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The Essential 38 Portland Restaurants, October 2013

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It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant...?" This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs, save for those occasions when you absolutely must spend half a paycheck. Every couple of months, we'll be adding pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game.

This time around, after much reflecting and poring over reader emails and comments, the list bids farewell to longtime 38 member Grain & Gristle. In its place: one of the year's most exciting openings, in the form of E. Burnside's Levant.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Le Pigeon

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738 E Burnside St
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 546-8796
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James Beard Rising Chef winner Gabe Rucker rocks his East Burnside hole-in-the-wall with an open kitchen, a short menu, and a firm handle on how to make inventive but mostly accessible food. This is where you’ll find pickled onions on your burger and foie gras in your profiterole, but it’s also where you’ll find some killer fried green tomatoes on your pork belly and a really good namesake chicken-under-a-brick. If you're looking for a "special occasion" meal, invest in the chef's tasting menu.

2225 NE MLK Jr. Blvd
Portland, OR 97212
(503) 284-3366
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Husband-and-wife team Greg and Gabrielle Quiñonez Denton have lit up Portland's dining scene with the opening of their Argentine-inspired restaurant Ox, a spot where wood-grilled simplicity meets evil-genius concoctions like sweetbread "croutons" and house-made blood sausage. Though meat hitting the grill is the main focus (skirt steak and lamb chops are tops), both veggies and seafood represent well in homey dishes like hominy stew and braised octopus. It's best to get in line early, though dinner wait times can be nursed at the neighboring Whey Bar.

3. smallwares

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4605 NE Fremont St
Portland, OR 97213
(971) 229-0995
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Chef Johanna Ware brings a New York sensibility to her NE spot Smallwares, serving unapologetically "inauthentic" Asian small plates with a late-night, rock 'n' roll attitude (the spot's bright red-and-black color scheme adds to the mood). But each dish is elegantly composed — dashi poached eggs with roe, lobster mushrooms served with a walnut puree, a super-spicy somen noodle — and Ware even manages to put a spin on the ever-ubiquitous kale: by deep-frying it and serving with a minty fish sauce.

4. Nong's Khao Man Gai

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609 SE Ankeny St, Portland, OR 97214
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 740-2907
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Nong Poonsukwattana, of the downtown food cart Nong's Khao Man Gai, finally makes a play at world domination with the debut of two additional Nong's locations, including this proper brick-and-mortar space that functions as a to-go counter. Of course, Nong's addictive signature dish, a Thai take on Hainan chicken, takes center stage, here and at Nong's two food cart locations, at SW Alder and at the PSU cart pod.

5. Ava Gene's

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3377 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202
(971) 229-0571
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No opening in recent memory has created a fervor quite like Ava Gene's, the polished Italian restaurant by Stumptown's Duane Sorenson and NYC transplant Joshua McFadden (just ask Bon Appetit's Andrew Knowlton, who named the spot the #5 restaurant in the country in 2013). The room itself provides Division's must-visit see-and-be-seen spot, but McFadden's dishes — especially toothsome pastas and expertly executed vegetables — prove this book should be judged beyond its cover.

6. broder

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2508 SE Clinton St.
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 736-3333
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If Alvar aalto and Betty Crocker had a love child, it would be this Southeast Clinton Scandinavian place, and it would arrive on small wooden boards accompanied by lingonberry jam, pickled vegetables, and smoked fish. In a town where brunch is king, Broder's menu — from Swedish hash to aebleskiver with lemon curd — is the most inventive in Portland. Coming up soon: a new outpost of Broder in N. Portland's former Gotham Tavern, complete with a grab-and-go section and mini-Scandinavian market.

7. Ha Vl

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2738 SE 82nd Blvd
Portland, OR 97266
(503) 772-0103

Tucked into a SE 82nd strip mall, Ha & VL dishes out Vietnamese soup that transcends the more-familiar pho, and you'll eat what they tell you: Just a couple varieties of savor-each-last-drop broth are available each day, but whether it's the crab flake or shrimp cake or ground pork, these noodle soups will have you slurping up every. last. bite. (If you head over after 11am, call beforehand to ensure the soup du jour is still available.) [Photo]

8. Toro Bravo

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120 NE Russell St.
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 281-4464
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Toro Bravo is about as Spanish as the French revolution (have you ever seen a pulled pork sandwich in a restaurant in Madrid?) but regardless of nationality, this is damn good food, and stays true to the trifecta of Spanish cuisine: garlic, paprika, and religion. Get there right when it opens — at five — and be ready to fight for your spot.

