In the rough-and-tumble city of foraged dining, vegan soul food, whole-animal butchery, and bacon-topped maple bars, there are a lot of opinions around what to eat. This guide slices through the designer flannel to help tourists find the best Portland food and drink out there.
Welcome to the Land of Craftsman Cuisine
Straight up, Portland has something most other cities do not: the natural bounty of the Willamette Valley, somewhat unblemished by pollution. This gives Portland chefs a huge arsenal of ingredients to play with — whether the cuisine of choice is regional Thai or Andean. The city is known for its inventive and daring food cart culture, which span more than 25 distinct “pods;” standing in parking lots or seated at outdoor fire pits, people dine on Texas smoked brisket and breakfast sandwiches on pandan milk buns. That food cart scene is just as reliant on Oregon grown produce, whether it’s the neighborhood-grown vegetables on a Tuscan sandwich or the blue corn masa used for tetelas.
While many of the city’s restaurants have closed over the course of the pandemic, including national names like Pok Pok, there are still so many cart owners, chefs, and bartenders who continue to illustrate what makes the city a dining destination. Some of Portland’s iconic dishes still available include the “Herring Under a Fur Coat” with a side of house-infused horseradish vodka at Kachka, Saturday’s Vietnamese noodle dish cao lau at Rose VL Deli, and that incredible, humble Thai chicken and rice from Nong’s Khao Man Gai.
Where to Start: Eater Portland’s Top Maps
Eater publishes and updates a rather massive database of maps—each focusing on classic foods or dining trends, from dumplings to fried chicken. For those who want to get to Portland’s culinary heart through its ribcage, we’ve compiled the crème de la crème, the top listings, from each of these maps here:
Essential Restaurants: Eater Portland’s map of essential restaurants and carts includes a number of exceptional restaurants, cafes, and carts in most of the city’s neighborhoods; however, for a day’s worth of knockout dining, start with a bacon bao or breakfast sandwich at Toki, or a Sunday slice of spongy pandan bánh bò nướng at Berlu’s bakery pop-up. For lunch, Rose VL Deli is a treasure trove of layered, fragrant Vietnamese noodles — Saturday provides the restaurant’s best selection of noodles and soups, including its breathtaking cao lau combining thick, udon-esque noodles with herbs, a pristine and garlicky broth, and a handful of torn herbs and vegetables. Dinner should belong to any restaurant owned by master Thai restaurateur Akkapong Earl Ninsom, whether it’s spent devouring shallot fried chicken takeout from Hat Yai, or huddled within the cabanas or cozy booths at Eem while housing lively cocktails and barbecue-loaded curries.
Hot Restaurants: The restaurant on everybody’s lips right now is Kann, the long-anticipated Haitian restaurant from Top Chef favorite Gregory Gourdet. It can be a challenge to nab a table, but if you can, you should start with an order of granita-topped butterfish, followed by a surprisingly savory berry salad with young coconut and tomatoes and a large-format protein like tamarind-glazed duck or smoked coffee-rubbed beef ribs. For those who aren’t treating restaurant reservations like Beyonce tickets, Old Pal is a nice any-night restaurant for airy gougeres, pillowy gnocchi, or a table full of tinned fish. And for breakfast, the Indian American cafe Masala Lab delivers dishes like chicken and pakora waffles or tikka mole shrimp and grits.
Food Carts: Portland’s cart culture is perhaps the most iconic element of the local food scene, from the braised-beef-topped, potato-stuffed taquitos at Tito’s Taquitos to the hangover-cure-worthy bibim boxes at Kim Jong Grillin’. In terms of efficiency, it’s best to visit a food cart pod with a large number of noteworthy carts. In North Portland, that’s Prost Marketplace, home to icons like Matt’s BBQ and Desi; in Southeast Portland, it might be the Portland Mercado, home to a number of Latin American carts — including Oaxacan spot Tierra del Sol and Yucatecan cart Principe Maya. In terms of carts serving things truly unique to Portland, Matta’s Việt Kiều breakfast sandwiches and Baon Kainan’s kare kare fries come to mind.
Doughnuts: Portland has copious creative doughnut shops, but the true fried-dough fanatics bypass Voodoo Doughnut and mainline the Berliners at newcomer Fills, upscale brioche-style doughnuts at Blue Star, or the fried-to-order mini creations at Pip’s Original. Vegans should check out Doe Donuts for birthday cake and french toast doughnuts — all animal-product free.
