Bites in the Beaver State: What to Eat in Oregon
These 22 iconic foods — and the restaurants that serve them — will tick everything off your Pacific Northwest checklist.
Photo By: Edis Jurcys
Photo By: Voodoo Doughnut
Photo By: Willamette Valley Pie Company
Photo By: Pok Pok and David Reamer
Photo By: Kathleen Nyberg
Photo By: Solstice Wood Fire Café & Bar
Photo By: Local Ocean Seafoods
Photo By: John Valls
Photo By: Bunk
Photo By: Kelly’s Brighton Marina
Photo By: Lauretta Jean’s
Photo By: Tillamook
Photo By: The Joel Palmer House
Photo By: Polara Studio for Burgerville
Photo By: The Original Pronto Pup
Photo By: Domaine Drouhin
Photo By: Deschutes Brewery
Photo By: Alfonso Elia
Photo By: The Schooner
Photo By: Bowpicker Fish & Chips
Eat Well in Oregon
The Beaver State doesn’t have a city with a defining dish, like Chicago pizza or Philly cheesesteak. What it can lay claim to, though, is stellar local ingredients from its farms, vineyards, dairies, oceans and rivers. Some have become nationally renowned, but in Oregon they’re prepared with a level of creativity and pride you won’t find anywhere else. Plus, there’s no sales tax!
Illustration by Hello Neighbor Designs
Pear and Blue Cheese Ice Cream
Salt & Straw in Portland is known for crazy limited-edition flavors like dill pickle and blood pudding. But a dozen classics, including this one, are available year-round. The pears — Oregon’s state fruit — are grown in Salem, and the cave-aged cheese comes from Central Point. To skip the perpetually long lines, grab a hand-packed pint from the freezer and head straight to the cash register.
Go to: Salt & Straw
The Gardenburger was invented in Oregon when restaurateur Paul Wenner mixed leftover rice pilaf with mushrooms, oats and cheese, and grilled it. Now plenty of restaurants make their own meat-free burgers from scratch, but Next Level Burger’s quinoa and white bean patty topped with smoky tempeh bacon and organic lettuce, tomato and red onion is one of the best.
Go to: Next Level Burger
Bacon Maple Bar
If you see someone carrying a pink box onto an airplane at PDX, chances are good that yeast doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnut are inside. Topped with maple frosting and an entire piece of bacon broken in half, the Bacon Maple Bar is one of the simpler doughnuts on Voodoo’s cheeky menu, which also includes the Marshall Mathers (made with M&M’s — get it?) and a chocolate cake version topped with a vanilla-icing pentagram.
Marionberries were bred at Oregon State University by crossing two types of blackberries. Because they don’t ship well, most fresh marionberries are used in-state to make muffins, jam, ice cream and the beloved fresh pie. The Willamette Valley Pie Company in Salem, which processes an average of 12 million pounds of berries per year, makes three kinds of marionberry pie and lets you pick your own marionberries in the summer.
Vietnamese Chicken Wings
If Andy Ricker put Thai food on the U.S. map, he dropped the pin in Portland. That’s where he opened Pok Pok, the first restaurant in what is now his mini empire, which has spread to Los Angeles and New York City. Ricker is best known for his sticky-sweet chicken wings that are marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep-fried and tossed in more fish sauce, mixed with garlic.
Go to: Pok Pok
The “Ore” in “Ore-Ida,” which invented Tater Tots in the 1950s to use up potato slivers left over from making french fries, stands for “Oregon.” Tots are the most-popular menu item at brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin’s eponymous pubs, McMenamins, which buy more than 500,000 pounds of them each year. Get them tossed with Cajun spice mix and with housemade peppercorn ranch dressing on the side.
Go to: McMenamins Edgefield
After Seth Tibbott founded Tofurky in 1980, he lived in a treehouse for seven years to save money. Today the company has its headquarters directly behind Solstice Wood Fire Café & Bar on the Columbia River. The restaurant tops its vegan pizza with Tofurky’s Italian sausage and dairy-free cheese. Wash it down with a local microbrew while taking in the Hood River’s waterfront.
There are clams in nearly every estuary along the Oregon coast. At Local Ocean Seafoods, a bayfront seafood market and restaurant that gets most of its seafood from across the street, the bivalves are steamed with garlic, shallots, butter and white wine, dusted with chopped parsley and served with garlic bread. Sit downstairs at the Newport spot to watch the chefs in the open kitchen, or upstairs for views of the fishing boats in the harbor.
Go to: Local Ocean Seafoods
There are five species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, three of which are common to Oregon: coho, king (or chinook) and chum. You’ll see the fatty fish on menus all over town, but few restaurants source theirs as carefully as Portland’s Bamboo Sushi, where fish is ethically caught from plentiful populations. The salmon is served smoked, in rolls or as a tasting flight with reusable chopsticks made from sustainably sourced teak.
