Between its world-class street eats and award-winning “chef-lebrities,” Portland has earned a reputation as a veritable culinary think-tank. Now, a swell of pop-up restaurants — intimate, ad hoc dinner parties hosted by moonlighting chefs and culinary experts — is once again reinventing the way Portlanders eat, providing unique dining experiences in unexpected venues.
These themed affairs range from Soviet discos to traditional Indian suppers to multi-course ice cream socials, each promising an unforgettable dining adventure. Local food critics can’t get enough of the fun: In 2014, pop-up dining was collectively named the Restaurant of the Year by The Oregonian and Portland Monthly called the phenomenon the Trend of the Year.
Without the daily hours and permanent addresses of traditional restaurants, pop-up dining reservations require a bit of sleuthing on the diner’s part. Here are a few of Portland’s can’t-miss pop-up meals:
Progressive chefs Ryan Fox and Ali Matteis draw on experience at Michelin star-winning restaurants and Portland’s own Castagna to present Nomad PDX, a 10-course collaborative dining extravaganza held at Shift Drinks. The pair’s creations reflect a deep knowledge of Pacific Northwest ingredients; the spring lamb, for example, is served with fermented barley, sprouted wheat berries and wheatgrass, ingredients inspired by the animal’s diet and the farm that raised it. Such attention to detail helps elevate the experience from a simple meal to a rewarding meditation on farm-to-table fare.
Chef Vitaly Paley, the James Beard award-winning force behind Portland mainstays Imperial and Paley’s Place, drew on his Russian roots for DaNet, a five-course pop-up featuring potato pancakes, infused vodka flights and all-but-forgotten Soviet drinking foods. One weekend each month, Paley outfits his own Portland Penny Diner with decorative Slavic heirlooms and Russian rap music for a festive tribute to the Motherland. Each dinner includes a variety of zakuski (drinking appetizers), several types of traditional blini and three hearty courses like hunter’s stew and black cherry strudel.
Dedicated to exploring “ice cream and its infinite possibilities,” Morgan St. Theater casts dessert in a starring role. Each three-course menu combines seasonal ingredients like sweet corn, deep-fried peach or pumpkin with exotic baked goods like challah French toast and Indian snack bread to create a collection of sundaes fit for even the most discerning sweet tooth. Each playful dish is paired with entertaining storytelling and, at times, live music and adult beverages. Like many pop-ups, Morgan St. has no fixed location or schedule, so be sure to check details online before planning a sweet night out.