What makes a restaurant a hit? When asked to name their favorite restaurants Tribune readers responded that they like a room with a view, especially if that view is of the river. To watch the Willamette roll by somehow tickles the taste buds.
People also favored what can only be called Portland classics. Restaurants become classics for a reason Ñ they satisfy the cravings for quality food and gracious atmosphere.
Tribune readers were asked to list their favorite dining establishments in five categories: hot scene, best bargain, most romantic, best place to take the family and best place for a business lunch. When responses were tallied, two restaurants tied for the most mentions: the Old Spaghetti Factory and Jake's (including both Jake's Famous Crawfish and Jake's Grill in the Governor Hotel).
Jake's got raves from people who think it is both hip and delicious. 'Perfect steaks, helpful and very knowledgeable wait staff, wood paneling and white linen Ñ what could be more romantic?' asks Nicholas Leggatt of Southeast Portland. 'Being served with style. Jake's Grill has it all.'
'The only placed to take a large group and get away sane and solvent,' says Jeff Watson of Vancouver, Wash., about the Old Spaghetti Factory. 'Where else can you seat a party of from 3 to 30 with a view of the Willamette?'
Nothing succeeds like success, as evidenced by the popularity of McCormick & Schmick's, Newport Bay and the Olive Garden, all with numerous outlets in the metropolitan area.
Of the Olive Garden, Richil Marsden of Southeast Portland says, 'They treat you like family. All their food is good.'
People like to dine with their heads in the clouds, if those raving about Portland City Grill is any indication. It was the third most frequently mentioned restaurant, with readers singling out its view, great happy hour menu and bustling scene.
'You will be seen! Tourists and locals flock to the gorgeous view and elegance,' says Stacey Craven of Southeast Portland. 'Good food, too.'
'Love begins with great atmosphere and food Ñ romance will follow,' notes Trish Baker of Northwest Portland.
Lights, action, dinner!
We choose restaurants for a variety of reasons, but one is to experience the theater of dining out. Hobnobbing with the hip and having an occasion to wear Prada are certainly part of the equation. One restaurant tops the list for the best venue to see and be seen Ñ Bluehour.
Allan Oliver of Northeast Portland explains Bluehour's charm: 'Equally important to seeing and being seen is being seen while seeming not to want to be seen. The lavish ceiling-to-floor curtains make this easy to do. When people see you, they know you're enjoying wonderfully prepared food while displaying sparkling wit with your table companions.'
Karma Cartwright of Southwest Portland recommends Oba: 'All the trendy Ñ hipsters, artists, professionals alike Ñ sip on the coolest concoctions and make eye contact with each other. Yee-ha!'
' 'In crowd' heaven with the spirits to lift everyone skyward,' says Karl Clark of West Linn about Kells Irish Pub in Southwest Portland.
Jake's Famous Crawfish downtown is frequently mentioned in this category. 'Everyone knows Jake's is the place you go when you want to be seen eating out,' says Eva Jo Bess of Tigard.
Romance on the menu
'You and the night and the music' leaves out one piece of the equation: the restaurant. For setting the scene for romance, Il Piatto gets the most mentions.
Geni Butterfield of Beaverton sums up its formula. 'Wonderful Italian cuisine, low lights and candles, quiet. Call ahead and reserve a curtained settee for more romance. Go midweek Ñ or call ahead to make sure there isn't a large group reserved Ñ or it can seem more like a loud sports bar (without the sports).'
Josh Ross of Southeast Portland picks Marrakesh Moroccan in Northwest Portland for its 'cushy, comfy laid-back seats, dim lighting and a very nice wait staff that doesn't bug you too much or too often allows for quiet conversation and makes it great for a date; eating with hands and watching belly dancing takes away pressure to be overly formal Ñ and the food is amazing!!!'
