More than 200 independent and locally operated businesses opened in the last year—at least by our count—peaking with 23 new openings a year ago, last January.
Among the entrepreneurs were apparel designers, jewelers, mustache waxers, and ninja trainers. It was also a big year for brewers, urban wineries, bottle shops, coffee shops, and candy shops. And, of course, we swam in an endless stream of restaurants offering cuisines that span the globe.
2012 was also a big year for expansions, and it rounded itself out with two fairly new restaurants opening sister shops (Lardo and Verde Cocina), followed by new eats from butchers, doughnut bakers and pizza makers.
And while the ball has already dropped, you still have time to raise your glass and toast all of the local entrepreneurs that made the last year an exciting one to be a Portlander.
Oro di Napoli
Boise, North Williams
William Kim and his wife, Julie Lee Kim, have years of international food, beverage, distribution, and hospitality experience between them, stretching from the Western U.S., to Italy and France, to all over Asia. Now, within a year of settling in the City of Roses, the couple has opened their first independent restaurant. Oro di Napoli (or Gold of Naples) specializes in a variety of Neapolitan pizzas, wood fired in a Stefano Ferrara brick oven, which you can pair with glasses from a generous wine list made up primarily of Southern Italian reds and whites. Kim says his kitchen also takes pride in chopping up a wide array of antipasti as well as cooking up a handful of pasta dishes (spaghetti, gnocchi). And for a sweet end to a good night, you can choose from a trio of desserts, including a plate of the ever-indispensable tiramisu.
Oro di Napoli, 3632 N Williams St., 503.954.2704
Boise, Historic Mississippi
For years, Lily Tollefson and her husband, Jonathan Berube, have been splitting their time between the nation's coasts. They were most recently in Long Island where they helped run the Lobster Inn, a restaurant owned and operated for 43 years by Tollefson's father, Skip Radar Tollefson, before he sold it and retired in 2011. The couple has since returned to Portland and opened the small plates bar, Radar, as a tribute to Tollefson's dad. (Radar really is his middle name, she says, adding that all of her father’s sisters and brothers have long been named for nautical terms.) The 36-seat space will feature a food menu that rotates every two weeks with an emphasis on seafood, like a bluefish pâte that spotlights bluefish caught by a fisherman in Long Island and shipped overnight to the City of Roses. The bar also features signature cocktails made with imported spirits that British sailors and merchant marines would've quaffed while in port a century ago. And because her family and husband are soccer fans, European and local matches will be constantly screened on the bar's two televisions and, when it's warm outside, projected onto a big screen on the 20-seat back patio.
Radar Restaurant, 3951 N Mississippi Ave., 503.841.6948
Yara Lebanese Cuisine
Boise, Historic Mississippi
The first thing you get when seated at Fadi Elkhodr's Middle Eastern restaurant is a plate of complimentary flatbread, baked fresh upon your arrival. From there, you can peruse the menu in search of numerous Lebanese favorites, from kabobs (beef, lamb, chicken and shrimp), baba ganoush and tabbouleh, to soups, salads, falafels and shawarmas. For 15 years, Elkhodr had been a manager of operations at IHOP, overseeing several franchise restaurants in the region, but Yara is his first privately owned restaurant and features dishes made from Elkhodr's trove of personal recipes. You can't get adult drinks here, but you should never have trouble finding a seat—the space has two stories and can accommodate as many as 150 guests. Plus, for the warmer months, Elkhodr has plans in place to offer entertainment—live music and belly dancing—on his large street-side patio, seven nights a week.
Yara Lebanese Cuisine, 3928 N Mississippi Ave., 503.282.0145
Tails & Trotters
Since 2009, marketing wiz Mark Cockcroft and butcher Aaron Silverman, who has more than 20 years of experience raising and butchering chickens and pigs as well as farming vegetables, have been serving as many as 20 restaurants as wholesale butchers of all things pork. Now, they've got a retail storefront open to the general public in NE Portland's Ocean micro-restaurant complex where you can find as many as 80-100 of their pork products, including pâtés, pasta sauces, gravies, deli meats, lard, soups, and something they call "porkstrami," a pork brisket-pastrami, which they sell not just by the pound but will pile on prepared sandwiches, like the Porkstrami Reuben panino. Daily soups and sandwiches are carry-out only, but Silverman says you can eat them at the outdoor tables around the corner on the collective patio that serves the Ocean's other restaurants.
