Where to Eat and Drink in Portland

A Letter

Editor’s Note: If you’re headed to Portland, Oregon, maybe you have a restaurant-savvy pal there who can advise you on what spots are worth your precious stomach space. But (with all due respect to your friends) nobody knows Stumptown’s tastiest bites better than Jen Stevenson, author of Portland’s 100 Best Places to Stuff Your Faces. Here’s the note Jen sends when somebody asks for her PDX tips.

Hey there,

So glad you're coming to Portland! You have so much to eat! Er, do. Fine, eat. All you really have time to do while you're here is eat. You might be able to squeeze in a quick hike, possibly a stop at Powell’s or a trip to the Rose Garden, but I'm not making any promises. So many restaurants, so little time.

Portland hasn't changed much since you were last here. I mean, if you don't count the crippling rush-hour traffic, rising rents, white-hot housing market, rampaging condo development (sans adequate parking #heywhoneedstoparkonDivisionStreetanyway), and approximately one trillion new restaurants, bars, breweries, and food carts. And, while Portland's no longer the place young people come to retire (unless they've made it big with their app), for the moment it's still affordable enough to allow creative, intrepid, and ambitious young cooks to do their thing, whether that's a supper club, casual counter-service eatery, or upscale neighborhood restaurant.

There's a lot of new to explore—Hat Yai’s fried chicken and curry combo is not to be missed, and you can't very well show your face back home without photographic evidence that you braved the line for roasted strawberry coconut soft-serve at Salt & Straw's new Wiz Bang Bar, part of downtown's brand-new Pine Street Market food hall. But the "old" and "jeez, not that old" favorites aren’t to be forgotten—from teen Castagna and tween Le Pigeon to toddler Kachka, and Lardo and Lovely's Fifty Fifty in between. My whole list of must-eats is below.

By Jen Stevenson

[Photograph: Dina Avila]

  • Portland Food 101: Pine Street Market

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    If you’re staying downtown and don’t want to venture far, haven’t much time, or are simply lazy, no problem—Old Town’s new nine-vendor Pine Street Market lets you graze next-level food hall fare from the folks behind local culinary A-listers, all in a one-block (and rainproof) radius.

    Start with OP Wurst’s Portland Dog, a snappy, foot-long frankfurter produced less than a mile away at Olympia Provisions’ inner SE headquarters and piled with lardons of glistening pork belly, braised kale, and crunchy roasted hazelnuts; grab a few slices of hot, cheesy Pomodoro Royale pizza at Trifecta Annex; slurp a bowl of rich, spicy Marukin ramen; rip into a golden-skinned Spanish-style roast chicken at Pollo Bravo; or chow down on Common Law’s signature banh mi, stacked with paper-thin slices of beef tongue and served with crisp five-spice potato chips. If you’re suffering from post-gluttony guilt, the soon-to-open Kure juice bar will have green smoothies and acai bowls. But if you think guilt’s a wasted emotion, make your last stop the Salt & Straw ice cream empire’s soft-serve spin-off, Wiz Bang Bar, for a swirl of roasted strawberry coconut soft-serve enrobed in homemade Woodblock chocolate Magic Shell, or PB&J sundaes drizzled with marionberry preserves and sprinkled with homemade peanut butter cereal.

  • A Superior Sandwich: Lardo

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    Perhaps Portland’s rugged, outdoorsy sensibilities help explain our deep and enduring love for well-engineered sandwiches. In a city of all-stars, standouts include Bunk’s luscious pork belly Cubano; Meat Cheese Bread’s stellar green bean sandwich, layered with bacon relish and sliced soft-boiled egg; and The People’s Pig’s spicy-vinegar-splashed pork shoulder sandwich, which will bring tears to your eyes…just blame the smoke.

    But if you have to pick just one sandwich stop, make it Lardo—because the menu sends you into a tailspin of indecision and you vow to return until you’ve conquered everything on it, because the beer menu is the alcoholic equivalent of the perfect summer playlist, because the SE location’s picnic table–lined patio somehow lulls you into a three-hour lunch. Whoops.