Rebecca Seebert of Northwest Portland can vouch for Springwater Grill. 'This Sellwood restaurant consistently serves delicious meals in a romantic setting,' she says. 'A recent outing provided excellent service, warm atmosphere with candles and great food from start to finish. The crme bržlŽe is the best I've ever had. I became engaged shortly after eating here and always will have fond memories of both the food and the night.'
Three Doors Down in Southeast Portland and Billy Reed's in Northeast Portland also rate raves for romance.
And baby makes three
Romantic candlelit dinners for two inevitably give way to 'where can we take the kids?' When the minivan is loaded, where do you take the family?
Families love the Old Spaghetti Factory and the Old Country Buffet, both with several locations in the Portland area, where, as Bob Bess of Tigard notes, 'Everyone can choose what food they like and all sit together.'
Readers had these recommendations:
'(Il Fornaio in Northwest Portland) has a large menu to please just about anyone,' says Lewis Olsen of Vancouver, Wash. 'A bonus: They have a children's menu. They do well serving to large groups.'
Bridgeport Brewery in the Pearl District is fun, noisy and big,' says Wendy Ferguson of Southeast Portland. 'The food and beer are always satisfying, and there's never a problem finding a spot for a large group or family or friends.'
'Tasty food and baby friendly!' says Owen Griffiths of Beaverton about the Three Square Grill in Southwest Portland.
La Playa Azul on Southwest Barbur Boulevard gets a thumbs up from Lisa Johnson of Lake Oswego. 'This is a family-owned Mexican-El Salvadoran restaurant. Feels very comfortable inside, like you are at a friend's house. The TV is always on, the salsa is the best in town and the owners and workers are friendly.'
'Let's do lunch,' isn't just for air-kissing socialites. 'The chief business of the American people is business,' President Calvin Coolidge said. And where does Portland's business class conduct business on an expense account?
Try SouthPark Seafood Grill and Wine Bar downtown, says Steve Armbrust of Southeast Portland. 'The sophisticated lunch offerings and inventive wine list are enough to impress any client. Plus, the large booths offer enough space and privacy to conduct lunchtime business. And, it's quiet enough that you don't have to shout to be heard.'
Bistro Bleu in Lake Oswego is the recommendation of Rhonda Shaw of Southeast Portland. 'It's a quaint place with great food and professionals. It's a great place to close a big deal.'
Huber's in Southwest Portland also met the bottom line for business diners. 'It's been a classy place to do business for more than 100 years,' says Ann Messinger of Southwest Portland.
For business on a budget, the Pizzicato restaurants, with various locations in the metro area, come recommended by readers. 'Pizzicato is fast, fresh and yummy,' says Wendy Ferguson of Southeast Portland. 'The several different salads are as good as the gourmet slice pizza offerings. It also falls within most any business lunch budget.'
Speaking of budget, Tribune readers singled out a potpourri of restaurants that gave some bang for the buck.
The Delta Cafe in Southeast Portland, says Isaia Curtean of Vernonia, has 'the best soul food west of the Mississippi, catfish and greens galore, modestly priced. Should one care for an alcoholic drink to go with the blackened catfish served over Creole rice, among others they have the 40-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon served in a bucket with ice. (I don't drink, yet I find that cool.)'
'For cheap eats, nothing surpasses El Grillo (Southwest Portland),' says Barbara Leese of Southeast Portland. 'Sure, you may have to go into Mary's (Club) to use the facilities, an extra bonus or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it, but with food this good it's worth it.
Thanh Thao was mentioned repeatedly for authentic Vietnamese food that is plentiful, affordable and thus packed.
And if Rover goes everywhere the family goes, Lucky Labrador Brewpub in Southeast Portland gets a paws up.
'It offers tasty sandwiches, made on chewy como bread, and spicy chicken bento over rice,' says Steve Armbrust of Southeast Portland. 'The BLT is terrific, with thick and crispy bacon. Plus, you can sit on the back porch with your dog, who might be lucky enough to be offered a biscuit of his own.'
Ñ Randall Barton