clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
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

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 to BIPOC individuals — reflect these ideals. PSU’s urban campus, primarily located in downtown Portland, allows for its students to be in near proximity to just about anything they could possibly want to do during their college experience. Arts and culture can be found everywhere you look. The Portland Art Museum, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Oregon Historical Society, and Regal Fox Tower Cinema are all within a 10-minute walking distance from campus.

The campus also has the pleasure of being at the center of Portland’s sprawling food scene, surrounded by coffee shops brewing outrageously good espresso lattes and drip coffee, food carts serving up tender stacks of shawarma into pillowy pockets of pita bread, and 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

As far as dining halls go, Victor’s dining hall located inside the student dormitory, Ondine, is your go-to option for students using dining points. Victor’s is technically 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 anything from coffee and snacks to breakfast sandwiches. 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, and with a list of sauces to choose from, 503 Burger makes the decision easier by letting you pick two to slather onto your burger buns (the Thousand Island and Sriracha aioli are the all-star standouts amongst the variety). Also located inside SMSU is Bowery Bagels, the campus outpost of a long-standing Portland bagel shop that is guaranteed to satisfy the bagel connoisseur in you. The cafe also has some pretty exceptional schmear offerings, like (bacon, onion, mushroom), and French toast. If you’re looking for 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 all your grab-and-go items, open until midnight. For your more ample grocery needs, Green Zebra is the only on-campus grocery store, but if you walk a few minutes down the South Park Blocks, Safeway on Jefferson Street is just around the corner.

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

There is no lack of caffeine options on campus for students to refuel on. In J Coffee — also known as Super Joy Coffee — nails the classics, but also offers options 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 and Wild Rose Coffee are other favorites for quick 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 sipping on a drink while typing away on their laptops. For tea drinkers, the newly opened Bobacat Tea House is a great place 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 still remains a staple to 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 doughnut — the maple bar is probably the best option here. Coco Donuts PSU is a bit more elevated, with flavors like lavender and lemon jelly, staying true to Portland’s prestigious doughnut culture. (Its new handcrafted mochi donuts are definitely worth a try.) Outside the world of doughnuts, the aforementioned Bowery Bagels make for an ideal pre-class breakfast, if powering your day with sugar isn’t quite your thing. For mornings when you have a little extra time, grab a seat at Park Avenue Cafe, where the breakfast menu is a little more extensive and hearty. The breakfast croissant sandwich is warm, buttery, and filled with melted Tillamook cheddar cheese, Italian bacon, pillowy scrambled eggs, and slices of tomato.

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 food carts can be intimidating for those of us 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 mouthwatering Japanese-styled chicken teriyaki
  • Chunky Subs & Pasta for your carb-loading day
  • Persian Kabab for some of the best kebabs in Portland

Venturing away from the Fourth Avenue food carts, the beloved Best Baguette on Sixth Avenue serves up banh mi sandwiches on crunchy french rolls coming in at almost a foot long. The Best Baguette Special (pate, premium sliced ham, pork roll, head cheese) is a great sandwich to start with if you’re new to the flavors of banh mi. The sharp heat of sliced raw jalapeños, the freshness of cilantro, the creaminess of house mayo, and the acidity of pickled daikon and carrots remain a constant flavor profile in every bite. You can’t get a more affordable and delicious Vietnamese banh mi sandwich elsewhere. Its Vietnamese iced milk coffee is strong in flavor but smoothed by the silky sweetness of condensed milk.

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

Eating your meal from the food carts while simultaneously speed walking to class is efficient when you’re in a rush. For times you want to dine in, grab a meal with your roommates, or meet up for food with friends, there are plenty of restaurants nearby to explore:

  • Somtum Thai Kitchen, located just above Bobacat Tea House, is a well-decorated and quaint restaurant space offering a great range of Thai food representing the country’s northeastern region of Isan, known for its grilled meats, pickled foods, and pungently spiced dishes balanced with the use of fresh herbs. The variety of somtum (papaya salad) dishes offered showcases one of the region’s most well-known specialties, hence the restaurant’s name. Acidity and heat are among the top flavor profiles present in every dish. Word of advice: Choose your level of heat wisely. If you’re coming with a bigger party, the restaurant’s family-style dishes like the Pa Khao Yai, a combination of the restaurant’s signature dishes, is recommended to get a full-bodied taste of Isan cuisine.
  • Partaking in traditional Chinese hot pot is best enjoyed with a larger group, and Hot Pot City on Southwest First is the go-to spot near campus to do so. 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 ma la and 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 cooks up amazing plates of traditional Caribbean food with side options of plantains, yuca, rice, and beans. The horchata, made in-house every day, is a refreshing drink that you don’t want to opt out of.

Late-night takeout

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

  • The highly praised Phat Cart sells amazing bento-styled dishes, with the orange chicken, Hawaiian, and crispy chicken bento being amongst its top sellers. The Mr. Miyagi incorporates the same perfectly battered fried chicken from its popular bentos into a classic sandwich format. The Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) is a melt-in-your-mouth bite and an ideal savory side to pair with your entree. Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, Phat Cart is a solid choice for any time of day, but is a common spot for late-night dining thanks to its location on campus. If you’re not in a rush, you can choose to dine inside the restaurant’s cozy seating area.
  • 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

  • Eating at Southpark Seafood will instantly 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 at their 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.
  • You can find another great meal at Dough Zone, located just on the edge of South Waterfront Park. Be sure to get an order of the popular xiao long bao (soup dumplings), bao (buns), and classic Chinese-style dim sum dishes. House specials like the green onion pancake, pan-fried to crispy and flaky perfection in scallion-infused oil, are not to miss.
  • If you’re looking for a casual fine dining experience with a warm atmosphere, hip music, and a menu serving up comfort, then Toki is the spot. The restaurant does an elevated take on Korean comfort food dishes, like its scallop tteokbokki and bay shrimp pajeon. The clever presentation of Korean American culture throughout the menu is best tasted in a bite of its mouthwatering steamed bao burger. Despite being an appetizer, the deliciously fried Korean chicken wings headline the show here — those old enough to drink will appreciate Toki’s fun and exciting cocktail offerings.
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

Step aside, breakfast — brunch is the most important meal of the day when you’re on Portland time.

  • Cheryl’s on 12th definitely knows how to lure you in, with its complimentary beignets dropped at your table as soon as you sit down. These little spherical powdered doughnuts set the standard for the rest of the food ahead. The menu boasts a substantial lineup of classic breakfast items to choose from and its large indoor/outdoor seating area makes for the perfect cute brunch spot to bring your friends. The Portuguese fried rice, croque-monsieur, and huevos rancheros are some unconventional brunch favorites on the menu.
  • 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. There are limited seating options; bringing 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. If you’re wondering what that long line is for, then you obviously haven’t had the pleasure of devouring one of Portland’s best breakfast burritos. Enchanted Sun draws up a crowd every Saturday 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. It is well worth the wait.

Roam PDX, a newcomer to the market, is quickly drawing 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 great place to peruse through 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.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Portland newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world