    When Lardo was born back in 2010, in the little wheeled blue bungalow currently perched on the SE shop’s front patio, Chef Rick Gencarelli himself built your sandwich and served it out of the open Dutch door with a shy smile. His signature porchetta sandwich really was and is love at first bite: deeply savory and meaty, with salty, fatty slices of chili-, fennel-, and garlic-rubbed pork shoulder stuffed in a tender house-made ciabatta bun that’s slathered with hazelnut gremolata and lemon-caper aioli.

    These days, Lardo’s menu offers more than a dozen sandwiches, from the griddled mortadella dripping with melted provolone to the ever-popular pork meatball– and pickled vegetable–piled banh mi, which oozes Sriracha mayo all over your fingers. But you can still get that perfect porchetta, best paired with an order of Dirty Fries—piping-hot russets tossed with bronzed scraps of pork belly and shoulder, marinated peppers, herbs, and Parmesan—and a few pints of Oakshire Brewing’s Lardo Lager.

  • Breakout Pop(-Up) Star: Han Oak

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    Pop-ups and secret suppers are so common now, I suppose you could argue that the concept’s lost its mystique. Except that Chef Vitaly Paley’s Russian-themed DaNet dinners still sell out in minutes; Tournant’s exquisite alfresco Secret Supper collaborations have already amassed a fervid following just four events in; and, in most cases, shortly after you receive your weekly e-invitation to Southern supper club Mae, there’s a charming follow-up email that declares, “Y’all are just too sweet! We’re all full up.” While some pop-up chefs cherish the freedom and flexibility that come with being a rolling kitchen stone, most are testing recipes and building a following in hopes of establishing a brick-and-mortar of their own, and Portland boasts more than a few pop-up success stories that have done just that, like Holdfast, Nomad, and Nodoguro, which recently secured a home for its wildly popular “Hardcore Omakase” sushi dinners.

    Then there’s Han Oak, which has settled nicely into its secret space behind the Ocean micro-restaurant mall and is racking up rave reviews for its family-style Korean BBQ suppers and Sunday brunches. Despite the prix-fixe permanence, Han Oak still retains the aura and excitement of a pop-up—Friday through Sunday only, you reach it through a set of ivy-shrouded double doors leading from a dingy parking lot into a hidden, twinkle-lit courtyard, then take your seat in the airy communal dining room. If it’s dinnertime, you’ll feast family style, starting with small plates like delicate-skinned pork and chive dumplings in a black vinegar and ginger broth, before tackling a bo ssam platter ribboned with ember-smoked flatiron steak and koji salt-baked pork belly.

    If it’s brunch, you’ll be tempted to forsake your usual biscuits ‘n gravy forever once you taste Chef Peter Cho’s melt-in-your-mouth soy-braised black cod, paired with a triangle of savory pork-belly-and-kimchi waffle heaped with fresh herbs. Your meal arrives with purple rice and a collection of superb salty-spicy-sour banchan, including house-made kimchi, sautéed mushrooms and mustard greens with chickpea miso, and soy-pickled garlic scapes. Menus top out at $35, which leaves more fun money for…xurros?

  • Beyond the Doughnut: 180

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    While Pepto-pink Voodoo boxes still dominate tourists’ social media snaps, Portland’s doughnut horizons have expanded, and these days, mini-doughnut mecca Pip’s Original commands lines 25 people deep, while brioche-scented Blue Star pins “Sold Out” signs on the doors well before closing most days. But there’s a new fried-dough dealer in town, and it’s quickly earning a cult following of its own.

