How to devour Portland’s restaurant scene, ‘Top Chef’-style

Between the pandemic, the protests and the persistent wildfire smoke, there was no way the

Between the pandemic, the protests and the persistent wildfire smoke, there was no way the first filmed-in-Portland season of “Top Chef” could highlight the city’s food scene with the style of previous seasons.

Case in point: Episode 2, with its Quickfire Challenge inspired by Portland’s once-proud, “Portlandia”-parodied obsession with the first meal of the day. Instead of cutaways to locals sipping coffee while spearing bites of corned beef tongue hash at Coquine or balancing architectural avocado toast at Proud Mary, we settle for Portland chef and guest judge Gregory Gourdet rattling off a few of his favorites — “Fried Egg I’m In Love, Canard, Mother’s Bistro” — while sitting at a mock diner built inside the Portland Expo Center.

Chefs did get to do some traveling around the state, visiting the Columbia River Gorge and Oregon coast. But their trips to local restaurants were mostly limited to an early episode centered on Pan African cuisine, when Gourdet and Kwame Onwuachi of Washington, D.C., took groups to local African and Caribbean eateries, some of which have since closed.

Still, for “Top Chef” fans living in Portland or those visiting town for the first time, there are plenty of opportunities for a taste of what you saw this season, either from a local restaurant, a guest judge or from our two local contestants. Here are the restaurants, food carts and scenic areas featured on “Top Chef” Portland.

Top Chef - Season 18

“Top Chef” Portland contestants visit Ota Tofu, America’s oldest tofu shop, in Southeast Portland.David Moir/Bravo

FOOD

Akadi

Onwuachi took contestants in Episode 3 to Portland’s best (OK, only) brick-and-mortar West African restaurant, where they ate poisson braisse, beef suya and other specialties of Ivory Coast-born chef Fatou Ouattara. Alas, Akadi, one of The Oregonian/OregonLive’s best new restaurants of 2019, closed its original Northeast Portland location in January as Outtara returned to West Africa to gather more recipes. Outtara plans to reopen with an expanded menu in a new location this fall. In the meantime, check out Akadi’s hot sauce line at New Seasons and Wellspent markets and Green Zebra Grocery.

Bake on the Run

Onwuachi also took chefs to mother-son duo Bibi and Michael Singh’s Hawthorne Asylum food cart (1080 S.E. Madison St.), which specializes in the food of Guyana, chow mein and all. Sandwiched between Venezuela and Suriname, the small South American country is home to a mashup of influences, including African, Indian, British and Chinese. The “bake” in the cart’s name is a soft, puffy bread that gets filled with everything from egg and salted cod to chana aloo (chickpea and potato) to sweets such as jam and Nutella.

Bullard, Abigail Hall and Holler

Doug Adams, a “Top Chef” finalist the same year Gourdet was the runner-up, recently held a grand opening for Holler (7119 S.E. Milwaukie Ave.), a family-friendly restaurant that he originally hoped to open in early 2020, right around the start of the pandemic. If you’re headed downtown, drop by Adams’ and business partner Jen Quist’s Texas-inspired Bullard and cocktail-focused Abigail Hall, both found at the Woodlark Hotel (813 S.W. Alder St.).

Kann and Departure

Gourdet’s wood-fired Haitian restaurant won’t open until 2022 at the earliest, but Portlanders should keep an eye out for future pop-ups along the lines of Kann’s AmEx-sponsored “yurt village” that took over The Redd on Salmon Street from December to April. Can’t wait that long? Head to Departure (525 S.W. Morrison St.), the downtown penthouse restaurant at The Nines hotel where Gourdet cooked for a decade, and where his international menu still reigns, or pick up a copy of his first cookbook, “Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health.”

Le Pigeon and Canard

During Episode 11′s Quickfire Challenge, guest judge and two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Gabriel Rucker presented a complex pigeon, carrot and pear dish that judges had to dissect and identify in a dark room. Gourdet was right to shout out the breakfast at Canard. But if you’ve never tried Rucker’s one-of-a-kind cooking style, start with dinner at his restaurant next door, Le Pigeon (738 E. Burnside St.), the fine-dining restaurant that put him on the map. Or better yet, try both.

Mama Bird and Stacked Sandwiches

Of all the restaurants on this list, the ones from “Top Chef: Portland” contestant Gabriel Pascuzzi might be the easiest to visit. In addition to his grilled chicken at Mama Bird (2145 N.W. Raleigh St.) and his sandwich shop Stacked (1643 S.E. Third Ave.), Pascuzzi is the chef behind Lardo’s green curry Dungeness crab patty “chefwich” this month, and is hosting his own dinner series featuring both top local chefs and fellow contestants from this season of “Top Chef.” (Healthful bowl concept Feel Good is currently on hiatus.)

Mathilde’s Kitchen

Mathilde Wilson’s fire-engine-red food cart brought Portland one of its first tastes of Haitian soups, stews and roast meats when it opened in 2016. After Mathilde’s Kitchen was named one of Portland’s best new food carts of 2017, Wilson snagged a coveted spot at Southeast Portland’s cart pod and food incubator Portland Mercado, then turned her cart into a catering company. Wilson herself served Gourdet & Co. a feast of bannann peze (fried plantains), pork griot (citrus-marinated fried pork) and pikliz (Haiti’s ever-present pickled cabbage condiment). Though the cart is closed, you can still find Wilson’s hibiscus ginger brew at New Seasons, Green Zebra and other area markets.

Ota Tofu

Yes, the birthplace of the Gardenburger is also home to the oldest tofu shop in America, a century-old company founded by Japanese immigrants that relocated from downtown to Southeast Portland after the 1970s. Ota Tofu (812 S.E. Stark St.), which contestants visited during Episode 10′s “Tournament of Tofu,” still produces its hand-made, hand-cut tofu for various restaurants and shops around town, including Fubonn, G Mart, H Mart, New Seasons and Uwajimaya.

Paley’s Place

A 25-year-old mainstay on most local best-of lists, this intimate restaurant is found in a converted Northwest Portland home and is the place to find Vitaly and Kimberly Paley after they said goodbye to their downtown Portland hotel restaurants last year. Vitaly appears as a guest judge for Episode 12′s “Oregon Trail”-themed Quickfire Challenge, a possible nod to the use of local ingredients at Paley’s Place.

The Redd on Salmon Street

Before taking over this Southeast Portland events space for this season’s Restaurant Wars, chefs drove around Portland, making stops at Laurelhurst Market, Blum Design in Flowers, Uwajimaya, Portland Mercado, Flying Fish Co. and the Side Yard Farm & Kitchen. (Oh, and if you’ve wondered which Whole Foods they went to, it was the Bridgeport Village location.) Though Kann Winter Village cleared out in April, if you visit The Redd (831 S.E. Salmon St.) now, you can grab a bite at Meals 4 Heels, a health-focused new cafe that started as a late-night meal delivery service for Portland sex workers.

Silk Road

Blink and you might have missed chef BJ Smith sitting alongside Doug Adams at the “Top Chef” drive-in from Episode 5. But Smith has stayed busy since his brief “Top Chef: Charleston” run opening and closing restaurants in Portland and Vancouver. His latest project, Dirty Habit (1401 S.E. Morrison St. #117), appears to have been recently renamed, and features a new health-conscious menu from chef Brian Han in the former Smokehouse Tavern and Delores space.

Soter

In 2019, after more than a decade working at restaurants in San Diego, San Francisco and then Portland, Sara Hauman left the city for the hills. Or one hill, rather, the one in Carlton where Soter Vineyards commands some of the loveliest views in the state. As we discovered during a May visit, reservations for wine tastings and snacks from Soter’s head chef aren’t easy to come by these days, but for those curious to try the yogurt-loving “Top Chef: Portland” contestant’s food, note that Hauman is already working on her dream of opening a “boutique cannery,” dubbed Tiny Fish.

Yaad Style Jamaican

Gourdet played tour guide once more at this Jamaican restaurant (3532 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite A), where contestants ate rice, fried plantains and curried goat in a colorful storefront across from the original Akadi. In addition to the food, Yaad Style chef-owner Curtis Mazelin opens his doors for Dancehall and Afro-Caribbean DJ nights, and plans to add reggae music in the summer.

Fan favorite Maria Mazon presents her miso-ginger chicken wings to judges seated at Hillsboro's Scholl's Valley Lodge.

Fan favorite Maria Mazon presents a dish to judges at Hillsboro’s Scholl’s Valley Lodge.David Moir/Bravo

HOTELS

Chefs spent most of their downtime at downtown Portland’s Hotel Monaco, and an early challenge took place next door at the shuttered Red Star Tavern. But after a post-filming rebrand, you’ll have to book a room at the Royal Sonesta if you want to sleep where the chefs slept. Other challenges took place at downtown’s Hoxton hotel and Scholls Valley Lodge in Hillsboro. Out on the coast, the four remaining contestants enjoyed the ocean views at the Surfsand Hotel in Cannon Beach.

OUTDOORS

Some of the most striking moments in “Top Chef: Portland’ come when chefs are sent out of town or into nature. Mount Hood provided a stunning backdrop for a fruit-focused elimination challenge at Mt. View Orchard. In Cascade Locks, chefs used local fish and game to cook for members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. At the Portland Japanese Garden, contestants made dishes using tofu. On the Oregon Coast, the Tillamook Cheese Factory’s striking three-year-old visitor center was the stage for a challenge focused on — you guessed it — cheese. And though it won’t air until July 1, the final challenge during this season’s finale will take place at Willamette Valley Vineyards.

— Michael Russell, [email protected], @tdmrussell