9. Restaurant St Jack

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2039 SE Clinton St
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 360-1281
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St. Jack, Eater's 2011 Restaurant of the Year, creates the ultimate bouchon experience in this darling SE Division bistro. Embrace "Non, je ne regrette rein" as your official dining motto and sit back and relax with a few whiskey cocktails, plates of rich escargot gratin and roasted bone marrow. When specials are available, snatch them up, particularly the pied de cochon and stuffed duck neck. And don't forget the patisserie: it serves up one of Portland's best under-the-radar lunches.

10. Pok Pok

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3226 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 232-1387
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Classically trained chef Andy Ricker moves to Thailand, learns to cook Thai food better than the locals, and serves up enough Vietnamese chicken wings, boar collar, and noodle soups to snag himself a James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest. Ricker's now a certified empire-builder, but it's worth a trip to the mothership if you want to never look at Thai food the same way again.

11. Ned Ludd

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3925 NE MLK Jr. Blvd
Portland, OR 97212
(503) 288-6900
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The gimmick at this Northeast restaurant is that chef Jason French cooks everything (seriously — everything) in a wood-fired oven. But there’s absolutely nothing gimmicky about what emerges from the fire: whole roasted trout, ash-kissed seasonal vegetables, bright salads, and stunning culinary experiences like "pork noodles" made entirely from pork fat. Ned Ludd also happens to be Portland best-kept brunch secret. (Seriously, the brunch here is killer.)

12. Olympic Provisions

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107 S.E. Washington St.
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 954-3663
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It's best known for its meaty goodness — Olympic Provisions famously boasts Oregon’s first USDA certified meat-curing facility — but venture past the charcuterie plate into an omnivore paradise, with chef Alex Yoder's rustic takes on shaved Brussels sprouts, marinated anchovies, and roasted cod. Weekend brunch is one of the city's most underrated. [Photo]

13. Tanuki

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8029 SE Stark St, Portland, OR 97215
Portland, OR 97215
(503) 477-6030
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Janis Martin's underground drinking den (don't call it a restaurant) now occupies a larger space on SE Stark, but the charms from its old NW spot remain: Japanese zombie flicks, stupidly affordable happy hour, and lots and lots of sake. Invest in the chef's omakase (seafood's the focus here) and watch as a pile of inventive plates arrive to the table: think spiced duck hearts, oysters with kimchi shaved ice, and hamachi.

14. Natural Selection

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3033 NE Alberta Street
Portland, OR

Chef Aaron Woo gives Portland vegetarians what they've long been craving: an upscale dining experience featuring all-veggie — and mostly vegan and gluten-free — options. Woo presents diners with truly inventive and unexpected dishes based on what's available at the market that particular week, and the $40, four-course prix fixe is one of the best deals in town.

15. Evoe at Pastaworks

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3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR

At this nondescript little counter tucked to the side of specialty grocery Pastaworks, Kevin Gibson is, more so than any chef in town, about the ingredients. A squash salad is just that: slivered squash with a little balsamic and some pumpkin seeds. The whole experience is proof that all you need for a really good lunch is a good pantry and Kevin Gibson in your house. [Photo]

16. Roe

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3113 SE Division
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 236-0205
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Chef Trent Pierce resurrects his creative approach to seafood at the back-room, reservation-only Roe, where the multi-course tasting menu offers inspired takes on fresh fish and foraged greens. Hidden in the rear of Pierce's more casual seafood restaurant Block + Tackle, Roe offers a conceptual opposite, combining modernist technique with vaguely Asian flavors.

17. Country Cat Dinnerhouse & Bar

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7937 SE Stark St
Portland, OR 97215
(503) 408-1414
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The Country Cat is all about American food, prepared by a chef, Adam Sappington, who understands and executes the nuances of old world cuisine. You might be ordering chicken and dumplings, but what you're getting is chicken and dumplings in a sauce so complicated and complex you might think you're in Paris. The fried chicken here is out of control, and Sappington's the guy who made in-house butchery cool.

