Welcome to Portland: A Newcomer's Eating Tour

If you're traveling to Portland, Oregon, for the first time, it's important to arrive hungry.

Photo By: Pok Pok and David Reamer

Photo By: Evan Sung

Photo By: Carly Diaz

Photo By: Lindsay Strannigan

Photo By: Jenni Kupelian

Photo By: A.J. Meeker

Photo By: A.J. Meeker

Photo By: Leela Cyd

Photo By: Joshua Chang

Photo By: Jeremy Fenske

Photo By: Alan Weiner courtesy of Olympia

Photo By: Carly Diaz

Welcome to Portland

From indulgent Thai chicken wings to Spanish tapas, Portland will satisfy any type of food craving. Here, locally owned establishments are abundant and are often distinguished by high-quality Pacific Northwest ingredients. The food scene in Portland is a working body of restaurateurs, chefs, bakers, farmers and brewers all coming together to create a cutting-edge dining experience

Pok Pok

There are a ton of good Thai restaurants in Portland, but Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok is the only one known for its fish-sauce wings and its drinking vinegars, sweet-tart syrups you can add to cocktails or cut with soda water. Also a standout: the khao soi, a mild curry noodle soup made with fresh coconut milk and served with pickled mustard greens. During the inevitable wait for a table, head across the street to Ricker’s Whiskey Soda Lounge for a yuzu daiquiri on the covered patio.

Go to: Pok Pok

Aviary

French technique, Eastern flavors and Oregon ingredients are the hallmarks of this 45-seat paean to risk-taking, which manages to push you outside of your comfort zone without ever sacrificing deliciousness. On offer: a crispy pig’s ear, foie gras roulade and a fried chicken-skin salad made with arugula, watermelon and baba ghanoush — as well as a four-course seasonally rotating vegetarian tasting menu and happy hour featuring Brussels sprout nachos.

Pizza Jerk

If a punk rock band opened a pizza parlor in a 1980s basement, it would look like Portland sandwich king Tommy Habetz’s Pizza Jerk, which seems devil-may-care, but makes seriously good pies. The “It’s Always Sunny in Cully,” named after the surrounding neighborhood, is topped with pepperoni from the butcher across the street. If your party’s large enough, order that plus a 12-inch thick-crust cast-iron pie. Either way, finish with a no-frills soft serve (free on Tuesdays!).

Lauretta Jean's

It’s technically a seasonal-pie bakery, but Lauretta Jean (owner Kate McMillen’s grandmother) also excelled at biscuits, as does the cozy café named for her. You can order them eight ways, including with breakfast sausage, cheddar, tomato jam, and mayo. The brunch menu also includes soup, salads, sandwiches, a couple of egg dishes and yogurt layered with house-made granola. And, of course, cream pies, fruit pies and chocolate pies served with whipped cream or à la mode.

Lauretta Jean's

The Country Cat

Breakfast is a force here, impressing Guy and countless locals with hearty house-butchered meat dishes. Take, for example, the whole hog plate featuring a little taste from head to tail of a heritage hog; the plate comes with brined and grilled loin, roasted belly, braised shoulder, and a golden fried croquette of head cheese on top. Sappington’s great-grandmother’s recipe for Cast-Iron Skillet Fried Chicken is another noteworthy staple in the restaurant. For brunch it’s served with Toasted Pecan-Bacon Spoonbread and drizzled with warm maple syrup.

Go to: The Country Cat

Toro Bravo

This Northeast Portland tapas mecca serves a Spanish-inspired menu complete with small plates, an optional tasting menu and housemade charcuteria (chorizo, sobrasada and other Spanish meats). There’s also an extensive sherry menu with a few sherry cocktails, as well as a wine list of Cavas, Riojas and a few Northwest sips. There’s typically a line waiting for the restaurant to open for dinner, but the food is worth the wait.

Go to: Toro Bravo

Ava Gene'€™s

There’s Italian food, and then there’s hyperseasonal (as in, the chef just came out with a cookbook dividing the year into six seasons), locally sourced Italian food. At Ava Gene’s, the grains for the pasta are house-milled, the gelato comes from a shop down the street, and the bread is made next door at sister bakery Roman Candle. The menu changes daily, but regardless of what’s on it, the family-style salads are a must-try.

Go to: Ava Gene's

Tusk

Named for the Fleetwood Mac album, this “aggressively seasonal” vegetable mecca feels like it should be in L.A., and that’s a good thing. The interior and the food are light, bright and highly Instagrammable (the restaurant encourages the use of the #saladdaze hashtag). Order the hearty flatbread, the crudités with whipped feta and herbed chickpea dip, and any of the perfectly balanced grain salads.

Salt & Straw

This ice cream chainlet has attracted international press and a sizable investment from Danny Meyer, but it still feels like a neighborhood parlor. There’s a monthly themed menu — creative flavors inspired by cheese, cocktails or “rescued food,” such as day-old bread and celery leaves — plus a dozen standbys that lean a little more traditional (if you consider strawberry balsamic with black pepper traditional). Follow the smell of fresh waffle cones to the line that’s always snaking out the door, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that a generous sampling policy awaits you once you get to the front.