Tails & Trotters, 525 NE 24th Ave., 503.477.8682
Duane Sorenson, the man who brought Portland Stumptown Coffee Roasters and The Woodsman Tavern, has set his sights on one of the world's oldest cuisines: Italian. His 70-seat dinner, drinks and dessert spot offers seasonal food menus (lighter fare when it's warm, heartier plates when it's not) cooked up by chef Joshua McFadden, and a menu of drinks (including a clever take on the Negroni) designed by bartender Evan Zimmerman. Eats include lamb, duck and seafood dishes, pastas imported from Italy's Abruzzo region (as well fresh housemade pastas), and starters like ’nduja (best described as spreadable Calabrian salami schmeared on toast). In addition to several signature cocktails, Ava Gene's also offers two Italian draught beers (Peroni and Baladin), as well as more than 200 bottles of Italian reds and whites. What else is on tap in the near future? The Roman Candle: a bakery in an adjacent space that will offer light breakfasts and lunches, as well as several versions of pizza bianca for dinner.
Ava Gene's, 3377 SE Division St., 971.229.0571
Black Bike Cafe
Brendan O'Malley hails from Brooklyn but he became a Portland resident in 2000, and since 2003, he's been opening and running comfortable cafes where you can relax, chat and sip an espresso. His latest venture, Black Bike Cafe, features coffee drinks made with beans roasted by Olympia’s (Wash.) Batdorf & Bronson—O'Malley's personal favorite—as well as pastries from Delphina's Bakery and housemade sandwiches (made with, among other fixings, salmon patties, garden burgers, ham and pastrami). O'Malley says his new cafe also has a full bar where you can enjoy mixed cocktails, glasses of wine, bottles of beer, and craft pints from the spot's three rotating drafts.
Black Bike Cafe, 22 SE 28th Ave.
Cyril's at Clay Pigeon Winery
Buckman, Central Eastside Industrial
Sasha Davies loves cheese—she's worked for several cheesemakers, written two books on the topic, and currently serves on the American Cheese Society's board of directors. Her husband, Michael Claypool, loves wine—he's a sommelier who found himself drawn to Oregon for its bounty of pinot noirs. In 2008, the couple moved from New York to Portland and, after raising capital, opened the Clay Pigeon Winery in SE Portland in 2011. And while you can't taste their wine just yet—the first pinot noir vintage should be ready for toasting in the spring of 2013—you can sample some of Claypool's favorite Italian, Spanish and local wines at Cyril's, the couple's new 50-seat tasting room. And because wine needs cheese, Davies has selected a sampling of American and imported cheeses with which to pair your vino. If you're looking for something a little heartier, Cyril's also offers rotating seasonal small plates, featuring salads, soups, stews, tarts, and charcuterie plates. And, because sometimes Portlanders just want a beer, Cyril's staff also pours pints from the spot's four rotating taps.
Cyril's at Clay Pigeon Winery, 815 SE Oak St., 503.206.7862
Warehouse Cafe & Market
In 2008, Rebecca Andersson opened a cafe in the Brooklyn neighborhood where locals could order an espresso, a draft beer (or draft kombucha), and enjoy a sandwich made with local, organic meats and cheeses. Four years later, she has augmented that cafe by creating a true grocery market, lining the cafe's perimeter with fresh vegetables, bulk staples (grains, nuts, beans), and meats sourced from local and regional ranchers. "Our specialty is connecting people to great sources of meat," Andersson says. That's why she personally chooses ranchers who raise animals naturally—on natural diets in open environments. But if you can't find what you're looking for in the market, you can always visit the market's online store, Know Thy Food, a catalog from which food-conscious residents can order pretty much anything, from health and beauty products, to charcuterie meats from Chop Butchery and Olympic Provisions, to heritage turkeys, free-range eggs, and even whole pigs and cows. Andersson says her goal is to turn her market into a proper food co-op sometime in the near future, so those interested in joining should ask her about buying shares. In the meantime, you can shop the market's aisles for tonight's dinner before ordering a sandwich and sinking into a sofa in the market's "family room" where you can watch your children play and be entertained by morning storytellers and musical guests, seven days a week.
Warehouse Cafe & Market, 3434 SE Milwaukie Ave., 503.206.5766
Since mid-2011, Faye Douangchit has been running Old Town's Bamboo Thai. But when the neighboring nightclub shuttered, Douangchit and her family decided to expand their Bamboo brand, remodeling the formerly dark space into a well-lit, 210-seat lunch and dinner spot specializing in Laotian and Northern Thai comfort dishes made from intergenerational recipes. There's a full bar, a wide selection of curries, and, Douangchit says, the staff in the kitchen will make your dish as spicy as you wish using not chili powders but fresh chilies, which are dried, baked, and mortar and pestled into fine powders. Yet, Douangchit says, perhaps their true specialty is their finely tuned lunch staff, which is trained to get lunchtime crowds in, fed and out within 40 minutes.
