There’s nothing better than gathering some friends and family together and going out to eat. A town’s culture pulses through every interaction at a restaurant. The experience of time with friends, good food, and the unique quirks of a particular establishment make for a great time enjoying many of God’s gifts to us in one sitting.
With that in mind, I’ll begin locally and work my way out to my five favorite restaurants. My rule is that I need to have lived in the area of the restaurant for awhile, so that it became part of my normal life (I won’t be listing destination restaurants or places I’ve only visited once or twice).
The Shed – Libby, Montana
There was one bummer among the many, MANY blessings of moving to rural Northwest Montana from Portland, Oregon – we went from a foodie’s paradise to a community where very few folks have any desire to go out to eat. When Natalie and I discovered The Shed, it was a mishmash of everything we loved about Portland with all that is great about rural Montana. The feel of the restaurant is easy-going, laid back, and 406 to the core. The food in the restaurant is on par with what you might expect at a trendy startup on Hawthorne Boulevard in Southwest Portland. The prices are much more closely aligned with the local economy, which is to say the entrées run at about half of what the same dish in Portland would cost.
We’ve had the BBQ ribs, the burgers, the pizza, the eggs benedict, and others. They’re all phenomenal, and served in a very unique, rustic venue with a large fireplace and a great outdoor seating area.
Joel’s Mexican Restaurant – Sandpoint, Idaho
Being raised in North Idaho, I wasn’t exposed to a whole lot of cultural or culinary diversity. Dinner was pretty much some version of meat and potatoes, and if I decided to go for Mexican food it meant that I went through the drive-thru at Taco Bell. As a young teenager, I kept hearing folks talk about the “authentic” Mexican food at a little taco stand in town called Joel’s. Before too long I was working there and had become dear friends with the owner’s son, and I came to taste and see that Joel’s is good!
The owner is from the northwest corner of Mexico and brought that style, along with his own creative flare, to the restaurant that now bears his name. Joel’s features a festive, casual, and vibrant atmosphere that maintains the intimacy of a small town, family-run establishment while buzzing with the energy of one of the most popular restaurants in north Idaho.
The menu features the best breakfast burritos on the planet, incredibly delicious jalapeño poppers, and a vast array of burritos and tacos which each boast a distinct and satisfying flavor profile.
Horse Brass Pub – Portland, Oregon
One minute, you’re strolling down Belmont Street in Portland. With one step across the threshold of the Horse Brass Pub (featuring a sign above that reads “Mind the Moat”), it is as though you’ve gone through a wormhole and come out the other side in 19th Century London. The classic wooden interior provides a dim but charming feel with eclectic English memorabilia smattered throughout. Refreshingly absent of any televisions or screens, a tight-knit neighborhood feel is preserved in spite of the fact that it has become a bit of a destination for visitors to Portland.
When we lived in the area, the Horse Brass became a regular gathering place for folks at our church after the midweek service. From incredibly poignant and personal conversations in a corner, to a rambunctious game of darts on an old-fashioned cork board, to celebratory tables teeming with dozens of people, that English pub holds many of my fondest memories of our years in Oregon.
The menu features the best of what you would hope for from such a venue – shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, scotch egg, fish n’ chips, and a great cheese plate. If you are so inclined, they offer a massive assortment of rotating beers on tap.
The Country Cat – Portland, Oregon
There’s something to be said for a diverse menu with a long list of possible choices whenever you visit a restaurant. The Country Cat certainly offers this for most folks, but for me, I go there for one reason – the pancakes. I’m generally not super crazy about pancakes and usually prefer other breakfast foods. But that first taste of the pancakes here made my eyes widen with amazement and I simply couldn’t help but wonder aloud, “How do they make something as common as a pancake taste so heavenly?!?” Now a visit to The Country Cat for those elusively delightful pancakes is a required entry on the itinerary whenever we’re back in town for a visit.
Located slightly outside the particularly trendy area of Portland, The Country Cat is a lively, bright, and energetic spark in an often-overlooked (and a bit rough around the edges) portion of the city.
Word of Mouth Bistro – Salem, Oregon
Located in a converted house near downtown Salem, Word of Mouth Bistro is a small restaurant with a big (and well-earned) reputation for offering the rare combination of high quality, large quantity foods. They masterfully create well-known traditional meals with just the right unique touches that make the entire menu a work of flavor-filled art!
The word is out (has been for some time) about Word of Mouth, so you should anticipate on a wait of at least an hour. But if you plan it right, you can get your name on the list and then go for a stroll through Willamette University’s beautiful campus, visit the state capital, or peruse a local books store while you wait. When the food arrives, you’ll find that it was worth the wait!