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A blonde woman and man sit within a plastic-and-wood covered cabana, lit by a small heater in the center of the table. The
Lauren Maurer and Caley Berney within one of the outdoor dining pods at Eem
Molly J. Smith

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An Eater’s Guide to Dining in Portland

The word on the street on where to drink and eat in the City of Roses

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In the rough-and-tumble city of foraged dining, 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 food or modern Mexican. 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.

That local pride has become even more of a necessity now, in the coronavirus era: Every component of the local food industry, from the farmers surrounding the city to the servers packaging takeout, has been financially gutted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Portland’s chefs have leaned heavily on the state’s food system to keep going.

As of June 30, Portland’s restaurants and bars can fully reopen at full capacity, with no mask mandates or curfews. However, not every restaurant in town has gotten there just yet: Many of the city’s restaurants are sticking to outdoor dining or limited indoor capacity — for now. Takeout and delivery, of course, remain fair game, and several restaurants have come up with creative family meals and takeout-specific meals over the last year. And with Portland’s gorgeous parks, accessible hikes, and stunning city viewpoints, there are plenty of places to set up a takeout picnic.

While many of the city’s restaurants have closed, 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 signature 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:

The White Stag sign in Portland's Old Town. [Photo: Shutterstock]

Standout Restaurants: Eater Portland’s list of standouts 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 French-Scandinavian toast or polenta clafoutis at Maurice, or perhaps a steamy bowl of pork rib congee from Master Kong. 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 Earl Ninsom, whether it’s spent on the patio of Langbaan biting into prawns wrapped in betel leaves, on the couch devouring shallot fried chicken takeout from Hat Yai, or huddled within the cabanas at Eem while housing lively cocktails and barbecue-loaded curries.

Hot Restaurants: Yes, chefs in Portland are still opening restaurants and food carts, including some major players. Peter Cho and Sun Young Park of Han Oak opened a Korean restaurant downtown called Toki, serving craggy fried chicken, delicate dumplings, and deeply flavorful beef ramyun. Thomas and Mariah Pisha-Duffly, of the beloved Indonesian spot Gado Gado, have opened a charmingly eclectic spot on Division, with everything from juicy game hens served with sambal to soft-shell crab sandwiches topped with green papaya slaw. But beyond the known names, some relative newcomers have made waves in the local food scene: Papi Sal’s, the food cart representing both Philly and Puerto Rico at the new CORE pod, is making one stunner of a pulled pork sandwich, served with sofrito mayo on a sturdy cart-baked roll.

Food Carts: Portland’s cart culture is perhaps the most iconic element of the local food scene, from the piles of juicy fried chicken and soul food from Kee’s Loaded Kitchen 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 Burger Stevens; in Southeast Portland, it might be the John’s Marketplace pod, with Holy Trinity Barbecue and fried chicken cart Jojo. In terms of carts serving things truly unique to Portland, Matta’s Việt Kiều breakfast sandwiches come to mind.

Doughnuts: Portland has copious creative doughnut shops, but the true fried-dough fanatics bypass Voodoo Doughnut and mainline the upscale brioche-style doughnuts at Blue Star, the Berliners at newcomer Fills, 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 Proud Mary, which offers bright and captivating roasts and a killer brunch. However, some of the most exciting coffee in Portland comes from shops specializing in beans from specific countries, from the Mexican roasts at La Perlita to the Chinese coffee drinks at Superjoy.

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: Stacked’s oxtail French dip, Sammich’s Italian beef, Jojo’s smoked-then-fried chicken sandwiches, Demarco’s Italian hero, An Xuyen’s banh mi — the options are relatively endless.

Barbecue: Portland may not have its own distinct style of barbecue, but the city is becoming a barbecue destination regardless. Some of the city’s best is served out of food carts, and most of it is Texas-style — Matt’s BBQ is the place to go for brisket and sausage, though Holy Trinity to the south is in a solid second place. Bark City BBQ has some solid ribs and chopped pork, with killer sides like pickled avocado. And for barbecue outside the realm of traditional American, Eem’s Thai barbecue is hard to beat.

Beer: With a wild number of breweries, Portland-based brewers come close to perfecting the art of craft beer, but the brewpub beer snobs absolutely cannot miss, both for its food and its beer, is Breakside Brewery. A newer spot turning the heads of brett fans is Little Beast.