Coffee: Portland’s identity as a specialty coffee haven has not dissipated in the last decade. Stumptown remains tried and true, even after the corporate switcheroos, but lovers of fine coffee need to make the effort to visit Push X Pull or Proud Mary. Deadstock is the place to be for bright roasts well-suited to iced drinks and espresso, while Portland Cà Phê showcases the brooding flavor profile of Vietnamese-grown beans.
Sandwiches: This city’s top sandwich shops excel at the artisan sandwich, and while the longtime ruling king is definitively Lardo, now there are a number of viable contenders: Sammich’s Italian beef, Pasture’s pastrami, Jojo’s fried chicken sandwiches, Demarco’s Italian hero, An Xuyen’s banh mi — the options are relatively endless.
Pizza: There’s no getting around it now — Portland is one of the country’s great pizza cities, whether you like it or not. The city’s access to fresh, whole-grain flours, its penchant for sourdough and baking, and its passion for Oregon-grown produce makes the city’s pies worth a second look. For a taste of what we could call “Portland pizza,” Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty should be stop one, thanks to its sturdy and flavorful crusts topped with truly of-the-moment toppings (Chef’s Table agrees). For something square, Ranch Pizza tops towering Sicilian-esque squares with dense layers of pepperoni or dollops of ricotta. Other common pizza crawl stops include Ken’s Artisan, Apizza Scholls, and Red Sauce.
Beer: With a wild number of breweries, Portland-based brewers come close to perfecting the art of craft beer. Brett and farmhouse fans adore Little Beast, Cascade Brewing, or Upright Brewing, while German-style beer aficionados may prefer Zoiglhaus or Occidental. But the brewpub beer snobs absolutely cannot miss, both for its food and its beer, is Breakside Brewery.
Brunch: Brunch here is a blood sport. While many restaurants offer the standard array of Benedicts and scrambles, some Portland restaurants and food carts have become true innovators in the art of breakfast: Cocktail bar Hey Love layers coconut-and-basil-seed pudding and prickly pear puree for its parfait; Matta tops pandan buns with nước chấm-marinated pork patties and fried eggs; Toki tucks koji-cured pork belly into bao topped with everything bagel seasoning. For more recommendations, check out our one-stop shop for breakfast maps, recommendations, and news.
Others: Portland is a national hotspot for Southeast Asian cuisine, from Thai to Vietnamese; it is absolutely essential to visit Hat Yai and Rose VL Deli while in town. Portland fares rather well for ramen and for burgers, and Eater has those guides covered. Booze hounds should hit Portland’s craft cocktail bars, either trawling the hits or finding something new. Oh, and of course, those who abstain from meat will be well-fed in Portland, with several vegan options for dinner or even brunch. For another quick-and-dirty guide to the must-visits in Portland, check out our Portland dining starter pack.
Portland Food Neighborhoods to Know
Portland is broken up into six general “quadrants” (yes, we’re in on the joke) — North, South, Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast — but the city is defined by its many small neighborhoods within these six larger regions. Here are the key food ‘hoods of Portland:
North Portland, colloquially known as the “fifth quadrant,” consists of everything above Burnside, from North Williams to the east and the Willamette River to the west. There are several noteworthy neighborhoods within North Portland — we’ve focused on North Mississippi into its own section below — but for a rough primer, here’s a good way to eat through North Portland: Start on Williams with coffee at Either/Or and a croissant from Jinju Patisserie. From there, you can either head south to Kayo’s Ramen Bar or Eem for lunch, or head north to St. Johns for Mexican food (Tienda Santa Cruz for caldos or burritos; El Coyote for carnitas tacos). For dinner, either eat a pizza on the patio of Gracie’s with a cocktail from the nearby Garrison, or enjoy the ceviches at Peruvian stunner Casa Zoraya. North Portland is also home to arguably the city’s best bagel, found at Bernstein’s.
A local favorite, North Mississippi is a pseudo-bohemian wonderland of food carts, whiskey, and pizza. Visitors should start the day with breakfast at Sweedeedee on Albina for custardy French toast, a breakfast sandwich with hot pickle mayo, and as many of the deli case’s exceptional salads as possible. After shopping through Mississippi’s numerous boutiques, pop by Prost Marketplace for a lunch of Portland’s best brisket, found glistening with fat at the humble Matt’s BBQ cart, or chai-cardamom chicken at Desi PDX; if it’s open, add a few tacos from the Little Conejo cart. For a taste of Oregon pinot, stop by Stem for a flight; or, for something less boozy, sit down to a pot of rose tea at Tea Chai Té. Stop by Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty for morel-topped pizzas and peach leaf ice cream, or house some Thai noodle soups at Mee Sen across the street. And for post-dinner drinks, the back porches at Bar Bar, Interurban, and the Rambler provide a true taste of rustic Portland homeyness.
