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’re off to Salem, the state’s capital. I grew up in this area, which gave me the opportunity to taste a large variety of authentic, Pacific Northwest cuisine. I recently teamed up with some fellow foodies in the Salem area to begin searching for the city’s hidden “gems”.

Spoons Gourmet Deli (Reviewed by Ashley M.)
Spoons is a local coffee shop and gourmet deli, located on Commercial Street about 10 miles from the downtown area. Their atmosphere is incredibly cozy, and they offer some of the most delicious lunch items I have ever tasted. I had a chicken salad sandwich with cranberries and hazelnuts, as well as a mocha during my last visit- so tasty! Spoons also has wine tasting on Saturdays- be sure to stop by, grab a bite, and try a few sips of Pinot noir from some of Salem’s finest local wineries.

J James Restaurant (Reviewed by Michelle G.)
J James Restaurant is still the best high-end restaurant in Salem, with regional cuisine expertly prepared, impeccable service and lovely ambience. Their menu changes seasonally with availability of fresh ingredients. Try the crab cakes!

Wild Pear Catering & Restaurant (Reviewed by Ashley M. & Jessica C.)
Wild Pear is one of my favorite lunch destinations. Their downtown location is located near many local businesses, which makes it a great place to visit on a work day. Their Wild Pear chicken salad is to die for- it includes pecans, pears and crumbled blue cheese over mixed greens with a pear vinegrette. Wild Pear also serves a smorgasbord of other lunch items, including lasagna and calzone, quiche, sandwiches, and specialty items such as potato gnocchi. And if you’ve really brought your appetite with you, Wild Pear also has an array of decadent desserts.

Dinner at Wild Pear on River Road on 3/14 was absolutely scrumptious! The entrance of the restaurant displayed a little country-chic design/home accessories store with a plush couch and flowers. The main dining area consisted of a backroom facing the Willamette River which featured soft smoldering candles and subtle lighting. A nice romantic getaway with a tranquil, simplistic ambience. I had the Parmesan Riddled Rockfish which was so delectable, it was akin to a taste melting in one’s mouth and slowly lingering. The dish had some of the freshest ingredients by being topped with sundried tomato basil aioli on a bed of toasted linguine tossed in a creamy herb pesto sauce with sauteed red peppers, shaved zucchini, carrots and onions. Wild Pear offers some of the best cuisine I have ever tasted in Salem!

Willamette Noodle Company (Reviewed by Ashley M.)
Willamette Noodle Company is a cozy italian restaurant located between Salem and Keizer. Their extremely friendly staff, wide variety of choices and reasonable prices make this restaurant perfect for “date night”, or even a casual dining experience. The homemade pasta is nothing short of fabulous, and it truly does taste like auhtentic, homemade italian food. My favorite dish at Willamette Noodle Company is the baked ziti, which is penne pasta with wild mushrooms, beef and a spicy red sauce, topped and baked with mozarella cheese. The lasagna is a close second, however, and is always high on demand during the dinner hour. Not to mention the homemade tiramisu- the perfect accent to a delicious meal.

Grand Vines (Reviewed by Ashley M.)
I traveled to Grand Vines this past weekend, which is a wine bar & shop, and a restaurant by day, and entertainment hub at night. After settling at a cozy table by the window with a glass of Pinot Gris in one hand and a plate of tirmasu in the other, I sat down to enjoy some live music. The Grand House Band was playing on this particular evening, which can normally be found at Grand Vines every second and fourth Saturday of the month. The music they played reminded me of a 30’s style band- it was very soothing and entertaining to watch. Plus, the intimate seating in Grand Vines made me feel like I had front-row seats to a VIP concert.

Bentley’s Grill (Reviewed by Michelle G.)
For casual Salem, Bentley’s is a high-end restaurant in the Phoenix Grand Hotel that provides excellent local cuisine. Lunches are busy with business people, so reservations are recommended. The ambience is lovely, with an open circular fire pit and expansive bar. Great for a dinner date to impress, or a martini happy hour after work.
The next time you feel compelled to explore a restaurant, stop in Salem and give these destinations a try. You will definitely leave feeling content and full!

Bon Appetit!

Editor’s Note:
Yes, there are SO MANY more restaurants in Salem 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.

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