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A walkway is embossed with golden letters that read “Let knowledge serve the city.”
A student walkway at Portland State University.

An Insider’s Guide to Dining at Portland State University

The best food carts on campus, where to grab a quick bite before classes, and more

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Just like the city where the campus situates itself, Portland State University is anything but traditional. PSU prides itself on being one of the nation’s most innovative universities, with programs that incorporate service learning and flexible classroom formats. The school values providing higher education with accessibility at the forefront, and its diverse student population — from commuters to first-generation students — reflect these ideals. PSU’s urban campus, primarily located in downtown Portland, connects students to the city’s arts and culture scene: The Portland Art Museum, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Oregon Historical Society, and Regal Fox Tower Cinema are all within a 10-minute walk from campus.

PSU also has the pleasure of being at the center of Portland’s sprawling food and beverage scene. Nearby coffee shops brew outrageously good espresso, lattes, and drip coffee. Food carts line the streets, filling tender stacks of shawarma into pillowy pockets of pita bread. And each block is teeming with restaurants offering everything from seafood paella to Peking duck. This guide takes you on the campus tour you wish you had, uncovering all the best carts, bakeries, restaurants, and markets for every college situation imaginable.

Students walk through a food court at Portland State University.
Smith’s Kitchen at Smith Memorial Student Union.
Portland State University

The fundamentals

Let’s start with the obvious. Victor’s dining hall — located inside Ondine, the student dorm — is the go-to option for students using dining points. Victor’s is PSU’s only dining hall, but you’ll find that there are multiple other campus-sponsored food options at the Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) on Southwest Broadway.

Within SMSU, Smith’s Place acts as an on-campus cafe, serving coffee, snacks, and breakfast sandwiches, while Smith’s Kitchen, located on the ground floor of SMSU, offers a variety of meal options within its food court. Mad Mac’s and 503 Burger are highly recommended stalls within Smith’s kitchen — a bowl of Mad Mac’s mac and cheese guarantees a cheese pull worth capturing, while 503 Burger slathers its patties with tons of sauce options, like classic Thousand Island or sriracha aioli. Also located inside SMSU is Bowery Bagels, the campus outpost of a longstanding Portland bagel shop on Broadway. The cafe has some exceptional schmear offerings, like the (bacon, onion, mushroom), and cinnamon-laced French toast. If you’re seeking basic study fuel, the University Market within Smith is your best bet: Red Bulls, yerba mate, Slim Jims, Cliff Bars — it has it all.

Mak’s Mini Mart, right across the street from University Pointe, is the best convenience store on campus for grab-and-go items, open until 2 a.m. For your more extensive grocery needs, the nearby Safeway is just a short walk down the South Park Blocks.

A wooden counter supports a coffee in a paper cup at In J Coffee.
An espresso drink from In J Coffee.
Seiji Nanbu/Eater Portland

Caffeine refueling stations

Portland is a coffee city, and campus-area cafes highlight the vast spectrum of caffeine options available here. In J Coffee — also known as Super Joy Coffee — nails the classics, but it’s fun to opt for distinctive treats like Hong Kong milk tea and seasonal items like sea salt taro lattes. In J is also one of the only spots in Portland that sells Yunnanese coffee, when it’s in season. Alternatively, Olé Latte, Wild Rose Coffee, and Portland staple Case Study are other favorites for caffeine runs on campus. For a place to caffeinate and cram for a test, head to the spacious, two-story Coava Coffee Roasters, often packed with students.

For tea drinkers, the newly opened Bobacat Tea House is a fresh and modern stop for bubble tea, classically brewed tea, and matcha lattes. It’s a top contender for some of the best bubble tea on campus, though Taiwanese chain Ding Tea remains a staple for many PSU students.

A poppyseed bagel, cut in half, with lox and schmear, from Bowery Bagels.
A bagel from Bowery Bagels.
Jannie Huang

Quick pre-class breakfast

When it comes to grabbing a bite before your 8 a.m., doughnuts are the move. Sesame Donuts is your most reliable spot for a quick, no-frills raised bar or ring — the maple bar is a particular standout. Coco Donuts PSU gets into more inventive territory, with flavors like lavender and lemon jelly. The shop’s mochi doughnuts — in rotating flavors like Oreo, matcha and sugar — have a satisfying springy quality and light crumb.

Outside the world of doughnuts, the aforementioned Bowery Bagels makes for an ideal pre-class breakfast. For mornings when you have a little extra time, grab a seat at Park Avenue Cafe. For a sandwich to take to the Park Blocks, the cafe’s breakfast croissant arrives loaded with Italian bacon, scrambled eggs, and tomatoes; otherwise, stick around for the H.A.T Benedict with ham, avocado, tomato, and rich hollandaise.

