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In the last few years, Oregon's largest city has taken bold strides out of the latter category and into the ranks of the country's great restaurant cities. If you've worked up an appetite for the next hot gourmet destination, Portland, Ore., is it.
The laid-back city teems with neighborhood eateries, slick downtown rooms, offbeat bistros, microbreweries, a wealth of wineries, and even an award-winning sakery. Menus in James Beard's hometown are laden with local produce -- fresh seafood, wild game, hazelnuts, berries, pears, and cherries. Whether you're in the mood for a quick epicurean fix or a lengthy delicious diversion, Portland has your table ready.
New Kids on the (Chopping) Block
Portland just keeps getting tastier; every time I saunter into town there's a mouthwatering barrage of new menus to dig into. Hot favorites just now include bold Latin stop Isabel's Cantina (330 N.W. 10th Ave.; 503-222-4333), funky French bistro Beast (5425 N.E. 30th Ave; 503-841-6968; www.beastpdx.com; fixed price menus $28-$45), airy tapas emporium lolo (2940 N.E. Alberta St.; 503-288-3400), and roomy Clyde Common in the hip Ace Hotel (1014 W. Stark St.; 503-228-3333 l www.clydecommon.com; $9-$22), where they offer "domestic and foreign cooking."
Tried and Trusted
It wouldn't be a proper trip to Portland for me if I didn't devour Peruvian delicacies such as mango, passionfruit and prawn ceviche at Andina (1314 N.W. Glisan St.; 503-228-9535; www.andinarestaurant.com; $17-$29), the lemongrass chowder at Typhoon (410 S.W. Broadway; 503-224-7557; www.typhoonrestaurants.com; $9-$20), a towering plateful of steak frites at Bluehour (250 N.W. 13th Ave.; 503-226-3394; www.bluehouronline.com; $15-$42), or jambalaya and lemon-curd beignets at New Cajun room Roux (1700 N. Killingsworth St.; 503-285-1200; www.rouxrestaurant.com; $17-$30).
Raising the Bar
Lesbian-owned Mint (816 N. Russell St.; 503-460-0820; www.mintrestaurant.com; $11-$18) is stirring things up in the Eliot neighborhood. Cosmopolitan Mint's Nuevo Latino food is a perfect complement to the luscious libations created by owner and nationally acclaimed mixtress Lucy Brennan at bar 820 next door. Order a cilantro-tastic Ad Lib or an avocado daiquiri. Lesbian- and gay-favored martini bar Crush (1412 S.E. Morrison; 503-235-8150; www.crushbar.com; $6-$14) dishes up tasty vegetarian finger foods alongside its confident drink concoctions. Holocene (1001 S.E. Morrison; 503-239-7639; www.holocene.org) is a hipster haunt with killer mojitos and sizzling hot queer dance parties including Double Down, Tart, Pop Tart and Cupcake.
From April through November, Portland Farmers' Market (South Park Blocks; www.portlandfarmersmarket.org) is the place where locals and chefs stock their larders. Pick up lavender jelly, artisan cheese, dried cherries, smoked salmon and a smorgasbord more. Head northwest to Clear Creek Distillery (2389 N.W. Wilson St.; 503-248-9470; www.clearcreekdistillery.com) and take home one of their nine pure-fruit spirits or their signature Pear-in-the-Bottle Brandy.
Add some extra flavor to remember with a trip out to Forest Grove to Sake One (820 Elm St.; Forest Grove; 800-550-7253; www.sakeone.com) and take home a few bottles of whichever sake takes your fancy in the tasting session. Another tasting session not to miss is the luscious hot chocolate samplers at gay-owned Cacao (414 SW 13th Ave.; 503-241-0656; www.cacaodrinkchocolate.com). Take a class at Caprial and John's Kitchen (7015 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., Sellwood; 503-236-6457; www.caprialsbistro.com) and learn to brandish those chef's knives with authority on the set of the PBS show of the same name.