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Compiled by Molly Norton
Portland has more romantic restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. Ok, I just made that up, but it’s plausible. A few things are for certain: Portland does design, coziness, and low-lit ambiance really well and the prices (no sales tax) can’t be beat. Romance + supporting Oregon’s farmers, breweries, and wine makers = winning.
And here’s a quick link if you would like to support Oxfam’s donation drive addressing the East Africa drought and food crisis. OXFAM. They do good work.
Unless otherwise mentioned, these restaurants accept reservations (good to know if you’re paying a babysitter by the hour).
Top 18 Restaurants for Date Night – PDX (note that these are just the tip of ye old iceberg)
$ = Not too Spendy
$$ = Medium Spendy
$$$ = Spendy Spendy Spendy
Ava Gene’s (SE – Division/Clinton) – A 2013 recipient of Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant in America, Ava Gene’s never fails to impress. Bonus: they take reservations, but be sure to book well in advance. Ava Gene’s manages to be all things to all people; elegant without being stuffy, festive without being loud, culinarily creative without being pretentious. Menu changes daily and some of the ingredients may be a mystery, but with the help of the knowledgeable wait staff, you are guaranteed to find a dish (or two or three) that will make your taste buds sing. Focus is on interesting preparations of radically fresh vegetables (radical!), amazing cheese, and perfect charcuterie, but pescatarians and carnivores seeking hearty entrees will find much to delight in. The wine list is thoughtful and reasonably priced. The sommelier suggested an amazing bottle of Sardinian white wine – a bargain at only $39. Magic. (Food: Creative Italian. Price: $$$)
Pok Pok (SE – Division/Clinton) – Portland loves Pok Pok. Cozy, loungey, hip with interesting cocktails. Known for “Ike’s Wings” – spicy chicken wings and baby back ribs marinated in whiskey. Don’t miss the Khao Soi which has a little less heat than other offerings. They don’t take reservations, but if you have to wait, mitigate the pain by sampling the drinking vinegars or the Mango Alexander cocktail at sister bar Whiskey Soda Lounge. (Food: Thai/Vietnamese “street food” Price: $)
St. Jack (NW Alphabet District) – We won’t lie – this place is going to transport you to Paris and you won’t have to deal with any public transportation strikes. It’s swoony romantic and cozy. Start your date off with one of the best happy hours in town and then move on to dinner. Salade Lyonnaise? Mussels? Charcuterie? Whole roasted trout? All wonderful. Just leave enough room for made-to-order Madeleines afterwards. (Food: French Price: $$)
Roe (SE – Division) – Roe is the grand-dame of the romantic dining scene in Portland, but not in a stuffy or pretentious way. Their focus is on masterful, creative preparations of seafood. The atmosphere may transport you to Tokyo, New York, and Barcelona simultaneously. Go here if your dining partner appreciates “high art” cuisine as much as you do. And if it’s a really REALLY romantic occasion, go all the way with a wine pairing. (Food: Modern American seafood Price: $$$$)
Beast (NE) – As the name implies, this restaurant will not pleaseth vegetarians. But if the thought of the perfect charcuterie and a selection of cheeses from Steve at Cheese Bar make you salivate, make reservations here. The tables are communal, but they still find a way to make the experience intimate. Chartcuterie and slow-cooked meats are usually the highlight of their set menu which includes both a cheese course AND dessert. (Food: Modern French Price: $$$)
Toro Bravo (NE) – Perfect place for unconventional small plates/tapas. Great atmosphere, festive buzz, always a crowd pleaser. Not sure how they manage to make every item on their huge menu manifest fresh and delicious, but they do. Try the griddled bacon dates in warm honey, the sautéed chard with a sunny side up egg, Steve’s Cheese Board (we dig cheese, ok?), or the “French Kisses.” If you do have to wait, have a drink at the Victorian era lounge Secret Society next door. (Food: Modern Spanish/Tapas Price: $$)
Ataula (NW) – Want a taste of Catalan, but a trip to Barcelona isn’t in the budget this year? Get you and your date to Ataula in NW Portland. The good news is that every last detail is top-notch – from the beautiful vaulted ceiling with skylights to the lovely recycled glass bar to the small plates which are some of the best Portland has to offer. The not-so-good news is that they only accept reservations for parties of 6+. Get there early, enjoy a glass of sparkling cava or their oh-so-good sangria made with brandy and vanilla beans. Tuck into Ataula Montadito – silky salmon with truffle oil and marscapone on toast, pulpos, or fantastic croquetas. Don’t leave until you’ve tried dessert featuring freshly made hot donuts or chocolate with sea salt and olive oil. Now also doing brunch. (Food: Creative tapas Price: $$-$$$)
