These days, Portland is one of the top destinations for food lovers, mainly due to the handcrafted, everything-from-scratch philosophy that runs deep through the city. Between the restaurants run by celebrated chefs like Andy Ricker and Naomi Pomeroy (named “the next Alice Waters” by Marie Claire), and vibrant immigrant communities serving up authentic versions of pho, ramen, and more, Portland is an exciting place to be dining right now. This past year saw a wide range of trends hit the Portland restaurant scene, from vegetables taking center stage to sandwiches turning gourmet. Here are the top 5 trends to watch out for in Portland catering.
The meat and two sides model is now a thing of the past. As diners are becoming more sustainability conscious (particularly with regards to the environmental impact of meat), chefs are becoming more adept at creatively playing with the flavors and textures of veggies. Diners are wholeheartedly embracing these establishments and vegetable-forward menus that put hearty produce like cauliflower and eggplant front and center are dominating the Portland restaurant scene.
Sushi burritos have been trending for several years now in Portland but lately, these sushi spots are getting creative in their vegetarian burrito offerings. One of the most exciting new spots in Portland catering is Let’s Roll. Though their main focus is freshly-made, super flavorful sushi-style burritos, the most ordered menu option is the plant-centric Veggie Delight Platter. This surprisingly popular dish includes burrito options like the hipster (with marinated tofu, tempura asparagus, and cream cheese), and tempura veggie (with tempura squash, tempura carrot, tempura asparagus, and ponzu salsa).
Obon Catering serves Asian comfort food that takes full advantage of the bounty of local produce available in Portland. Start your meal off with Japanese-style pickles, or Tsukemono, then get an udon bowl, topped with crunchy tempura vegetables. For sides, Obon offers an assortment of veggie-centric snacks, like stuffed shitake mushrooms with sesame dressing, and curried sweet potato croquettes with tamarind sauce.
Regionalized Thai Food
Along with the rise of veggies, there has also been a rise in next-wave, highly regional Thai food in Portland’s catering and restaurant scene, thanks local chefs like Andy Ricker. Many restaurants are now serving up herbaceous, localized Thai entrees that go beyond the standard Pad Thai and Green Curry.
Billing itself as “Thai comfort food,” Thai Peacock serves northern Thai dishes that are big on spice and heartiness. The restaurant has consistently been named as one of the top spots for Thai food in the city by publications like Zagat. Get the Kao Pad Ka-Phrao, a type of fried rice livened up with fresh basil, Thai chilies, and eggs; or the Pad Kra-Thiam, a classic garlic and white pepper stir fry. “That food has just become more accepted nowadays,” says Ham Saenguraiporn of Thai Peacock. “One door leads to another. The more accepted a cuisine is, the more exploration consumers are willing to try.”
Stick-to-your-ribs street food defines the menu at Sunee Thai and Lao Kitchen — with dishes like Pad Kee Mow (flat, chewy rice noodles with meat and soy) and Thai-spiced chicken wings that’ll light your mouth on fire in the best possible way. For the vegetarians in your group, order the popular fresh salad rolls and the Vegetable Deluxe which comes with your choice of vegetable (or protein) stir-fried with mixed vegetables and garlic in a special sauce.
While Oregonians are excited about delving into ethnic cuisine, they’re also still interested in more simple fare — like the sandwich. “Portland is officially a sandwich town,” declared Eater in a round-up of the best sandwiches in the city, and we can see why. Today, Portland catering offers practically unlimited options for sandwiches with unexpected (but excellent!) flavor combinations and offbeat ingredients.
UpperCrust takes all the standard sandwich options — tuna salad, turkey, roast beef — and kicks them up a notch. Tuna salad becomes the Charlie Tuna, with pepperjack, lettuce and tomato; Turkey becomes the Gringo, with cheddar, cilantro-corn relish, avocado, and a spicy Baja mayonnaise; and roast beef turns into the Beef Eater, topped with arugula and a biting horseradish-rosemary spread. You’ll never want a straightforward sandwich again.
Charlie’s Deli’s emphasis is quality over quantity — it’s not about how many ingredients you can stuff into two pieces of bread, but rather about using the best-possible meats and produce in each and every handcrafted sandwich. In Portland, “There’s a real turn toward eating fresh-non-industrialized food, and buying from a shop like ours that makes everything from scratch each day follows that ethos,” says Charlie Mattouk, one of the owners. The Alicia’s Cuban Sandwich, for example, features juicy, freshly-roasted pork, smoked, melty Swiss, and a just-grilled baguette from the local Pearl Bakery. Even the sides are slightly more deluxe, with options like pesto pasta, German-style potato salad with bacon, and housemade cannoli for dessert. It’s everything you want from a mom-and-pop deli.
Amidst the sea of new savory options, Portland residents still have their sweet tooth. As Zagat points out, the city is, after all, where the doughnut craze that has since swept the nation started. But with the rise of healthy lifestyles and vegan cafés, dairy-free desserts are the shining stars on both Portland restaurant and bakery menus.
This home-style restaurant is a perennial breakfast favorite in the Portland restaurant scene. That’s thanks, in large part, to Jennifer Pasquill, the restaurant’s creative, wildly talented pastry chef. She is particularly ept at crafting vegan (and gluten-free!) versions of adored desserts, from classic pastries to cookies. Not even your butter-loving friends will be able to tell the difference.
A contemporary cupcake shop with a few locations in Portland, Bliss Bake Shoppe is a favorite of local brides. The place is a vegan’s dream, with options like carrots cake and lemon-raspberry cake that are moist and rich but completely free of dairy (and baked from scratch daily). For office parties, the mini cupcakes, which come in adorable, bite-size portions, are a fantastic option.
Another popular sweet option is the waffle. Brunch is a way of life in Portland, and the waffle is the star of menus everywhere these days. Whether it’s served simply with maple syrup soaking through its crevices, or topped with banana-caramel sauce and peanut butter, Portland catering spots have devised almost limitless ways to enjoy this humble breakfast dish. “The waffle is never boring,” says Mary O’Rourke of The Waffle Window regarding the treat’s popularity in Portland. “It is a special shape that requires special equipment. You can eat it just with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. On a crisp fall or winter day, it is so delicious and satisfying.”
Named one of America’s best waffles in TravelPulse, The Waffle Window makes from-scratch waffles with a wide range of house-made, locally-sourced topping options. If you’ve ever wanted to taste a waffle topped with banana-caramel sauce and house-made granola, or one with pepper bacon and balsamic and red wine braised onions and mushrooms, The Waffle Window has you covered.
Off the Waffle focuses on liege style waffles, a type of Belgian waffle made with pearl sugar, which caramelizes the exterior and gives it a pleasant crunch. The owners spent a long time perfecting their waffle recipe, so you can expect a consistently great product every single time. The menu is split between sweet and savory options, and both categories are equally tempting. Can’t decide? Opt for a sweet and savory combo with the Hey Bob, topped with organic apple slices, cinnamon, havarti cheese, and maple syrup.
Though it’s not as big of a restaurant city as Los Angeles or New York, Portland is a food city to be reckoned with, and it has given birth to a surprising number of national trends. If you eat something delicious in Portland — it’s likely that you’ll see that trend elsewhere, too.
Ready to try these trends out? Find the best catering in Portland here.