Go to: Salt & Straw

Coquine

In a sleepy neighborhood near a volcanic park sits a corner café serving Michelin-caliber food that feels homey, not haute. There’s a small breakfast menu, followed by sandwiches and small plates at lunch, then a reservations-recommended dinner service with four- and seven-course prix-fixe options, plus à la carte pasta, seafood, rack of lamb and seasonal vegetables. No matter when you go, bring home chocolate chip cookies with smoked almonds and sea salt, so popular that Coquine now ships them nationally.

Bollywood Theater

You seek: Indian street food you can eat sitting down, preferably in an airy space jam-packed with posters, postcards and mismatched light fixtures. Place your order at the Bollywood Theater counter and sip a yogurt lassi while you wait for steel dishes heaped with kati rolls, lamb samosas and spicy potato dumplings. Bollywood Theater also offers small plates, curries served with saffron rice and a colorful array of sauces, and veggie sides, like the roasted red and yellow beets with coconut milk.

Pine Street Market

A historic former livery stable, this food hall is the place to check off your greatest-hits list in one fell swoop. Among the nine purveyors are Trifecta Annex, a bakery/pizzeria helmed by James Beard Foundation Award-winning Ken Forkish; Tokyo’s famed Marukin Ramen, which opened its first stateside locations in Portland; and OP Wurst, the frankfurter outpost of award-winning salumeria Olympia Provisions. There’s also a coffee bar, juice bar, soft serve bar and actual bar bar.

Go to: Pine Street Market

Kachka

“Seven-layer dip, but Russian, and actually a salad.” That’s the pithy description for Herring in a Fur Coat, one of the most popular dishes on the menu — split into cold and hot categories — at Kachka, one of America’s best nouveau Russian restaurants, where plastic tablecloths and kitschy décor belie Chef Bonnie Morales’ seriousness. Kachka’s other claim to fame is an extensive vodka menu that includes tasting flights, pickle juice and vodkas infused with Earl Grey, cacao nib and birch.

Farm Spirit

Portland is largely a lumberjack-cuisine town — think bacon, donuts and beer — which makes this vegan (though you won’t see the word anywhere) ticketed tasting menu a true standout. You’ll get eight courses, each a delicate, sometimes trompe l’oeil work of art — carrot jerky, anyone? — served at a 14-seat chef’s counter dotted with succulents and backtracked by a killer playlist. Tack on a flight of Cascadian wines, beer and cider, or house-made shrubs and kombucha.

Screen Door

The infamous wait lines at Screen Door might seem intimidating, but one bite of fried chicken will tell you why this Southern-inspired restaurant is so popular. For brunch, three large pieces of fried chicken come dogpiled on a sweet potato waffle, and the knife stuck through the chicken keeps it from toppling over. For dinner, the generous portion of fried chicken is served with tasso ham gravy, mashed potatoes and collards.

Go to: Screen Door

Clarklewis

Clarklewis is a former warehouse turned sleek restaurant, with Northwest cuisine at its core. The daily changing menu features fresh pastas and wood-fired entrees with an optional tasting menu as well. 

Go to: Clarklewis

Tasty n Sons

Tasty n Sons could be single-handedly responsible for the rise in popularity of Portland brunching. Known for an exceptional morning menu, Tasty n Sons takes inspiration from all over the world and adds an egg on top. The Breakfast Board is a smorgasbord of a boiled egg, chicken liver mousse, housemade bacon and beef jerky, pickled beets, and a yogurt cheese drizzled with olive oil. The Steak n Eggs are served in a cast-iron skillet atop a slightly sweet cornmeal pancake, and the whole thing is topped with a melty dollop of jalapeno butter. 

Go to: Tasty n Sons

Paley's Place

One of the most-esteemed restaurants in Portland is Paley’s Place, a restaurant credited with bringing the food scene to life in the Pacific Northwest when it opened in 1995. Set in a restored Victorian house with a large, inviting white porch, the restaurant showcases the best Northwest ingredients. One of the most-iconic dishes is the Escargot a la Bordelaise comprised of roasted bone marrow in a rich garlic sauce.

Go to: Paley’s Place

Noble Rot

For visitors to Portland, nothing beats the view from Noble Rot, a wine bar and restaurant with a fourth-floor view overlooking the hills and skyline of downtown Portland. The best part is the 3,000-square-foot rooftop garden, which supplies the restaurant’s evolving seasonal menu. Try the salad, featuring the freshest mix of seasonal greens from the garden, enjoy a glass of wine from the 300+ wine selection, and appreciate the scenic vision of the City of Roses.

Go to: Noble Rot

Castagna

With artful and imaginative precision, each captivating dish of the oft-changing prix fixe menu is made with pride. From roasted beets with cured beef, tarragon powder and pickled onions to elegantly plated yellowfoot chanterelles with pork and hop infusion, the awe-inspiring dishes are like edible paintings on the plate.

Go to: Castagna

Sweedeedee

Named after a love song, this cafe oozes charm, with pickled produce lining the walls, along with mismatched coffee mugs and fresh flowers on each table. The food is delicious and simple, with ingredients sourced as locally as possible. Go here for breakfast, lunch, or coffee and a slice of homemade pie (they are known for their salted honey pie and their fresh Oregon berry pies). For breakfast, order the Sweedeedee Breakfast Plate, complete with an egg, bacon, farm greens, homemade bread with preserves and a thick wedge of Grafton cheddar.

Go to: Sweedeedee

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