Tabla (NE) – Bills themselves a Mediterranean Bistro. Their $28 3 course pre-fixe is a steal. The Tajarin with truffle butter and truffle “pearls” is the stuff of dreams. Sample all of the pastas – you pretty much can’t go wrong. (Food: Pacific NW meets the Mediterranean Price: $$)
Veritable Quandary /VQ (Downtown) little spendy, but VQ has one of the nicest atrium and outdoor garden patio set-ups in town. The food is consistently terrific as are the cocktails and the wine list. Duck confit spring rolls; poached egg, smoked bacon & butter lettuce with crispy cornbread, house made fettuccine with prawns. Need we say more? (Food: Modern “Northwest” Price: $$$)
Andina (NW) – Festive and romantic. Interesting ceviche, tapas, and sangria. Try a Tortuga (gin with cucumber, mint, and lime) and enjoy the twinkling lights with your tasty tapas. (Food: Peruvian/Spanish Price: $$-$$$)
Levant (East Burnside/Buckman)- Note that Levant doesn’t take reservations for parties of less than 5, but you should plan for an early date night here any way. The neighborhood is charming, the atmosphere is exquisite, and the food some of the most interesting in Portland. Think tapas from the Middle East with French preparation and fragrant North African spices. Don’t miss artichokes with lamb bacon or the wildly addictive fried garbanzo beans with Za-atar. (Food: Inventive Middle Eastern/French/Tapas Price: $$-$$$)
Irving Street Kitchen (Pearl) – Top-notch happy hour. Great vibe inside and out. Upscale Cajun meets creative comfort food. Entire menu rocks. Try everything. (Food: Upscale Cajun/Comfort Price: $$-$$$)
Departure Lounge (Downtown inside the Nines hotel) – Go here if you’re interested in a rather sexy, “loungey” vibe with a dance beat. Some of the best views and Asian-fusion small plates in PDX. And Chef Gregory has vegan selections that will knock your socks off. (Food: Asian Fusion Price: $$-$$$)
Le Pigeon (E. Burnside) – Cozy, quaint, and charming. The pork with cabbage, bacon, and mustard is moist and juicy. Cornbread cake with apricots and bacon is a wonderful sweet and savory finish to a meal. Because bacon really does make all things better. (Food: Modern French Price: $$-$$$)
Coppia (Pearl) – Terrific food and wine pairings – don’t miss the Bagna Càuda with a glass of Deltetto rose. Pastas are fresh made and topped with ridiculously tasty ragus. Great place for happy hour with a reasonable price-point. It also has a “vera nahhhce” date night vibe. (Food: Italian/Piedmont Price: $$)
Brasserie Montmartre (Downtown) – The red brick interior with indentations in the wall highlights the fact that the restaurant once was next to a jewelry store where an attempted robbery occurred. And they make the most of their history. Soaring ceilings, lots of light, a hopping happy hour, and live jazz make it a venue for a date with “buzz.” You might be tempted to kiss each of the black truffle frites with sel gris – they are that good. Everything from the tomato fennel soup to the charcuterie to the perfectly cooked pork loin to the buttery/garlicky escargot was wonderful. And that live jazz may just put you in a sentimental mood. (Food: French Price $$$)
Portland City Grill (Downtown) – There isn’t much that beats the view from the US Bancorp Tower which makes it good for business dinners and special date nights. They do a nice job with salmon and have a pretty decent wine list. If on a budget, go during one of their two happy hours featuring asian-fusion small plates and piano jazz. (Food: Steak/Seafood/Asian Fusion Price – $$$)
Gracies (in the Hotel deLuxe) (SW) Order the lovely lavender “Elizabeth Taylor” (Creme de Violette and champagne) and be transported to the Golden Era of Hollywood. Their pre-fixe menu is usually a pretty good deal. Retire to the elegantly retro Driftwood Room afterwards or see a show at Artists Repertory Theatre. (Food: Modern Northwest Price: $$)
Mingo West (Beaverton) – If you find yourself on the West side, heading towards The Beav, check out the popular Caffe Mingo’s sister restaurant – Mingo West. It’s a larger place with indoor / outdoor seating — just as cozy as its urban sister and even nicer in the summer months. Penne al Sugo di Carne (beef braised in Chianti and espresso tossed with penne pasta) is outstanding, but everything you order will be perfectly grilled/seared/baked and full of flavor. Save room for prunes poached in nebbiolo, port and cinnamon with housemade mascarpone or olive cake with honeyed mascarpone. Leave feeling so full of epicurean gratitude, you pay the babysitter twice their normal rate.