As an Oregon native, I’m pretty familiar with the whole Portland schtick. It’s a weird city, full of weird people doing weird things and eating weird food. I’ve spent plenty of time in the city, however, and I know for a fact there’s more to it than just Voodoo Donuts and Hot Lips Pizza (side note: both of these are sorta overrated). So next time you hit the Rose City, bring along this list, and hit some of the best spots Portland has to offer.
Andina has been a mainstay in Portland since 2003. They serve up imaginative, high-end Andean fusion (how’s that for a mouthful). This spot received quite the hype a few years ago when it was just hitting the restaurant scene, but the press has subsided, making it easier to get reservations and providing a more mellow dining atmosphere. The food is colorful and diverse, pulling from several regions from the area, including the Pacific coast and the high terrain of Lima.
Personal favorites of mine include the ceviches de pescado (white fish marinated in lime juice, a classic Peruvian preparation) and de mango verde y langostino (green mango and mussels prepared the same way). The wine list is extensive and waiters will help you pick something out to pair with your food. For dessert, try the plato de crema quemada, a trio of crème brûlées paired with exotic South American flavors.
Andina is pricey, but if you’re trying to impress your date (or your parents are paying), this is a Portland standby you’ve gotta check out.
Picture every greasy, rich sandwich you’ve ever eaten and multiply it by like five. This is pretty much every sandwich Lardo serves. Their menu consists mainly of sandwiches, all featuring pork in some form. The restaurant is casual, with a healthy punch of Portland quirk. There’s a massive, light up sign hanging on the wall urging patrons to PIG OUT. And pig out you will.
Two of my favorite sandwiches on the menu are the banh mi and the reuben. Both feature expertly cooked pork with fresh veggies, soft bread and really awesome sauces. If you’re a fan of either kind of sandwich, you’ll be wowed at the combinations Lardo throws together. If you’re not feeling greasy enough with just a sandwich, try the dirty fries. They come with pork scraps, banana peppers, fried herbs and parmesan cheese. Enough said.
Most sandwiches are around $10, making Lardo fairly affordable for the quality of sandwiches.
3. Salt & Straw
Believe the hype on this one. Salt & Straw has three locations in Portland and was so successful they opened two shops in LA. They have some of the weirdest, coolest flavors of ice cream you’ll probably ever try. There’s a standard menu with about 12 flavors on it, as well as a themed monthly menu. Local elementary school kids design flavors, as do soccer players and vegetable farmers. The only problem with Salt & Straw is that you can’t just pick one flavor once you’re there.
My absolute favorite is the Arbequina olive oil. Now hear me out. As weird as it sounds, this ice cream is creamy, well-balanced between salty and sweet and super flavorful. My mouth waters even just thinking about it. Other winners are the freckled woodblock chocolate and the strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper.
A double scoop sells for about $6. Try a split scoop, a milkshake or a sundae if you’re feeling creative.
Clutch used to be a real restaurant in Beaverton, but owner Ken Norris picked up and moved to downtown Portland to open a food cart. Everything here is served in the form of sausages, and I seriously mean everything. Clutch serves nachos, pad thai, pizza and ribs, all with house-smoked sausage.
I like the nachos the best. They’re tangy and rich, but are served with queso fresco and sliced radishes to cut the heat. The best part is you can eat and walk, so you can try other food carts and check out the rest of the city.
Everything on this menu is $7, making it extremely attractive to a college student’s budget.
Bamboo Sushi is the first sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. Yep, you heard me right, and it’s located right in Portland, Oregon. Bamboo is dedicated to sourcing only fish that is sustainable, and in a world where 76% of the world’s ocean fish is overexploited, that’s a tall order.
There are a couple locations in Portland, but the most hopping one right now is located on NW 23rd. Bamboo serves your standard sushi rolls (expertly-prepared), but where they really shine is with their unexpected flavor combinations and fresh-out-of-the-ocean nigiri. Try the locally-sourced salmon or halibut for a true taste of the Pacific Ocean.
Sushi is usually fairly pricey, and Bamboo is no different. Most rolls and nigiri are somewhere in the $5-$10 range.
