If you only had one night in Portland...
Hey folks - I am a pseudo Portlander (lived there for 10 years) who is now living in Rhode Island and will be visiting with a friend who loves food as much as I do. We will only be in town for a couple of days and will have one, possibly two dinners out. I've been telling him how wonderful the food is in Portland and am having a difficult time deciding where to take him to best show off Portland's culinary treasures. Genoa is an old favorite of mine, as is Paley's Place, but I've heard wonderful things about Carlyle, Fenouil, Hurley's, and Clarklewis (never made it there before moving). I'm not a big Higgins fan, and have experienced too much inconsistency at Wildwood... What would you all recommend?
Also, I used to love La Sirenita, but have heard that it has slipped some, and have been reading rave reviews about Ochoa in Hillsboro. I've never been to the new one on Oak, but was a little let down the one time I visited the old location. My friend is half Mexican and currently lives in Hawaii (where there is no such thing as good Mexican food), and I'd love to take him for a good authentic Mexican lunch.
Mmmm... I'd love any and all recommendations... My mouth is already watering thinking about Pearl Bakery bread, Pazzoria's croissants and cookies, Pazzo's gnocchi, Mama Mia's mozzarella, Karam, Andina... so much food to eat, so little time!
I'm a Wildwood fan. Personally, I've found them to be at least as consistent as any other fine dining restaurant in town. And I like their menu more than anyone else's. That said, though, I've had fantastic dishes at most of these higher end restaurants, plus a couple others you didn't mention: Alberta St Oyster Bar, Castagna, Park Kitchen, and Le Pigeon. There's also Simpatica which has dinner Fridays and Saturdays only, and brunch Sunday morning.
If not Wildwood, I'd say Park Kitchen for local flavor. (I'm not a Higgins fan either.) If you want a casual, funky environment with dishes that are such a throwback that they feel new and fresh, try Le Pigeon. I probably wouldn't choose Fenouil. It's the least local of the restaurants mentioned. I'd say that Paley's, Castagna, Carlyle, Olea, and Alberta St are somewhere in between (in using local ingredients). clarklewis is a little better at it, and it would be my next choice after Park Kitchen.
For Mexican, I'd suggest either Ochoa, Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon, or Autentica for lunch. The former has a very broad menu, mostly of taqueria level items -- soups, tacos, gorditas, carnitas, and the like. TyTdL specializes in Mexican stews -- guisados -- and has the best tamales and frijoles in town. They also have some great salsas. Autentica is one of the newer midscale Mexican places in town and one of the most Mexican. It's also one of the only ones that has lunch, though you should double-check hours. See link for more on the mid-scale Mexican options in town. Cafe Azul is now gone, but there are many more options than there used to be:
Personally, I think La Sirenita makes dog food -- bad dog food. If you want something in close at taqueria level, try La Bonita just a couple doors down or the taco truck at Denver and Killingsworth.
I will only add that Olea , Fenouil and Carlyle are very pretty restaurants and have great atmosphere and most people tend to remember the food ( very good) long after their visit.
For the Mexican lunch, I think your best bet is the taco truck at Killingsworth and Denver. I was there for lunch today and had five tacos: 2 birria, 2 pastor, and one carnitas. All were sublime -- hand made tortillas -- but the pastor was even better than the rest. Your friend will want to airlift that truck, and the wonderful ladies who make the tortillas and tacos, all the way back to Hawaii!
One night? Cocktails at Taqueria Nueve, supper at Nueve or Navarre, and then hit Burgerville for a couple of pumpkin shakes. Just off the top of my head.
Simpatica, Carlyle and Castagna are my picks. The Simpatica Friday and Saturday night dinners have been amazing lately.