A Taste for Lunch in Ashland, Ore.


NW Raw
Chris Pietsch for The New York Times

On a recent summer afternoon, it was a busy scene outside the Ashland Food Co-op, where the lunch menu is the biggest draw. On a small triangle of grass a barefooted young woman in a grass skirt did a rather frantic and awkward hip dance while her shirtless tattooed partner played the bongos. Two gray-haired men wearing button-downs ate salad at an outdoor table and argued about Richard Blanco, the Inaugural poet in 2013 who gave a reading here last year.

Inside it was so crowded at the certified organic Food Co-op, a grocery store and popular restaurant that reopened its lunch deli in July after a major renovation, that the traffic jam of customers and shopping carts made it hard to enter. “We have a charisma, a magnetic field that pulls people down to the vortex that is the Food Co-op at lunchtime,” Annie Hoy, communications manager, said. She encouraged out-of-town visitors to try the new carnitas tacos ($2.50) and Paleo bowl ($7.99) at the co-op’s deli.

In this last year and a half, at least 10 food spots have opened or undergone renovations in Ashland, a southern Oregon town of just 20,000, boosting its reputation as an emerging culinary destination. Nearly half of these restaurants are focusing on lunch, three catering exclusively to the lunch crowd. The new lunch craze is a hyper-local healthful food trend that allows both budget travelers and well-heeled tourists to enjoy the produce and artisanal products this region has to offer. At least 300,000 visitors come to Ashland each year for the 10-month-longOregon Shakespeare Festival (which ends on Nov. 2), outdoor recreation like white-water rafting, hiking and mountain biking, and the wineries.