At least once a week, I receive an email or social media message from someone telling me they’re coming to visit Portland and they’d love some recommendations. But what I think they actually mean when they say this is, “Where should I eat and drink?” Because, let’s be honest, when People come to Portland, 99% of the time it’s for the food. And the beer. And the cocktails. And, quite frankly, I don’t blame them one bit.
So today I’m launching a new series on the blog for Culinary Travel, beginning with the city I know best: Portland. This post will also have a home on my Culinary Travel Page and I’ll likely be adding Parts 2, 3, 4, etc to it as life goes on because there are just that many amazing places to dine here in PDX. And because new amazing places open every day.
Now get yourselves on the next flight to Portland and eat your hearts out, friends! And, fellow Portlanders and visitors alike, let me know in the comments if you have any favorites that are missing from the list.
PS: For more of my Portland travel tips — including where to stay, explore, and shop — be sure to check out me “An Insider’s Guide to Portland” article, coming to the Spring 2016 issue of The Coastal Table.
Breakfast and Brunch
- Pine State Biscuits–The name of this place says it all: Biscuits. Biscuits every which way you can imagine. With meat or without. With gravy or without. With cheese or without. My recommendation? With everything. Aka, The Reggie Deluxe.
- Screen Door–As a born and raised southerner, I take chicken and waffles seriously. And this place does them right with a sweet potato waffle and a giant–and I do mean GIANT–stack of buttermilk-battered fried chicken on top. Wait time on weekends: 2 hours (unless you get their right at 9, when doors open.)
- Tasty N Sons–As far as “classic” Portland places goes, this one is at the top of just about everyone’s brunch list. The wait is usually about 1.5 hours on weekends, but their bloody mary will help pass the time. Pro tips: Order the Jerk Bloody Mary and the Shakshuka, which inspired this recipe.
- Muscadine–If there is one place on this entire list that I wanted to leave off for selfish reasons (there’s rarely a wait!), it’s Muscadine. As a native Mississippian, this chef knows southern food and serves up some of the best skin-on fried chicken outside of the south. Pro tips: Order the Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Plate with Grits and Fried Okra.
- Pok Pok–They say Andy Ricker built an empire when he founded Pok Pok, the Northern Thai restaurant that is every Portlander’s favorite. And I’d say they’re right. The flavors and precision of Pok Pok dishes rivals even the best food I ate while exploring Northern Thailand myself. Pro tips: There is usually a wait (anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours), but luckily there are 2 great bars across the street to pass the time–The Richmond Bar and Whiskey Soda Lounge. Don’t miss the Fish Sauce Wings, the Khao Soi, and, if you’re obsessed with everything super spicy like me, the Boar Collar with Sticky Rice. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the spice level of the Boar Collar…it’s pretty intense.
- P.R.E.A.M.–This place began as a pop up restaurant but quickly outgrew their weekly Wu Tang Clan inspired pizza nights. Now they have their own brick and mortar restaurant where they churn out innovative wood-fired pizzas with a bit of hip hop in the background and a fantastic beer list to boot. Their pizzas change seasonally, but anything with the spicy fennel sausage is a win as far as I’m concerned.
- Burrasca–This is another recent brick and mortar, opened after their widely successful food cart run. Reservations aren’t necessary (at least not at the time of writing this), the wine list is robust, and the gnudi is not to be missed.
- The People’s Pig–Clearly, I have a thing for this place. Pro tip: Order the Smoked Fried Chicken Sandwich and leave the happiest human ever.
- Lardo–Sometimes, you just gotta eat a sandwich. And with Lardo’s expansive list of pork belly-filled, kimchi-covered sandwiches, there’s something for everyone. I’m hard pressed to find a favorite, but if you made me choose just one, it would be the Korean Pork Shoulder + Dirty Fries. I’m a sucker for Korean sandwiches.
- Kachka–Whenever we have friends visiting from out of town, this Russian hot spot is always on the list of must-go-to dinners. And at the end of their stay when we inevitably ask, “Where was your favorite meal?” the answer is always an emphatic, “KACHKA!” It’s fun, lively, and will introduce you to a type of cuisine that most are relatively unfamiliar with. Pro tip: Make a reservation at least 3 weeks in advance (if you don’t, you can still eat in the Lounge area) and don’t miss the Siberian Pelmeni Classic Style with Fancy Broth. Order two, one for me 🙂
- Nodoguro–I happen to love Japanese food and this weekends-only restaurant, located in the back room of a grocery store, brings Japanese inspired cuisine to a whole new level in the form of 9-12 perfectly executed courses. I’m not sure I’ve ever left a restaurant feeling as creatively inspired as I did when I left Nodoguro. Pro tip: Make a reservation at least 2 months in advance and prepare to be wowed.