#SpoonTip: This place is RIGHT NEXT DOOR to Salt & Straw. Have your nice, responsible sushi lunch, then pop over for an overly-indulgent ice cream cone.
There are few places further from India than a rainy city in the Pacific Northwest, but that hasn’t stopped Troy MacLarty, the owner of this Alberta St. hotspot. Bollywood Theater focuses more on the experience of eating than anything else, all the way down to the tin cups and plates diners eat off of. Everything is served small-plate style, making it easy to try everything.
I’m not usually a huge fan of Indian food, but I loved what Bollywood Theater had to offer in the department. The gobi manchurian (fried cauliflower with lemon, curry, and sweet and sour sauce) is an delicious toe-dip into the flavor pool, and if you’re feeling emboldened, the paneer mekhani (a cheese, tomato and cashew curry with saffron rice) is a treat. There are also several vegan and gluten-free options to satisfy your more picky friends.
Small plates range from $7-$12.
This is a real-deal deli, no doubt about it. Kenny & Zuke’s has been around for a while, but that doesn’t stop Portlanders from continuing to flock to their two locations for the best pastrami in town. Not only can you order food at the counter, but you can also take home cured meats, condiments and bread, all made fresh in-house.
I’m a huge fan of a good reuben, and Kenny & Zuke’s makes a damn good one. Also, if you’re in NW Portland, check out their Bagelworks shop for a true New York style bagel: chewy, dense, and served with fresh lox.
Sandwiches range from $8-$12 and you can’t beat the quality-to-price ratio of the fresh deli food.
Pro tip: Pick up some mustard, pickled vegetables or interesting soda flavors as gifts for your favorite foodies.
8. Sizzle Pie
Any best restaurant list would be incomplete without a pizza joint, and this is a hell of a pizza joint. Sizzle Pie serves up the ultimate greasy, cheesy, made-for-drunchies pizza in the Rose City. This is the perfect late night hangout spot as well: the rock and roll theme, great music, and open till 4am atmosphere make it a winner on the weekends. And if it couldn’t get any better, they deliver.
Try the Ol’ Dirty (salami, ricotta, olive oil and pepperoncini) for a tangy and creamy combination that’ll make your mouth water. The Rad Wings of Destiny features BBQ sauce, and the Good Luck in Jail is smothered in house-made vodka sauce. In true Portland style, Sizzle Pie also offers vegan pizzas.
You can choose from two sizes. The small runs about $12-$16 and the large about $24-$28. Split a couple with some pals.
Ox is, if I may, one of the most badass restaurants I’ve ever been to. It’s an Argentine-style restaurant that specializes in wood-fired grilling of nearly every type of meat. They’ve got your standard steaks and sausages, but also feature oxtail, tongue and other interesting cuts. Their vegetable dishes are prepared as expertly as their meat dishes and do well at cutting the richness of a carnivorous meal.
I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but Ox is a special exception. However, if you’re in the same boat as I (usually) am, try the grilled trout with fingerling potatoes and herbs. The trout takes well to the grill and the potatoes add a hint of richness. If you’re feeling like going all out, the Asado Argentino for two is a massive sampling of the best meats Ox has to offer.
Ox is pretty expensive, so I would consider this a special-occasion kind of meal. Most entrees range from $12-$20, and the nice cuts of meat can go for upwards of $40.
10. Piazza Italia
If you’re looking for homestyle Italian food, then this is your place. If you’re looking for a great place to watch a soccer game, this is your place. And if you’re looking for some of the best cheap wine in the city, then this is also your place. Basically, Piazza Italia is your place.
The food is rich, bold and completely delicious. All of their pasta is made from scratch, and you can really tell with dishes like the wild boar pappardelle and spaghetti with shrimp, pesto and mushrooms. The waitstaff is friendly and unashamedly, flamboyantly Italian, and they’ll urge you to try everything. It’s hard to turn them down.
In true Italian fashion, there are signed soccer jerseys hanging from the ceiling and the TVs are nearly always playing a match. Come in before a Portland Timbers game (the restaurant is a 10 minute walk from Providence Park) and get into the spirit with some delicious, homemade food.
Portions are huge here, and most dishes go for between $11 and $15.