Portland’s downtown is primarily dominated by food carts and hotels, which is where to find some of the neighborhood’s best meals. However, many hotels are currently out of commission — which includes their restaurants. Nonetheless, Bullard and its sibling bar Abigail Hall are still kicking, from the San Antonio chicken and smoked beef rib at the former to the martinis and shrimp cocktail at the latter. For lunch or dinner prix fixe, the deeply European and blissfully understated Maurice is essential eating, and the deeply flavorful Caribbean chicken and rice at Love Belizean is in the lunch rotation for downtown locals. And for pho, it’s hard to beat Luc Lac.
SOUTHEAST DIVISION AND CLINTON:
The restaurants ruling Division and Clinton are not the same as the ones who ran the street even ten years ago, with a few exceptions. Relative newcomers have turned heads in that neighborhood: Palomar, a Cuban cocktail bar with a nationally celebrated bartender and shockingly meticulous frozen daiquiris; Oma’s Hideaway, a freewheeling bar and restaurant with boozy slushies and a to-die-for game hen; Magna, an exciting Filipino spot with charcoal-grilled skewers and seasonal fare; Quaintrelle, with its colorful tasting menu and top-notch bar; Malka, with its kaleidoscope dishes incorporating a pantry’s worth of pickles, slaws, condiments and crispy bits. However, there are some tried-and-true favorites that remain in the culinary canon, like quintessential dive bar and nationally significant fried chicken destination Reel M Inn and homey Mexican restaurant Nuestra Cocina. Wherever you go, end your day with some Pinolo Gelato.
The tree-and-boutique-lined streets of Northwest are in the midst of a shake-up: Suddenly, several new restaurants, bars, and cafes are all eyeing Portland’s upper left neighborhood for expansions and openings. In recent years, Northwest Portland has accrued a number of destination-worthy spots, including the casual Kashmiri cafe Bhuna and acclaimed Mexican tasting menu restaurant República. The longtime standby is the dazzling French restaurant St. Jack, with its breezy take on brasserie staples. For a funky wine list and unforgettable gnocchi, hit up Arden Wine Bar.
BUCKMAN AND CENTRAL EASTSIDE:
The Central Eastside neighborhood is spread out, so don’t expect to walk between these dining hotspots. Don’t miss the game-changing charcuterie producer Olympia Provisions, French chef’s counter Le Pigeon, Slavic dinner hall Kachka and its adjoining market, and wine bar and bistro Ok Omens. Buckman is the prime dining neighborhood for vegans, home to Vietnamese cafe Mama Dút, deli-meets-culinary-lab Fermenter, and worker-owned Sri Lankan spot Mirisata. For a classic (borderline cliche) Portland experience, Central Eastside is home to food cart pods Cartopia and its neighbor, Hawthorne Asylum; nab peanut-butter-and-jelly fries at Potato Champion at the former and Pacific Northwestern fish and chips from Tall Boy within the latter.
NORTHEAST ALBERTA AND KILLINGSWORTH:
The Northeast Alberta and Killingsworth neighborhoods have their own artsy style and dining scene to match. In many ways, this Northeast Portland area is a kingmaker: Some of the city’s most nationally recognizable names began on the two streets. Killingsworth, farther north, is home to no-joke cocktail bar Expatriate, relaxed-but-polished market and restaurant Ripe Cooperative, and the original Hat Yai location; farther south on Alberta, Australian brunch and coffee icon Proud Mary sits among homegrown favorites like Basque pintxo and tapas bar Urdaneta, standout deli and butcher shop Pasture, sushi destination Zilla Sake, Hawaiian sensation GrindWitTryz, and pasta hotspot Gumba. Alberta’s food carts are also particularly special — we love Paladin Pie, Maillard, and Mole Mole, all conveniently located next to the Baerlic Brewing beer garden.
NE AND SE 82ND:
82nd is a sprawling thoroughfare stretching up to Highway 30 and down into Clackamas. It’s also home to some of the city’s exemplary Chinese and Vietnamese food, either directly on the street or right off of it. Starting to the north, you can have breakfast at the diner Cameo Cafe, which serves kimchi alongside eggs and bacon and lists mung bean pancakes next to the buttermilks. Lunch could be spent at Trap Kitchen, over a bowl of yakisoba served in a pineapple, or Pho Oregon, a true Portland institution. The CORE food cart pod is home to carts serving everything from Hainanese chicken to seafood boils. Happy Dragon is a smart choice for those craving roast duck, and Tèo Bun Bo Hue is the place to be for the namesake soup — within the same strip mall, Jin Jin Deli serves a knockout Vietnamese sate. For dim sum, H.K. Cafe or Ocean City will serve nicely. Whatever you do, however, be sure to grab a soup or two from Ha VL, the predecessor to Rose VL.
