Tapas and small-plates restaurants may have proliferated in recent years, but you'd still be hard-pressed to find one that serves, nonetheless specialize in, Cajun and creole dishes. Tapalaya is just such a place. The eatery's chefs focus on small plates— during evening hours— designed to create a mix-and-match Southern feast. The day menu hosts Po'Boys with cajun creole sides and the night menu caters to tapas. The chefs recreate the flavors of New Orleans with dishes such as the blackened catfish or classic po' boys cooked with locally sourced meat and layered with red remoulade and a spicy Mardi Gras slaw. The staff also accommodates guests when they're just catching a drink at the bar by sticking to their Cajun motif—crispy crawfish fritters and bacon-wrapped chicken livers stand in for regular ole' tavern peanuts and whatever's floating in that large discolored jar behind the bar.
And since there is indeed a bar at Tapalaya, bartenders pour—what else?—New Orleans–inspired cocktails. They blend everything from the classic Hurricane, which was invented in New Orleans, to the Fi-Yi-Yi Tea made with house-infused tea vodka and lemonade. Naturally, a colorful painting of jazz trumpeters looms over the bar, perhaps announcing the arrival of one of the house's signature desserts—fresh beignets dusted with powdered sugar stand out among many other sweet options.
To add to the distinctly Louisianan vibe of the restaurant without making every table a Mardi Gras float, the staff hosts twice-weekly performances by Grammy-nominated pianist Janie Scroggins and New Orleans sax legend Reggie Houston during the dinner hour on Tuesdays and the Milneburg Jazz Band plays on Thursdays.
At Cozmic, the culinary team kneads organic flour made from local Willamette Valley wheat into crusts that are brushed with buttery extra-virgin olive oil. Then, they pile on toppings and set the pies to bake on 700-degree stones. The list of toppings—many of which are also organic, such as the apples—breaks traditional pizza boundaries by including unique options such as kale, and vegetarian meats, which offer an alternative to the eatery’s local sausage, smoked pork, and pepperoni.
These Jersey-Eugene-style fusion pies are the brainchild of Kirk Giudici, also the founder of Rising Moon Organics. When Kirk decided to embark on a second organic foods endeavor by opening a pizzeria, he found himself drawn to a vintage 1945 building that was an Edsel car dealership back when man didn’t travel only by hovercraft. While renovating the 4,000-square-foot auto display room, the same environmental principles that led Kirk to organics undergirded his decorating approach of using only recycled and repurposed materials. As a result, diners sip their homemade fountain sodas and Oregonian microbrews while perched at a bar made from a shuffleboard and lit with dryer-drum light fixtures from Kirk’s Laundromat.
The restaurant space, massive enough to have once housed a fleet of automobiles, enabled Kirk to create a stage dubbed The Edsel, which has attracted national acts such as Michelle Shocked, The Be Good Tanyas, and eight-time Grammy Award winner Marcia Ball. In addition to musical acts, the pizzeria’s calendar is full of events such as Science Pub, when tipplers learn about topics such as why it’s impossible to teleport your clothes along with your body.
Though Willamette Burger Company recently relocated to a more spacious spot a mile away from its original digs, the burger makers still take the same gourmet approach to classic American fare that won the Statesman Journal's Best Burger award in 2011. Each patty contains more than 6 ounces of locally raised, hormone-free beef, delivered on stallion by a handsome cowboy and ground on-site. Made-from-scratch buns, house-made sauces, and Oregonian cheeses top each specialty burger, sandwich, or Hill’s Meats hot dog. The eatery strives to further improve on classic American flavors by hand-forming each one of their tater tots and cooking their french fries twice for a crisp crunch. Visitors can slurp root-beer floats and ice-cream shakes or savor wine and beer from local imbiberies such as Ninkasi and Gilgamesh. Each tabletop in Willamette Burger Company’s new location comes topped with a paper tablecloth and stocked with crayons for scribbled drawings or colorful personal manifestos. The resulting works could earn a spot on the eatery’s hallowed walls next to priceless pieces like Still Life with Cheeseburger and Les Hamburgers d'Avignon.
From cracking two-row malted barley in a roller mill to carbonating at 31 degrees Fahrenheit, brewer Adam Roberts’s five-step process yields each of 4th Street Brewing Co.’s handcrafted beers. A window in the brewpub’s restaurant lets patrons take a peek at the working microbrewing equipment, which churn out the ales, porters, and IPAs that make up the five mainstay brews. Adam also crafts seasonal beer selections such as the Get Jiggy Wit It, a belgian white ale, and the czech pilsner.
In the kitchen, Chef Abe uses locally raised, organic ingredients to craft pub food that complements Adam’s beers. Those dishes include beer-battered onion rings by the pound or half-pound, charbroiled or stone-oven-baked pizzas with toppings such as IPA barbecue sauce and artichoke hearts, and a pork-fillet sandwich topped with french fries. Meals unfold in a spacious dining room where sports flicker across nine high-definition televisions and magician Brian Proctor dazzles diners every Friday night by performing card tricks and magically, with only the use of minutes, turning once hot dishes into lukewarm ones. 4th Street also accommodates private feasts in two party rooms equipped with amenities such as a 78-inch projection screen and a private bar.
Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics—including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milk Shake, and Best Drive-Thru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through their program Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
A historic mural spreads across a wall inside Monteaux's Public House. A visual interpretation of Oregon history from the early 1800s to the late 20th century, the hand-painted work depicts trolleys and buildings, local farm culture, and travel by railroad and balloon. The mural itself has been there for more than a decade: it marks one of the first steps the four founders took to decorate their restaurant, an ode to the centuries-old tradition of the American public house.
Monteaux's Public House also preserves culinary traditions by preparing good old-fashioned food and folding napkins into the shape of Benjamin Franklin's hungry face. The menu features meals both American and foreign, but everything's made from seasonal, local ingredients when possible. Entrees of marinated flat iron steak and wild salmon fillet join house specialties such as Cajun prawn étoufée and halibut fish and chips. The bar's taps, meanwhile, pour several rotating Oregon beers. And whether dining inside or on the dog-friendly patio, visitors can utilize the pub's WiFi.