Take a Foodie Tour of the Willamette Valley, Inspired by “Top Chef: Portland”
In spring 2021, “Top Chef: Portland” showcased the best of Oregon’s culinary offerings—from seafood on the Oregon Coast to locally sourced produce in the Columbia River Gorge. And we might be biased, but we think the show saved the best for last by shining a spotlight on the farms and wineries of the Willamette Valley—home to hundreds of growers producing more than 170 crops and livestock, as well as more than 600 wineries—in its dramatic season finale.
So if you’re still salivating for more from our home-grown vintners, chefs, and farmers, we’ve put together a culinary road trip, inspired by “Top Chef: Portland,” through the heart of the Willamette Valley—from the chic Third Street corridor in McMinnville to the heart of downtown Eugene. This gastronomic road trip is largely laid out in a loop that begins in the northern Willamette Valley and heads south to Eugene before returning north—and into the foothills of Mt. Hood.
Here’s a guide to some of the Willamette Valley’s most decorated foodie destinations.
Popular Dishes Feature Seasonal Produce, Scratch-Made Ingredients in McMinnville
Community Plate brings together a touch of classic comfort food and modern culinary practices at its always-popular diner along Third Street in downtown McMinnville at the northern edge of the Willamette Valley.
The breakfast-and-lunch spot specializes in classic American fare, such as biscuit sandwiches, buttermilk pancakes, and hearty burgers—but puts its own twist on each dish by baking its bread items and making ketchup, aioli, and berry jams in-house. (Even the diner’s bloody mary is made with fresh-squeezed juices.) Naturally, Community Plate partners with nearby farmers and growers to prepare a seasonal menu that spotlights local meats, eggs, produce, cheeses, honey, and more.
If you’re still hungry, grab a pie from nearby Pizza Capo, which produces wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas—and where the Valley Special changes with what’s in-season and always topped with the freshest Willamette Valley-grown ingredients. The summertime Valley Special, for instance, might be covered with the likes of zucchini (grown on a farm just 15 minutes from town), salami, mozzarella, pickled peppers, garlic, and red onion—and finished with parsley, basil, and pecorino.
Locally Made Sweet Treats Abound at Willamette Valley Pie Company in Salem
Sure, we’ve mentioned farm-to-table fare in this piece—but what about farm-to-freezer? Farm-to-restaurant? Farm-to-pie? At Willamette Valley Pie Company in Salem, you can enjoy all of the above in the heart of the region.
Every summer, the family-owned fruit company processes more than 10 million pounds of fresh, locally grown fruits—including strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, blueberries, blackberries, and marionberries (first cultivated in the Willamette Valley and now a regionally iconic item).
Willamette Valley Pie Company ships its pies and berries all over the United States—but visitors with a sweet tooth can stop by its store and café for pie by the slice, scones, muffins, smoothies, lunch fare, and even its famous “pieshake”. And if you’d like to pick your way through Willamette Valley Pie Company’s berry patches, U-pick opportunities for blueberries are available each summer.
Gathering Together Brings Diners to Its Farm for Fresh, Local Fare
Since 1987, Gathering Together Farm has brought fresh produce to farmers markets, food stands, and restaurants throughout the wider Willamette Valley—including its own on-site eatery just outside Philomath.
Gathering Together Farm prides itself on thoughtfully preparing European-inspired dishes with added Pacific Northwest flavor—and does so by baking its own bread, making its own pasta, and preparing as many of its dishes as possible from scratch.
The menu changes with what’s in-season but might include wood oven-roasted chicken, seared chinook salmon, or house-made pappardelle pasta—along with a dessert menu that may be crafted with locally grown berries.
And if you want a taste of Gathering Together to go, stop by its farm stand for fresh-picked produce, decadent pastries, local fruit spreads and sauces, free-range eggs, and other Willamette Valley delicacies.
Enjoy Seasonal Cuisine from a James Beard Award-Nominated Chef at Sybaris Bistro in Albany
Nearly everything on the menu at Sybaris Bistro in Albany is made in-house—even the ketchup.
The spacious restaurant in downtown Albany, led by husband-and-wife team Janel and Matt Bennett, boasts an internationally inspired menu—all prepared with a Pacific Northwest twist that shows off whatever’s fresh and in-season. (Not for nothing, but the menu changes monthly to showcase the freshest local crops.) On any given visit, you might enjoy anything from roasted summer vegetables to bobotie—a classic South African dish filled with spiced meat and covered with an egg-based topping.
The Bennetts opened Sybaris Bistro in 2001, and the restaurant has become a community mainstay in the decades since. In that time, Matt has twice been nominated for the coveted “Best Chef: Northwest” award by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.
For something a bit more casual—and for a fun look at the Willamette Valley’s burgeoning food-cart culture—visit Common Fields in nearby Corvallis. The food cart pod boasts a variety of cuisines—including Mediterranean, ramen, barbecue, and traditional New Mexican fare—along with $5 pours of local beer, cider, wine, and kombucha. When the weather gets chilly, the pod’s benches are heated for a toasty treat.
Eugene’s Lion & Owl Works Farm-Fresh Produce into Creative Brunch Dishes
Breakfast is often considered the most important meal of the day—and we believe that counts doubly for brunch, the house specialty at Lion & Owl in Eugene.
Lion & Owl launched inside a vintage Airstream trailer before expanding into a full-blown brick-and-mortar restaurant, thanks largely to its eclectic mix of flavors and inspirations that draw on the travels of spouses Crystal Platt and Kirsten Hansen (who own and run the restaurant).
The Lion & Owl menu reflects the Willamette Valley with a variety of dishes that incorporate seasonal produce; it’s not uncommon for Platt and Hansen to source their ingredients from the Lane County Farmers Market, for instance. Summertime offerings might include marinated beets with a variety of berries, granola crumb, and cashew pudding; poached zucchini; or even a frittata prepared with braised greens, spring onion, aged cheddar, and a salad.
But even with the new digs, dishes are still prepared inside the Airstream that started it all.
McKenzie General Store and Obsidian Grill Serves Elevated Pub Grub in the West Cascades
After a day of riding or hiking the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail—or even paddling the McKenzie River’s legendary rapids—chances are good you’ll be hungry for a hearty meal. When that happens, show up hungry to the McKenzie General Store and Obsidian Grill in McKenzie Bridge.
The McKenzie General Store’s Obsidian Grill imbues its classic pub fare with locally sourced ingredients and house-made items for a satisfying taste of the Willamette Valley. (You’ll also find a handful of regional craft beers on tap.)
Organic ingredients are sourced from local farmers and growers, and all dressings and sauces are made from scratch—which leads to a creative menu where onion rings come with a side of house-made marionberry bourbon barbecue sauce and the hummus plate is paired with a rotating selection of seasonal vegetables. Other dishes include salmon tacos (spotlighting fresh-caught, wild salmon), a filling burger (made with Oregon-raised beef), and pulled pork tacos (drizzled with a tangy, house-made chimichurri sauce).
And befitting the Obsidian Grill’s commitment to fresh, local fare, the restaurant’s menu changes with the seasons.
Go Straight to the Source With The Kitchen at Middleground Farms Near Wilsonville
Housed in a refashioned cattle barn, The Kitchen at Middleground Farms embodies the farm-to-table ethos for which the Willamette Valley is so well-known: An on-site vegetable garden provides the kitchen with fresh ingredients, 25 hens and a small herd of goats contribute eggs and dairy products, and nearby farms and producers supply much of the rest.
Is your curiosity piqued? (How could it not be?) Make a reservation for a special seating in the farm’s gazebos or greenhouse for a touch of privacy—or at the chef’s table in the restaurant’s kitchen for an up-close look at how the magic happens.
Sitting just outside Wilsonville, The Kitchen at Middleground Farms also offers demonstration cooking classes where diners can learn how to pair wines with local fare, dig deeper into the farm’s agricultural roots, and more—all while enjoying a fresh meal as it’s being cooked.