Owner-chef (and James Beard Award–winner) Rob Evans may have trained himself to cook—but it’s not as if he just woke up one day and whipped up a batch of ocean-perfumed shrimp chips or salt-cured foie gras parfait. Rather, Evans worked his way from cruise-ship kitchens to Napa Valley’s French Laundry before taking over this longtime spot (keeping the original name, Hugo’s) in the center of Portland’s restaurant row. Now Evans’s wife, Nancy Pugh, expertly manages the comfy, if somewhat dated, black-and-maroon dining room, with a new bar menu and flat-screen TVs that telecast the ongoing action in the kitchen. But the real drama is on the plate. Evans is a master of creative cookery, blending seemingly unrelated flavors to tongue-tingling surprise, and seafood is his forte. Even a simple glass of rich, briny bouillon hides layer upon layer of flavor. And when Evans takes you down the gourmet rabbit hole with dishes like “ice wine vinegar snow cones” and “smoked milk chocolate mousse,” it’s best to go along for the ride. Any questions, just ask the ultrafriendly waitstaff, each of whom is fluent in Evans’s one-of-a-kind culinary language.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.