PDX for Le$$: The 25 Best Cheap Eats in Portland

Yes, Portland is home to countless close-in waterfall hikes, social media-ready gardens and a bookstore so vast, you can get legitimately lost in it. But the top activity for residents and visitors alike is eating, ideally when it’s food that’s casual but thoughtfully executed — and tastes like it should cost a lot more than it does.

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Tamales at Tamale Boy

Made with fluffy masa that’s steamed in a corn husk and tied off with Christmas ribbon, these Northern Mexico–style tamales ($4.50 each, or $3.50 each if you buy a dozen) come filled with pork, chicken or roasted vegetables and queso fresco. Pair them with an aqua fresca and a side of either rice, corn or beans for a $10 meal best enjoyed on the ample patio of Tamale Boy’s original Dekum location.

Pizza and Salad at Sizzle Pie

A slice does not always a meal make. But an oversized slice served alongside a heap of salad will give you enough energy to make it through a punk rock show, which half the employees behind the counter of this late-night pizza place seem to be either coming from or headed to. For $8, you can choose from nine kinds of pies and tack on either the Rabbits salad, made with faux-bacon bits, sliced hot peppers, tomatoes, housemade croutons and vegan ranch dressing, or the Caligula, a vegan Caesar. Sizzle Pie also sells merch, including the “Death to False Pizza” bumper stickers you’ll see all around Portland.

Fried Tofu Sandwich at Basilisk

The Zipper, a cluster of microeateries that share a covered common area, is home to a bar with Fernet-Branca on tap and an enthusiastically inauthentic Asian restaurant with a fried kale salad that helps balance a bit of the virtue. But the fried tofu sandwich is the dish worth a detour. Call it a different kind of BYOB —bring your own bun — since you could easily make a second sandwich from the towering innards of one of these, piled high with house-pickled cucumbers and cabbage slaw ($8). When you’re finished, head back to the Basilisk counter for a cup or cone of Kool-Aid–flavored soft serve.

The Cart Bowl at Guero

Though Guero is known for its tortas made with freshly baked telera rolls, the colorful cart bowl ($9) -- a nod to the restaurant's food-cart roots -- doesn't waste stomach space on bread. The bowl itself, which is almost big enough to mix cake batter in, comes filled with lime rice and pinto beans topped with arugula, grilled corn, cotija cheese, radishes, cilantro and enough poblana crema to keep it from feeling like health food. It's an ample portion, but you can make it even heartier by adding shredded beef, chicken, carnitas, an egg, avocado or a side of Juanita's tortilla chips to scoop up every last bit.

Double-Brie Burger at Little Bird Bistro

Portland has some legendary happy hour deals, but this one might take the brown-butter cake. For about the same price ($7) as a fast-food double cheeseburger, you can get what’s normally a $16 double-patty burger topped with brie, spiced ketchup, onion and pickles at this white-tablecloth bistro. Want the French vibes without the bloomy rind? Order the burger with American cheese instead.

Cacio e Pepe at Grassa

Sandwich kingpin Rick Gencarelli’s pasta place is what fast-casual dreams are made of. After placing your order at the counter, perch yourself on a barstool at one of the long communal tables and listen to records as you gaze out the big windows and wait for your carbs. The best bargain: handmade egg noodles dressed simply with Grana Padano cheese, fresh-cracked pepper, sea salt and black truffles ($10), an Oregon delicacy.

Kati Roll at Bollywood Theater

There are dry, cold spinach-tortilla wraps filled with slimy cold cuts, and then there are kati rolls from former Chez Panisse cook Troy MacLarty. At his vegetable-forward, Hindi-cinema–themed Indian street food mecca, they’re made with marinated, seared chicken, fresh paneer cheese, or beef; egg; pickled onion; and a minty chutney, all rolled up in a flakey, ghee-brushed Indian flatbread called paratha ($10.50).

Cheddar Egg Biscuit at Grand Central

Portland’s teeming with biscuits, but the ones at this local bakery chainlet are good enough to get even Southern visitors in a flutter. Here’s the Portlanders’ power move: Remove the top of this all-day breakfast sandwich ($6) before the melted cheddar and pasture-raised scrambled egg have a chance to meld with the fluffy buttermilk biscuit. Eat the bottom half open-faced and liberally doused in hot sauce, then slather the top with jam and make it your breakfast dessert. Take home a saucer-sized cookie or monkey muffin — a sticky bun made with croissant dough — for later.

Sourdough Waffle at Beeswing

Old newspapers line the walls of this huge-but-homey brunch spot, which has a well-stocked pastry case and one of the best morning meals in town. Crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside and slightly tart, the hefty Belgian waffle ($9) comes topped with a seasonal-fruit compote — berries in the summer, apples or pears in the fall — fresh whipped cream and a side of maple syrup. You may have to stand in a long line to order it, but that’s nothing compared to Portland’s many hour-plus waits for brunch, especially with a cup of self-serve coffee in hand.

The Out to Lunch at Wolf & Bear's

Decent falafel isn’t too hard to find. But this food cart’s wrap ($8.50) is stuffed with falafel plus labneh, gorgonzola, grilled onions, roasted red peppers, mixed greens, parsley and a creamy tahini sauce that all meld together to make a lunch — or dinner — that hits every flavor and texture high note. Other options at the same price point include the Olea, which swaps in grilled eggplant, caramelized walnuts and Kalamata tapenade for falafel, and the Sabich, a breakfast sandwich made with hardboiled egg, hummus and cucumber.

