Taste the Innovation at These Central Oregon Spots

Among the boundless list of things to do in Central Oregon, there are ample food and drink establishments dotting cities end-to-end. With so many options, finding a tasty place to fill up might be one of the easiest parts of a trip. But dig a little deeper, and visitors will find eateries and watering holes that are deviating from the norm, getting innovative and offering something a bit different. Excellent food is part of the program, as is ambiance, history and culture. These restaurants offer an allure for visitors to not only satisfy their taste buds, but to have an experience that is exceptional.

Yoli in Bend, OR

The story behind Bend’s new Korean restaurant begins with Chef Joe Kim, who made a name for himself during more than 12 years in Bend kitchens, including 10 years at downtown’s 5 Fusion Sushi & Bar, where he worked as chef and his wife, Laura Kim, managed the front of the house. The Kims left 5 Fusion in early 2022, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Joe Kim began working as a sous chef. It wasn’t long, however, before the Kims were headed back to Bend for a fresh start, and with a dream to open a new restaurant that reflected Joe Kim’s own Korean culture and heritage. Thus, Yoli was born. 

After moving back and noticing a lack of Korean food in the Central Oregon area, the Kims made the leap to fill this void. With these endeavors, they hope to “show that Korean cuisine is as important and wonderful as every other cuisine in the world and to erase some of the stereotypes and hesitations people may have about trying Korean cuisine,” Joe Kim said.

When diners step into Yoli, they are greeted by an intimate setting of 10 tables which mirrors the ambiance the Kims set out to achieve, focusing more on the quality and experience at the restaurant as opposed to the volume of customers. “The décor of Yoli is meant to represent modern Korean décor in its simplicity and welcoming warmth; we wanted a restaurant where the community can enjoy a casual meal but also see that Korean cuisine can be your elegant special occasion meal,” he said. Here, visitors will find a menu of traditional Korean cuisine, including popular dish Ssam—chili sauces, protein, Korean miso and fresh lettuce. The lunch menu is a stepping stone into traditional Korean food culture, and the dinner menu is focused on more complex, modern Korean dishes that feel a bit more like fine dining. 

The innovative spirit of bringing a sense of heritage to each dish is not lost on each visitor. “The team at Yoli wants people to [leave] feeling that they have enjoyed something that they cannot find anywhere else in Oregon both in the cuisine and the experience,” Laura Kim said.

A plate of food from Yoli.

Porter Brewing and The Cellar in Redmond and Bend, OR

A drink is poured at The Cellar in Redmond.

Central Oregon is a region known for its abundance of craft breweries, which typically churn out delicious hoppy IPAs and other ice cold varieties packed with Pacific Northwest flair. Redmond’s Porter Brewing employs a different approach, however, taking inspiration from across the pond and serving up 100 percent cask-conditioned “real ales,” that are unfiltered, unpasteurized and self-carbonated, just like brews are served up in English pubs. Porter Brewing opened its first taproom in Redmond in 2018, and followed with an underground pub in Bend, The Cellar, in 2021. Both spots offer drinks, food and unique atmospheres to boot. “We chose the specific niche of offering cask ales because there aren’t many places in Oregon where you can find them,” said Porter Brewing co-owner Avara Roberts. “When brainstorming about our brewery, we knew we wanted to offer something to the community that was unique, and being cask ale lovers ourselves, we thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce them to Central Oregon on a larger scale.” The process of making ales at Porter Brewing is similar to other brewing techniques, however the carbonation level and serving temperature are what makes them unique from typical draft beers. Roberts said that cask ales go through a secondary fermentation process, meaning the carbonation is not forced; instead, it occurs naturally. 

In addition to English ales, both locations also offer Vi’s Pies—named after owners Deven Roberts and Avara’s daughter, Violet—which are savory meat pies that add a layer of British pub food to the mix. “They’re all made from scratch by a team of four, including my mother-in-law, Ronna, my father-in-law, Joe, Jane (a close family friend) and myself,” Avara Roberts said. Among the many flavors of pies to choose from, the most popular is the Scottish meat pie. When visitors walk into The Cellar in Bend, the environment reflects the essence of an old English pub—original stone walls and large wooden beams. Roberts said that the Redmond location is similar in environment but with a more eclectic feel. In either location, walk in preparing to feel the homey, cozy environment of a place built for gathering.

The Barn in Sisters, OR

When looking for variety, or trying to figure out where to eat with an indecisive stomach, The Barn in Sisters is a delicious answer. Daniel St Lawrence said he was inspired to establish The Barn after owning and operating his mobile food truck, Boone Dog Pizza, and wanting a permanent home for it. After that, he and his family and friends joined forces to create a stunning building that stuck to the Western-style of Sisters but has a contemporary feel. “The ambiance of The Barn is rustic, quality, spacious [and] authentically Western,” St Lawrence said. “We wanted to make intimate spaces for people to find a nook to cozy up into to feel like they were able to get away from the business of life and enjoy the beautiful space that we created.”

At The Barn, visitors will find food trucks surrounding the charming outdoor space, serving Mexican cuisine, barbeque and pizza, along with gluten-free and vegan options. Inside, find seating and a bar serving up beer, wine and craft cocktails that rotate seasonally. “We are the parents of two young children and really appreciate the flexibility and fun atmosphere that [food truck gatherings] provide,” St Lawrence said about the conception of The Barn.

Although the tap list at The Barn changes often, some local names found here are Boss Rambler, Van Henion, and Bend Cider. The dynamic energy at The Barn goes well beyond food and drink. The venue plays host to sculptures, artwork and live music two to three times a week. St Lawrence said that they are working on recording live shows available for download called The Barn Sessions. “Ultimately we would like to expand our food offerings so that we continue to support the local farmers more and more, and feed our community with the food that is grown here in Central Oregon. Too often that is the missing link when I eat out at restaurants,” St Lawrence said. 

Inside of the Barn in Sisters, Oregon.

Carnaval Mexican Grill in Redmond, OR

A mixed drink at a bar at Carnaval Mexican Grill.

A venture of husband and wife Emmanuel and Yadira Medina, Carnaval Mexican Grill has been serving up craft cocktails and Mexican cuisine in downtown Redmond since early 2020. The pair were both born in Mexico but met years ago working in another Redmond restaurant. Together they created Carnaval from their influences of heritage and culture. Carnaval has a lively atmosphere with elements of natural wood and pops of color splashed on the walls. Here, the bar is fully stocked and ready with creative Mezcal-infused cocktails—the signature smoky alcohol that draws in visitors. On the menu, find authentic Mexican cuisine with unique twists and fresh seafood in the heart of Central Oregon. 

Perhaps the most sought after dish on the menu is the grilled octopus (purple Spanish octopus with a smattering of salsa, fresh citrus and a dusting of sea salt), which can be found on the appetizer menu. As for entrees, the flavors of the traditional cuisine with fresh ingredients come through in dishes such as Alambres—a fajita-style dish with bacon and pineapple—and locally sourced ribeye steak. 

Carnaval has the ambiance of excitement and comfort, as if walking in gives diners a reason to celebrate. With the inspiration from Mezcal and the Carnaval Autlán Festival, dining in the restaurant is an experience on its own; adding the flavorful and rich cuisine and a signature cocktail is the cherry on top.

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