11. Pok Pok
If you’ve been reading into the Portland food scene and haven’t heard of Pok Pok, then you’ve probably been doing your research wrong. This small, neighborhood joint exploded a few years ago when it was featured on Food Network and in Bon Appetit. Now chef Andy Ricker has a Best Chef Northwest award from 2011 and there are locations in NYC and LA. The original is the best, however, and if you’re willing to brave the lines and the tourists, you’ll get a great meal out of it.
Pok Pok is famous for their Vietnamese fish sauce wings. If this is the only thing you try from the menu, you’ll go home happy. The wings are juicy and dripping with a salty, caramelized sauce that will make it onto all your clothes. For drinks, try a drinking vinegar. These are tart, refreshing and totally unexpected.
Unfortunately Pok Pok’s fame has driven up their prices, but you can still share a meal with a friend for a decent price. Most small plates range from $9-$15.
Don’t walk into NLB looking for a hamburger, because you won’t find one. This place is an entirely plant-based fast food place, and in a health-conscious city like Portland, it’s extremely popular. The Portland location opened in 2015 after the owners brought the NLB mission over from the original Bend, Oregon location.
The best part about going to NLB is the lack of the midday food coma you get after eating a burger for lunch. I don’t much care for the original Next Level Burger, but I highly recommend the spicy bean burger and the tomato-basil burger that’s usually a special. Their oven-cooked fries are surprisingly crispy, and the soy shakes will satisfy that sugar craving you’ll get after your meal.
Combo specials make NLB an affordable lunch ticket. Most entrees don’t cost any more than $8.
13. Screen Door
This is another one of those places that’s always busy, always touristy, but always really really good. Screen Door serves high quality Southern food with a Pacific Northwest customer in mind (read: organic, locally sourced, fresh produce). If you’re looking for the quintessential Portland brunch experience, come to Screen Door, put your name on the waiting list and wait in the drizzle for an hour or so. It’s worth it, I promise.
The chicken and waffles is their most popular dish, and for good reason. First of all, it’s huge: a massive sweet potato waffle with three pieces of fried chicken and a steak knife through the whole thing. If you don’t end up bringing home leftovers, then I have mad respect for you, friend. On weekends, try the breakfast corndogs. These little guys are the perfect combination of salty, savory and sweet and the perfect way to start a gluttonous meal. For a more balanced meal, try the brisket hash. It’s spicy, rich, and actually has vegetables on the plate.
Most plates go for $10-$15, but if you’re getting two meals out of that, I’d call it a good deal.
Portland is famous for its food carts, and this is one of the best of them. Güero serves creative, quality Mexican food at fantastic prices for a college budget. This place is awesome in the summer. Grab your food and a cold cerveza and post up on a bench to enjoy your cheap eats.
The menu isn’t long, but that doesn’t mean it lacks in quality. The tortas are their most popular item, and for good reason. They’re deep fried masa pockets of your choice of meat, chili aioli, avocado, onion, cilantro, lime, cabbage, and pickled onion. Make sure to grab a napkin (or five) before eating one.
Tortas go for $8.
15. Toro Bravo
Toro Bravo calls itself a Spanish tapas bar, and it sort of is, except that the tapas here pull flavors from around the world, which isn’t a bad thing at all. This spot is bustling and busy all the time, and is especially popular after around 8pm (consistent with normal Spanish dining hours). It’s a bit of a haul to get there from downtown Portland, but if you’ve got a car and the time to spare, Toro Bravo is a unique dining experience and a mainstay in the Portland food scene.
The menu is extensive and it’s hard to pick just a few tapas. Popular items include the empanadas, drunken pork and house-cured chorizo. I could eat several of their Spanish cheese plates, served with almonds, honey and jams, in one sitting. Toro Bravo also boasts a full bar and an extensive wine list.
It’s easy to spend a lot of money here, but if you and your friends split the tapas evenly, you can make it out in one piece. Most small plates range from $6-$12.
It’s hard to stand out in a town known for its brunch scene, but Imperial manages to do so with its higher-end atmosphere perfect for a date or a meal with grandma and its commitment to using high quality, Pacific Northwest ingredients. Plus, Imperial is located right downtown, making it super convenient if you’re staying in the area.
