A pioneer of the seasonal, regional, locavore food movement that has swept through Portland in the last decade, Higgins (1239 SW Broadway, 503/222-9070, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–10:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 4 p.m.–midnight Sat., 4–10:30 p.m. Sun., $20–30) is the best exemplar of Northwest Cuisine in downtown Portland. Under the direction of chef-owner Greg Higgins, the restaurant is devoted to serving the fresh produce of local organic farmers, meats from area farms and ranches, and fresh fish and seafood from Oregon rivers and seaports in uncluttered preparations that let the natural flavors sing. The result is a cuisine deeply rooted in the Northwest. Although Higgins cures its own hams and specializes in charcuterie, this is also a good spot for vegetarians, as there’s usually a broad selection of meat-free dishes.
One of Portland’s most elegant dining venues, the Heathman Restaurant (1001 SW Broadway, 503/790-7752 or 800/551-0011, 6:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30–11 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) is synonymous with fine dining. Executive Chef Philippe Boulot partners with the region’s select growers, producers, and vintners to source the highest quality ingredients, which are then transformed by the kitchen’s alchemy into flavorful modern cuisine that interweaves the refinement of French cooking with the earthy zest of Oregon’s agricultural bounty. This is very sophisticated, artful food. The dining room is formal and the service is attentive, but the ambiance is anything but stuffy.
A longtime insider favorite, the Veritable Quandary (1220 SW 1st Ave., 503/227-7342, lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sat.–Sun., $18–29), a.k.a. the VQ, is an easily missed, shoebox-sized bar and restaurant at the foot of the Hawthorne Bridge. Up front is an always-busy wood-paneled bar, usually propped up with attorneys and city hall types, but the dining room is the thing: Cozy and bright at the same time, it serves well-prepared hearty Northwest cuisine without fussy pretensions. In summer, the VQ has one of the city’s best outdoor dining areas, a lovely flower-bedecked patio that feels like an oasis in the city center.
Housed in a high-ceilinged space on the ground floor of the hip Ace Hotel, Clyde Common (1014 SW Stark St., 503/248-0004, www.clydecommon.com, 11:30 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Fri., 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Sat., 5–10 p.m. Sun., $12–23) is a big airy space with long communal tables (if you need more privacy, you might be able to score a smaller table on the mezzanine) and an open kitchen where you can watch the cooks at work. The menu is an exercise in local ingredients and bold flavors; the house-made charcuterie offerings are excellent. The convivial bar is one of the city’s great late-night spots.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel