The list of great places to eat in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is growing by leaps and bounds. Some people think of only the mid-section of Western Oregon when they hear “Willamette Valley.” But the Willamette Valley stretches from Eugene / Springfield in the south to Portland / Vancouver in the north, and hosts 70 percent of Oregon’s population.
The availability of great local produce, meats and fish combined with an intense worldwide interest in the valley, have created a huge upwelling of culinary talent. Local, young chefs are moving the culinary conversation forward, and some big names have put down roots here too. Events like FEAST Portland have focused an international spotlight on Oregon’s culinary scene. The national media, like Bon Appetit Magazine — who sponsors FEAST, rarely publishes a piece about what’s new, trending and delicious without mentioning Oregon.
The following is far from a comprehensive list — if that’s even possible. There are literally hundreds of great places to eat in the Willamette Valley, these are a few that we think do a fantastic job.
479 Court St.
Salem, OR 97301
“Rafns’ Restaurant is owned and operated by Nate and Rochelle Rafn, two life-long Oregonians who have a passion for great food.
Since 2005, Nate has been an influential advocate for local agriculture. He is the creator of Living Culture, a television program about local food, and has written about local food for Salem Weekly Newspaper.
In 2006, Nate launched Dinner at the Rafns’, an invitation-only supper-club operated inside his modest South Salem home. Nate and Rochelle married in 2011 and together they moved the supper-club to West Salem, where they would host monthly dinners for up to 39 guests. Each dinner featured a local farmer or artisan who’s products formed the foundation of the evening’s meal. Dinner at the Rafns’ developed a loyal following and regularly booked-up weeks in advance.
Based on their success with Dinner at the Rafns’ and the relationships they had built with dozens of local farmers, Nate and Rochelle decided to take the leap and start their own legitimate restaurant. In June of 2013 they opened Rafns’ Restaurant, dedicated to sourcing the highest quality foods from local farmers, ranchers, and artisans.
Rafns’ Restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, serving a small seasonal menu paired with local and regional wines. Nate & Rochelle continue to host special dinners highlighting local farmers and winemakers. Rafns’ Restaurant is EarthWISE Certified and was named the 2015 Sustainable Small Business of the Year at the Mid-Valley Green Awards.”
Learn More at: www.rafns.com
Table Five 08
508 State St.
Salem, OR 97301
Table Five 08 in Salem is a great new find for us. Its casual look belies its fantastic offerings.
At first appearances, it seems to be just a casual, corner place, offering the usual run-of-the-mill food and drink. Do not be fooled. This restaurant is manned by some of the best in the business. Chef Jason Freeburg is a graduate of the prestigious “CIA” — the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and bartender Rob Melton has been at it for nearly 30 years.
Right away, you can see this is no ordinary place. Rob’s casual mastry of the bar is evident as he engages his guests and creates wonderful drinks – clearly without effort. Not that his drinks aren’t top shelf, he’s just beyond having to struggle. Think Stevie Wonder playing the piano.
Jason is also a very unassuming, friendly guy without any of the pretense one sometimes expects from big-time chef types. But he definitely delivers the goods.
A seared halibut served on a bed of charred corn and a signature dish — the Pork Belly Lettuce Wrap, floated by when we were visiting and both looked fantastic. Prices are very reasonable too! We’re definitely going to do further research here!
150 SW Madison
Corvallis, OR 97333
Bellhop, open since June 9th 2016, in downtown Corvallis, owned by Ian Hutchings and Brian Parks, is a delightful, local eatery. Their focus, as they say is “local comfort food.” But when you think “comfort food” don’t confuse that with run-of-the-mill. The two try to source locally as much as possible, and work with a number of farms that are standouts in the area like Afton Field (chicken) and Rainshine (produce).
Their food is comfort food elevated to a new level, but not so much so that you can’t eat there a few times a week if you want. Prices are reasonable, and they take great pride in their menus.
As a first-hand witness at FEAST Portland, Brian was in attendance to serve Bellhops (now famous) fried chicken, and there was a line like you’ve never seen. It was the most popular thing there. Yeah, eveyone loves the designer bites, but when it comes right down to it, comfort food, like Bellhop’s chicken wins.
Fogo de Chão
930 SW 6th Ave.Portland, OR 97204
A fantastic concept, Fogo de Chão (pronounced like “shown”) is a fun and delicious place to visit. The premise of the restaurant is that it’s like a traditional Fogo de Chão in Southern Brazil. According to our server, who was an authentic Gaucho — from Brazil, what that means, literally, is “fire of the ground.” In Brazil these celebrations are huge. The Brazillians build a fire, on the groud, that can stretch for hundreds of feet, and then roast the traditional Gaucho staple — beef.
At the restaurant in Portland, one of many around the world, they recreate the feel of the celebrations in Brazil. Authentic Gaucho’s roast a wide selection of meats on an open flame, and then carry the cooked meats into the dining room, if the little card on your table is green, that let’s them know you would like a slice, if it’s flipped over and red, you’re taking a break.
The “full experience” begins with a trip to what they refer to as “The Market Table.” An awesome spread of salads, cheeses, meats, and appetizing nibbles of all sorts.
The vibe is white tablecloth, but not stuffy by any means. The servers are fun and like to engage the diners. The food is to die for, and there is a full bar, and wine list to rival any in the city.
Go try it, you’ll love it!
There aren’t all that many “Best Western Premier” properties in the United States. Fortunately, we have one right in our backyard — in Lebanon. The restaurant at the inn, “1847” as the name suggests, is also premier. Chef Derek Ridgway puts together some fantastic menus and executes with skill gained from years in the upscale restaurant industry.
A veteran chef, Derek enjoyed fame and fortune in his early career in San Diego operating a number of restaurants of note. Then he was drawn north to be near family and enjoy the slower paced authentic Oregon lifestyle.
Recently the chef at the Grand Hotel in Salem, Derek brings his skills to Lebanon at the new restaurant at Boulder Falls Inn.
Dereks food concept is “I want the flavors to come through, without complication — I want to taste what I’m eating and enjoy complexity of flavors without extensive manipulation.”
Derek is working on a fall menu that will include some simple, winter comfort foods – like a nice, braised short rib with polenta and winter greens. Oh yes, we hear you Derek.
250 NW 13th Ave
Portland, OR 97209
A perennial favorite or ours, Bluehour in the heart of Portland’s Peal District, serves consistently outstanding food.
Recently we sampled the brunch menu, and as usual, it was heavenly.
On the brunch menu, are starters, not used to seeing starters outside of a dinner menu, we thought it might be too much food for early in the day. We were mistaken. Above and left is a photo of the “donut holes with sea-salt, caramel dipping sauce.” Oh boy… decadant, but lighter than you’d think, and oh, so good. We could just fast through Thursday – right?
We followed our breakfast starters with a wild mushroom omlette, and a smoked salmon benedict. Both were out of this world. The hollandaise on the benedict was perfect and seasoned so as to elevate the smoked salmon to a higher plane, and the poached eggs — done right. Also of note, the potatoes that came on the side. I’m not sure how they do it, but there seems to be butter involved, they are rich, salty, sweet, buttery — transformed from potato, to food of the Gods. More of those please!
Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, you can not go wrong with Bluehour. One of the best restaurants in Oregon.
The Painted Lady
201 So. College St.
Newberg, OR 97132
This charming Victorian restaurant is located in the epicenter of Oregon’s Wine Country and is surrounded by over 200 wineries and the bounty of the Willamette Valley.
In 2005, owners Allen Routt and Jessica Bagley saw a bright future in the quaint town and wine community of Newberg, Oregon.
Not long after opening, The Painted Lady Restaurant quickly became a fine dining destination. Now, almost 12 years later, Allen and Jessica are thankful for the thousands of global travelers who have passed through their white picket fence to experience an unforgettable food journey crafted from the fine ingredients and wines sourced from the Willamette Valley and beyond.