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Restaurants in Portland make the A list

By Andrew Scot Bolsinger

As I travel through the United States, I judge a city by its downtown, its baseball stadium and, most importantly, its food. Other things also make the list, but if you aren&

t eating local, you aren&

t eating.


s Steak House in Austin has the best steak. Italian food on the North End is like being transported to Italy. The drink specials and seafood appetizers at the Fisherman&

s in San Clemente are top notch, but it&

s the view of Southern California sunsets that tops the charts. Georgia Brown&

s lets the south rise again in the nation&

s capital. The fish and chips at a little place on Hawaii&

s big island are that category&

s long-reigning champ.

Like an all-star lineup, I play these memorable places and others through my mind to pass the time. When I find a new place, I consider if it bumps one establishment from the list, or simply find it a new spot on my special eating roster. I entertained three Portland restaurants during a mini-vacation last weekend. Each scored highly on my own mental scale. One, for me, tops the charts.

I don&

t consider myself an expert, but I am prolific. I am always on the look out for service, uniqueness and that little something extra that makes me want to come back each time I visit.

Death Star no longer

Employees at the Red Star Tavern Roast House nicknamed it the Death Star when it first opened downtown. The dramatic 6,000-plus-square-foot space was quieter than an art museum, which is exactly what the owners didn&

t have in mind when they opened the artistic, comfortable restaurant.

But the former Death Star is piping hot nearly 18 hours a day now. The management team of Executive Chef Rob Pando and General Manager Reagan Pollard provide the perfect combination of quality food and service. The eclectic menu draws from regional produce and meat to offer unique dishes like Cascade Natural Prime Rib, Wood Oven Roasted Wild Chinook Salmon and Wood Oven Butternut Squash.

Think of a cross between The Peerless and Standing Stone Brewery in Ashland, and you begin to get a flavor of the Red Star.

I didn&

t make a dinner reservation at the Red Star because I wanted to try different places and I knew I&

d gravitate there throughout the weekend. It&

s that kind of place: full of energy from breakfast to last call with the perfect environment that makes for comfortable conversation between friends paired with incredible dishes.

We stopped in once for drinks and appetizers before dinner. The Charred Buffalo Carpaccio with Oregon Black Truffle Aioli, San Joaguin Gold Cheese and fried capers instantly made my all-star lineup.

The next day we were back after midnight for a nightcap. My wife ordered the Marionberry Mojito, and I soon wished I had. Such creative combinations are sprinkled throughout the restaurant&

s many menus (breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, dinner, signature drinks, dessert and kids). The Red Star even has a menu for its Bloody Mary bar.

You start with your favorite vodka. Tell the server, salted or not. You take your glass to the bar and turn master mixologist. Choose your own tomato mix. Next choose from many different spicy sauces brought in from around the world. Top it with any of a number of garnishes.

Pando is in his culinary prime, mixing creativity with the growing interest in regional, healthy foods. The Red Star is a diverse, eclectic restaurant that covers the gamut of eating choices, while never sacrificing quality.

A staple of excellence

— — Where To Go

Portland has time-honored restaurants mixed in with many — relative newcomers like the Red Star.


s is a tradition of excellence.

A weekend visit without a Spanish coffee from Huber&

s — is like visiting D.C. and not dropping by the Lincoln Memorial.

Another excellent long-time favorite is Pazzo&

s — Ristorante.

— — —

Despite knowing of Pazzo&

s Ristorante&

s reputation for years, I had never been there. It&

s the type of place heard about often in conversations of food, but for whatever reason had never made it into my plans. Until last weekend however.

Now, I wonder what I had been waiting for.

Each employee of the classic gourmet Italian food restaurant is knowledgeable and professional. The servers are veterans of the service industry, with a tremendous amount of expertise to offer patrons.

The cuisine is equally without fault. Executive Chef John Eisenhart prepares a diverse menu that demands consultation. Familiar favorites like ravioli and risotto are offered along with less known delicacies like Orata Veneziana and Pappardelle Di Ceci.

We ate at Pazzo&

s before going to see a play. It was the perfect beginning for a dressed up night in the city.


s Tavern

When I first moved to the Portland area, Powell&

s bookstore was the only landmark I knew. I&

d find it because it was next to the Henry Weinhard&

s brewery.

Now, Powell&

s legendary city of books still stands as an icon of the burgeoning Pearl District. But the brewery has been recast into an enormous restaurant, with multiple levels and an equally all-encompassing menu.

Despite 14,500 square feet of dining space, under dramatic 24-foot ceilings, Henry&

s still had a waiting list on Friday night. The upstairs bar sports seven professional billiard tables, which draw a crowd of people out on the town.


s mixes northwest favorites and Pacific Rim cuisine on its vast menu, with meal prices ranging from $8 burgers to $25 steak and seafood dishes.

Unlike Pazzo&

s, which is a great choice for a special birthday dinner or romantic anniversary celebration, Henry&

s is the choice of many for impromptu weekend fun. Whether it&

s the offering of more than 100 beers and hard ciders on tap, or the inexpensive happy hour menu, there is surely something under the massive restaurant for everyone. The service is solid, the food, despite its wide range, is well prepared. The entire place leaves a big impression, however.

If visiting Portland, you could do a lot worse than eating your way through it with visits to each of these places, for very similar and different reasons. And in days ahead, whether stuck in traffic or simply laying in a park watching clouds in the sky, when I reorder my lists of personal favorite food places, the Red Star Tavern and Roast House will be somewhere near the top.