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: Fremont cart-turned-restaurant Nacheaux makes gargantuan brunch crunch wraps filled with fries, egg, and carnitas; 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.


Portland Food Neighborhoods to Know

Portland is broken up into five general neighborhoods—North, Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast—but the city is defined by its many small neighborhoods within these five larger neighborhoods. Here are the key food ‘hoods of Portland:

A beautiful tall green bridge arches over the WIllamette river in North Portland
The St. Johns bridge in North Portland
Thye-Wee Gn / Shutterstock

NORTH 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 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.

Plants in pots sit on benches next to picnic tables at Sunshine Noodles
The patio at Psychic Bar
Celeste Noche / EPDX

NORTH MISSISSIPPI:

A local favorite, North Mississippi is a pseudo-bohemian wonderland of food carts, whiskey, and Cambodian fried chicken. The previously mentioned Prost Marketplace is home to one of Portland’s best briskets, found glistening with fat at the humble Matt’s BBQ cart. Oregon isn’t exactly known for its pizza, but Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty is a worthy stop for morel-topped pizzas and peach leaf ice cream. And, toward the southern end, cocktail bar Psychic is home to Prey + Tell, the fried chicken sensation from chef Diane Lam. The back porch at Bar Bar and The Rambler provide a true taste of rustic Portland homeyness.

Ankeny Ally in Downtown Portland. [Photo: Flickr/Katie Wheeler]

DOWNTOWN:

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 Texas-inflected takeout like San Antonio chicken and creamy queso at the former to the refreshing cocktails and one-hell-of-a burger at the latter. For breakfast or lunch, 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. A dinner of dandan noodles and wontons in chili oil can be found at the beloved Duck House. For late-night pho, it’s hard to beat Luc Lac.

Street art along SE Division Street. [Photo: Flickr/Britta Heis]

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; Lokanta, the Turkish restaurant with nuanced meze and plenty of raki; 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 adorable Northwest/Alphabet District. [Photo: Flickr/Victor Capa]

NORTHWEST PORTLAND:

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 restaurant Bhuna and shape-shifting cafe-meets-tasting-menu-spot República. The longtime standbys are Vitaly Paley’s iconic Paley’s Place, which serves as the benchmark for seasonal and local cooking in Portland, and 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, just a touch farther south in the Pearl District.

Flower gardens in Buckman's Ladd's Addition. [Photo: Flickr/Sandy Richard]

BUCKMAN/CENTRAL EASTSIDE:

The Central Eastside neighborhood is spread out, so don’t expect to walk between these dining hotspots. Don’t miss the deeply researched Italian dishes at Nostrana bolstered by local grains, the game-changing charcuterie producer Olympia Provisions, French chef’s counter Le Pigeon, Slavic dinner hall Kachka and its adjoining market, and fine dining mainstay Castagna — the bar next door is an absolute must-visit for wine nerds. Central Eastside is also home to two stellar food cart pods: Cartopia and its neighbor, Hawthorne Asylum.

One of Alberta Street's many stylish businesses. [Photo: Flickr/Mike Rohrig]

NE ALBERTA AND KILLINGSWORTH:

It’s a journey from the city center, but the NE Alberta and Killingsworth neighborhood has its own artsy style and dining scene to match. In many ways, this Northeast Portland neighborhood 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, underrated bakery Seastar (which shares a space with the equally underrated Handsome Pizza), 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, Hawaiian sensation GrindWitTryz, and pasta hotspot Gumba. For dessert, Alberta is also home to the very-first Salt & Straw location.

A white table at H.K. Cafe comes lined with greens, har gao, ribs in black bean sauce, and other dim sum classics.
Dim Sum from H.K. Cafe
Nick Woo / EPDX

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. 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.

Four tacos sit on a white plate, while two tacos sit out of frame on paper plates at Birrieria la Plaza
Tacos from Birrieria La Plaza
Brooke Jackson-Glidden/EPDX

EAST PORTLAND AND THE NUMBERS:

“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

James Beard:

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.

Northwest Bounty:

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.

Pods:

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.

Old Portland:

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:

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-Up:

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.



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