    180 is a bright, bemuraled gem from Barcelona-born chef Jose Chesa (a James Beard Award nominee who also helms Ataula, plus new paella palace Chesa), along with his wife, Cristina Baéz, and partner, David Martin. Here, the cheery crew slings airy Spanish-style xurros three ways—slender, pale gold loops dusted with cinnamon sugar and destined to be dipped into cups of pudding-thick Cocanú drinking chocolate; bañados robed entirely in dark chocolate and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt; and stubby, stuffed xurros rellenos that arrive weeping dulce de leche. Then there are the transcendent xuixos—croissant-like pastries filled so generously with orange zest–infused crema catalana that you hear the faint flutings of a flabiol as you cut through the crackling layers to release it. Okay, maybe that’s just me, but seriously, order one, and do it fast: They make only 25 each morning, and they’re often sold out before noon.

  • Portland in a Pizza: Lovely’s Fifty Fifty

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    Portland isn’t a pizza town in the sense that New York and Chicago are pizza towns, where a proclivity toward thin crust or deep dish seems lodged in natives’ DNA. But that doesn’t mean that otherwise mild-mannered Rose City residents won’t get their flannel knickers in a twist defending their top pie pick—which, for the die-hards, is generally Apizza Scholls, and, fair enough, their capicola-topped Apizza Amore deserves all the worship it gets. I think Ken’s, Nostrana, Tastebud, Handsome, and Pizza Jerk are all exceptional, too.

    But for Portland on a pizza, it’s all about Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, where pizzaiola Sarah Minnick manages to distill the very essence of this city’s edible riches into pizza form. If you’re wondering what’s being picked and plucked at our local farms this very second, consult Minnick’s Instagram feed. Half the pizzas on each day’s menu are constants—you can always get the elemental marinara with shaved garlic, and fennel sausage with braising greens, but otherwise, pies are shaped by the season, resulting in inspired pairings like summer’s roasted-peach pie, topped with gnarled green padrón peppers, sweet onions, smoked pancetta, sage leaves, and gooey, melty raclette cheese.

    But at Lovely’s, pizza-making isn’t just about creative combinations of ingredients; the beautifully blistered crust is also something of a scholarly endeavor. Minnick uses a mixture of organic Edison, red spring wheat, and white flours, and employs a 24- to 48-hour ferment to achieve her tangy, fantastically chewy sourdough crust, which takes about six minutes to cook in the 750-degree wood-fired oven.

    When you’re done eating pizza, start ordering ice cream—definitely the salted caramel, and all the fleeting seasonal flavors as well, from strawberry buttermilk to candied kumquat with sage and raw honey.

  • The Other Thai: Hat Yai

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    As laid-back as Portland’s dining scene is, the ungettable reservation does exist here. Best of luck landing the date you want for Chef Earl Ninsom’s Langbaan, the much-lauded Thai prix fixe hidden behind a bookcase in the dark back hallway of his casual PaaDee restaurant—or getting a reservation, period. But, to help soften the no-Langbaan-for-you blow, try Ninsom’s newly opened Hat Yai, a pared-down Southern Thai joint tucked into the one-block NE Portland restaurant row shared by Seastar Bakery, Handsome Pizza, La Taq, and Podnah’s Pit BBQ.

    Hat Yai’s main menu attraction is its Combo, a.k.a. the #5—a tangle of dark, crispy-skinned, sweet-sticky herb- and spice-marinated fried chicken, accompanied by a bowl of coconut-rich Malaysian-style curry made with roasted lemongrass, galangal, cilantro, red chili, shallots, and garlic, and eight types of toasted spices. On the side, there’s a freshly made round of roti neatly folded like a kerchief, a lump of sticky rice, pickled vegetables, and a tin cup of sweet dipping sauce that’s easy to overlook in your zeal to soak up every drop of curry. After experiencing the #5, it’s hard to stray, but if you must, try the curry-braised chicken thigh or the soy-cured short rib swimming in coconut-shallot sauce. Tamarind- and turmeric-spiked cocktails are shaken to order in Mason jars, but the best thing on the beverage menu is the no-proof coconut mango horchata, an ambrosial blend of mango purée and creamy coconut-rice horchata that will transport you straight to the streets of…well, Hat Yai, I guess. (While you’re on a Thai kick, it goes without saying that you should also cross paths with the iconic Pok Pok and its exalted fish-sauce wings. Right?)

