The Evolution of PDX Dining: Meet Scott Snyder, the Man Behind Portland's Levant

Known for its diverse culture and dining scene, Portland (PDX) does not follow trends, it creates them. And Levant, an upscale Middle Eastern restaurant that highlights traditional North African and Middle Eastern spices and meats, is no exception. (Bonus: Levant, which opened in February 2013, is a Foodable Portland Top 25 restaurant.)

With fare cooked over an open wood-burning hearth, Levant’s menu includes dishes like grilled grape leaf wrapped trout with melted leeks, herbed green rice, rapini and sorrel sauce; hearth roasted lamb with peas, chickpeas, favas, lamb braise and preserved lemon jus; and Filfel jumbo prawns with sojouk sausage, peas, mint, raki and grilled Moroccan k’sra, which Levant Chef & Owner Scott Snyder prepares for us in the Foodable vignette above. 

Heading North

In the video, Snyder also talks about what drew him from San Francisco to Portland, and what distinguishes PDX from other food cities in the nation. 

“I wanted to live somewhere that had that same sort of environment of just close-knit community, agriculture, farmers, animal husbandry, cheesemakers, fishermen. Portland was a very natural fit.”

Before trekking to PDX after watching friends relocate and love it, Snyder honed his skills at San Francisco restaurants Jardiniere and Postrio. When he moved in 2008, Snyder entered the Portland food scene as a cook at Wildwood.

From Raw Foodist to Restaurateur

Snyder first got into cooking seriously in his early 20s, when he was a self-proclaimed “hardcore vegan and raw foodist.” His chosen dietary restrictions at the time had a huge influence on him watching how dishes were prepared. That’s when he began playing with food himself, which led to a natural love affair.

On top of that, Snyder has deep Israeli and Russian family roots. These influences, married with his modern and classic French technique and love of old-world cuisine, are what ultimately bred the 50-seat Levant, located on E. Burnside Street.

The Evolution of PDX Dining

Snyder says it’s the history of agriculture and pioneering spirit that has really led up to the Portland food scene we know today. Then you add in things like food carts, he says, which allow people to express their culinary vision with less capital investment. Some of them have gone on to brick-and-mortar establishments.

But the model that really caused the Portland restaurant scene to explode is as simple as raw talent and good management. It begins with a few solid restaurants, which strengthens new talent, who then go on to opening their own place. And so the expansion begins. 

It’s clear to see that Snyder is giddy about the possibilities of the future of Portland. But for now, he’s focusing on Levant.

“I want people to leave here having a good time. I want them to remember us, I want them to come back. Mostly, I want them to walk away with a good feeling and being happy. The greatest thing we can do is make people happy — that’s why we do what we do.”