Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
Curtis Mazelin has worked in Portland’s restaurant industry for more than 20 years, so when the opportunity came up to run his own Jamaican restaurant, he leapt at the chance. He took over Northeast Portland’s Yaad Style Jamaican Cuisine in December 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“[Last year] was rough for all of us, but with the many delivery platforms, I stayed afloat,” says Mazelin, a self-taught cook who serves homestyle dishes inspired by his grandmother’s cooking. The restaurant was one of several featured in Top Chef’s season 18, as chef and guest judge Gregory Gourdet spoke to the complexity of Jamaican flavors and its cultural roots in African cuisine.
Today hungry diners at Yaad Style Jamaican order Mazelin’s signature jerk chicken, oxtail, salt-cod fritters and sweet fried plantains for takeout, while he plans for the days he can offer live reggae music to accompany his rum cocktails in the evenings. It’s easy to grab your fare and walk three blocks east to Irving Park, where picnic tables and an off-leash area make for a prime picnic in the city for you and your pup.
Here are more fresh, soulful and deeply satisfying options for perfect picnic fare all across Oregon. (Wherever you go, don’t forget to pack out all of your trash and leave the area cleaner than you found it.)
Barbecue With River Views in Salem
Like many entrepreneurs, Troy Campbell built his fan base at a food truck — Uncle Troy’s BBQ has been a favorite in Keizer, with many of the family recipes inspired by his grandparents, Felton and Mary, who ran the legendary Campbell’s BBQ in Portland for decades until closing.
In late 2020, Campbell traded in the truck for a permanent space in the new Fork Forty food hall in Salem. Located in the historic Gray-Belle building, the large indoor hall is the perfect place to pick up takeout from any of the six diverse restaurants plus a hip bar out back. At Uncle Troy’s, barbecue lovers will find his signature ribs, pulled pork, and mac and cheese along with hush puppies, banana pudding and corn bread, as well as a few salads for lighter fare.
Indian With City Views in Astoria
Himani Indian Cuisine in Astoria got its start as a popular booth at the Astoria Sunday Market, becoming a restaurant in the middle of the downtown historic district in 2011. It’s a true family-run venture, with husband-and-wife team Sujay and Lorenda Nakka running the business and grandma Jayamani Nakka hand-grinding the spices for the curries.
The menu represents many of India’s regional cuisines including those from the family’s native Southern India, such as dosa and masala dosa — a long, thin crepe made from fermented lentil and rice flours, served with a side of sambar (lentil and vegetable soup and coconut chutney), designed to be dipped. Another Southern India favorite is hyderabadi bagara baigan, a curry made from ground peanut, coconut and sesame and simmered Indian eggplants. Most of the menu is vegetarian, although there are a few meat dishes for carnivores.
Pick up your takeout and drive 1.5 miles uphill to the Astoria Column, where the giant grassy lawn offers picnic tables as well as panoramic views of the city, the forest landscape and beyond. There’s a $5 charge for a pass to park at the Column, which is good for one year.
Mexican With River Views in Grants Pass
Named for the volcanic stone used for grounding ingredients as far back as the Aztec Empire, El Molcajete in Grants Pass is located a stone’s throw from the Rogue River. Mariela Hernandez and her husband, Chalio Perete, opened the place in 2017 to focus on recipes inspired by Perete’s 20 years as a cook. He grew up with his own family’s restaurant in a small town near Mexico City, the nation’s culinary capital. “That was his dream, always, to be the owner of a restaurant,” says Hernandez, who came to Southern Oregon as a teen from the Guanajuato region of Mexico. Now with two children, the family puts everything into their business, handmaking fresh batches of tamales and moles by scratch, using organic chicken and local ingredients, and featuring their dish of Molcajete Ranchero, a hot stone bowl filled with their house sauce alongside grilled chicken, shrimp, steak and chorizo with toppings of queso fresco, jalapenos and nopal (Mexican cactus).
Enjoy the restaurant’s outdoor seating or take your order to go across the street for a delightful picnic at Riverside Park, alongside the Rogue River.
Asian Fusion With City Views in Hood River
Oregon has an abundance of ramen shops, but Mugen Noodle Hood River is different, taking its inspiration from the owners’ childhood memories of growing up in Oregon and enjoying food from many countries: China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and Thailand.
As any ramen lover knows, the star of a good bowl is the broth. Here, there’s much thought given to the balance of flavors and local ingredients. Take the black-garlic chintan (clear soup), made with a chicken broth infused with garlic aioli, simmered for 10 hours to produce a rich, silky finish. Other broths are made with braised duck, pork, shrimp, miso and clam. There’s also a spicy lemongrass seafood broth made with wild salmon and a vegan broth made with Portland’s Ota tofu. Also, find hot dishes like curry and rice, chicken katsu, and pot stickers, as well as inventive salads.
Load up your takeout feast and walk three blocks east to Stratton Gardens — a quiet park in the hillside, away from the crowds.