A haven of FOODIE DELIGHTS, Portland’s West End aims to be more than just a flavor of the month.
It used to be that up-and-coming chefs who wanted to showcase their talents in Portland would set up shop in the Eastside neighborhood, where rent was lower and they could attract a young, enthusiastic crowd. Then the recession hit, and vacancies started to open in the downtown area close to the majority of hotels and offices in the city (aka, the West End). Now, a slew of new eateries featuring artisanal cuisine and imaginative takes on everything from ice cream to doughnuts to coffee has locals and out-of-towners flocking to this little slice of culinary heaven.
1. IMPERIAL: Having relationships with the top food purveyors in the Northwest — Kumamoto oysters and sablefish arrive daily from the Pacific coast; Hood River strawberries and Anderson Ranches lamb come from Oregon’s interior — could help any ol’ cook do a decent job. But put those same ingredients in the hands of an adroit chef like Vitaly Paley, and you’ll understand why he won both a James Beard Foundation Award and Iron Chef America. His second restaurant, Imperial, with its long bar, exposed brick and imported Italian wood grill, opened on the ground floor of Hotel Lucia in September 2012. You’d be wise to make a reservation to grab one of the coveted 110 seats. www.imperialpdx.com
3. CLYDE COMMON: It’s hard to resist the truffled popcorn and a plate of tagliatelle smothered with luscious mushrooms, but it’s the mixologists behind the bar who keep the crowds happy at Clyde Common. Bermuda lovers should try that nation’s signature drink, a Dark and Stormy, served with pumpkin-pie-spice-infused Gosling’s rum. Those who favor Kentucky should opt for the Bourbon Renewal, a combination of bourbon, lemon, cassis and bitters. www.clydecommon.com
4. SPELLA CAFFÈ: Blame it on those soggy days in the Northwest, but Portland is right up there with its neighbor to the north, Seattle, when it comes to going bonkers over coffee. The baristas at Spella are like mad scientists, dripping, pouring and sizing up each cup. Whatever they do, it works. Rarely has a cup of coffee, cappuccino or espresso in the States tasted so satisfying. www.spellacaffe.com
5. BLUE STAR DONUTS: Portland takes its doughnuts seriously. Just ask favorite foodie Anthony Bourdain, who raved about Voodoo Doughnut’s Bacon Maple Bar the last time he was in town. Blue Star Donuts might not yet have the same fanfare as Voodoo, but give it time. Its gourmet doughnuts, such as the Meyer Lemon, are made by hand with local ingredients. www.bluestardonuts.com
6. RUBY JEWEL: Remember that scene in the Disney/Pixar film Ratatouille, when the ornery food critic is immediately transported back to his mother’s cooking after tasting one bite of the ratatouille? That’s how I felt after one lick of the lush and creamy black-licorice ice cream at Ruby Jewel. It took me back to the country store in upstate New York where, as a child, I used to fill my small paper bag with black licorice. When you order, ask them to place your choice of ice cream between thick, freshly baked cookies for an indulgent ice-cream sandwich. You’ll thank me later. www.rubyjewel.com
For more information on Portland's West End neighborhood, visit www.wepdx.com