Salem ’s dining is beginning to rise up from its longtime general mediocrity. Strangely enough, for a city so perfectly situated in Oregon ’s richest farming country, many places rely on the Sysco truck for their ingredients. But there are exceptions.
Word of Mouth (140 17th St. NE, 503/930-4285, 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun., $10–16), located in an old house east of the capitol  and Willamette University , is known for its delicious breakfasts ($4–10), where corned beef hash is the signature dish, but the omelets are also exceptionally good. WOM bills itself as a neighborhood bistro, but Salemites are coming from all over town to eat summertime salads of fresh-picked tomatoes.
A bright spot in downtown Salem is La Capitale (508 State St., 503/585-1975, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Tues.–Fri., noon–9 p.m. Sat., $10–24), where the bistro-style food has a distinct French touch. Even if you’re here between meals, nibble on the house-made charcuterie ($10.50) of rosemary-cured ham, thin-sliced pork rillettes, and dry-cured salami. For lunch, the smoked trout and new potato salad is unlike any other lunch you’re likely to find in Salem ($8.50).
Another good, and extremely popular, downtown spot is Wild Pear (372 State St., 503/378-7515, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $7–13), a lunchtime restaurant and catering business with a good selection of sandwiches and salads. Lunches are large, but you might still consider adding an order of white-truffle sweet potato fries with mustard aioli.
Venti’s Cafe (325 Court St. NE, 503/399-8733, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat., $6–9) is a little bit Asian and a little bit Mediterranean, with falafels, rice bowls, and wraps, including lots of vegetarian options. It’s also a little bit of a club, especially down in the basement, where there’s a full bar.
Another downtown place that’s good to know about is Cascade Baking Company (229 State St., 503/589-0491, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat., mini pizza $4), which supplies bread to some of Salem ’s best restaurants and cooks up a big batch of personal-sized pizzas every day at lunchtime. Panini sandwiches and pastries are also available. This is far and away the best bakery in the area.
If you’re looking for a pizza joint, Christo’s (1108 Broadway NE, 503/371-2892, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4:30–8 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4:30–9 p.m. Fri., 5–9 p.m. Sat., lunch pizzas $5.25–8.50, dinner $12.75–27), in what is beginning to emerge as a lively neighborhood just north or downtown, is a fun place with good pizza.
There are a couple of Allan Brothers Beanery locations in town: one near the government buildings (545 Court St., 503/584-7797, 6 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) and the other downtown (220 Liberty St. NE, 6 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $4–9). Both have light breakfasts, good homemade pastries, soups, quiche, sandwiches, and deli salads.
Among Salem’s many Mexican restaurants, one that stands out is Jr’s Taqueria (1705 Winter St. NE, 503/378-0500, $2–7), located in a cute little converted gas station. It’s a good place for some lunchtime carnitas. Don’t worry—even with that name, it’s authentic! Hacienda Real (475 Taggart Dr. NW, 503/585-3855, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., $7–14), which has a couple of other locations around town, is known for its excellent homemade tortillas and its Jalisco-style food.
Of course, the McMenamins have an outpost in Salem : at Boon’s Treasury (888 Liberty St. NE, 503/399-9062, 11 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat., noon–11 p.m. Sun., $8–13), you can down microbrews and enjoy live music amid the brick confines of the old treasury building or hang out in the backyard beer garden.
Bentley’s Grill (291 Liberty St. SE, 503/779-1660, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–midnight Fri.–Sat., 4–9 p.m. Sun., $20–26), in the Phoenix Grand Hotel, is a reliable place for fresh seafood and wood-fired pizzas. It’s one of the fancier restaurants in town, but not stuffy.
One of the most popular fancy restaurants in town is Alessandro’s 120 (120 Commercial St. NE, 503/370-9951, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 5:30 p.m.–closing Sat., $12–26), with Salem’s best Italian food served in a classy old downtown building filled with art.
Out of the main downtown, in the basement-dwelling Morton’s Bistro Northwest (1128 Edgewater St. NW, 503/585-1113, $17–27), you can find good food that leans toward the comforting rather than high culinary fashion. For example, a roasted chicken with mushrooms, capers, tomatoes, and greens is homey and tasty; a large selection of small plates (billed as the “theatre menu,” $9–13) includes bacon-wrapped prawns, linguine with clams, and fish tacos. A good selection of reasonably priced wines is displayed on a wall of the restaurant.
U-pick farms are a delight from spring through fall in and around Salem . Cherries, strawberries, apples, peaches, plums, and blackberries are some of the bounty available. Early in June, the Statesman Journal puts out a list of local outlets in the area, describing what’s available where and when, titled “Oregon Direct Market Association.” Fruit stands are listed in this guide as well.
Many concessionaires, such as Bauman Farms (12989 Howell Prairie Rd., 503/792-3524), offer both self-service harvest and over-the-counter sales. Several dozen agricultural products are available, including 10 berry varieties and pumpkins. Items such as fresh home-pressed apple cider and holiday gift packs round out the array. To get to Bauman’s, take Route 99E one mile south of Woodburn to Howell Prairie Road. Following the signs, go about 0.5 miles to reach the stand.