18. Castagna

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1752 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214

Chef Justin Woodward picks up where culinary wunderkind Matt Lightner left off, deftly continuing Castagna's reputation as the pioneer of the local "au natural" culinary movement: Greens and flowers are foraged by the chef himself, then presented in a molecular style that remains authentic and accessible over gimmicky.

19. Little Bird Bistro

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219 SW 6th Ave.
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 688-5952
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The second restaurant owned by Le Pigeon chef/Beard Award-winner Gabriel Rucker, Little Bird provides the more classic (yet surprisingly casual) counterpart to Rucker's now-famously bold take on French cooking. Chef Erik Van Kley serves expertly prepared takes on Parisian bistro favorites like crispy veal sweetbreads, chicken liver mousse, and cassoulet; pastry chef Nora Antene's desserts are tops.

20. Portobello Vegan Trattoria

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1125 SE Division St.
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 754-5993
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At SE Division's Portobello, chef Aaron Adams turns the idea of vegan cooking on its head, delivering a rustic, soulful take on Northwest Italian food — that just happens to be meat- and dairy-free. Standouts on the always-changing menu include stuffed pastas and Adams' pillowy, crisp gnocchi; the arribata pizza features an impressive sausage substitute that'll fool even the most avowed meat-lover.

21. Beast

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5425 NE 30th Ave.
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 841-6968
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It's a splurge, but Portland's most high-profile chef, James Beard finalist (and Top Chef Master) Naomi Pomeroy, rocks the kitchen at Beast — where each intimate, prix-fixe seating is like a dinner party gone carnivorously crazy. Charcuterie plates explode with terrine, gelee, tartare, mousse; braised duck, pork shoulder, and beef cheeks make common appearances on the rotating menu.

22. Nuestra Cocina

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2135 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 232-2135
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Since long before SE Division became known as "Restaurant Row" (aka 2005), neighborhood residents have flocked to chef Benjamin Gonzales' laid-back — but bustling — Mexican restaurant. The vibe's convivial and consistently high-energy thanks to flowing margaritas and a barrage of savory and sharable small plates (tacos de puerco on handmade tortillas, queso fundido, rotating ceviches). [Photo]

23. Apizza Scholls

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4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR 97215
(503) 233-1286
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Thin-crust East Coast/New Haven-style pizza (their website’s all about the pizzaiolo), this southeast joint closes when they out of dough, which they stick in a 650- to 900-degree oven and char the daylights out of. In a very close race with Ken's Artisan Pizza, Scholls stills emerges as the town's best pie, and the switch to a (limited) reservation system earns bonus points for shortening wait times.

24. Taqueria Y Panaderia Santa Cruz

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8630 North Lombard Street
Portland, OR 97203
(503) 286-7302

Why head south to CA for authentic Mexican flavors when you can drive north to St. Johns? The cafeteria-style Tienda Santa Cruz 2 flies under-the-radar in the back of a neighborhood grocery store, but reveals huge flavors in its ridiculously cheap tacos and burritos. The spot's practically made for shameless gorging: Go for a half-dozen tacos of the lengua, al pastor, and chorizo; they're addictive and will cost you under $10. [Photo]

25. Screen Door

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2337 E Burnside St.
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 542-0880
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Local-sourced and southern-fried, everything on this menu — from the pimento cheese scramble in the AM to the evening’s brined bird — keeps the locals lining up for seconds, thirds, and fourths of this south-surveying menu, which covers Carolina low-country cuisine, soul food, and the refinement of New Orleans. [Photo]

26. Tasty 'N Sons

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3808 N Williams Ave.
Portland, OR 97213
(503) 621-1400
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John Gorham's insanely popular second spot reinvents Portland's favorite meal — brunch — taking it to new heights worth the inevitable looooong wait. The sprawling, family-style menu flaunts influences from North Africa to Asia to the American South, with a strong "put an egg on it ethos": Think shakshuka with merguez sausage, Burmese red pork stew, and a soul-soothingly simple polenta and sausage ragu.

27. Biwa

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215 SE 9th Ave
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 239-8830
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One part ramen den, one part izakaya, two parts modernista basement bunker, this late-night chefs' hangout is run by the most improbable Japanese chef in town: a white guy from Michigan. But don't be distracted by Gabe Rosen’s provenance: this man can noodle and kimchi with the best of them, and the Biwa burger — only available during late night — has become legendary.

28. Levant

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2448 E Burnside St.
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 954-2322
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Scott Snyder's Arabesque restaurant Levant is one of 2013's most auspicious openings, where the chef's enthusiasm and excitement often results in surprising spice combinations and earthy, flame-kissed proteins. Skip the snacks and go straight for the grilled sardine and whatever lamb dish is on offer; save room for desserts, where the hearth shows up in (again!) unexpected places.

29. Grüner

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527 SW 12th Ave
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 241-7163
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Chris Israel's Alpine-influenced Gruner ushers in the West End neighborhood (especially with the recent debut of its accompanying bar Kask, already known for its inventive cocktail list). Though Israel's expertly executed menu takes inspiration from the Black Forest to the Black Sea (complete with bratwurst, ja?), it deserves highest marks for its burger, hands-down one of the town's best (and definitely its juiciest).

30. The Woodsman Tavern

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4537 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97206
(971) 373-8264
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Named one of GQ's best new restaurants of 2011, the perennially-buzzing Woodsman Tavern borrows from myriad big-city influences — Balthazar's seafood tower, Hog & Rocks' ham plates — but brings it all down to earth with chef Jason Barwikowski's Mediterranean-influenced cooking. Surprisingly, lines have yet to form for weekend brunch, despite deeply comforting dishes like potted egg with greens.

31. Firehouse Restaurant

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711 NE Dekum St
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 954-1702
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NE's beloved (arguably under-the-radar) neighborhood spot Firehouse brings warmth literally and figuratively, with its wood-fired oven, comforting room, and plates of Italian comfort. Chef Matthew Busetto has stepped up his game of late, embracing pairing dinners and special events that emphasize accessibility and simplicity.

32. Aviary

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1733 NE Alberta
Portland, OR 97211

Who says that too many cooks spoil the broth? At Aviary, three recent NYC transplants — Sarah Pliner, Jasper Shen, and Kat Whitehead — present an eclectic menu that actually delivers, with unique plates that reflect the trio's variety of influences; a hint of French here, Asian flair there. Heartier dishes get higher marks: go for the goat curry, four-cup chicken, and what's easily the spot's signature dish: Crispy pig ear served over coconut rice.

33. Bamboo Sushi NW

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836 NW 23rd Ave
Portland, OR 97210
(971) 229-1925
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Portland's "green" ethos is no more obvious than at Bamboo — the world's first certified-sustainable sushi restaurant — where always-fresh catch plays nicely with unexpected flavor combinations (scallops, meet juniper olive oil and red miso dust). Momentum has shifted from the SE flagship to the NW 23rd location, which ups the kitchen offerings to include seafood "charcuterie," featuring bites like uni custard and tuna prosciutto.

34. Laurelhurst Market

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3155 E. Burnside Street
Portland, OR 97232
(503) 206-3097
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At the forefront of Portland's now-famously carnivorous culinary scene, Laurelhurst Market's combination butchery counter, steakhouse, and sandwich stop ushered in a city-wide movement toward meat — without the stuffiness seen in steakhouses of yore. The open room (and LM's famous bar program) create an energetic atmosphere where diners an indulge with a few dozen oysters before their prime cuts; or simply grab a sandwich to-go.

35. Nostrana

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1401 SE Morrison St
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 234-2427
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Intensely regional Italian food, wood-fired oven pizza, and a totally accessible menu make Cathy Whims one of the the most renowned female chefs in Portland (and the PNW: she's been nominated for Beard four times). A barrel-vaulted exposed wood ceiling, tons of windows, and just enough chatter to brighten things up make Nostrana the most renowned casual-ish place in town.

36. Podnah's Pit BBQ

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1625 N.E. Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 281-3700
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Podnah’s hits the lowest common denominator of what makes food satisfying: there’s salt, sweetness, fat, and Rodney Muirhead’s sauce has the perfect acidity. The brisket is perfectly smoked, the meat’s some of the best in the city (fanatics fight to the death for the smoke prime rib specials), but what makes Podnah’s the greatest is its total lack of pretension. Breakfast service is one of the city's best under-the-radar options.

37. Lardo East

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1212 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 234-7786
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Rick Gencarelli's Lardo joins an impressive local tradition of quality sandwich-making. in In the vein of the Bunks and Meat Cheese Breads before, the spot elevates what can be accomplished between two slices of bread, resulting in dripping, satisfying pork meatball banh mis and one of Portland's up-and-coming top burgers (and fries).

38. Paley's Place

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1204 NW 21st Ave
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 243-2403
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This is the Balthazar of Portland: the place that manages to be creative, yet so classic. Whether you’re enjoying mussels frites, escargots, or really interesting northwest takes on classic French-style cooking, head chef Vitaly Paley remains playful and inventive while never veering too far off the path.

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1. Le Pigeon

738 E Burnside St, Portland, OR 97214

James Beard Rising Chef winner Gabe Rucker rocks his East Burnside hole-in-the-wall with an open kitchen, a short menu, and a firm handle on how to make inventive but mostly accessible food. This is where you’ll find pickled onions on your burger and foie gras in your profiterole, but it’s also where you’ll find some killer fried green tomatoes on your pork belly and a really good namesake chicken-under-a-brick. If you're looking for a "special occasion" meal, invest in the chef's tasting menu.

738 E Burnside St
Portland, OR 97214

2. Ox

2225 NE MLK Jr. Blvd, Portland, OR 97212

Husband-and-wife team Greg and Gabrielle Quiñonez Denton have lit up Portland's dining scene with the opening of their Argentine-inspired restaurant Ox, a spot where wood-grilled simplicity meets evil-genius concoctions like sweetbread "croutons" and house-made blood sausage. Though meat hitting the grill is the main focus (skirt steak and lamb chops are tops), both veggies and seafood represent well in homey dishes like hominy stew and braised octopus. It's best to get in line early, though dinner wait times can be nursed at the neighboring Whey Bar.

2225 NE MLK Jr. Blvd
Portland, OR 97212

3. smallwares

4605 NE Fremont St, Portland, OR 97213

Chef Johanna Ware brings a New York sensibility to her NE spot Smallwares, serving unapologetically "inauthentic" Asian small plates with a late-night, rock 'n' roll attitude (the spot's bright red-and-black color scheme adds to the mood). But each dish is elegantly composed — dashi poached eggs with roe, lobster mushrooms served with a walnut puree, a super-spicy somen noodle — and Ware even manages to put a spin on the ever-ubiquitous kale: by deep-frying it and serving with a minty fish sauce.

4605 NE Fremont St
Portland, OR 97213

4. Nong's Khao Man Gai

609 SE Ankeny St, Portland, OR 97214, Portland, OR 97214

Nong Poonsukwattana, of the downtown food cart Nong's Khao Man Gai, finally makes a play at world domination with the debut of two additional Nong's locations, including this proper brick-and-mortar space that functions as a to-go counter. Of course, Nong's addictive signature dish, a Thai take on Hainan chicken, takes center stage, here and at Nong's two food cart locations, at SW Alder and at the PSU cart pod.

609 SE Ankeny St, Portland, OR 97214
Portland, OR 97214

5. Ava Gene's

3377 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202

No opening in recent memory has created a fervor quite like Ava Gene's, the polished Italian restaurant by Stumptown's Duane Sorenson and NYC transplant Joshua McFadden (just ask Bon Appetit's Andrew Knowlton, who named the spot the #5 restaurant in the country in 2013). The room itself provides Division's must-visit see-and-be-seen spot, but McFadden's dishes — especially toothsome pastas and expertly executed vegetables — prove this book should be judged beyond its cover.

3377 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202

6. broder

2508 SE Clinton St., Portland, OR 97202

If Alvar aalto and Betty Crocker had a love child, it would be this Southeast Clinton Scandinavian place, and it would arrive on small wooden boards accompanied by lingonberry jam, pickled vegetables, and smoked fish. In a town where brunch is king, Broder's menu — from Swedish hash to aebleskiver with lemon curd — is the most inventive in Portland. Coming up soon: a new outpost of Broder in N. Portland's former Gotham Tavern, complete with a grab-and-go section and mini-Scandinavian market.

2508 SE Clinton St.
Portland, OR 97202

7. Ha Vl

2738 SE 82nd Blvd, Portland, OR 97266