Two of the most delicious and most popular menu items are the dungeness crab omelette, with fresh crab, cheddar and herbs, and the imperial hash, which combines a sunny side up egg, onions, peppers, mushrooms and pastrami in a delicious plate reminiscent of a deli sandwich. Their bloody mary is out of this world, and the mimosa is fresh and effervescent.
Plates range from $8-$12, which is comparable to most brunch spots, especially in the downtown area.
17. Tasty n Sons
If Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein had urged us to “put an egg on it” instead, they might have been talking about Tasty n Sons. This is Portland’s premier brunch spot, and unfortunately there are the lines to prove it. I personally prefer Screen Door or Imperial, but that’s because I don’t eat a lot of eggs. If you’re a fan of them, however, this may be your new favorite hangover breakfast.
Tasty n Sons serves diner food with an upscale Pacific Northwest twist, inspired by owner John Gorham’s travels around the country and the world. Once you make it up the wait list (give it a couple hours), try the bacon-wrapped dates and the biscuits with huckleberry compote for a snack. For your main meal, I recommend the steak and cheddar eggs for a rich, gooey meal. Hey, you waited all that time, so why not?
Prices here are pretty comparable to other brunch spots in town. Plates go for between $8 and $15.
18. Blue Star Donuts
Skip Voodoo, please. As fun as it is to wait in line for an hour for a donut with cocoa puffs on it (plot twist: it isn’t), this donut really isn’t that great. Thankfully, there are other places in the city with shorter lines and better donuts. One of these is Blue Star. Everything here is made from scratch, and you can tell once you bite into a soft, chewy donut. The downtown location makes it easy to return again (and again and again and again).
Donuts here are creative and grown-up (think matcha powder, marionberry jam with black pepper, and passionfruit with cacao nibs). The blueberry bourbon basil donut is unexpected and delicate, as well as being glazed in a lovely purple colored icing. The creme brûlée filled one sells out fast, so consider showing up early.
Donuts here are around $3 apiece, and a fresh Stumptown latte will put you back about the same.
Everyone loves a good grilled cheese sandwich, and it’s even better when it’s made from high quality, local cheeses and is served out the window of a revamped school bus. Only in Portland could a quirky spot like this exist, and it doesn’t just exist, it thrives. Portlanders flock for a delicious taste of their childhood. This spot is also awesome in the summer so you can sit and enjoy your sandwich in their outdoor seating area.
For $4.50, you can get a basic sandwich with the crusts cut off. It’s called the Preschooler. For those of you with a more refined palate, try the Jalapeño popper grilled cheese or the BLT grilled cheese. Both are gooey, balanced, and totally indulgent. Also, the menu features a couple of rotating specials, so don’t forget to look for those.
Basic sandwiches are around $5, and the more complicated ones sell for around $7.
20. Apizza Scholls
Apizza Scholls doesn’t mess around. This is the closest you’ll get to a New York style pizza shop on the West Coast. There’s hardly any decor, hardly any service, and if you ask for anything besides what’s on the menu, you’ll get laughed at. That being said, the pizza here is outrageous, and if you’re looking for the perfect thin crust pizza, look no further.
The margherita pizza is a classic and really highlights the homemade crust, sauce and high quality cheese. If you want something a little more interesting, I recommend the sausage & mama tartufo, a sausage, pepperoncini, mushroom and truffle oil white pie that’ll make your tastebuds sing.
Personal 11″ pies are around $12. All draught beers are $5, making this a perfect spot for lunch with a few friends.
Bridgeport prides itself on being Oregon’s oldest microbrewery, and it definitely has the old school, no frills atmosphere to match. They boast a mean happy hour and serve most of their food with pairing recommendations, so you can feel *classy* while inhaling your burger and beer. Come at happy hour for a lively crowd and great deals.
The sockeye salmon melt is equal parts delicate and offensively rich, and with fresh Pacific salmon, it’s hard to beat. The bratwurst plate is tasty and of course goes well with nearly every beer. Bridgeport also has an extensive appetizer menu if all you want to do is nibble (makes room for more beer).
Nearly every food item on the menu falls somewhere between $8 and $18.