Notable Chefs at the Best Restaurants in and around Bend, Oregon

A little known fact that visitors are picking up on, Bend is a foodie paradise. There’s something about our creative, non-traditional attitude and emphasis on local ingredients that just makes great food. Luckily for visitors and locals alike, there are several chefs running Bend kitchens that constantly push boundaries, experiment, and create delicious and innovative dishes across a diverse array of cuisines.

Chef Jeff Hunt at Globally-Inspired Spork

The international cuisine served at Spork, like lomo saltado, tacos and tomato peanut curry, is inspired by the head chef and owner’s travels across the globe. Jeff Hunt takes these various flavors and masterfully combines them in culture-crossing dishes that the New York Times has called “culinary magic.” The restaurant itself has a vibrant West Coast design combined with motifs from around the world: Tibetan prayer flags and photos from South Asian and South American travels line the space on the walls that have not already been covered in greenery. 

Before gaining a permanent location, Spork was one of the top-rated food carts in Bend for several years. From their opening in 2013 to now, the restaurant has one several first-place awards and runner-up places in “best of” contests from local newspaper The Source Weekly, such as best chef, best lunch spot and best casual dining.

Ariana Restaurant in Bend Photo Credit: Steve Heinrichs

Fine Dining with Chef Ariana Fernandez at Ariana

Ariana and her husband Andres Fernandez own and operate Ariana, an upscale restaurant described as Northwest cuisine with a Mediterranean flare. Chef Ariana brings her Italian roots into the kitchen with dishes like Sicillian calamari. The restaurant opened in 2004 when the husband and wife duo explored their chemistry in the kitchen, and Ariana’s parents offered to help fund the opening of the restaurant that would become one of Bend’s favorites.

Dishes at Ariana are always rotating and changing, based on what local ingredients are available seasonally. According to chef Ariana, the restaurant’s flavor has evolved overtime to truly reflect the flavors that surround them in Central Oregon. The duo describe themselves as “modern Americans who really enjoy Central Oregon and creating eclectic seasonal moments.”

Northern Thai Food with Chef Paul Itti at Wild Rose

Wild Rose is one of three restaurants owned by the Itti family from Thailand, and it has become a Bend-staple over the last few years. The food is specifically Northern Thai, which is traditionally a very rural cuisine and includes sticky rice, a variety of stir fry and curry noodle dishes, and tons of opportunities to snack on crispy pork and chili paste; you won’t find any pad Thai, chopsticks or Sriracha sauce here.

The chef and owner Paul Itti encourages diners to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. Itti himself hails from Northern Thailand, and brings with him a level of authenticity that is nearly unmatched. He has stated that the recipes he serves up at Wild Rose are what he cooks for himself and his family at home. Instead of inquiring about pad Thai or something with peanut sauce, he recommends going for the creamy, egg noodle soup called khao soi, a dish so popular it has developed a local cult following. Their website states “nothing haunts us like the things we didn’t order,” and the attitude is carried over in the restaurant which features dishes meant to be sampled and shared as a family. At the end of the day, Itti and the chefs at Wild Rose will cook the food exactly as they would cook it at home, with decades of experience in perfecting their recipes. It’s no wonder why Bend Magazine readers called them “the best takeout in Bend” in 2020.

Latin-Inspired Barrio with Chef Steven Draheim

Winner of the 2016 Readers’ Choice Award by The Source Weekly, the Latin-inspired Barrio has become a well-known Bend business. With humble beginnings as a food truck, chef Steven Draheim cooks up Mexican, Spanish, Southern American and American fusion dishes that have wowed visitors and locals for years; four different kinds of paella can be found right next to tacos, a Oaxacan cheeseburger and a local take on a popular Mexican street food, elote.

You can find these fusion dishes plus cocktails and micheladas at one of Barrio’s food truck locations, as they have paused their indoor dining operation in downtown Bend until further notice. Until then, guests can dine outdoors with any Barrio food truck, or consider picking up a to-go meal. The downtown location is offering meal bundles made for either a family of four, or a couple on date night, to help make having delicious family meals at home a bit easier.