Go to: Bamboo Sushi
Albacore Tuna Melt
“Tuna salad” might make you think of drab canned tuna drowning in mayo. But at Portland’s Bunk, a temple to all things sandwich, tuna caught off the Oregon coast and packed in sustainable pouches is mixed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, capers, red onion, basil and crushed red chiles, then served on a ciabatta roll and pressed with cheddar, mustard and housemade dill pickles.
Go to: Bunk Sandwiches
Each year Oregon lands about 10 million pounds of Dungeness crab, which can be found from California to Alaska. Seafood veterans Kelly and Janice Laviolette of Kelly’s Brighton Marina in Rockaway Beach can help you catch, cook and crack your own. They also sell butter and lemons at their small grocery store and provide picnic tables overlooking Nehalem Bay for feasting.
Go to: Kelly’s Brighton Marina
Portland has many nicknames: Rip City, the City of Roses, Bridgetown and Stumptown. That last one’s a nod to its history as a logging hub, which partly accounts for all the stick-to-your-ribs lumberjack food like biscuits. In Portland, Lauretta Jean’s, named for owner Kate McMillen’s grandmother, makes them with butter and bakes them several times throughout the day.
Go to: Lauretta Jean's
Oregon grows 99 percent of the entire U.S. commercial crop of hazelnuts. They’re the state’s official nut and are the stars of Oregon Hazelnut & Salted Caramel ice cream, one of roughly two dozen flavors scooped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where you can also sample cheese curds and fudge.
Go to: Tillamook Cheese Factory
If you see secretive-looking locals emerging from the forest carrying baskets or bags, they’re likely “hunting” for wild mushrooms, which grow throughout the Pacific Northwest. At the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, the menu revolves around wild mushrooms, which the chefs use in their three-mushroom tart. For dessert, there’s a creme brulee made with candy cap mushrooms, which have a maple syrup scent and earthy flavor.
Go to: Joel Palmer House
Burgerville takes full advantage of the Pacific Northwest’s bounty. Where else would a fast-food chain offer a wild-smoked-salmon salad, free-range turkey burger and rotating seasonal menu that includes hand-blended milkshakes made with Oregon strawberries in the summer and Oregon pumpkins in the fall? In the winter, they make a caramel shake with sea salt that’s hand-harvested off the Oregon coast.
Go to: Burgerville
The origin of corn dogs is murky, but some claim that Oregonians George and Vera Boyington invented them sometime during World War II. Now the arguable birth state of battered and fried food on a stick has a new claim to fame: the 30-foot fiberglass hot dog on the roof of Rockaway Beach’s The Original Pronto Pup, which gives the corn dog treatment to hot dogs, veggie dogs, chorizo, zucchini, pickles and cheese.
Go to: The Original Pronto Pup
California isn’t the West Coast’s only “wine country” — Oregon has more than 750 vineyards. The state’s Willamette Valley wine region, officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 1983, has the perfect climate and soil for Pinot Noir in particular. Stop by the Dundee tasting room at Domaine Drouhin, whose motto is “French soul, Oregon soil,” to sample Pinot Noir aged in oak barrels from Burgundy.
Go to: Domaine Drouhin Oregon
Boston has the Freedom Trail; outdoorsy mountain town Bend, with more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon, has the Ale Trail. It links 15 breweries, including Deschutes Brewery & Public House, which has 19 beers on taps. Its bestseller is the Fresh Squeezed IPA, a citrusy pale ale with just the right amount of bitterness that pairs well with the spicy wings served here.
Go to: Deschutes Brewery Pub
Seattle can claim Starbucks, but carry one of their cups in microroastery-riddled Portland and you might get snooty looks from locals. Save face and head to the Portland State University farmers market for a single-origin light or medium roast at Nossa Familia’s custom-made pour-over bar. Yes, you’ll have to wait three minutes while the barista pours hot water over the grounds, but the sweet, clean taste of locally roasted beans is well worth it.
Go to: Nossa Coffee
Schooner Restaurant & Lounge is located at the boat launch for Netarts Bay, which is where the tender, briny oysters served here come from. You can order them three ways: on the half shell with housemade hot sauce and fennel mignonette, fried or wood-oven roasted with pork belly. The oysters also make an appearance in the restaurant’s cioppino, green salad, and macaroni and cheese.
Fish and Chips
There’s only one item on the menu at Bowpicker Fish & Chips: lightly beer-battered albacore tuna served over steak fries with malt vinegar and tartar sauce. Sixteen years ago, co-owner Ron Ford converted the Nicky, formerly used as a fishing vessel, into a food stand across from the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria. Check Bowpicker’s Twitter feed for hours, which are usually from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting, or until they run out of fish.
Go to: Bowpicker Fish & Chips