Lunch on the go

The food carts on Fourth Avenue have become a central hub for PSU students during lunch hour. The long row of carts can be intimidating for those with decision paralysis, so here are some of our top recommendations to make things easier:

  • Chopollos Mexican Food Cart for arguably the best burrito on campus
  • Alani Food Cart for generously filled gyros and wraps
  • Dosirak Restaurant for top-tier Japanese-style chicken teriyaki
  • Chunky Subs & Pasta for heavenly meatball subs
  • Persian Kabab for some of the best kabob koobideh (Persian-style ground lamb and beef kabob) in Portland

Venturing away from the Fourth Avenue food carts, the beloved Best Baguette on Sixth Avenue serves banh mi on crunchy French rolls coming in at almost a foot long. The Best Baguette Special — pate, ham, pork roll, and head cheese — is a good starting point for newbies, with sweet and crunchy pickled carrots and daikon cutting the richness of the meats.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find Sheesh Shwarma around campus, a truly excellent Arab food cart owned and operated by a PSU business student. Known for its shawarma, the cart serves a beef shawarma sandwich drizzled with its iconic, tahini-esque Sheesh Sauce. Find Sheesh on the south end of campus at 979 SW Harrison.

A plate from Som Tum Thai Kitchen, also known as SomTum Thai Kitchen.
Tum Tad at Somtum Thai Kitchen.
Somtum Thai Kitchen

Dorm dinners and meetup spots

For times you want to dine in, grab a meal with your roommates, or meet up for food with friends, there are plenty of excellent sit-down restaurants to explore:

  • Fish-San offers truly stunning displays of Japanese sashimi, sushi, and poke rolls in a space that feels friendly to college kids. Come for the restaurant’s radiant Japanese pop art decor and stay for the rose-shaped sashimi, fragrant and supple Futomaki roll, or the C9 with its zingy truffle-avocado sauce.
  • Somtum Thai Kitchen, located just above Bobacat Tea House, is a well-decorated and quaint restaurant space offering an eclectic range of Thai food representing the country’s Northeastern region of Isan — known for its grilled meats, pickled foods, and intricately spiced dishes balanced with the use of fresh herbs. The variety of somtum (papaya salad) dishes showcase one of the region’s most well-known specialties, hence the restaurant’s name. Word of advice: Choose your level of heat wisely.
  • Chinese hot pot is best enjoyed with a larger group, and Hot Pot City on Southwest First is the go-to spot. The restaurant’s set-priced and buffet-style menu offers a wide assortment of thinly-sliced meats, vegetables, noodles, and other traditional side dishes that complement soup bases like the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn ma la; those intimidated by spice can opt for the savory, oniony sha-cha soups.
  • Only a 10-minute walk from campus, Caiman Cafe works well for a filling weekday lunch with a friend. This tiny Cuban cafe serves plates of traditional Caribbean food with side options of plantains, yuca, rice, and beans. The horchata, made in-house every day, expertly walks the tightrope between creamy and refreshing.

Late-night takeout

Palatable food options run scarce after midnight in Portland — when venturing off campus, this map might help. But when you’re on the hunt for walking distance late-night takeout, these places near campus are your best bet:

  • The highly praised Phat Cart sells bento-style dishes, with the orange chicken, Hawaiian, and crispy chicken bento being among its top sellers. The Mr. Miyagi incorporates the same crispy battered fried chicken from its popular bentos into a classic sandwich format. The shop’s takoyaki, or octopus dumplings, are melt-in-your-mouth tender and an ideal savory side to pair with your entree. It’s open until 11 p.m.
  • Shawarma Spot, located in the line of food carts on Fourth Avenue, is one of the only carts open until midnight. The wraps are almost a foot long and are packed to the brim. A couple drizzles of the cart’s white garlic and red spicy sauce are an absolute must.
  • Open until 11 p.m. every day, the Schmizza Pub & Grub on campus is a go-to for pizza by the slice. It’s quick, convenient, and gets the job done.
A set of chopsticks hold up a small bun in front of a plate of jianbing
Q bao at Dough Zone.
Suzi Pratt/Eater Seattle