Barrio in Bend

Well-Known Zydeco with Chef Steve Helt

Named the restaurant of the year in 2020 by The Source Weekly, Zydeco is an upscale, American restaurant serving Northwest cuisine with Southern flare. The award was won in part due to Zydeco’s groundbreakingly delicious food, but also because the restaurant provided thousands of high-quality meals to those in need during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Head chef Steve Helt, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Cheri Helt, is the brains behind the culinary side of the operation. Constantly reinventing and reimagining well-known dishes, Helt serves up shrimp andouille and crawfish jambalaya alongside mouthwatering and perfectly cooked local cuts of meat. Local farmers are the ones providing the veggies for the roasted beet salad and the vegetable risotto. Helt is also a member of the nationally-acclaimed and peer-reviewed BCA, or Best Chefs America, an organization of highly-talented chefs who provide inside knowledge and judge the quality of other chefs in ways that non-chefs just aren’t able to. Among his peers, Helt is known as one of the best American chefs. Don’t believe us? Go taste the difference at Zydeco.

900 Wall | Photo Credit: Alex Jordan

Historic 900 Wall with Chef Cliff Eslinger

Award-winning service, an award-winning happy hour and a head chef published in “Best Chefs in America”; do you need more reason to try out 900 Wall? The food, headed by chef Cliff Eslinger, is best described as upscale, modern American cuisine with French and Italian influences. The dinner menu boasts some unique dishes, including some of the best beef carpaccio around. The prosciutto pizza with truffle oil will satisfy any palate, while entrees like the duck confit and the sockeye salmon masterfully combine American and European ingredients and flavors.

Boutique American Steakhouse Bos Taurus with Chef George Morris

Chef George Morris remembers having his love of cooking cultivated at a young age. At just seven years old, he recalls watching a TV show where Julia Child prepared coq au vin, a French dish of chicken cooked in wine, and remembers his parents taking him to a French bistro soon after. From there, his love of cooking blossomed and he refined his skills at the Culinary Institute of America. Now, he’s not only the head chef at the upscale steak house, Bos Taurus, he also oversees the culinary operations at two other popular Bend spots, Miyagi Ramen in the box factory and Hablo Tacos in east Bend.

To ensure Bos Taurus has the highest quality beef around, Morris originally selected 75 different cuts of meat from 13 ranches, and after meticulously taste-testing each one, he selected about a dozen steaks from five ranches to serve. Morris and his staff pride themselves on being able to cook the perfect steak on a daily basis, and this level of expertise has landed Bos Taurus on several award spots, including Bend Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards for the best restaurant in Central Oregon.

Chef Eslinger is originally from upstate New York where he worked in restaurants as a teenager. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he moved to Bend and broke into the culinary scene at Merenda Restaurant and later at a Japanese-fusion restaurant called Deep. In 2009, Eslinger helped open 900 Wall and it wasn’t too long after when he was included on the advisory board for Bend’s Cascade Culinary Institute for his commitment to innovation, quality, and sourcing every ingredient as ethically and sustainably as possible.

Izakaya-style Ju:no with Chef Michi Nakanishi

Chef Michi Nakanishi originally immigrated to the United States from Japan when she was just 17 years old, after watching a popular 90s Japanese TV show that was set in Central Oregon. After falling in love with the Cascade peaks and juniper trees of the high desert that were seen in the show, Nakanishi settled in Bend, Oregon in 1997. Culinary experience from her childhood helped her find work at multiple Bend Japanese restaurants over the years, including Yoko’s, Kanpai and 5 Fusion. Now the owner of her own establishment, Ju:no, Nakanishi strives to bring a casual Izakaya vibe to Bend, fit with authentic Japanese flavors from her childhood.

An Izakaya is an informal Japanese bar that serves small plates, typically in a cozy environment. Nakanishi brings what she calls “true Japanese food” to the Podski food carts, where her restaurant is located inside the main building. Nakanishi has established a reputation for authentic and fresh flavors. Each dish, from the vibrant nigiri sushi and creative rolls to the gyoza, miso soup, soba noodles, tempura and more are all personally crafted by Nakanishi, as she is often the only chef in the kitchen. Dining at Ju:no can be compared to dining at a friend’s house, assuming that friend has decades of experience preparing fresh and authentic Japanese cuisine.

Be sure to check out other food options and Central Oregon restaurants.

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