  • Warm Soup on a Drizzly Day: Ha VL

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    You’re relatively well assured of fair weather here between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, but in the event that one of our notorious Puddletown downpours descends, hit 82nd Avenue for a chill-banishing soup safari, starting with Ha VL, one of the city’s most revered Vietnamese soup joints, famous/infamous for: serving exceptional soup, running out of soup, and being Pok Pok Chef Andy Ricker’s main soup squeeze. Once you’ve finally found the Vuong family’s diminutive dining room, hidden in a courtyard mall just north of the Fubonn Shopping Center, make your way past the jovial knot of regulars who sit outside smoking and joking around, order an iced coffee, and take your pick of the two (and only two) soups on offer, which rotate daily. You can’t go wrong; each soup is superlative, from Friday’s simple but satisfying chicken pho to Sunday’s rich, funky Mì Quảng, teeming with tender shrimp cake, pork ribs, sliced pork meatloaf, ground pork and shrimp, and turmeric rice noodles.

    If reaching the bottom of the bowl has only whetted your noodle lust, keep going: Pho Oregon isn’t far, nor is Bun Bo Hue. For further guidance, trace the sure footsteps of the #HumidityPDX soup club, an informal Portland chefs’ meet-up that slurps at a different hole-in-the-wall every week. To come full circle, end your expedition at the Vuongs' new-ish, evenings-only Powell Boulevard sister soupery, Rose VL Deli, where co-owner William Vuong will graciously greet you and, depending on the time, quite possibly tell you that the bowl of peppery pork ball noodle soup you just ordered is sold out.

  • Dressed Up: Coquine

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    It’s not like we’re allergic to white tablecloths here in Portland. You’ll occasionally spot them fluttering around town, painting a pristine background for the chef’s tasting menu at the extraordinary Castagna, or pinned by a glass of Côtes de Thongue at date-night destination Little Bird. But for the most part, Portlanders regard the traditional trappings of fine dining in the same way we regard ties, oversize vehicles, and frequent shaving—largely unnecessary. Even at special-occasion standouts like Le Pigeon, Roe, Ox, St. Jack, and Ava Gene’s, there’s little formality between you and the food, and perhaps no restaurant better represents this than the upscale but approachable Coquine, a labor of love shared by husband-and-wife team Ksandek Podbielski and Katy Millard.

    Their teeny corner bistro, which shares a quiet residential block just north of Mt. Tabor with a yoga studio and one of the city’s charming fencepost-mounted lending libraries, embodies the term “neighborhood gem.” The Coquine team gets up with the birds, and hard-working, possibly non-sleeping Millard herself will often personally deliver your 8 a.m. duck confit hash, studded with summer squash, sweet little Sun Gold tomatoes, fresh basil, and creamy, tender potatoes. Come evening, she’ll appear tableside bearing your platter of crackly, golden-skinned roast chicken nestled next to a pile of charred eggplant and fava bean couscous, or hand you a bowl of soft, plump potato gnocchi bathed in silken, slightly peppery nasturtium butter.

    Say yes to dessert, and don’t underestimate the seemingly humble cookie—Millard’s smoked-almond chocolate chip cookies are just as bewitching as pastry chef Liz Kennedy’s ethereal yogurt chiboust (a meringue-lightened pastry cream), served with elderflower-glazed strawberries and sprinkled with white chocolate almond rice crunchies (yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds).

  • Dressed Down: Kachka

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    If Coquine is where you mark life’s milestones, Kachka is where you celebrate the everyday Portland victories—slamming on your brakes in time to foil the Morrison Bridge speed-trap van, snagging the last order of strawberry shortcake at Pine State Biscuits’ farmers market booth, surviving a particularly soul-deadening January Tuesday. Inside Kachka’s cozy confines, there’s a seat for every sort—longtime comrades squeeze around the knee-high lounge tables; first dates perch gingerly at the bar, exchanging stilted small talk until the Moscow Mules kick in; and, in the back room, big groups boisterously work their way through both the globe-trotting, 50-bottle-plus vodka list and the Ruskie Zakuski Experience—a prix-fixe parade of drinking snacks, like salty-sour pickled green tomatoes and smoked Baltic sprats on pumpernickel toast spread with parsley mayo.

