Bon Appetit magazine named Portland its fourth annual City of the Year in a story published Tuesday, adding what’s perhaps one of the more prestigious honors for a restaurant scene that’s become a foodie destination over the past decade-plus.
After the same magazine called Maine’s largest city “America’s Foodiest Small Town” in a 2009 feature, myriad accolades have been piled onto Portland’s dining scene, with the Huffington Post naming it one of the country’s top 10 “restaurant cities” in 2013 and Thrillist.com calling it one of the nation’s seven “ most underrated food cities” in 2015, among other high-profile and shining reviews.
A number of Greater Portland chefs and bakers have been named semifinalists and finalists for James Beard Awards, while others have drawn attention to the area with appearances alongside celebrity chefs on television cooking competitions.
So it’s no secret the city’s a bona fide foodie attraction. But given its size, how did Portland — a city whose 67,000 population might fit into a single downtown block in past winners Chicago and Washington, D.C. — claim Bon Appetit’s top title?
“For starters, it’s the sheer number of outstanding openings — from a tiny pastry shop that serves knockout Roman pizza to a Jewish-style deli that ranks up there with New York and L.A.’s best,” wrote Bon Appetit’s Andrew Knowlton in Tuesday’s story. “And while you can still get an Instagram-worthy lobster roll and a dozen local oysters, you’re missing out if you skip the killer pho spot or the guy selling hand rolls out of a Yeti cooler.”
Knowlton then lists of a number of culinary favorites in the city, from the biscuits at Tandem Bakery, to the sushi at Izakaya Minato, to the Moxie-braised pork belly at Little Giant and the Turkish crab dip at Baharat, among many others. Knowlton knows the scene well: He went to college in the state and wrote that he visits frequently.
The Bon Appetit title honors a city whose restaurant scene has exploded over the last two decades. In 1998, 27 Class I restaurants — defined as eateries selling more than $50,000 worth of food per year — were licensed in Portland. By this year, that number had grown to 113, with seven more licenses pending, according to the Portland Press Herald. Similarly, the number of Class IX restaurants, those that don’t necessarily reach that sales threshold and may only sell alcohol part of the day, has grown from 14 to 53 over the last 20 years, the newspaper reported.
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