Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker reveals his favorite eats in Portland

Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro in Portland, Ore. Photo credit: David Reamer.
Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro in Portland, Ore. Photo credit: David Reamer.

Hometown: Napa, California
Occupation: Chef and Owner, Le Pigeon and Little Bird Bistro
Years worked as a chef: 9
Years lived in Portland: 12
Awards: Best Chef: Northwest, James Beard Foundation (2013)
“Best French Restaurants in the U.S.,” Travel + Leisure (2013)
Rising Star Chef, James Beard Foundation (2011)
Restaurant of the Year for Little Bird Bistro, The Oregonian (2012)
Restaurant of the Year for Le Pigeon, The Oregonian (2008)

Go to Chef Rucker’s shortlist

What do you love best about Portland’s food scene?

The fact that I don’t feel like as chefs we’re all competing against each other, everyone has their niche and we all respect what each other does.

Butter lettuce with warm lentils, roasted lamb neck, and yogurt from Little Bird Bistro. Photo credit: David Reamer.
Butter lettuce with warm lentils, roasted lamb neck, and yogurt from Little Bird Bistro. Photo credit: David Reamer.

If you had to name one personal favorite dish from your restaurants, which would it be and why? 

The butter lettuce with lamb neck and lentils at Little Bird. It’s the perfect lunch, not too filling, but it packs in flavor. At Le Pigeon, it’s the savory pie if we have savory pie. Right now we have a chicken and escargot pie on the menu. (Editor’s note: At the date of publishing, the savory pie on offer is a buffalo sweetbread pie.)

Chicken and escargot pie from Le Pigeon. Photo credit: Carly Diaz.
Chicken and escargot pie from Le Pigeon. Photo credit: Carly Diaz.

Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor in Portland should try. 

Any of the vegetable plates at Ava Gene’s. Burgers at Tilt (with jalapenos). The peanut butter cup sundae at Imperial. Steak and Caesar salad at Gino’s. The clam chowder at Ox. 

Describe your perfect “dining out day” in Portland.

Breakfast at Elmer’s. Lunch at Little Big Burger. Dinner at Ava Gene’s, followed by a walk next door to Salt & Straw for ice cream.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out at?

Sellwood. It’s super chill, people are walking around with families, and it feels like a small town. I used to live over there. The restaurant scene in downtown Portland has also gotten so much better over the past few years.

What other cuisines do you enjoy eating or cooking, and where do you go for these foods?

Mexican (Angel Food & Fun), Lebanese (Ya Hala), Vietnamese. I like cooking Mexican food at home, and sometimes incorporate those flavors into the cooking at Le Pigeon (as in the mushroom “al pastor” we made recently).

Any great watering holes you like to visit often?

The B-Side Tavern down the street has been a longtime favorite.

Since it’s Portland, we have to ask: what’s your favorite food truck?

Kim Jong Grillin’.

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at Portland’s airport or hotels you would recommend?

Clyde Common in The Ace Hotel, the Driftwood Room bar in the Hotel deLuxe.

What’s your guilty pleasure and where in Portland do you go to get it? 

Taco Bell, diet Rock Star energy drink.

What’s one dish that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?

The pigeon with dried fruit that our chef de cuisine Andrew Mace made for his pop-up, Limited Company. (Limited Company is Andrew Mace and our pastry chef Nora Antene’s pop-up dinner series.)

Are there any foods native to Portland that you particularly like and that visitors should try to find?

Juanita’s tortilla chips, made in Hood River.

Finally, what would you say is the one thing any visitor must see or do before leaving Portland? 

Drive up to Mt. Hood. There’s a glacier right there. Just a short drive from the city into such a different world.

Chef Rucker’s Shortlist:

Le Pigeon, 738 E Burnside Street (Buckman); French, dinner only daily.

Little Bird Bistro, 215 SW 6th Avenue (Downtown); French, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily.

Ava Gene’s, 3377 SE Division Street (Richmond); Italian, dinner only daily.

Tilt, 3449 N. Anchor Street, Suite 200 (Swan Island); American, breakfast Saturday-Sunday, lunch daily, dinner Monday-Saturday.
Second location: 1355 NW Everett Street, Suite 120 (Pearl District); breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Imperial, 410 SW Broadway (Downtown); Pacific Northwest/American, breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Gino’s Restaurant & Bar, 8051 SE 13th Avenue (Sellwood); Italian, dinner only daily.

Ox, 2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (Eliot); Argentine/Pacific Northwest, dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Elmer’s, 9660 SE Stark Street (Hazelwood); American, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 10001 NE Sandy Boulevard (Parkrose); breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Third location: 9848 N. Whitaker Road (Delta Park); breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Little Big Burger, 122 NW 10th Avenue (Pearl District); American, lunch and dinner daily.
Multiple locations around Portland

Salt & Straw, 3345 SE Division Street (Richmond); ice cream, open daily.
Second location: 2035 NE Alberta Street (Alberta Arts); open daily.
Third location: 838 NW 23rd Avenue (Nob Hill); open daily.

Angel Food & Fun, 5135 NE 60th Avenue (Cully); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily.

Ya Hala, 8005 SE Stark Street (Montavilla); Lebanese, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

B-Side Tavern, 632 E Burnside Street (Buckman); bar, open daily.

Kim Jong Grillin’, SE 46th Avenue and SE Division Street (Richmond); Korean, lunch and dinner daily.

Clyde Common, 1014 SW Stark Street (Downtown); European, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, late night Monday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Driftwood Room, 729 SW 15th Avenue (Goose Hollow); bar, open daily.

Mt. Hood National Forest, Sandy, OR; open daily.


About the Chef: Growing up in Napa, Gabriel Rucker’s earliest inspiration came from home cooking. His first food memory is of a cream of broccoli soup made by his grandma, whom he recalls telling him that “little boys shouldn’t be in the kitchen” and promptly kicking him out. Her words clearly held little weight, as Rucker went on to become one of Portland’s most celebrated chefs.

He finished a year of culinary school before dropping out to take on his first cooking gig at a country club. At his subsequent job, he pushed himself harder, studying Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook in his spare time to learn how to cook more intuitively. He eventually left northern California for Portland and was “really lucky” to find work at Paley’s Place; he refers to the French restaurant as “the cooking school I never finished.” By 25, Rucker already had years of valuable chef experience under his belt, and coupled with some luck, he opened his first restaurant, Le Pigeon.

“MY ADVICE TO YOUNG CHEFS WHO WANT TO OPEN THEIR OWN RESTAURANTS: FIND SOMEONE WITH DEEP POCKETS, LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES, CROSS YOUR FINGERS, SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD PEOPLE, AND LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE YOU HIRE.”

Le Pigeon built a reputation as a go-to destination for nose-to-tail cooking and innovative French cuisine. In 2010, sister restaurant Little Bird Bistro opened, and in 2013, Rucker published his first cookbook, Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird.

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