    As a famous Russian singer-songwriter with a voice like a shovelful of gravel warbles in the background, order your first round of the house-infused horseradish vodka, the comely Herring "Under a Fur Coat" (i.e., fancy Russian seven-layer dip made with pickled herring, potatoes, root vegetables, egg, and mayonnaise), and at least two bowls of Chef Bonnie Morales’s Siberian pelmeni. I can’t emphasize enough how profoundly delicious these dumplings are—tortoiseshell-shaped pillows of beef, pork, veal, and onion snuggled in a tender but sturdy dough, boiled or pan-fried, then smothered in a generous dollop of smetana (Russian sour cream), sprinkled with chives, and, if you so request, drenched in a beef shank–fortified “fancy broth.” For dessert, get the feather-light plombir ice cream sandwiches with black-currant tea milk caramel for dipping. And more vodka.

    Come midnight, say your farewells, and spend your two precious pre–last call hours wisely—turn right for summer-evening rosé at mellow Oso Market & Bar, turn left to sip Sazeracs at hipster haunt Dig a Pony, or cross the street for a deftly mixed Manhattan at the handsome Bit House Saloon.

  • Not Your Average Brunch: Expatriate

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    In this town, you haven’t truly earned your smoked-trout Benedict until you’ve waited upwards of an hour for it, hence the resigned clusters of coffee-clutching walking hangovers queued up outside Tasty n Sons and Broder on any given Sunday…or Saturday. While the popular brunch kids don’t disappoint, expand your horizons a bit—perhaps at the darling Milk Glass Market, where you’ll find former Sugar Cube pastry queen Kir Jensen’s apple butter cinnamon rolls and rosewater meringue–capped rhubarb crostatas holding court in the pastry case; Southern-style Muscadine, for fantastic fried chicken and grits; or weekends-only HunnyMilk, where you can’t skip the chocolate-chunk monkey bread with peanut butter custard.

    But let’s really veer off the beaten brunch path, all the way to sultry Expatriate, one of the city’s best cocktail bars. Now it’s also one of our best brunch destinations, thanks to a new morning-meal collaboration between Expatriate owner/bartender Kyle Linden Webster and his wife, Beast chef Naomi Pomeroy, who’s also behind the bar’s evening menu of Burmese-inspired drinking snacks. Not for the basic bacon ‘n eggs set, Expatriate’s brief, bold menu starts with Pomeroy’s rich congee with dashi, a poached duck egg, fried garlic and shallots, fish sauce ponzu, and a spoonful of chili oil. The hash browns come “smothered and covered” in pho sour cream and hoisin-tamarind sauce, and the breakfast burrito, too, defies convention—it’s stuffed with soft scrambled eggs, kimchi, and shrimp fritters. The rice-flour waffle, which maintains its terrific crispness to the last bite, skews both sweet and savory—one version is topped with fried chicken strips so spicy, the server administers a repeated warning when you order them; the other is trimmed with coconut glaze, vanilla bean whipped cream, and a scoop of ash-hued black sesame ice cream. Since this is, after all, a cocktail bar, and an exceptional one at that, build something boozy into your brunch plan, too.

  • Food Cart Fundamentals: Tidbit Food Farm and Garden

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    The height of the cart craze has come and gone, but food carts are still very much a part of Portland’s food culture and identity. And, while there are must-eats scattered throughout the city, the best and most immersive way to experience the phenomenon is via a pod—dedicated stretches of asphalt where clusters of carts circle their wagons. Downtown’s SW Alder and SW 10th cart collective is probably the most exciting—an entire city block fringed with food trucks slinging brisket-laced jook (Jook Joint) or Chinese crepes (Bing Mi), wonderfully comforting khao man gai (Nong’s) and some of Oregon’s best fish ‘n chips (The Frying Scotsman).

