This week, the New York Times confirmed what Pacific Northwesterners have long known—that our dining scene is worthy of the national spotlight—with its 2021 list of "the 50 places in America we’re most excited about right now." Three restaurants from Seattle and two from Portland were included among the compilation of the nation's "most vibrant and delicious restaurants," and the Times' critics had plenty of glowing praise for the local spots. Read on to discover which establishments made the cut and why.
This high-end restaurant from married couple Aaron Verzosa (formerly of Modernist Cuisine and Harvest Vine) and Amber Manuguid focuses on a Pacific Northwest approach to Filipino cooking, using local and seasonal ingredients.
The New York Times says: "It’s rare for the chef to check in with diners at the end of the tasting menu and make sure they’re feeling full, but Archipelago isn’t like any other tasting. A puff of pan de sal pulls apart effortlessly, filling the air with a sweet, buttery perfume. Burning pine needles, and the rich, muscly scent of shrimp paste waft over from the open kitchen. Cooks walk around with a tray of sliced rib-eye steak, offering seconds. You could easily get lost in the deliciousness of the modern Filipino food, but Aaron Verzosa and Amber Manuguid do more than send out excellent food. They tell complicated, expansive stories about the Pacific Northwest and the many ways that Filipino immigrants have shaped it, using words, pictures and even some unexpected dance moves behind the pass."
Chef Kristi Brown of the celebrated catering business That Brown Girl Cooks and her son and business partner Damon Bomar opened this highly anticipated "Seattle soul food" restaurant in the Central District last December.
The New York Times says: "The vibes at Communion are warm and welcoming, and it’s not unusual to strike up a conversation with the table next to yours while snacking on some grilled okra, or to be invited to an art opening by a stranger at the bar. But the neck-bone stew will, at least for a few minutes, make chatting impossible. It’s so delicious, it requires all your attention — the crisp-edged strands of smoky meat, the big tender lima beans and the deeply flavored broth. But every dish has a certain pull, from the catfish and grits to the local clams and mussels in coconut milk. Kristi Brown, who ran a catering company before opening her own restaurant, doesn’t miss."
Just a stone's throw from SIFF Uptown, this modern Korean restaurant specializes in shareable, seasonally influenced plates like chicken wings, beef tartare, crispy pancakes, fried rice, and mushrooms with kimchi and truffle aioli.
The New York Times says: "The idea was to order the entire compact menu at Paju and share it with the table, but everyone felt possessive of the bowl of fried rice — black with squid ink, beautifully chewy, with a gentle smokiness and a soft, lingering flavor of kimchi. The dining room is plain, but Bill Soo Jeong’s modern Korean dishes are elegant and expressive, and you won’t want to miss a single one."
Pickup, delivery, dine-in
This charming James Beard-nominated restaurant serves French-inflected fare from chef Katy Millard, made with sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. They're also known for their coveted chocolate chip cookies—Suzette Smith writes, "The dark chocolate and almonds of Chef Katy Millard’s chocolate chip meld perfectly with their recipe's brown sugar and sea salt...A Coquine cookie is definitely a dessert and meant to sit atop a meal with finality: You are now full."
The New York Times says: "If a restaurant can be both tucked and perched, that’s the station Coquine occupies on a tree-lined corner in Portland. Opened in 2015 by the wife-and-husband team of Katy Millard and Ksandek Podbielski — she is the chef; he handles wine and the dining room — the restaurant won early accolades. Today Ms. Millard, who has cooked at the Michelin-starred Chèvre d’Or in Provence and Coi in San Francisco, still makes food that feels perfectly of itself: vigilantly seasonal and informed by French techniques, with an eclectic array of culinary accents. Coquine is often called a neighborhood restaurant, but all neighborhoods should be so lucky."
This Thai barbecue restaurant from Earl Ninsom, Eric Nelson, and Matt Vicedomini received no shortage of local acclaim after opening in 2019 (in addition to nabbing the top spot in the Mercury's roundup of best new restaurants, it was also chosen as Restaurant of the Year by The Oregonian and Portland Monthly). As Andrea Damewood wrote for the Merc in 2019, "Eem is the restaurant equivalent of Lizzo: infectious, critically and commercially acclaimed, and addictive AF. You cannot go wrong in ordering, from the hot fried cauliflower to the divine brisket in white curry to the fried rice with burnt ends. And both the cocktails and mocktails are some of the best in town—my favorite piña colada, made with coffee and salt to keep it from being too cloying, is on the menu again."
The New York Times says: "If it had never occurred to anyone to combine the heady flavors of Thai curry and the burned ends of Texas brisket (and their drippings), be very happy that it has now occurred to Earl Ninsom and Matt Vicedomini. The duo, who own Eem with the cocktail virtuoso Eric Nelson, were already renowned individually. Mr. Ninsom’s restaurants Langbaan, Paadee, and Hat Yai have been central to Portland’s robust Thai-food scene for years. And the prowess of the pit at Mr. Vicedomini’s Matt’s BBQ food truck has been lauded even in Texas. Their flavors together are a revelation."
Pickup, delivery, dine-in