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For food, cities dont get much better

by: ©2008 GREG WAHL-STEPHENS, A new happy hour at Southeast Portland’s Clarklewis lets diners load up on snacks and drinks for little more than pocket change.

You'll find Entree, the Portland Tribune's annual restaurant guide, in the paper today, and there are few projects that make us feel more enthusiastic about living in Portland. Or hungrier.

While it's easy to point out all the things missing from our local scene - consistently professional and friendly service, more, better places to eat post-9 p.m., great steaks for under $30, to name a few - overall, Portland remains a beacon on the national food scene, well-deserving of its reputation as a leader in the eat local, cook global movement.

And despite a nationwide financial picture that could have been painted by Edvard Munch, Portland restaurants at all price points continue to thrive, evolve and expand.

In fact, one such spot, Andina, announced it's expanding its hours too late for us to make the change in Entree.

The always vibrant Peruvian restaurant (1314 N.W. Glisan St., 503-228-9535) is now open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Just in time for Mother's Day.

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There are many restaurants worthy of attention that we didn't have space to feature in Entree. It's a guide that includes a range of places old and new, casual and elegant, expensive and affordable - but we had to leave out many favorite places.

One such spot is Clarklewis (1001 S.E. Water Ave., 503-235-2294), which also has announced some exciting new changes in recent weeks.

One of the remarkable things about Clarklewis is that throughout its many well-publicized upheavals - new owners, new chefs, the demise of the writer-in-residence program - it's remained a consistently excellent place to dine and provides a welcomely unconventional, urban experience.

It's a popular spot for large parties, and eating there can feel like dropping in on a classy movie set. It's still Portland, so there probably isn't anyone really famous at that next table, but there's often a stimulating self-conscious tremor in the air as if there might be.

New chef Dolan Lane, formerly of the posh Bluehour, has made a smooth transfer of the kitchen reins.

The drinks menu hasn't gotten nearly the attention that the dinner menu has, but that may change since now there's a great happy hour offered between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The $4 gin or vodka martini is one of the best deals in town for drinkers - $8, even $10 martinis, have become all too omnipresent. You also can get a Session lager for $2.50, $20 bottles of wine, or sidecars or greyhounds for $5.

But most people come to Clarklewis expecting tremendous food, and they won't be disappointed. The 'happy' menu is organized by price, with options at $1, $2, $3, $4, $5 and $6.

The star of the $2 section is a grilled cheese sandwich with a graduate degree. Oozy mozzarella between toasty carrozza bread is served with a ramekin of bright green pesto.

Another $1 gets you a big bowl of the daily soup. A recent selection traditionally blended leeks and potatoes, speckled with snippings of chives.

Six dollars once was a standard price for a sandwich - now that's a deal. Here it gets you a tasty lamb sandwich with thin slices of meat layered with eggplant caponata, arugula leaves and a light goat cheese dressing.

Other meal-worthy dishes include a big bowl of clams and a three-cheese version of Kraft's finest macaroni dish.

For big tastes at budget prices you won't miss at Clarklewis. And if you're one of the lucky few still feeling flush, dinner in the restaurant is better than ever.

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As the economic downturn gets more and more entrenched, food banks all over the country have reported fewer donations just as the need has increased.

One incredibly delicious way to help the cause of hunger relief is Taste of the Nation. Now in its 21st year in Portland, the event brings together 70 restaurants, 40 wineries and 10 breweries offering samples of their wares.

All money raised through ticket sales and an event auction goes directly to hunger relief agencies.

The event has become a virtual talent show among Oregon's finest chefs and provides an unparalleled chance to taste some of their most inventive treats.

While it may sound sort of bizarre to take a trip to foodie heaven in the name of raising funds for the hungry, the event does provide a mouthwatering reminder of the importance in food.

VIP admission 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., general admission 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 28, Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 1-877-268-2783, www.portlandtaste.org, general tickets $75, VIP $125 to $200, age 21 and over

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And finally some sad news for parents of picky eaters. Heidi Sivers Boyce, who pioneered the concept of kid-focused healthy dining in Portland, closed P.B. and Ellie's Cafe earlier this week.

In a letter posted on her Web site, www.pbecafe.com, she writes movingly about starting the restaurant as a way to nurture Portland families but finding that the demands of the business meant she was struggling to nurture her own.

So there's one more thing we need - a healthy restaurant where kids can be kids. Any takers?