It’s a Wednesday night in July at Ava Gene’s on Southeast Division Street in Portland, and the dining room is pulsing with energy. Couples sit at tables for two, while groups of friends speak volubly over bottles of Barbaresco and plates of bruschetta. Not a seat remains empty in the 70-seat dining room — just a few spots at the chef’s counter.
The same is true of Nostrana, Cathy Whims' 10-year-old Italian restaurant, on any weekday at lunch. And just witness the crowd lining up to eat at Ox, Greg and Gabrielle Quinoñez Denton's hugely popular Argentinian restaurant in Northeast Portland. (Or SuperBite, their buzzy new small plates-focused-restaurant downtown.)
All three of these restaurants have won numerous national accolades — from James Beard nominations to “best new restaurant” awards from Bon Appétit magazine. But even restaurants that haven’t gotten much press are going gangbusters. Food-cart pods, for which our fair city is justly famous, and informal food venues such as the Zipper, the Ocean and Pine Street Market are also perpetually crowded.
As everybody knows, Portland has an incredibly vibrant culinary scene with an abundance of chef talent and locally sourced ingredients. But sometimes I wonder: Who are all these people who dine out night after night? And in a town renowned for its farmers market, isn’t anyone cooking at home anymore?
To find out the answer to these questions, continue reading my October cover story for Oregon Business Magazine.