When Aubrey Gordon — the Portland-raised host of the podcast Maintenance Phase — talks about food publicly, it’s not often about food she actually enjoys. She and her co-host, journalist Michael Hobbes, dissect the myths surrounding fad diets, weight-loss products, fat-phobic medical bias, and phenomenons in the sticky world of “wellness,” ranging from Jordan Peterson’s all-meat diet to Halo Top ice cream, Snackwell’s to celery juice. “Listen, I spent my morning yelling at Mike about a TV chef who later outed himself as a Nazi, so I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll talk about HK Cafe, sounds great,’” Gordon says, with a laugh.
When talking about her favorite Portland restaurants, Gordon spends much of her time mourning the ones we’ve lost along the way: The Overlook Cafe, Wong’s King. However, she as emphatically gushes about a number of old-school spots and relative newcomers in Portland and Vancouver — her favorite fried chicken, her go-to diner breakfast, her favorite strip mall Thai restaurant. Find her guide to dining in Portland (and Vancouver, Washington) below. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
“The places I’m most excited to go out to for breakfast are American diners. My number one is Cameo Cafe. The idea that you could go into a restaurant and get a perfectly made seafood pancake and also poached eggs and also a pancake the size of my torso? It’s just incredible.”
“I’m an occasional coffee person; once every couple of weeks I’ll get a nice cup of coffee. I’ve gotten super into Commissary Cafe — boy, I like those guys. It’s just super-duper simple and beautifully made pastries and super-duper simple and beautifully made coffee. Give me a cortado and a biscuit and I’m happy.”
Thai Wok Kitchen
“If, for some reason, I need to be in the mid-to-outskirts of Vancouver, Washington, there is a place called Thai Wok Kitchen out by the Vancouver Mall, and oh my God, it’s the best Thai food in town I’ve had. It’s next to one of those indoor trampoline places. They have three different duck dishes on the menu that they absolutely nail. They do that impossible thing with a duck breast where it’s moist and perfectly cooked but the skin is perfectly rendered out, but they cover it in garlic sauce. Everything I’ve had there is just killer, and it’s a place that I will absolutely go out of my way for.”
“I’m an extreme local chain aficionado, and I love Cafe Yumm. The tofu skewers?! The cookies?! Just everything about it, so good. I really like the Smoky Yumm bowl, the Hot N Jazzy (the worst name for the best thing), but I always come back to the original. Medium original Yumm bowl, tofu skewer, the ginger cookie, done. The perfect order.”
Reel M Inn
“The sheer confidence of opening a fishing-themed bar that only serves chicken is amazing. You can get bone-in fried chicken or chicken strips, so literally it’s fried chicken or fried chicken. That place is just incredible, to be amongst the fishing poles suspended from the ceiling, the cartoon of a lady fish for the ladies room, eating absolutely amazing fried chicken.”
Queen of Sheba
“As someone who also worked in nonprofits locally for a really long time, in nonprofit world, people are living pretty close to the bone, money-wise. The single best way to be an absolute hero in a nonprofit meeting is if you hold the meeting at Queen of Sheba, or if you bring Queen of Sheba to the meeting. It’s one of my absolute all-time favorite places to eat. My move almost always is to bring a bunch of willing participants and get the largest vegetarian plate. Give me every type of lentils, thanks.”
“Another thing in the world of world of comfort foods, is the peanut butter pickle bacon burger at Killer Burger. It’s delicious. I always imagine a smear of Jif, but obviously every time you get it it’s this amazing savory peanut sauce. I recommend it, and most people I’ve introduced it to love it. You know, plan your exit route, in case it’s not for you, but man oh man it’s so good.”
“When it comes to celebration restaurants, I think my go-to is Gado Gado — because of the style of food that they’re doing, because of the aromatic rice, it’s incredible. It’s the most beautiful and lovingly made food in the most fun and light environment, so I’m like, great, sold. Incredible. That would absolutely be my spot.”
“Over the pandemic, I became good friends with the Pix-O-Matic. That thing — it became one of the joys of my world. If a friend got a new job, got engaged, if there was cause for a little celebration, I would go to the Pix-O-Matic, get something for said friend, get some flowers, and leave them on the doorstep.
The Driftwood Room: “It’s so good. I get the gorgonzola cheesecake and sizzling mushrooms, and an Elizabeth Taylor.”
Mother’s: “At Mother’s, they will do a soup of the day, and it’s almost always extremely comforting and lovely and delicious. Hungarian mushroom soup! Loaded baked potato soup! Carrot ginger soup!”
Ice Queen: “They’re moving right now, but you can still get them in stores. I’d get the Mangonada every day, no problem.”
Rally’s Pizza: “Rally’s makes frozen custard from scratch, and then they also make concretes. They have one that’s a lemon frozen custard, made into a concrete, with ginger snaps. It was right.”
Basilisk: “Of course, go for fried chicken sandwiches, they’re incredible — but also for the dandan fries. Why that’s not a taste sensation sweeping the nation I don’t know.”