Good Eats in Eugene
As you may have heard, Oregon’s incredible bounty has inspired a growing list of chefs and culinary artists who have embraced the idea of creating Oregon Cuisine —- savory food using local wine, fruits, vegetables and meats. These Oregonians have elevated the act of dining into an exuberant gastronomical adventure, be it a simple roadside meal of fresh hazelnuts and aged cheese over wild greens or succulent fresh crab cakes at a fine dining establishment on the coast.
We at Travel Oregon are committed to eating our way through Oregon to bring you our take on the very best Oregon has to offer. Each month, we’ll pick a different city and opine on our “Good Eats” column about where you can sit down for that next great meal – based on our staffs’ dining experiences.
This month, we start in the heart of the Willamette Valley in Eugene, Oregon’s third-largest city. This college town (home to the University of Oregon Ducks) is located 2 hours south of Portland and offers a multitude of activities and attractions.
Beppe & Gianni’s Trattoria (Reviewed by Ashley M)
I have loved Italian food for as long as I can remember. The first time I heard about Beppe & Gianni’s, I was a student at the University of Oregon. Even though I could barely afford groceries back then, it was well worth the splurge. In fact, it was more than worth it. My three roommates introduced me to this restaurant three years ago, and we recently joined forces for a full-fledged college reunion at the very same place.
Beppe & Gianni’s Trattoria is an excellent choice for couples, singles, or even a group of friends. Located near the University of Oregon, this restaurant is very easy to find. As soon as you step into this adorable restaurant, you will be greeted with the smells of spaghetti sauce and spices. The staff was incredibly friendly, and we didn’t have to wait longer than thirty minutes for a table, even during the dinner rush. While everything is absolutely delicious at Beppe & Gianni’s, I would highly recommend their Cappelli di Vescovo, also known as “bishop hats”. This dish contains homemade pasta stuffed with swiss chard, prosciutto, ricotta and parmesan cheese in a brown-butter sage sauce. Delicious! I would also recommend pairing this dish with an Insalata Mista (a salad of mixed field greens) with gorgonzola dressing, and a glass of wine from Beppe & Gianni’s fine selection. My first choice was the Pinot Grigio. I’ve also had the pleasure of tasting the fettuccini with Carbonara sauce (a sauce with pancetta, whole egg and a touch of cream), which has an extraordinary rich and creamy taste.
The best part about Beppe & Gianni’s besides its wonderful ambiance and great staff, is that all of their pasta is homemade. It doesn’t get much better than that! More information: http://www.beppeandgiannis.net/
Sweet Life Patisserie (Reviewed by Ashley M)
If you’re in the mood for dessert, head over to Sweet Life Patisserie, near downtown Eugene. Sweet Life is a quaint little dessert shop, which gives off the feeling of a chic, upscale coffee shop- the perfect place to warm up on a cold day. Cinnamon rolls, muffins, cakes, you name it- Sweet Life has a smorgasbord of options to satisfy your sweet tooth. In addition to their scrumptious desserts and snacks, Sweet Life also carries a large selection of gourmet coffees and teas. As a chocolate lover, I had to try a slice of their orange mocha mousse torte, which was rich and chocolaty, yet light and fluffy. Following this slice, I sampled a strawberry cheesecake and peanut butter chocolate silk. All received five stars in my book. I’ve got my eye on the Rhapsody cake, however (dark chocolate cake with raspberry compote and chocolate mousse), so I will be back before too long! More information: http://www.sweetlifedesserts.com/
Ambrosia (Reviewed by Mo S)
In classical Greek mythology, ambrosia referred to the food and drink of the gods and legend has it that mortals who consumed it became immortal afterwards. Immortality not withstanding, the confections and libations served up at this quaint restaurant will leave you yearning for more. Located in downtown Eugene (on Broadway) in a turn-of-the century brick building, Ambrosia specializes in authentic northern Italian cuisine featuring the best local ingredients. Its casual but elegant atmosphere accentuated by dark wood interiors and antique furniture offers the perfect ambiance for a romantic date or a night of wine and conversation with good friends.
On a recent Friday night (date night!), this is exactly what my wife and I had in mind as we made the one-hour drive to Eugene. After a brief (and expected) wait for a table, we were seated in a nook on the upper dinning room offering sweeping views of the packed restaurant and bar. The eclectic dinner menu of salads, appetizers, pastas and pizzas proved tough to navigate and left us wanting one of everything. However after nibbling on copious amounts of homemade Pugliese bread and exotic martini concoctions for starters, my wife settled on Lasagna Florentine—a baked dish of fresh pasta layered with a spinach cream sauce, mozzarella and parmesan, topped with homemade tomato sauce—while I opted for the “Special of the Day;” grilled Chilean sea bass topped with Oregon Dungeness crab with sautéed asparagus. Our choices proved to be sublime…we were so enchanted by our meal that we actually ordered a calzone “to-go”…for lunch the next day! (Note: Though we did not sample wine on this night, the restaurant has been recognized by Wine Spectator for having “one of the most outstanding wine lists in the world”). More information: http://www.ambrosiarestaurant.com/
Ring of Fire (Reviewed by Mo S)
If you must fall into a burning ring of fire, please let it be in Eugene! Having spent a good portion of my early childhood in South Asia, I’ve acquired a discerning taste for the bold flavors of Asian cuisine. On a rave recommendation of a former Travel Oregon employee, my wife and I sought this Ring of Fire on a trip to Eugene last year. Despite one too many turns on the city’s omnipresent one-way streets, we finally found this gem on a non-descript strip mall west of downtown Eugene on Chambers street. If the old adage of not judging a book by its cover is true, this would be it.
Consistently chosen as one the best Southeast Asian restaurants in Eugene, we were pleasantly surprised by the simple elegance of the main dining room and the chic coolness of the Lava Room, a full service bar and late dining room, popular with the hipster bar crowd. The menu is filled with a mouth-watering medley of “Asian-fusion” cuisine combining Thai, Korean, Japanese and Chinese favorites such as panang, satay, tempura and noodles along with a seductive dose of creative mixed drinks.
On our first dinning experience, we satiated ourselves on Vegetable Tempura (onions, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini lightly battered in a Korean style tempura with Japanese Togarashi spice served with a spicy plum sauce), Mint Leaf and Chilies (onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, jalapeno, garlic, mint leaves and chili sauce stir-fried with tofu served with Jasmine rice) and Thai Green Curry (green curry with peas, squash, bamboo, bell peppers, fresh basil and chicken over rice). We’ve been to the “The Ring” (as we affectionately call it) several times over the past year and are happy to report that we’ve yet to be disappointed. More information: http://www.ringoffirerestaurant.com/
Editor’s Note: Yes, there are SO MANY more restaurants in Eugene and this column does not do justice to them all! For a complete list of the best of what the Willamette Valley has to offer, head to our Willamette Valley dining section.