“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
― Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
What you are about to read are the awards for the best and brightest restaurants I visited and reviewed in 2013. I’ve been to and written about a number of Portland area eateries this year, and while life got in the way of reviewing even more, there were some that just stood out from the rest. What I present below is a random conglomeration of my selections for the best places to eat, drink, and hang out around Portland.
I think it’s fair to say that my selection process wasn’t overly scientific, so how did I measure all these restaurants against each other? I did it by comparing them to other top tier restaurants of the same genre, and to a lesser extent, those of other genres. Are other good or great joints still no match for the greatness of a particular standout? Are there features of certain places that just skyrocket them into the culinary stratosphere? Does one eatery simply handle every last detail of food, service, and atmosphere to perfection? I considered all these factors and came up with the following winners.
Restaurant of the Year – Catbird Creamery
This was a tough choice for a number of reasons. First of all, I went to a lot of great restaurants this year, so just the competition in this category alone made me feel like I was trying to pick my favorite Jonas brother. Second, the debate between my wife and I as to what qualifies as a restaurant made me wonder if Catbird was even in the running for this award. The dictionary definition of restaurant indicates that restaurants serve meals, so for the purposes of my first annual awards, either I believe ice cream is a meal or I’m expanding the definition of restaurant to include anyplace that serves prepared food of any sort. I’ll let you choose.
Catbird Creamery is my choice for restaurant of the year because they are so far and above their competition that they stand on a whipped cream and cherry mountain top all alone. In fact, the tiny little Westbrook shop’s products are so good that every time I eat them I have to slap myself silly to make sure it’s real life. But what makes them the blue ribbon winner here is that the award isn’t a negative statement about Catbird’s competitors, but rather the opposite. Catbird stands out because it produces a product that is great when compared to other excellent confectioners. Catbird is as close to perfect at what they do as I could imagine possible, and that perfection, in my experience, occurs on each visit. And what’s best about it all? Their made-from-scratch treats are priced so low that I feel like I’m ripping them off every time.
Honorable mention – Boda – See below.
Best Ethnic Food – Boda
A serious challenger for restaurant of the year, Boda wins this category hands down with their simply amazing Thai cuisine. This restaurant never disappoints and is an example of a rare “try anything and you’re guaranteed to like it” joint. From the drinks to the numerous apps and entrees, to even get just a “good” dish is a rarity. Virtually everything at this place is extraordinary and as someone who hesitates to try new dishes for fear of disappointment, this most certainly is not a place I have to worry about that.
If you haven’t been to Boda, and you like food at all, you simply must go. As long as Boda doesn’t change anything with their service and keeps their menu fresh, varied, and magically delicious, they’re going to be around forever. This is a must-visit, so put them on the “Places To Eat in Portland” list immediately. I should mention that their prices are very reasonable too. So go try a rice ball, spiced nuts, skewers, or anything at all and enjoy a first-class meal you’re guaranteed to dream about until you go back the next time.
Honorable mention – Zapoteca
If their popularity and my last visit there were any indication, Zapoteca will be a perennial contender on all the “best of” lists related to food in Portland.
Best New Restaurant – Portland and Rochester Public House
When I went to Portland and Rochester Public House the first time, I honestly didn’t expect much. As it turned out, they knocked my socks off. Hell, they could have stolen my shoes too and I wouldn’t have cared. From the cool, laid-back and rustic atmosphere to the great service and wicked drinks this place had me going even before I got to my entree, but that’s when shit started to get real. Their succotash, something I’m not sure I had ever eaten previously, was mind-blowing and the scallops and pork belly that accompanied it were wildly and inappropriately delicious.
If Portland and Rochester keeps whoever is creating those delicious vittles every night in their kitchen, I don’t know how it wouldn’t be a success. Everything they served was delicious, so this place is definitely going to be making waves. In the future, I envision people calling it PRPH to shorten the bulky name, but everyone will know what it means and I suspect a lot of hungry people will be going there.
Honorable mention – Portland Hunt and Alpine Club
PHAC has a really nice bar and interior and serves great drinks and excellent snacks. I can’t think of any reason you shouldn’t go there. It’s an outstanding choice for a pre-dinner drink or an after work gathering.
Best Upscale Restaurant – David’s Opus Ten
The David’s Opus Ten experience isn’t something you’d do every day, but it’s really something you must do at least once. With so many courses already planned for you, there’s a decent chance something won’t be to your liking, but that’s sort of the fun. If you’re feeling adventurous and you want to be wowed by some uniquely delicious foods, this is the place to go. You’ll make a night out of just a meal, but it will be one you’ll remember.
Honorable mention – Fore Street
The awesome open kitchen, the great local food, and perfect service make this beautiful restaurant a must visit location.
Best Eats on the Cheap – Silly’s/Silly’s with a Twist
Silly’s has become one of my very favorite places to eat in Portland. With an incredibly random and diverse menu, they have something for almost everyone. Their quirky attitude, employees, and decor never fail to intrigue and their food and service are magnificent. What’s more is that their prices are reasonable for even the tightest budget. If Silly’s continues down the path they’ve maintained for years now, I’ll continue to go down the path from my house to Silly’s.
Honorable mention – Bayou Kitchen
If you go out for breakfast in Portland, this place will serve you with some of the most delicious and interesting dishes this side of the Mississippi for very little paper.
Best Appetizer – The Grill Room
While the Grill Room is a really awesome restaurant in general, their Wood Oven–Baked Brie with chive oil, balsamic syrup, and pepper jelly is worth going there for by itself. The warm, mild cheese and incredibly flavorful toppings are to die for. Get it with water, a drink, an entree, or whatever. Just make sure you get it. You won’t regret it or forget it.
Honorable mention – Duckfat
I’m not sure if fries are an appetizer, but in this case I’m making them one. Duckfat’s fries didn’t receive national attention for nothing – they’re actually that good.
Best Restaurant That Works Well as Take-Out or Eat-In – Otto
Otto’s pizza is the best I’ve ever had in a city with some really great pizza places. With tons of unique topping combinations and seriously delicious…well…everything, Otto shines. Whether you go there for a work lunch or just grab a slice – or a whole pie – late at night, Otto will gently sooth your crusty cravings. And with the recent opening of their South Portland store, they have more pizza than ever awaiting your grubby little paws and plaque-covered choppers.
Honorable mention – Bonobo
This category was made for pizza and Bonobo comes nipping at the winner’s heels with their unique and delicious pizza and salads. Whatever you do, do not forget to order a house salad, regardless of where you plan on consuming it.
Best Place to Grab a Beer and Chill Out – Novare Res
With just a handful of food options and what seems like a million beer choices, Novare Res has carved out a great niche as the “all things beer” place to go in Portland. Regardless of your beer tastes, they’re guaranteed to have something you’ll like. When I was there, their featured brewery on tap had a bunch of incredible brews. If it weren’t for the fact that I had other places to go that day, I might have made my best attempt at killing a keg.
Honorable mention – Nosh
Burger and a beer anyone? Nosh has you covered with their unique and delicious pork and beef burgers and their great beer menu. Their beautiful long bar is definitely a cool spot to relax.
There it is – my choices for the best places I went in Portland this year. If you haven’t been to them, you must go check them out. If you have, go again. Many more reviews and whatever else is on my mind will be coming in the new year. Do you agree with this year’s choices? Do you have suggestions about what I should review or write about next? Let me know what you’d like to see from me in 2014. Happy New year!
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