For my money, Ken's Home Plate (better knows as "Ken's Place") Place at 1852 SE Hawthorne consistently serves the best food in Portland. Went there last night for the last night of their holiday menu. I had cassoulet, one of my favorite foods when done right. It was sublime, at least as good as ANY cassoulet I have had in France, and that's several. It is instructive to note that it blew the doors off the cassoulet at Carafe (a restaurant that seemed very overrated to me, based on one four-person dinner visit, though I liked the chef when he was at Lucere). Just one point of comparison: the bread crumbs atop the Carafe dish might as well have been sawdust, for all the flavor they added to the meal. Additionally, all of the ingredients seemed to be barely on a handshake acquaintance basis (whereas, in a proper cassoulet, they have simmered together for hours, or days). Ken's krumbs were tasty and complementary, and all of the ingredients -- the sausage, the confit, the chicken -- each seemed as though it had been specially picked for its flavor, rather than both chosen and then tossed together willy-nilly. My partner had the she-crab cream soup: spectacular, and chock full of crab. She also had the wild mushroom and leek tart, with a buttery and flaky crust that would have made you think the desserts had to be fabulous. (Unfortunately, the desserts at Ken's are only good.) We split a yummy and eggy rich creme brulee for dessert. Oh, and yes: I had a really better-than-decent cotes du Rhone (Chateau du Trignon), at about 5 bucks plus per glass.
We have to drive past the wildly uneven Lauro to get to Ken's. Maybe it's the full bar or the meat market scene (intense for the Southeast) that draws them in, but the eaters ought to go to Ken's instead. Later in January, Ken's will be inaugurating Sunday family-style meals based on domestic and foreign regional cuisines.
My hope that the restaurant thrives and survives is tempered by the fact that I am spoiled by almost always being able to get a table. But, really -- give it a go.