For years, the Portland International Airport had claimed the top spot in Travel and Leisure’s survey for Best Domestic Airports, as well as top honors from Time and Conde Nast. While the spa, express care clinic, distillery tasting room, local musicians, and movie theater all impact its reputation as a cushy layover, food and drink played no small part in its acquisition of accolades.
Of course, however, things have changed since COVID-19 landed in Portland. Suddenly, tourism has dropped off, Oregon travelers are staying home, and PDX doesn’t quite feel like the playground it was back in 2019. Still, as some travelers continue to prepare to fly home, the airport has upped its COVID-19 protocols, although masks are not currently required in the airport.
PDX is also in a state of flux, completely unrelated to the pandemic: The airport has been undergoing a major renovation, and will add a new slate of big-name Portland businesses to its dining options this summer, including Good Coffee and Screen Door. And while some of the airport’s heavy hitters have left — Tamale Boy, Kenny & Zuke’s — there are many places where customers can still find a bite to eat, including exciting new arrivals like Lardo.
PDX’s panoply of restaurants, bars, and cafes include ample options for vegetarians, vegans, and the gluten-free, with prices comparable to their off-airport counterparts; plus, many of those options are outposts of local businesses. Something to note: the concourse connector hallway, which usually makes it easy for visitors to explore the whole airport without going through security again, is currently under construction, so it’s best to look within your side of the airport when considering a meal.
Lardo is a Portland legend, a sandwich cart-turned-local chain that is known for its hardcore sandwiches and dirty fries. While the full-blown location has yet to open in the former Kenny & Zuke’s spot, founder Rick Gencarelli designed a menu of grab-and-go dishes for the transitionary Lardo in Concourse E, complete with bacon-egg-and-cheeses, thick Italian subs, and salads.
The Country Cat, just past security in the North Lobby, is probably the most compelling reason to come to the airport early, thanks to its house-made granola and potato-filled three-egg omelet. For a quick bite, the house-smoked turkey sandwich from the grab-and-go menu is an option.
Flying Elephant’s Delicatessen: The airport outposts of this longstanding Portland deli offer many of the other locations’ knockouts, from chile con queso breakfast burritos to its legendary Mama Leone’s soup. It’s hard to beat the cozy vibes of its chicken pot pie, however.
Café Yumm is a smart option in Concourse C, specifically because its signature dish is only available in the Pacific Northwest: The Yumm Bowl looks like just-your-average rice bowl with salsa, veggies, and cheese, but its eponymous Yumm sauce — tangy and a little salty — makes it a unique Made in Oregon staple.
Tillamook Market: One of Oregon’s most famous brands, this dairy company serves cheesy comfort foods like fried cheese curds, Tillamook cheddar cheeseburgers, and sourdough-pretzel-topped mac and cheese out of the new expansion in Concourse E. Plus, the shop scoops pre-flight ice cream for those in need of a sugar hit.
Deschutes Brewery, also in Concourse D, is where you can drink from 15 taps of Oregon craft brews but also find house beers integrated into dishes — think: salads with Fresh Squeezed IPA Vinaigrette or mac and cheese in an Obsidian Stout cream sauce.
Blue Star Donuts, available in Concourse E, is Portland’s other big-name doughnut shop, with flavors like blueberry bourbon basil and passionfruit cacao nib. These brioche-dough wonders will make any early morning flight bearable.
• Flying Elephant’s Delicatessen, a Portland deli and cafe chain, offers weekly specials along with classic and grilled sandwiches, soups, deli salads, and frittata by the pound. Elephant’s now has two locations in the airport: One upstairs on the south side of ticketing, as well as a grab-and-go location downstairs by baggage claim.
- For those seeking a pre-flight coffee, Portland Coffee Roasters has a small spot to pick up a latte or cup of drip. Portland Coffee Roasters can be found all over PDX — the roaster operates two more kiosks on the other side of security.
South Lobby (between Concourse A & B, and C)
- The popular family-owned Capers Cafe offers a huge menu and multiple daily changing specials, including breakfast omelets, sandwiches, and salads. The restaurant’s bar is a nice spot to try Oregon and Washington wines during a long layover.
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters is likely the airport’s best option for a pre-flight cold brew, as well as artfully made coffee drinks.
- Lardo slings its sandwiches in the South Lobby, with a selection of grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches and Italian subs. This is one of the strongest sandwich contenders in PDX, for those looking for a quick lunch; it’s also a spot to grab a Portland-made beer from the new Fracture Brewing.
