A year of comebacks on the local dining scene
If the previous year was one of restaurant roller coaster rides, 2022 was the year of restaurant comebacks.
The category was established last year in this column’s annual wrap-up. But with pandemic restrictions fully lifted in 2022 and the majority of eateries back to normal operations, this year’s column has multiple comeback stories representing 2022’s dining highlights.
Longtime chef Lynn Flatly saw a chance for reinvention amid pandemic restrictions. Instead of nursing along her former Coquina in Ashland’s Railroad District, she closed the fine-dining establishment and spent about two years nurturing her next venture. The resulting Miss Yoon is fresh-faced but sophisticated, exuberant but confident. Flattley’s Korean-inspired cuisine fills a different niche while leaving room for some high points of the chef’s decades in fine dining.
With a seasonally changing menu, Miss Yoon beckoned me and my partner back two weeks ago, more than eight months since its spring debut. This time, we feasted with friends on Korean fried chicken, bibimbap with trout roe and sweet potato noodles with lacquered pork belly. And we didn’t miss out on a flagship Miss Yoon item, curry doughnuts with Rogue Creamery powdered blue cheese and black truffle. The cocktails kept coming, and I sipped Miss Yoon’s most touted beverage, Korea’s indispensable makgeolli. Miss Yoon is on the upper end of prices locally, but flavors are like nothing else in the region.
Celebrating the region’s farms and fresh produce, Ashland’s Cocorico served one of our favorite meals this year. Owners Grace and Nathaniel Borsi arrived in March 2020 at the Green Springs Inn & Cabins, where their restaurant’s survival in such an isolated location during the early days of the pandemic is nothing short of remarkable. When Ashland fine-dining mainstay Amuse announced its closure in April, the Borsis jumped at the chance to move into town, where they gave their First Street digs a colorful, more casual makeover. Perfectly suited for the setting, the menu is a refined take on comfort food classics of American, French and Italian cuisine at surprisingly affordably prices.
Even such prolific restaurateurs as the Flores family weren’t immune to the pandemic’s rigors. Si Casa Flores Corp. closed its Taqueria Mexico in Grants Pass for nearly two years before reopening with an updated menu and decor to heighten appeal for a new generation of diners. Steaks, burgers, pasta and even sushi compose a menu of almost mind-boggling variety. Seafood quality is a cut above other Latin eateries locally, and my family had the best restaurant Caesar salad here that any of us can recall.
Comebacks are Jeannie Inman’s specialty. The once-again owner of the Jacksonville cafe now known as Sunny Side Up owned its previous incarnation — Mustard Seed Cafe — for about a decade before selling it, then buying it back, ensuring the tradition of food service since 1958 would continue at the corner of North Fifth Street and East C Street. Under a new persona, unveiled this past month, Inman has freer license to focus on breakfast, which she does best, and to mix a new lineup of morning cocktails.
Also in Jacksonville, longtime favorite Gogi’s was closed for more than a year before reopening this spring for just three days a week. But the unfailingly gracious staff never missed a beat, waiting tables with the utmost professionalism while the cuisine of chef Andrew Peterson refreshed Gogi’s menu without straying too far from dishes customers craved during the restaurant’s hiatus.
Local lunch buffets should not be overlooked, and Medford’s Thai Bistro is near the top of my list. A summertime lunch with my son allowed for sampling a half-dozen dishes, plus appetizers and desserts, for less than the cost of two regular entrees.
Serving the largest sandwich for the lowest price I’ve seen in the region, La Torta Loca in southwest Medford specializes in its Mexican namesake while also preparing a deep lineup of tacos, burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, nachos, sopes and even huaraches near the intersection of King Street and West Stewart Avenue. Its calling card are the fat slabs of bread with nicely toasted exteriors that neatly contain generously but conscientiously assembled fillings. Pricing nothing over $12, La Torta Loca keeps the majority of items in the $6-$8 range.
Steam Distillery in Grants Pass not only mixes cocktails with house-made vodka and gin; it prices its stiff drinks a few dollars less than do many restaurants around the region. Gas prices aside, it’s almost worth the drive from Medford to Grants Pass just for a round of cocktails.
When a meal with the kids is in order, I’ve found a whiff of nostalgia appeals much more than chain restaurant gimmicks. My sons adored the authentic aesthetic and old-fashioned menu at Beckie’s Cafe, the 96-year-old establishment that operates under the Union Creek Resort umbrella. This historical roadhouse is an obvious stop en route to Crater Lake, Central Oregon or points beyond, not least for more than a dozen types of homemade pie. Homey specials include chicken soup chock full of dense, chewy, handmade noodles. “Now that’s what I call good,” proclaimed my younger son.
Made-from-scratch food sets Luna Cafe apart from counterparts in Ashland’s fast-food corridor. Offering speedy service amid a modern-chic but family-friendly atmosphere inside Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, Luna prepares superior kids’ meals, including burgers composed of cute, hand-formed patties with cheese that oozed attractively under pillowy buns, cut from a larger loaf of brioche.
No longer as essential post-pandemic, the region’s better outdoor dining accommodations offer multi-faceted experiences. Entertainment, culture, food and fun define the BackYard Community Food Court behind Ride’em Wear. The South Riverside Avenue hub for Southern Oregon’s Black community also is a venue for live music, stand-up comedy and drag shows. Architect of The BackYard, Terry Wells expanded his family business from Southern California and transformed his expansive parking lot next to Miller Paint in spring 2021 with porches, decks and awnings to host guests for lunch, dinner, drinks or a show.
Among the region’s roughly 150 food trucks, I’ve demurred on the topic of best tacos, citing far too many to rank. Instead, I weighed in this year on pupusas, the humble but hearty, hand-held staple of El Salvador and Honduras. Thicker than a tortilla, a pupusa is a corneal or rice flour griddle cake or flatbread typically stuffed with cheese, beans, squash or meat. Find the widest variety at Pupusas on Wheels, in the Crater Lake Highway parking lot of Dazey’s-Hubbards. Fried plantains and Salvadoran beans and rice, known as “casamiento,” accompany one, two or three pupusas for $5.50, $9 and $12.50, respectively.
Also relatively under the radar locally is cuisine of the Philippines. But the region’s first Filipino food truck is poised to change that. Filipino Fire recently started parking more visibly at the Chevron station off Interstate 5’s exit 33 in Central Point. The small assortment of items is intensely flavorful, supremely authentic and very fairly priced for portion sizes. Lumpia, the Philippines’ quintessential street snack and party dish, comes with every combination meal. Order an additional four or 12 pieces for $5 and $12, respectively.
New in 2022
Bar Juillet in Ashland, Blue Fish in Medford, Charm Thai Kitchen in Phoenix, Chen’s Family Dish in Medford, Kawa River Sushi in Rogue River, Las Margaritas in Medford, Poke Hana in Medford, Razi Authentic Burmese Kitchen in Ashland, Sawaddee in Ashland.
Amuse in Ashland, Buena food truck in Central Point, House of Thai Cuisine in Ashland, McGrath’s in Medford and New Far East in Medford.
Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or email@example.com