- Langbaan–You’ll need to plan well in advance to snag a reservation at this Portland favorite (6 month lead times!) That said, it’s well worth the wait. A formal, 10-course Thai-inspired meal that’s hidden in the back of another restaurant with flavors you won’t ever want to forget.
- Le Pidgeon–If you’re looking for what’s known as one of the greatest formal dining experiences in the city, this is it. Chef Gabriel Rucker puts together plates of food that most people can’t even dream of. While you can order à la cart, I’d recommend ordering the seasonally-inspired Prix-Fixe meal (5 courses) with wine pairings. And make sure they don’t forget to bring the Foie Gras Profiteroles at the end–those are dessert heaven.
- Blue Star Donuts–There’s a pretty significant divide between those who favor Portland’s Voodoo Donuts versus those who favor Blue Star. My thoughts? Go with Blue Star. The flavors are inventive, thoughtful, and often surprising. It’ll have you rethinking your classic glazed or chocolate-covered donuts and instead reaching for something a little less common–like a Creme Brûlée Donut with a Cointreau Shot Insert. MIND. BLOWN.
- Salt and Straw Ice Cream–If you come to Portland without eating their famed Salt and Straw ice cream, you have officially made the biggest mistake of your life and should probably start planning your return trip. This ice cream shop, which has flavor themes (summer fruit; vegetable loving; food cart inspired; etc) that rotate every month plus a few staples. Pro tip: Try at least a few flavors on the board and don’t miss the Sea Salt and Caramel. Also, prepare for a long line.
- Maurice–This place was named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in 2014. And while the luncheonette does some fine savory things, it’s the sweets that everyone comes here for. Chef Murray’s most talked about dessert is probably her Black Pepper Cheesecake, which she makes small seasonal changes to as the weather turns.
- Cacao–AKA, the place with the Drinking Chocolate. Nuff Said.
Food Carts and Pods
- Nong’s Khao Man Gai–Nong’s has both a food cart and a brick and mortar location, both specializing in their famous Khao Man Gai–Rice with Chicken. Pro tip: Order yours with chicken liver and crispy skin.
- Potato Champion–Before moving to Portland, I had never had the Canadian “poutine.” But it only took a couple of weeks of living here to make my way to Potato Champion where poutine reigns supreme. The best part? They’re open late night, so you can hit the fry window on your way home from all of those breweries and feel like new in the morning.
- The Carts at Tidbit Pod–This is one of my favorite “pods” (gatherings of food carts) in the city because 1) it has an incredibly diverse offering of carts (ramen, Belizean, pizza, Scandanavian, Korean, waffles, etc.), 2) it has a beer cart, and 3) it has a huge fire pit where you can gather and warm up from chilly Portland weather. Need I say more?
- The Carts at the Portland Mercado–Portland has a pretty abysmal Mexican food scene, but the newly-launched Mercado, which is Latin-inspired, brings unique latin flavors to our fair city. It’s a bit of a drive outside of the city center, but well worth a visit if you have a hankering for Latin food.
- Multnomah Whiskey Library–Once upon a time, I didn’t love whiskey. Now we’re best friends. And if I ever want to learn more, I have the most elegant, old-timey place in probably all the world to go to. Pro tip: Let the servers guide you in your selection and prepare for a wait (usually a couple of hours, but there is another bar just downstairs that you can wait in.) For more on the Library, see this article I wrote for Life & Thyme magazine.
- Expatriate–This place is truly a Portland gem. A great cocktail menu, complimented by an upscale “expat” bar vibe. I love asking the bartenders to create something special tailored to my mood and can honestly say I’ve never had a cocktail that disappoints.
- White Owl Social Club–I wouldn’t say this place is a go to for crazy innovative cocktails, but it is a place that is incredibly fun to gather, especially in the summertime with their sprawling patio. Don’t miss the slushies!
- Pepe le Moko–Deemed Portland’s best cocktail bar by many, this place is shaking things up in the city. That mint green grasshopper? Do it. There’s ice cream involved.
- The Commons Brewery–This tasting-room-inspired urban brewery serves some of my favorite beer in the city. Plus they have a designated cheese monger in house, which means you can eat a plateful of cheese and meat while sipping beer brewed just across the room. Explore the architecturally-intriguing, intentionally-unfinished design of the building while sipping on one of my favorite beers–the Urban Farmhouse Ale.
- Cascade–Love sour beers? This is your place. Hate sour beers? Go anyway. Don’t know what a sour beer is? You’ve come to the right place. Pro tip: The menu is ordered from lightest to heaviest sour, so if you’re new to the whole sour beer thing, start at the top and work your way down.
- Ex Novo–As far as I’m concerned, any brewery that serves pints of bacon as an appetizer is a winner. Their diverse selection of beers and outdoor seating are also major pluses.