written and photographed by Carly Diaz While Portland is often seen as Oregon’s food hub, a growing number of restaurants in Salem are quietly and quickly shaping the state’s capital into an alluring culinary destination. Dedicated to the local, organic and seasonal food movement, these six restaurants showcase the best of the region, while playing to the creativity of the city.
Husband and wife duo Nate and Rochelle Rafn are Oregon through and through. Both grew up in Salem and are committed to the community, by supporting Salem-area farms and producers, as well as offering a platform to highlight local flavors. They began Rafns’ as a private supper club experience before opening their space in downtown Salem. The limited menu concentrates on seasonal flavors comprised of local and organic ingredients. The Rafn’s have remained responsive to customer preferences, adjusting their concept from family-style dining and counter service to a more traditional dining room. Although new restaurants are emerging within a stone’s throw of the restaurant, Nate believes a level of healthy competition will be a boon to the Salem dining scene. “Like the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships,” he said. 479 Court St. | rafns.com
Minto Island Growers
Tucked on the southern outskirts of Salem is the organic Minto Island Growers farm. Chris Jenkins and Elizabeth Miller lead a team that produces a variety of crops through all seasons, operates a Community Supported Agriculture program and distributes fresh produce throughout the Willamette Valley. The farm stand and food cart on the farm premises operate during the summer season. Led by the culinary efforts of Sally Miller, the menu offers fresh-from-the-farm food that is both healthy and delicious. Special draws to the food cart include wood-fired pizza, fresh fruit milkshakes, a weekly Vietnamese menu item from Chef Bao Nguyen and the opportunity to purchase items from the farm stand, including small-batch tea. 3394 Brown Island Rd S | mintogrowers.com
A staple in Salem’s dining scene, Wild Pear is well loved by both locals and visitors. Owned by sisters Jessica Ritter and Cecilia Ritter James, Wild Pear has a welcoming bistro-like atmosphere. The menu presents a variety of classic lunch options with surprising twists, such as the Kahlua pork sandwich, white truffle sweet potato french fries, the BBQ pork bahn mi, or the grilled prawn, red quinoa, and avocado salad. Stay for dessert and try the key lime custard with raspberry coulis or the wild pear cheesecake with caramelized pears and caramel sauce. On a summer afternoon, lunch or happy hour is best enjoyed outside at the entrance of the restaurant. 372 State St. | wildpearcatering.com
At the end of the summer season, Wild Pear co-owner Jessica Ritter and her brother Mike Ritter will open a new restaurant downtown. With Ritter’s Eatery, Jessica and Mike aim to fill a void in the Salem dining scene by offering fresh, healthy lunch options that pay tribute to the local, seasonal and organic movement that is increasingly central to Salem’s dining preferences. The expansive, light-filled dining room boasts an open kitchen where guests can gaze into the brick pizza oven and linger over the eating options. Customers can select a variety of prepared-food options for dine in or take away, from salads and sandwiches to cheese and charcuterie platters. In the morning, a yogurt bar will provide healthy breakfast options, and in the afternoon the space will be transformed into a salad bar. An ice cream station serving Eugene’s Red Wagon Creamery ice cream and a custom bar will give guests a reason to linger. There is a space downstairs for private events, as well as seating upstairs that gives a bird’s-eye-view of the action below. 102 Liberty St. Suite 100 | ritterseatery.com
Paradiso at the Grand Theatre
Owned by Joe and Cindy Meduri, Paradiso at the Grand Theatre opened in April 2016 and offers guests a fine-dining experience amidst an art-deco inspired interior. Chef Robert Durkin relocated from Long Island, New York to lead the kitchen, creating a menu that highlights Italian coastal flavors, such as grilled radicchio trevisiano with raw fava beans, veal Milanese, and Tuscan pot roast with porcini. Paradiso celebrates the recent restoration of the historic Grand Theatre and adds a bright star to the downtown district and Salem’s dining scene. 195 High Street NE | paradisosalem.com
Taproot Lounge & Café
In his youth, Taproot owner Chris Holland frequented the now-closed Coffeehouse Cafe and reveled in the intimate, caffeine-fueled atmosphere. Inspired by the setting, he imagined opening a welcoming, artistic space with local musicians and creative events. Years later, after a Kickstarter campaign gave him the funds he needed to get started, Taproot was put into motion. Opened in 2015, Taproot has a vast, open space with booths for intimate discussions or long tables for a community seating. The café opens early to serve breakfast and coffee and stays open late to serve cocktails. The menu offers a diverse range of options from bowls and salads to a variety of side dishes and tapas, as well as smoothies and juices that change with the season. 356 State St. | taprootloungeandcafe.comMore restaurants in Salem to try: La Margarita for an exceptional Mexican food restaurant that boasts a mesquite grill and unforgettable margaritas. Archive Coffee & Bar for late-evening bites paired with an inventive cocktail list. Crooked House Bistro for an intimate space with a seasonally-driven menu that features Oregon wines. Cristo’s Pizzeria for consistently fantastic pizza, comforting Italian food and a dynamic live music lineup. Table Five 08 for a gastropub atmosphere with an eclectic menu and dynamic bar. Andaluz for Northwest-inspired tapas and Spanish food. DaVinci Ristorante for Italian fine-dining and wine in a romantic atmosphere. Word of Mouth Bistro for made-with-love breakfast and lunch items and overflowing plates.