Bamboo Thai, 108 SW Pine St., 503.241.2691
For 15 years, Sara Weinstein was a wholesale representative of manufactured toys and represented toy stores and grocery markets all over the city and continental U.S. But long ago, she decided that she'd fulfill her dream once her son was enrolled in college and open her own business—she just wasn't sure what kind of business. Often complimented on her sense of fashion, Weinstein decided to open an online women's boutique specializing in dresses, coats, handbags, and hats that she says weren't just de rigueur, but that were designed for the unfussy who want an "easy way to look good quickly." Now, she's expanding her virtual store into a real brick and mortar where you can try on Weinstein’s handpicked designer clothes and accessories.
FlairWalk, 1019 NW 11th Ave., 503.222.7750
Rarely, if ever, are vegetables a staple of Mexican cuisine, but they're a central focus at the aptly named farm-to-fork Mexican café Verde Cocina, an eatery that occupies stalls at no fewer than four farmers' markets as well as a Hillsdale brick and mortar and the new Pearl District location. Of her husband and chef, Noé Garnica, with whom she runs the business, Anna Garnica says, "He learned to cook from his mother and aunts, and takes common ingredients and puts them together to make something new." Chef Garnica, who cooks using not only fresh ingredients but also his heart and soul, succinctly states, "I bring everything I have to the table." What lands on the breakfast, lunch and dinner spot's 50 tables are plates like gringas with molé, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles, all served with mountains of sautéed, locally grown, seasonal vegetables. In other words, it’s Mexican food that will fill you up without stuffing you. Nothing is deep fried—the only oil used is olive—and you'll never find a bottle of prepackaged hot sauce on the tables, only homemade salsas. And if locally sourced produce and meats aren’t enough, the Garnicas even use locally manufactured Evo grills to cook up your meal.
Verde Cocina, 524 NW 14th Ave., 503.384.2327
Blue Star Donuts
Downtown, West End
First there were burgers. Then sushi and a line of gourmet retail catsup. Now Micah and Katie Camden have aimed their sights on the art of doughnut making, luring Vermont native Stephanie Donlan to Portland. She wakes up each day at a time when a lot of Portlanders turn in—3 a.m.—to make sure late sleepers have doughnuts the following day at the Camden's new West End shop. Don't sleep on it too long though, because Donlan says the doughnuts can sell out quite quickly, and once they're gone, the store goes dark. But if you're an early bird, you’ll get your choice of a dozen daily doughnut varieties, including strawberry-jalapeño jellies, chipotle chocolate-covered doughnuts, and fritters cobbled together with doughnut holes, glazed with hard cider, and topped with diced fried chicken. And if you need something to wash your doughnuts down, ask for a cup of Smith Tea or a Stumptown espresso drink.
Blue Star Donuts, 1236 SW Washington St., 503.265.8410
Lardo West Side
Downtown, West End
Two years ago, Rick Gencarelli opened what would soon become a popular southeast lunchtime food cart known for its "dirty fries" (French fries, pickled peppers, pork scraps) and pork meatball bánh mìs. In July, Gencarelli parlayed that success and opened a southeast lunch and dinner brick and mortar. Now, less than six months later, he's bringing his pig-centric menu across the river with the opening of a second brick and mortar in the downtown cantina space once home to Corazón. The menu on the west side is identical to the east side so expect the same sandwiches and salads at this 35-seat spot and a full bar with a dozen taps featuring beers from Portland and around the world, as well as one specially reserved for Oregon-brewed Crater Lake root beer.
Lardo West Side, 1205 SW Washington St., 503.241.2490
Less than a month after opening the doors to Dash, her Cully-based commissary baker's kitchen, restaurant industry veteran and entrepreneur Dayna McErlean has opened the doors to a second commissary kitchen in the St. Johns neighborhood. But this time, the space is attached to two 1,000-square-foot short-term rental apartments, a chandelier-clad, 2,000-square-foot ballroom with 25-foot-high ceilings (for events and arts installations), and a 1,500-square-foot "dance studio" complete with wooden floors and a wall of mirrors, making it ideal for dance rehearsals, yoga, meditation, martial arts classes, and even meetings and workshops.
The Colony, 7525 N Richmond Ave., 503.939.2949