15 Portland Chefs Worth Celebrating
Portland has gained a reputation in the national media for exquisite cuisine. In Oregon's unique foodie-sphere, jean-clad diners frequent fine dining establishments, and residents share an appreciation of local, seasonal and sustainable food. The rich diversity of cuisine includes American, Italian, Mexican, Peruvian, Middle European and Thai…not to mention gourmet drinking snacks.
We've chosen 15 of Portland's best-known chefs and listed them alphabetically. Several of them have been nominated for honors such as the Best Chef: Northwest award from the James Beard Foundation. We also describe the style of cuisine featured at the restaurants they helped transform into culinary icons:
- Andy Ricker at Pok Pok. Authentic northern Thai food. Opening in 2005 outside of Ricker's Portland home, Pok Pok has gained fame among the nation's Thai restaurants. Ricker uses authentic ingredients and gains inspiration from frequent travels to Asia. He has earned the title of James Beard's Best Chef: Northwest, and The Oregonian has named Pok Pok Restaurant of the Year. With this encouragement, Ricker opened Pok Pok NY in New York City in 2012.
- Benjamin Gonzales and Shannon Dooley-Gonzales of Nuestra Cocina. Traditional Mexican cooking. With a name that translates to "our kitchen," Nuestra Cocina embodies the values of family meals and local ingredients. Chefs Benjamin and Shannon describe their menu as old peasant style Mexican, with authentic dishes such as handmade tortillas and cochinito pibil (pork shoulder). At Nuestra Cocina, you can also sign up for cooking classes.
- Cathy Whims from Nostrana. Classical and innovative Italian. Whims attended the School for American Chefs and has cooked with renowned chefs across Italy. Whims marries her Italian cooking education with local ingredients, using a wood oven and wood-fired grill. Nostrana lets you discover the complex flavors of simple cooking.
- Christopher Israel of Grüner. Middle European and Alpine. Grüner's eclectic menu combines hearty and light flavors. Sample locally grown and raised food, ranging from rabbit terrine with pickled rhubarb to smoked trout salad with apples and kohlrabi. Try out the bar menu for handcrafted burgers and more. With Israel's background in graphic design, you can expect beautiful food.
- David Anderson at Genoa. Classic Italian. Originally from Alaska, Anderson is a former Iron Chef Portland and was named a Rising Star in the Oregonian's Diner issue. At Genoa, you can enjoy Anderson's five-course dinners and dishes such as house-made pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta and mascarpone. The restaurant, an OpenTable Diners' Choice Winner, offers pairings of fine food with special "orange" wines.
- Gabriel Rucker from Le Pigeon. American. Innovative dishes range from rabbit and eel terrine to pigeon with figs, pecans and smoked bourbon ice cream. Rucker's talent and culinary courage have earned him accolades such Food & Wine's Best New Chef and James Beard's Rising Star Chef. Rucker's notorious rapport with customers adds to Le Pigeon's festive ambience.
- Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton and Greg Denton at Ox. Argentine-inspired Portland cuisine. Both chefs graduated culinary school with honors, Gabrielle at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and Greg at The Culinary Institute of America. The two met in the Napa Valley, and they opened this warm, eclectic neighborhood restaurant in 2012. At Ox, smoked beef tongue, wild Alaskan halibut, cocoa-braised lamb shoulder and ceviche sit side-by-side on a lengthy, diverse menu.
- Greg Higgins from Higgins. American. Higgins won the Best Chef: Northwest award from the James Beard Foundation, and Nation's Restaurant News highlighted his restaurant. From meats to vegetables, flours to coffee, the local ingredients result in fresh, colorful feasts. Menus mirror the seasons -- you may find a smoked Northwest seafood and pickled vegetable platter or a forest mushroom dinner featuring crispy chantrelle dumplings.
- Hank Costello of Andina. Peruvian. Costello and the Andina team offer "new Peruvian" cuisine, including native, pre-colonial ingredients. In addition to his position as head chef of Andina, Costello operates a catering business dedicated to local, healthy foods. Andina is located in Portland's vibrant Pearl District, and the menu includes tapas, vegetarian and gluten-free foods.
- Jason Barwikowski from The Woodsman Tavern. American. Barwikowski offers a large, unusual menu with entire sections on drinking snacks and country ham. The extensive food selection is matched by a drink menu with pages of wines, beers and creative cocktails. In addition to winning PDX's Prince of Porc award, Barwikowski was named by fellow Portlander Andy Ricker as the best dressed area chef, in an interview with Bon Appétit magazine.
- Jason French at Ned Ludd. Wood-fired American cuisine. French attended L'Academie de Cuisine, where he received a James Beard scholarship; he has also worked with Portland's Vitaly Paley. At Ned Ludd, if it's not raw -- meat, fish, vegetable -- it's probably cooked in a wood-fired stove. The menu changes regularly, with delicacies like house-cured bacon and whole roasted trout. The restaurant pays homage to the food artisans and farms that supply fresh ingredients.
- Naomi Pomeroy from Beast. American and more. Early in her career, Pomeroy hosted an underground supper club from her home. The 24-seat Beast has maintained this intimate house-party ambiance with communal tables. The six-course prix-fixed dinner menu might include Corsican or vegetarian specialties. Pomeroy has earned accolades from Bon Appétit and Food & Wine, and she was a contestant in Top Chef Masters.
- Vitaly Paley of Paley's Place. American. After studies as a concert pianist, Paley chose a chef's life and graduated from The French Culinary Institute in New York. He has earned the titles of Iron Chef champion, James Beard's Best Chef: Northwest and Portland's Prince of Porc. Paley's Place serves local, organic, sustainable foods in a Victorian house where you can eat outdoors. Seasonal items include escargot à la Bordelaise with roast marrow bones and garlic or Carman Ranch grass-fed ribeye with creamed corn.
When you explore these restaurants, you can enjoy the diversity of Portland's cuisine, savor the flavors of the Northwest and become a part of the local food community.