Since 1988, visitors have flocked to the edge of the Willamette for the Waterfront Blues Festival, which has hosted everyone from Mavis Staples to Trombone Shorty in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. This year’s festival, which runs from July 1 through July 4, will feature people like Buddy Guy and Los Lonely Boys, with four stages along the river. As a true Portland-based festival, the food offerings at the waterfront will go above and beyond the typical corndogs and curly fries, including a wide range of Oregon-based businesses — think: Portland names like Garbonzos and Nacheaux. However, the festival’s location downtown also puts it steps away from several exceptional Portland restaurants and bars. Find our guide to dining and drinking during the Waterfront Blues Festival below.
Where it is: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 1400 SW Naito Parkway.
When it is: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 1 through Tuesday, July 4
The lineup: Headliners include Buddy Guy, the Mavericks, JJ Grey and Mofro, Cory Wong, and Los Lonely Boys. See the full lineup here.
Tickets: Currently starting at $50.
Dining Vendors Within the Festival
Our top three picks
Garbonzos: Once a ’90s hit for hummus and grilled eggplant sandwiches, this falafel bar within Mittleman Jewish Community Center will also serve salads, chicken, and catfish at the festival.
Horn of Africa: In 1994, this East African vendor first set up at the Portland Saturday Market, serving dishes like sambusas and bajiya. At the festival, Horn of Africa will sell combination platters with lamb or chicken.
Nacheaux: This food cart-turned-restaurant-turned-food cart has been an Eater Portland favorite for a while, and now that it’s doing the mobile cart thing, it’ll hawk a variety of beignets at the Blues Festival this year, as well as its galaxy sweet tea.
More food to try
America’s Food Yakisoba: A Portland-based company sells house-made yakisoba noodles — a festival standard in the Pacific Northwest.
Bates BBQ & Burgers: This Creswell-based caterer will sling tri-tip sandwiches, smoked mac and cheese, and burgers.
Graze Craze: This Portland-based company specializes in elaborate “grazing boards,” including charcuterie, cheese, and other snacks.
Jackson Square: This Portland-based vendor will offer fried chicken and waffles and po’ boys.
Smoke & Brine: This food cart identifies as Portland-style barbecue, pairing smoked meats doused in an eclectic marinades with house pickles and ferments.
Care for a drink?
Lavazza Coffee: The international coffee brand will cover espresso for those arriving early (or staying up late).
Booze options: The festival will have eight bar booths scattered across the park, as well as a VIP bar with seating. Oregon-based breweries and wineries like 10 Barrel, Widmer, and Dobbes Family Estate are among a wider range of offerings.
Dairy Hill: This Oregon ice cream chain will serve ice cream sandwiches and frozen bananas.
Nico’s Ice Cream: This Portland-based company blends Oregon-made vanilla ice cream and Willamette Valley fruit — marionberries, strawberries — for a New Zealand-style fruit ice cream.
Dining Options Near the Festival
Coffee or breakfast before the first show
Coffee: Of the cafes nearby, we’d recommend 40 lbs coffee bar on Southwest Main, near the north entrance to the festival.
Breakfast: 40 lbs will have a few pastries available for a quick bite, but for something heartier, Mexican Cuban spot Caiman Cafe offers things like breakfast burritos and sandwiches, chilaquiles, and empanadas, served alongside Cuban cortadito or horchata lattes.
A quick lunch off campus
Gastro Mania: This Mediterranean American cafe steps from the festival grounds offers a variety of gyros, as well as salads, sandwiches, and distinctive bites like bacon-wrapped dolmas. Gastro Mania also offers breakfast,
Luc Lac: Some may laugh at the premise of a “quick” lunch at Luc Lac, which can attract major lines for its Vietnamese soups and sandwiches; however, ordering takeout online speeds up the process significantly. Pick up some banh mi to eat on the go, or opt for a few vermicelli bowls for a picnic in the park.
Where to grab dinner
Make a reservation: To avoid Blues Festival weekend lines, grab a reservation between acts. Chef Alexander Diestra, formerly of Andina, serves a beautiful array of creative seafood dishes at King Tide Fish and Shell, which takes reservations. For old-school Japanese realness, call to make a reservation at the longstanding Murata, which offers seasonal sushi specials and comforting dishes like ochazuke.
Brave the walk-in: Stroll down the waterfront to grab dinner at Dough Zone, which is large enough to potentially handle Blues Fest crowds without a wait (otherwise, takeout is always an option). If dining in, this is the place to order steam baskets of xiao long bao or fluffy “q-bao,” the restaurant’s version of sheng jian bao. If grabbing takeout, stick to more travel-friendly dishes, like chile oil wontons, noodles, and the spicy beef wrapped in a sesame pancake.
Drinks after the final show of the night
For something scene-y: This indoor-outdoor rooftop bar is the place for cocktails and small snacks with a view of the city.
For something dive-y: Yamhill Pub is a quintessential Portland dive with a punk rock edge, absolutely coated in graffiti — the ideal spot for a shot and a beer.
For something in between: Irish bar and restaurant Paddy’s is a popular post-show hangout, which means it can get pretty packed after the festival ends. However, the whiskey keeps flowing, and the booths are awful comfy — if you can snag one.