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Eating in the Northern Willamette Valley

Eating in Yamhill County

Looking for some Wine Country dining recommendations in Dundee, McMinnville, Dayton or Newburg, Oregon? Just ask the locals.

I was hungry. The kind of hungry that makes you do crazy things--like pull into the first drive-thru restaurant you can find and eat a half-pound of french fries in the parking lot.

Driving southwest on Route 99 from Portland toward Yamhill County, there's not much but strip malls and fast food for the first thirty-five minutes or so. Dangerous driving for rumbling tummies. But for those who hold out, the wait is worth it.

Though finding a restaurant with, well, a winelist and cloth napkins used to be pretty rare outside of Portland, the booming Yamhill Wine Country has fostered an impressive collection of chefs and restaurateurs.

Holding back my hunger pains until Dundee turned out to be a good idea. Sliding up to the kitchen/bar at the Dundee Grill, just of Highway 99 (100-A SW Seventh St., Dundee, 503.554.1650), I got a soul-satisfying lunch and an earful from the chefs about their favorite local places to eat.

Though the restaurant's table service and outdoor patio are calm oases of upscale dining, the bar is a fiery, chatting, bustling hotbed of action. Don't be surprised if your front-row seat ends up being nudged a few times by busy wait staff picking up orders. It's a small price to pay for this kind of entertainment.

Here at the bar, it's not unusual to find off-duty chefs or local vintners chatting with the chef and sampling some of his daily specials. Order what they do and you'll likely get the best eats on the menu. Though there aren't many bad choices here. The food is simple, elegant Northwest cuisine, with a focus on regional ingredients like potatoes, crab, local produce and hearty meats. The menu changes frequently, but when I visited, the Yukon Gold potato soup and an amazingly-crafted crab salad in fried rice paper were both exceptional.

Owned by the Ponzi family, which is one of the larger wine producers in the region, the restaurant has a large selection of Ponzi wines, as well as other local producers. The wine list is Oregon-centric, so don't go looking for a Napa Cabernet or French Burgundy—you're in the Willamette Valley after all.

Where else to go:
There are plenty of other local choices, as well:

  • La Rambla: Almost hidden in the nearby town of McMinnville, this tiny Spanish restaurant is a new addition to the increasingly cosmopolitan North Willamette Valley restaurant scene. French doors open to the sidewalk, but inside, everything is dark and woody, with an Old World charm. It's a great after-tasting spot to settle your tummy with hearty small plates of smokey fried potatoes and aioli, warm homemade turkey meatballs in tomato sauce and luscious desserts. 435 NE Third Street, McMinnville, 503.435.2126. Upscale casual.
  • Painted Lady: A few miles north in Newberg is The Painted Lady, an elegant Victorian home serving anything but staid cuisine. With starters like watermelon gazpacho with smoked shrimp and entrees that include brined pork tenderloin and seared duck, the menu is a blend of American and French high cuisine with a healthy imagination. 201 S. College Street, Newberg, 503.538.3850. Elegant dining.
  • Joel Palmer House: The Palmer house has become a Wine Country institution, despite being less than 10 years old, and mushrooms have everything to do with it. The menu, which is dedicated to solid pairing of the region's food and wine, is dominated by mushroom dishes, which have become the chef’s specialty. 600 Dayton St., Dayton, 503.864.2995.Elegant dining.
  • Hotel Oregon: They've got a rooftop bar and annual UFO sightings, along with a ghost or two. Located in a historic McMinnville hotel (now called Hotel Oregon) are three choices for travelers who just want a hamburger and a beer (or some more Pinot). Casual and fun, the hotel includes a pub restaurant with sandwiches, salads and burgers, along with a basement wine bar and a rooftop bar that looks over the valley. 310 N.E. Evans St., McMinnville, 503.472.8427. Casual.
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