- Henry’s Tavern is known for its 32 taps, the house-seasoned waffle fries with Gorgonzola sauce, and its juicy burgers.
- Starbucks is... technically a Pacific Northwestern-founded chain of coffee shops. There’s a location near the entrance to the concourse.
In a food court with seats and tables in a shared center, travelers will find:
• Café Yumm is an Oregon-based chain offering rice bowls or wraps with its signature Yumm! sauces: creamy and tangy garbanzo-bean-based spreads the texture of hollandaise.
• Mo’s Seafood & Chowder, a family-owned Oregon institution since 1946, brings the Oregon coast to the PDX airport with its famous clam chowder, fried seafood baskets, and seafood sandwiches.
• Westward Whiskey, offering a number of single-malt whiskeys with locally malted barley, operates a tasting room and retail shop for those looking to take home something special.
• Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen is a local chainlet that offers banh mi sandwiches, vermicelli bowls, and pho. The restaurant’s beef pho comes stocked with slices of rib-eye, best paired with one of the restaurant’s interesting juices.
• Build your own pizza at national pizza chain MOD Pizza, or select from the menu’s pizza list including breakfast pizzas.
• Potbelly Sandwich Shop is a national chain known for toasted submarine sandwiches and malts.
Toward the end of the concourse, you’ll find:
• Vino Volo, an airport wine bar pouring a few standout Oregon pinots alongside things like burrata with roasted tomatoes, charcuterie, and pizzettas. Those at the airport early will also find brunch fare like avocado toast and a flatbread breakfast sandwich.
- Portland Coffee Roasters is all over the airport: in the pre-security area, after security in the North Lobby, and here, with a selection of Portland-roasted blends and grab-and-go breakfast options. Those looking for more elaborate coffee drinks — pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint mochas — will find what they’re looking for here.
• McDonald’s is, well, McDonald’s.
North Lobby (after Security between Concourse D and E)
- The Capers Market offers a handful of breakfast and lunch entrees, and serves as a market thoughtfully stocked with local products and you can easily assemble your own Pacific Northwest cheese and charcuterie plate.
- Portland Coffee Roasters also operates a location here, for those seeking a quick coffee before a flight.
- The Country Cat closed its original location in Montavilla, making the airport location the last standing remnant of Adam and Jackie Sappington’s down-home institution. The quintessential Portland restaurant offers several signature sandwiches and Southern comfort food. The menu is significantly pared down in the wake of the pandemic, but devotees will still find fried breakfast, burgers, salads, and grab-and-go sandwiches.
- Deschutes Brewery brewpub has an impressive bar overlooking the airplane action while pouring more than a dozen of its beers, including a reserve library beer and a PDX Pub exclusive. When stopping by for breakfast, visitors inhale porter French toast with blueberry compote, while those popping in for dinner are more inclined to order stout mac and cheese or an elk burger.
In an area that has seats and tables in the center, travelers will find:
• Hissho Sushi is a national sushi chain that also offers bento boxes, ramen, steamed buns, and makirrito. Grab-and-go boxes of pre-made rolls are available, as well.
• Burgerville, an Oregon fast food chain that regularly sources from Pacific Northwestern farmers, offers a slate of burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and fries, but the real move at Burgerville is to get one of their milkshakes — especially ones made with Oregon strawberries.
- Tillamook’s cheese-centric cafe is slinging cheeseburgers, breakfast sandwiches, and grilled cheeses alongside the obligatory mac and cheese. The real move here is to get the fried cheese curds with a dilly ranch dipping sauce, available as a side with a number of the shop’s sandwiches.
- Bambuza, mentioned above, also operates a shiny new location in Concourse E — more of a restaurant with a chef’s counter as opposed to food cart stall. This is the spot to get a hearty vermicelli bowl doused in nuoc cham before heading to the gate.
- Women-in-aviation-themed bar Juliett is likely the strongest airport bar choice for those seeking a fancy cocktail with a view of the planes. The bar is a collaboration between two big-deal Portland restaurant groups: Chefstable and Lightning Bar Collective.
- Local eco-brewpub Hopworks Urban Brewery is pouring eight taps of its certified organic beers. Its reclaimed wood bar highlighted with bicycle wheels is a good place to linger over a Northwest hop IPA.
- A Pacific Northwestern salad bar chain, Evergreens opened a new location in PDX. This location offers build-your-own salads, as well as tweaked standards like a cobb known as the Cobb Your Enthusiasm and a jalapeño-kale caesar.
- Jamba Juice is a national smoothie bar chain, also located in Concourse E.
- Starbucks also operates a location in Concourse E.