EAST PORTLAND, THE NUMBERS, AND GRESHAM:
“The Numbers” refers to the neighborhoods and suburbs east of 82nd, one of the most diverse communities in Portland. It’s home to some of the city’s best Mexican food, from the quesabirria served at Birrieria La Plaza or Birrieria PDX to the guisados in the case at De Leon’s. Outside the world of Mexican cuisine, East Portland is home to standbys like Sayler’s, as well as Southeast Asian carts and markets like Kasoy & Co and Lily Market, respectively. For breakfast, it’s all about La Osita’s cheesy brunch tacos, best enjoyed with a latte de canela.
Portland Glossary of Terms
The ”Dean of American cookery” was born in Portland, and he attended the one-time Washington High School, now home to the Revolution performance hall and Marthas Cafe. Today, perhaps the most widely acknowledged food awards in the United States bear his name.
This is the annoying term that everyone seems to use to describe what makes food in Portland different. What makes it annoying is that it’s true: bigger and better ingredients come from the Pacific Northwest, thanks to its soil, rain, and wild waterways. It’s also the foundation of countless Portland restaurants.
When a group of food carts or trucks form a group and stay in one place, they become a food cart pod. In the old days, pods just consisted of a bunch of carts without a real dining area; now, many pods have fire pits, tables, and even stages for live music.
Potentially the manifestation of nostalgia and gen-x/boomer curmudgeonliness, ‘Old Portland’ refers to the Portland of yore, where dive bars and grunge ruled the land and food was cheap and unpretentious. When referring to places these days, it often refers to specific watering holes, diners, and steakhouses that retain a little bit of that original unfussiness — Reel M Inn, Clyde’s Prime Rib, and Sayler’s are all considered Old Portland holdouts.
Portlandia, outside of the context of the IFC show, generally refers to gentrified Portland. Ironically, many locals use the term Portlandia to pejoratively describe restaurants, bars, cafes, and boutiques that don’t necessarily represent the city’s identity. However, some people use it to talk about places that, intentionally or not, play into the stereotypes surrounding Portland: hyper-local restaurants, restaurants obsessively fermenting.
Pop-ups refer to culinary events or concepts that are separated from a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant or food cart. Pop-ups aren’t unique to Portland, of course, but they’re a major part of the culinary scene in Portland: Many businesses that started as pop-ups became some of the city’s finest restaurants, from Indonesian standby Gado Gado to vegan comfort food standby Plant Based Papi. Many contemporary pop-ups are based on Instagram, selling food for delivery or single-day pick-up.
Reservations to Make in Advance
Langbaan serves historic regional Thai dishes—some from ancient royalty’s cookbooks—and is perhaps the hardest Portland restaurant to get into. The hidden restaurant inside of Phuket Cafe books out a month in advance.
This new Haitian restaurant can sell out of reservations for the following month minutes after they drop, so really, the move is to keep an eye on Instagram for reservation release date details and set an alarm (historically, reservations have dropped on the 4th and the 15th of August and September, respectively, but who’s to say when they’ll drop again). Reservations are available on Resy.
Gabriel Rucker’s free-wheeling French fare has earned him a few James Beard Awards, plus a loyal group of local devotees. It doesn’t take too much planning to make a reservation at Le Pigeon, though reservations tend to book up a few weeks ahead of time.
Follow the News
Eater Portland is updated multiple times every weekday with breaking news stories (restaurant openings, closings, etc.), maps, features, and more. Here are a few ways to stay in the loop:
- Keep an eye on the Eater Portland homepage. New stories will always appear near the top and flow down toward the bottom of the page as they get older, while important recent stories will stay pinned right at the top. Also, check out our big sister, Eater.com, for national and international food news.
- Subscribe to our newsletter, which goes out three times each week and includes links to top stories.
- Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and find us on Instagram for updates on new stories and more throughout the day.
- Interested in upcoming restaurant openings? Follow our Coming Attractions tag to see what’s in the works from the city’s restaurateurs.
Get in Touch
Have questions not answered here? Want to send in a tip or a complaint or just say hello? Here are some ways to get in touch with the Eater Portland staff: