The couplet of Northwest 21st and 23rd Avenues has long been a Portland destination for its chic boutiques and proximity to Forest Park’s trails and Washington Park’s attractions. But an impressive array of restaurants has opened in the past year, making the area one of the coolest places to be.
Settle in for Kashmiri soul food with a nod to the Northwest at the one-year-old Bhuna, where chef-owner Deepak Kaul serves up dishes like rogan josh and chickpea-battered calamari.
Just a block away, Bantam Tavern (also just a year old) focuses on upscale pub grub like fried brussel sprouts with garlic and chile, grilled radicchio salad and clam chowder croquettes. It’s the fourth pub from the team behind Portland stalwarts Prost!, Stammtisch and Interurban.
A few blocks north is Bar West, which opened in late 2018, giving new life to the venerable Wildwood space. There in the light-filled, plant-bedecked space, chefs Lucian Prellwitz (Beast) and Morgan Deeks (Ned Ludd), create small and large plates perfect for pairing with craft cocktails and curated wines. Think crispy chickpea panisse, mushroom toast with sheep’s cheese, and house made pappardelle.
That’s not the only new wine-focused bar on the strip. Bar Diane, tucked along a secret alleyway of NW 21st, just opened this fall, sporting bold pink and blue hues with a fun geometric, vaguely early-80s vibe. Owner Sami Gaston built her reputation at Clyde Common and stocks her wine list with affordable natural wines by the bottle or glass. There are also classic highball cocktails and a few mocktails. To go with, chef Malcolm Smitley (formerly of Bar Casa Vale) offers Euro-style plates like tinned fish, Mediterranean salads and simple pastas.
It just so happens that the same building houses brand-new locations of two of the metro area’s favorite sweet shops. Eb & Bean’s third outpost offers from-scratch (and often non-dairy) fro-yo creatively topped with locally made sauces and crunchies, like cookies from Bakeshop and cold brew coffee caramel. Next door, Lake Oswego favorite (and four time Cupcake Wars winner) Kyra’s Bake Shop offers award-winning gluten-free cupcakes and treats.
There’s more to come this fall too. R&R bar will soon conjure vacation vibes with dishes like coconut shrimp and Baja-style fish tacos alongside mai tais and margaritas. Ranch Pizza, known for its thick-crust and Detroit-style squares, is opening its second location just a couple blocks away, and it’s sharing the space with Bentley’s Bagels, which aims to recreate the famed New York boiled bagel. Top Burmese, which specializes in Myanmar cuisine like tea leaf salad, will takeover the Kim Jong Smokehouse spot, just a short hop from brand-new Boiling Bowl restaurant that lets diners DIY their dinner with build your own salad rolls and bowls of pho.
That’s just one street. What’s happening on Northwest 23rd? Plenty. Perennially packed Eastside favorites Pine State Biscuits and Life of Pie Pizza crossed the river and set up shop in summer 2018. They anchor the new building that formerly housed the old Besaw’s, along with smoothie-bowl king Moberi.
Across the street, Ruby Jewel opened its fourth ice cream shop, complete with build-your-own ice cream sandwiches and couches on which to enjoy them. Next door, Southeast Division’s famed Mexican restaurant Xico opened Xica Cantina. The more casual location offers some large plates and lots of snacks, like the gummy bear bedecked Dorilocos, which are excellent with a margarita.
In the coming months, keep your eyes peeled for the Nob Hill food cart pod planned for Northwest 23rd place near acclaimed Ataula. There looks to be space for six carts, so stay tuned.
Even the outer edges of the neighborhood are popping. Fish and Rice opened on the Burnside end of the strip, offering quality sushi and poke at affordable prices. A few blocks south on Burnside, across from the Providence Park, HunnyMilk took its creative and hugely popular brunch popup brick and mortar. And there’s a new modern Jewish deli on the scene. Beetroot opened late this summer near the Pearl District, serving up schnitzels and fish platters alongside bowls of labneh and granola.