Parents-in-town restaurants

  • For a high-end celebratory meal, eating at Southpark Seafood will transport you and your family to the Oregon coast — despite being only a 10-minute walk from campus. The contemporary restaurant makes a mean clam chowder, and its seafood paella is a distinct offering you don’t see in many other seafood restaurants in Portland.
  • A meal at II Terrazzo comes with a lovely view of the Riverplace Marina by the Waterfront. On a nice day, dine outside among the restaurant’s sidewalk seating while diving into a plate of Ragù Della Domenica, a take on the traditional ragu Bolognese. Its classic baked lasagna, only served on weekends, is worth making a reservation for.
  • Dough Zone, located just on the edge of South Waterfront Park, attracts crowds for its xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and other dough-centric dumplings and noodles. House specials like the green onion pancake, pan-fried crispy and flaky in scallion-infused oil, are not to miss.
  • If you’re looking for warm atmosphere and fun, creative Korean-adjacent fare, then Toki is the spot. The menu is stacked with rotating dishes like scallop tteokbokki and bay shrimp pajeon; the restaurant keeps its Korean chicken wings on the menu year-round, however, and they tend to steal the show. Those old enough to drink will appreciate Toki’s exciting cocktail offerings.
  • You might think you’re too cool for the McMenamins Market Street Pub near campus, but its menu is stacked with options ideal for families. Parents can opt for dishes like the PSU Viking burger or one of the pub’s tasty salads, while little siblings can dig into the kids’ menu. If you’ve got the time, take your parents to check out the other historical McMenamins, like Edgefield out in Troutdale — it’s a great place to grab a beer, taste wine, and take in the gorgeous property.
  • For a family brunch, make your way to the Little River Cafe, an artsy waterfront spot with a stunning view of the Willamette River. Fans of sweet and savory breakfast will feel at home here with decadent brioche French toast or hashes abundant with roasted kale, sweet potato, red pepper, and egg. If you’re not in the breakfast mood, swing by for lunch or an ice cream cone.
Two egg sandwiches sit on top of each other with a crisp sausage patty and green pesto.
A breakfast sandwich from Fried Egg I’m in Love.
Fried Egg I’m in Love

Hangover brunch

  • Cheryl’s on 12th knows how to lure you in with complimentary beignets dropped at your table as soon as you sit down. The menu boasts a substantial lineup of classic breakfast items, and its large indoor-outdoor seating area makes for a cute brunch spot to bring your friends. The Portuguese fried rice, croque monsieur, and huevos rancheros are all strong contenders, depending on the day.
  • Fried Egg I’m in Love is a popular Portland favorite for breakfast sandwiches. The food cart in Pioneer Square is walking distance from campus and makes an excellent grab-and-go bite on a weekday or a weekend.
  • St. Barbra Pinoy Bakery is a little hidden gem on Southwest Sixth Avenue, serving traditional Filipino pastries and breakfast plates known as silogs, which include rice, eggs, and proteins like tocino or longganisa. The bakery offers limited seating onsite, but taking your food to the nearby Marquam Park can be nice on sunny days.
A bowl of yellow curry holds a pile of curry and a fried nest of noodles at Roam.
Brisket khao soi from Roam.

Final tips

  • Some of the best food on campus available on a Saturday is at the PSU Farmers Market. Enchanted Sun draws a crowd every Saturday the market runs, rain or shine, stuffing tortillas with creamy, Hatch-chile seasoned potatoes, sausage links, cheese, and soft scrambled eggs. These New Mexico-style breakfast burritos come with your choice of red (spicy) or green salsa. Lines can get long later in the day, but it is well worth the wait. Alternatively, Roam PDX draws attention for its handmade roti, stuffed with things like grilled pork neck or yellow curry brisket. The lamb wrap, a favorite on the menu, arrives topped with black vinegar, fermented chiles, nam jim aioli, and pickled farm vegetables.
  • For a sweet treat, Behind the Museum Cafe is perhaps one of the only spots near campus serving soft serve. The cafe’s two flavors — matcha and hojicha — stay true to the cafe’s specialization in Japanese teas.
  • Portland has a lot of incredible activities and events circulating through the calendars all year round. The Portland Night Market is a fun place to peruse stands with locally made goods, ranging from soaps to artisanal CBD-infused chocolates. Popular Portland favorites like 1927 S’mores and Spice of Africa are just a few of the many food vendors in this fall’s lineup at the market. The Snack Fest, happening this October, is a market showcasing the best of Portland’s dining scene in a wide display of tasty snacks and drinks that are sure to please even the most discerning snackers.
  • Sure, you could sequester yourself in the quiet, carb-y comforts of dorm favorites, but the PSU campus drops you in the heart of one of the country’s best food cities, and the offerings around town give you the chance to explore the world through food. Get yourself off campus when you can — and if school keeps you close to campus, visit the places outside your usual roster.