If you're a fan of Bravo's Top Chef, you'll likely know that the Emmy Award-winning series' 18th season took place in Portland, Oregon. It was an odd season thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The judges, contestants, special guests, hosts, and crew were all confined to a bubble for most of the filming. Thankfully, that bubble was in Portland and the vicinity.
Portland served as the perfect backdrop for television’s most lauded culinary contest given it is among the top food cities in America. The only bummer? With the city more or less closed during filming, viewers really missed out on seeing, smelling, and savoring everything the area had to offer. But, we’ve got you covered. Here is a look at where to go, what to eat, and how to make one’s way through the now-reopened city. Whether you visit Portland for a quick 48 hours or decide to stay and explore the city and the surrounding Pacific Northwest region, here is the best dining in Portland—and a few things to do in between meals.
Best Sit-down Dining in Portland
Portland is such an amazing foodie town, with so many incredible restaurants, that it is difficult to narrow it down to just one or even a few. But, there are undoubtedly a few at the top of the list.
Experience Award-winning Food with Chef Rucker
So, what should be atop the gastronomic bucket list when one arrives? That’s easy. Start with 13-time James Beard Award-nominated (and two-time winning) chef Gabriel Rucker—a Top Chef guest judge—and both his fine-dining institution Le Pigeon as well as its sister concept, Canard.
Often called a master of “Haute comfort cuisine,” Rucker has the ability to marry a five-star dining experience you would expect in New York City with the more laid-back vibe and rustic ingredients of the Pacific Northwest at Le Pigeon.
He is well known for his love of inventing new ways to serve foie gras and has earned culinary legend status in the region (and likely beyond).
And though less decadent, his Canard has been named one of the best restaurants in the city for its ability to please palates no matter the time of day. Before the sun goes down, enjoy it as a quaint, little bistro. Then at night, watch it transform into the most popular wine and small bites bar in town.
Opt for Experimental and Exquisite with Quaintrelle
Under the creative guidance of Chef de Cuisine Ryley Eckersley, Quaintrelle calls itself “rebellious.” Foods are experimental but exquisite. They source local, artisanal ingredients to create an ever-changing menu of delightful flavors that capture the Pacific Northwest.
The name itself tells the story of this great restaurant. Quaintrelle is a “woman who emphasizes a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm, and a cultivation of life's pleasures.” I love that definition and it is fitting for the name of this restaurant.
The menu changes frequently, depending on what is in season. The tasting menu is $75 and gives you a chance to really experience the quirky goodness of Quaintrelle.
Best Portland Watering Holes
Dining in Portland also includes some great beer, wine, and ciders. There are some seriously impressive watering holes downtown. One of my favorites is Loyal Legion, which has 99 craft beers available to sample.
If you prefer cider, step into Portland Cider Company, which was founded by an Oregonian and a family of British expats. Portland Cider Company has one mission: to bring cider, handcrafted in the English tradition, to the Northwest.
Among the best ways to explore as many as possible in one day is via a guided bike tour, some of which leave directly from downtown Portland, including BrewCycle that starts at Back Pedal Brewery and explores the downtown watering holes.
Don't Forget the Doughnuts
Portland is also home to the original Voodoo Doughnut, an eclectic doughnut maker that—thanks to appearances on No Reservations, Man v. Food, Doughnut Paradise, Attack of the Show, and The Amazing Race—helped put gourmet doughnuts on the culinary map across the United States.
Quick Dining in Portland
Anyone who watched the Top Chef Portland season also knows the city is a mecca for gourmet food trucks. Declared by CNN as home to the world’s best street food, there are more than 200 individual food trucks within the city limits.
The best way to sample this great Portland fare and find favorites is to seek out a food truck pod, which is a collection of carts that stay in the same place versus those that are mobile and always in a different locale. There are four pods in downtown Portland alone, including one right at the courthouse square, making it easy to nosh until one’s heart is content.
Rest Between Restaurants
For a convenient place to stay while you eat your way through Portland, I recommend you stay along the water. The Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel is an ideal option. Just south of downtown along a pedestrian river walkway, Condé Nast Traveler named RiverPlace among the top hotels in the Pacific Northwest.
You'll love its spacious waterfront suites—notably one- and two-bedroom options with marina views, full kitchens, romantic fireplaces, and ample patio and deck space. Save time between all of dining in Portland to pamper yourself. Try the hotel spa's organic massages and wild-crafted body treatments.
When you're ready for another meal, head to the RiverPlace's indulgent seafood restaurant, King Tide & Fish Shell. It serves up fresh seafood while you sit and look out at the water. According to the King Tide, the menu is “an homage to all that swims, done in Pacific Northwest style.” I must admit that the seafood I've experienced in Portland when done in “Pacific Northwest style” is unforgettable.
Truly, Portland is a culinary paradise. There are so many places to eat that it is difficult trying to define the best dining in Portland. These are just a few of my suggestions. Be sure to check out Wander for more great ideas on what to do while you visit Portland and other suggestions for the best of the Pacific Northwest.