Ashland may be the Rogue Valley's default destination for celebratory meals. On the cusp of the new year, however, it's simple, comforting fare — at lower prices — that characterize 2012. These are our favorite restaurants among the ones featured in Revels this year.
Nothing says comfort like deep-fried. Spring rolls at Anya's Thai Bistro, 33 N. Third St., Ashland, comprise not only perfectly crisp layers of rice paper but a light filling of glass noodles accented with a bit of finely diced veggies. An appetizer order for $5.50 includes three enormous rolls, house-made rather than the frozen versions served at most Asian restaurants locally.
In-house meat cutting and preparation of deli specialties, such as terrine, headcheese and paté, translates to higher prices at Boulton & Son Butchers, 165 E. Main St., Ashland. But the quality can't be beat.
Priced at $9, "sandwiches of the day" are packed full of meat and served on artisan bread. During winter, the butcher shop serves hot sandwiches, but we're still craving the chicken salad mixed with dried fruits and paired with apple slices enjoyed on a summer day in Lithia Park.
Serving a light, airy chicken paté that defies the dish's typically fatty foundation, Julek's Polish Kitchen in Talent forever changed our notion of "salad" with its "kalafior." This is simply half a head of steamed cauliflower topped with melted butter and breadcrumbs for $7. Large enough for two, it's surprisingly savory and satisfying.
More such comfort foods await at the strip-mall restaurant, 160 N. Pacific Highway, the town's first to serve Eastern European fare — kielbasa, pierogi and borscht — since Chata closed nearly a decade ago.
Just a few paces from Julek's, Mystic Treats, 103 N. Pacific Highway, is the region's first entirely vegetarian pizzeria (with a few exceptions for fish) and serves some of the best pies around. While the Rogue Valley boasts unusual pizza toppings aplenty, Mystic Treats pushes the envelope even further.
Sophisticated creme fraiche, fig puree and buffalo mozzarella keep company with macaroni and cheese on Mystic Treats' house-made crust. House-smoked, wild, Pacific salmon elevates the Hawaiian pizza, which owes even more savoriness to paprika-infused olive oil. The Southern Oregon marriage of fig, pears, blue cheese and hazelnuts is an homage we'd yet to see as a pizza. A 6-inch, personal-sized pie costs $6.
If Mystic Treats lets vegetarians indulge a bit, Ashland's Sauce serves the staples and made us fans of meatless meals, too.
Signature sauces — toasted sesame, spicy peanut, mango-tamarind, zesty green goddess, green chutney, cilantro pesto, tahini, miso gravy and ginger-teriyaki — flavor portions of rice or quinoa with slow-roasted and braised vegetables and greens, priced between $7.50 and $9.75. Lamb curry, house-made bone broth and pan-fried naan also are popular at this casual spot in the Ashland Street Cinema complex, 1640 Ashland St.
All of these eateries vie for status as the year's best, new restaurant, but that distinction goes to Ashland's Tot. Seemingly transplanted from one of Portland's hip districts, this Southeast Asian barbecue establishment in the Oak Street Center serves the area's most credible versions of Vietnamese pho, banh mi and green-papaya salad at prices between $6.50 and $13.
The restaurant's name, according to its website, is a play on the Vietnamese word for "good." And owners Sean Simpson and Andrew Will don't cut any corners, preparing all the dressings, sauces, pickles and even sausages in-house from ingredients that often are locally grown and produced.
The do-it-yourself duo also created the industrial-chic decor by salvaging pallets for paneling, a 100-year-old beam from a Chicago warehouse for the bar, chairs from a garage sale and light fixtures original to the building.