    But the most fun pod in town is Tidbit Food Farm and Garden. Occupying a corner lot just west of rapidly gentrifying Division Street’s energetic commercial core, Tidbit enjoys the security of a five-year lease that, at least for now, staves off the ravenous development that threatens or has already disbanded so many other pods. Tidbit’s also carefully cultivated its identity from the get-go—nearly two dozen carts, offering everything from banana Nutella waffles to wood-fired pizzas to vegan whoopie pies, surround a partially tented, picnic table–lined courtyard warmed by a fire pit, dotted with pretty planter boxes, and strung with twinkle lights that impart a festive glow come dusk, when the dinner party’s just getting started. There’s even a craft beer cart—Scout Beer pulls from 12 rotating taps. After you’re full, there’s still no reason to leave—go gift shopping at Menagerie, or get a manicure at Beauty Truck. (I wasn’t kidding when I said they had everything.)

  • Drink Up: Reel M Inn

    [Photograph: Dina Avila]

    Time-tested oases of cheap hooch and unjudged poor judgment, Portland’s dive bars are always there for you, some even at 7 a.m. on Christmas Day. A tour’s not complete without having a grand old time overestimating how many of The Spare Room’s $3 Jim Beam and Cokes you can drink and still form intelligible speech, spilling Space Punch on your Space Balls (fried pulled pork and cheddar cheese balls; mind out of the gutter, please) at Space Room Lounge, or singing a (tortured) karaoke rendition of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" at The Alibi. Personally, I favor The Slammer, where the Fireball flows freely, Skee-Ball skills are tested, and the fancy internet jukebox is totally fixed—no matter how much one ponies up to push a Beyoncé tune to the top of the playlist, the bartender will skip it in favor of Wu-Tang Clan anyway. Whatever. But for all it offers, The Slammer lacks an essential component—amazing fried chicken.

    Enter Division Street’s iconic Reel M Inn. This quintessential slice of Portland nightlife, going strong since 1994, somehow hasn’t been stomped by a condo building yet, which in and of itself is worth celebrating with a PBR or five. Once inside, rub tattooed elbows with off-duty chefs and the weathered locals who start trickling in at 10 a.m., as you wait, and wait, and wait for that coveted paper-lined plate of crispy, crackly-skinned fried chicken, because it’s only cooked one order at a time. Sate your hunger pangs with the mac-and-cheese bites. School someone at Buck Hunter. Toss your loose change in the umbrella suspended from the ceiling, and help fund the bar’s next Make-A-Wish fulfillment. Then, when your chicken finally arrives, revel in its crispy, dark gold skin; liberally apply the massive bottle of ranch dressing and the six-pack of sauces that comes with; and meet your fried-potato quota for the year with the tender, seasoned-all-the-way-through jojos—hearty, skin-on home fries made fresh here from man-hand-sized russets that are sometimes quartered, sometimes simply halved. The chicken’s no pub-grub-menu afterthought; fresh Draper Valley birds are delivered every couple of days, and the bar flies through around 1,000 pounds of poultry a week, all prepared in a utility closet–sized kitchen at the end of the bar. And, as you dig in with both hands, scalding your fingertips as you strip every last juicy morsel of thigh and leg meat off the bones and dredge it in your embarrassment of ranch dressing riches, you’ll totally get why people are so fierce about this fried chicken.

    ‘Course, some nights you need a hint of highbrow, and Portland can do that, too—sip single malts and funky-rum Old Fashioneds at Multnomah Whiskey Library, Clyde Common, Shift Drinks, La Moule, Pépé Le Moko, Rum Club, and Teardrop. And, as if Beervana would leave beer drinkers out in the cold—if you’re looking for a taste of Portland’s best brews, this one’s for you.

    So excited for your trip! It’ll be just like old times. Except you’ll Uber back to your Airbnb, 'cause, you know, we've got Uber now...and no parking spots, so that works out well.

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