No, the east side does not have fine dining. Not yet. There is no slick décor Zydeco and no 5 Fusion top-grade sushi. But that doesn't mean the east side is a diners' wasteland. Hardly.
Baldy's offers scrumptious barbecue, The Phoenix is a bustling steakhouse, and the popular Jackson's Corner plans to open its second location near St Charles Medical Center—and, in the process, pioneering a space on the east side for local eats, clever salads and the chattering Patagonia crowd.
Certainly, we are not declaring a food revolution on the east side, which is still dominated by burritos, burgers, cheap Chinese and pizza—foods more pleasing to college students than refined foodie palates—but we are pointing out that a first generation of solid restaurants is taking root and perhaps setting the stage for a second generation growth of more sophisticated restaurants past Third Avenue.
In the past year, Worthy Brewery (which opened last February) certainly has been the most important addition to the east side. At its best, the beer at Worthy has been in the lead pack in town (see Micro Review, pg. 28). But the food? Right out of the gate, it has consistently been, well, worthy—arguably the best brewery food in town.
On a recent lunch trip, our Warm Beet Salad ($11 large, $6 small) was massive—and we split it three ways. It was served in a large bowl brimming with fresh mixed greens and lightly sautéed, chopped organic kale. On top were medallions of golden beets, creamy chevre and crunchy pistachios. With a hop citrus vinaigrette drizzled on top, this bowl was dripping with health and vitality. It was perfect. And though we were sipping fizzy water rather than fizzy beer in the middle of a busy work day, we are confident the light and fruit-forward Worthy Farm Out Saison would have been a welcome partner to the veggie salad, as the menu suggests.
And, because we are greedy little piglets, we ordered TWO of Worthy's pizzas, which came out of the wood-fired stone oven in lickity-split fashion. The first, the salty and sweet Prosciutto Fig ($14) was as decadent as it sounds. Organic arugula, extra virgin olive oil, shaved romano and a rich balsamic reduction rounded out this gloriously gourmet pie. The Shroom ($13), our second pizza, looked like a Hood River forest floor in late summer—that is to say the pizza's base was smothered with delicate wild mushrooms. A touch of roasted garlic provided a sharp, but not aggressive, kick and the mozzarella held down the show. Both crusts were thin (but not overly so) and crunchy, compliments of the insanely hot, old-world hearth from which they were pulled. (For a $2 up-charge, Worthy offers gluten-free pizzas.)
In search of another new eastside restaurant, we headed out for another recent lunch to Rose's Cocina, in the space where El Burrito had been (335 NE Dekalb). Rose's hosted its grand opening on the first Saturday of January.
Turns out, though, Rose's is actually the same Mexican restaurant as before, but has been turned over to the previous owners' daughter and her business partner. As such, we aren't sure whether to count Rose's as a new east side restaurant, or simply a continuation of a locally and family-run restaurant—an important trend in its own right.
Either way, Rose's is a notable east side eatery, a standout against the landscape of chain stores like Taco Bell and Baja Fresh, and a convenient, friendly and laidback spot for lunch—all with surprisingly panoramic views encompassing a looming Pilot Butte to the east, and the jagged teeth of the Cascades to the west.
The ambiance and friendliness are lovely. The new owner was warm, and our busboy was adorably nervous. Chips were the usual Mexican restaurant fare, but graciously plentiful; a party of three didn't finish the basket. The chicken faijta burrito ($12.95)—chicken with green and red peppers in a flour tortilla, plus sides of black beans and Spanish rice—was, in a word, fine. Al pastor tacos ($4.25 each) were plenty meaty, and the pork was tender and juicy, not rubbery or full of gristle. They were served simply, side-by-side, and with a generous amount of cilantro and chopped onions on top while a half of a lime stood guard on the edge of the plate; authentic and above average.
No, the east side does not have fine dining. Not yet. But what it does have is popular west side restaurants adding east side stores, locally-owned coffeeshops opening and, in more general terms, a confident trend toward quality, independently-owned restaurants.