Locals call it the “Whit,” and for many years, it was one of Eugene’s less desirable areas. But in the last decade, the Whiteaker district in Eugene has gone through a renaissance.

Bordered by West 6th Avenue to the south and River Road to the west, some of Eugene’s most successful and enterprising businesses have gotten started in the Whit, including the famous local brewery Ninkasi. For visitors to the Whit, the most immediately attractive features include the food offered and the drinks on tap.

Ninkasi Brewery

Ninkasi beers have become a national success in just a few years. Their ales, stouts and IPAs, which includes the bestselling Total Domination IPA, are now common fare in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The brewery is located at 272 Van Buren St.

The tasting room, where beer samples and food are in generous supply, is open every day of the week from noon until the late evening.

According to the company’s website, Ninkasi shares “the ancient Sumerian belief that beer is an important and valued part of civilization.” It’s certainly become one of the most important and valued institutions in the Whit. The brewery recently sponsored a neighborhood cleanup effort to get the district in shape for the 2012 Olympic Trials.

Laughing Planet Café

With locations around Oregon, the Laughing Planet at 760 Blair Blvd. specializes in delivering inventive burritos, bowls, soups, salads, smoothies and juices. Laughing Planet has racked up awards in the community for their food and service. For two years, they’ve taken the Eugene Weekly’s “Best Place to Take Kids” award.

Jared Mackey, an assistant manager at Laughing Planet, described his impression of the restaurant.

“We offer fast, healthy, affordable food,” Mackey said. “With vegan and gluten-free options.”

He continued to say that the café is the perfect place for anyone with dietary restrictions.

Sweet Life Patisserie

There aren’t many places as fine to take your sweetheart as Sweet Life. The shop at 755 Monroe St. (and a brief walk from Laughing Planet) is filled with irresistible desserts. Everyone can find something to like here: Cakes, torts, pies, cookies, éclairs, cupcakes, chocolate bars, pastries and gelato are all available in numerous flavors, and there are a host of vegan and gluten-free options.

Aaron Caldwell has been the manager for three and half years.

“It’s a place where you come with your significant other or family,” Caldwell said. “It’s really laid-back.”

He expressed a great fondness for the Whit, where Sweet Life is thriving.

“We get a great cross-section of people from all over Eugene,” he said. He went on to explain that the success of different businesses in the Whit brought in more business for all the others, thanks to a close proximity.

“The Whit is a real hub,” he said.

Pizza Research Institute

One of the most original restaurants in the Whit and Eugene is the Pizza Research Institute, which bakes some of the most delicious and unusual pizzas you’ll ever taste.

Isaiah Boise is a son of the owners. He’s proud of the business his family has built.

“We’re a long-running vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Eugene, family-owned and operated,” Boise said. “We sell pizza and various salads and appetizers, all made in house.”

To get a sense of what kind of pizza choices are available, one of the most popular menu items is a pizza made with pears, potatoes, and pesto. No cheese. New pizza flavors are innovated all the time.

“I created a special that will be added to the menu soon,” Boise said. “It’s broccoli, pesto, smoked gouda cheese. I make it for myself all the time.”

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