-end restaurant culture of, say, Napa. For decades, restaurants of note in the northern Willamette Valley have fallen into two categories: They’re either a) pricey, fancy, and largely aimed at an audience of wine tourists ready to shell out for pinot by the case and entrees in the $50-plus range; or they’re b) casual and fun, but not particularly destination-worthy. The problem with several of the long-celebrated stalwarts is that they don’t have to try particularly hard to be guaranteed an audience, but they don’t always live up to their promised reputations, especially when dinner for two can easily climb past $200.
Fortunately for locals and visitors, there’s a creative crop of youthful restaurants and carts joining longstanding Oregon wine country destinations that still deliver, serving everything from shrimp ceviche tostadas to duck liver mousse. Many of these spots use produce grown or foraged in the nearby farmland or forests, respectively, often served alongside wines made a cork’s throw from the dining room. Some of the best dining spots in the region can be found in McMinnville or Newberg; however, a few outliers in places like Dundee or Carlton can provide a worthy lunch or dinner between tasting flights and glasses of bubbles. Keep an eye out for some exciting arrivals slated for later this year, including the tasting menu spot Okta and Tabula Rasa Farms collaboration restaurant Humble Spirit. For restaurants to visit while tasting in the Columbia River Gorge, this map may help.
Note: Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.Read More