The Alpine Platter at Olympia Provisions Public House

For a few bucks, you could get a hot dog floating in dirty water from a street vendor to eat while walking. For a few more, you can sit down at Olympia Provisions Public House near an indoor fire with a knife and fork, and tuck into your choice of artisanal bratwurst, cheese-filled sausage, kielbasa, pork or beef frankfurter, or French garlic sausage from renowned salumist Elias Cairo, plus sauerkraut, warm potato salad and whole-grain mustard ($9). And for about the price of a soda, you can get a 16-ounce lager to wash it all down.

Fried Chicken at Hat Yai

Prix-fixe Langbaan is frequently cited as one of the best meals in Portland. But a) it’s frequently sold out months in advance, and b) five-course tasting menus don’t come cheap. But Langbaan’s executive chef also co-owns Hat Yai, where $9 will get you vegan curry with pan-fried roti, an herby rice salad with shrimp powder and toasted coconut — or a leg quarter of the standout Southern Thai–style, shallot-topped fried chicken with a side of sticky rice. Go there on a sunny day so you can sit outside at a checkered-tablecloth–covered picnic table and sip a coconut-mango horchata over crushed ice.

Potato Taquitos at La Taq

Most of the tacos at this Tex-Mex cantina on a buzzy strip of Killingsworth Avenue are on the smallish side. But the rolled ones are an exception. Stuffed with fluffy potatoes and topped with shredded lettuce, crema and a scoop of guac, they’re served in orders of three ($5) for more than enough food to make a meal (though you’d be remiss not to at least nibble on a few tortilla chips dipped in queso, too).

Seasonal Salads at Quaintrelle

Salad-bar greens in a clamshell will do in Midtown Manhattan. But on Portland’s famed iconic North Mississippi Street, you want bee pollen, sesame brittle, popped rice, and grated salt-cured egg yolks. You’ll find them, along with grains, nuts, dried fruit and peak-season vegetables, in the balanced, perfectly plated compositions atop a generous smear of creamy dressing ($6 at happy hour) at Quaintrelle, a farm-to-table bistro with roll-up doors opening onto a prime people-watching patio.

Griddled Cornbread at Coquine

Located on a quiet corner, this neighborhood restaurant really shines in the morning, when residents trickle in for Stumptown coffee and cult-status smoked-almond and salted-caramel chocolate chip cookies for the road. Everything Chef Katy Millard touches tastes golden, but her breakfast menu includes some of Coquine's most-memorable dishes, including the recently added red-wheat cornbread griddled in schmaltz and served with thyme butter ($5). Consider it fuel for a hike up nearby Mt. Tabor, an extinct volcano that offers beautiful views of the city.

Oysters at Jacqueline

Ninety-six percent of the oysters and fish at this cozy seafood restaurant, named after a submarine in the Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, are sustainable. About those oysters: They're $1 apiece (normally $3 to $4) every day from 5 to 7 p.m., sourced directly from Pacific Northwest providers and served with little tincture bottles of housemade hot sauce, jalapeno emulsion, horseradish vinegar, tarragon vinegar and mignonette.

Jianbing at Bing Mi

Most cities have food trucks, but Portland has pods -- collections of carts you can count on finding in the same spot every day. The pod on Alder Street is one of the largest, and it includes a few stalwarts -- such as Nong's Khao Man Gai -- as well as relative upstart Bing Mi. There you'll find grilled-to-order Chinese breakfast crepes, or jianbing, filled with scrambled eggs, a schmear of black bean paste, pickled veggies, chile sauce and a fried wonton, rolled up and cut in half ($6). Eat one as you stroll to nearby Pioneer Square or along Portland's park blocks.

Avocado Toast at Cup & Bar

Anyone can smash some avocado on a piece of toast. But at Cup & Bar, they artfully fan out half a whole fruit on a half-inch-thick slice of whole-wheat bread that’s been heaped with house-made lemon ricotta. Then they drizzle the whole thing with olive oil and sprinkle it with lemon zest, salt and pepper ($8.50). Since the café is technically a coffee and chocolate tasting room, consider the toast a fortifying base for all the caffeine and sugar to come.

Ramen at Noraneko

The playful menu at this ramen bar under the Hawthorne Bridge includes a grated-vegetable "80s salad," a double cheeseburger and some of the best ramen in a town so rife with ramen, multiple Japanese chains have chosen to locate their first U.S. outposts here. Choose from chicken, pork or both, with silky broth and springy noodles ($9); add an egg for an extra buck.

Calzone at Red Sauce Pizza

Yes, this inside-out pizza pocket costs $14, but it serves two. And it comes from a woman-owned and –operated, proudly feminist pizza shop that frequently hosts nonprofit fundraisers and has a chalkboard out front that reads “Pizza Rolls, not Gender Rolls.” Choose from two meat options, the vegan Olivia Benson (named for Mariska Hargitay’s character on Law & Order) or a build-your-own calzone with any of the pizza toppings on the menu, including housemade pickled peppers, sausage and bacon. They’ll bring you Andes mints with your check, but nonetheless, order the pizzeria’s one dessert: foil-wrapped chocolate cake with cream filling, a riff on the Ding Dong, from Treat Vancouver bakery.

Vegetarian Platter at Queen of Sheba

It’s not often you see “platter” and “$10” in the same menu description. At Queen of Sheba, Portland’s grand dame of Ethiopian restaurants, you get your choice of three dishes — including lentil and okra stew, sizzling mushrooms, and the house specialty, stoneground chickpea crackers in a spicy sauce — plus injera, a fermented flatbread made from teff, corn and barley, to scoop it all up with. Can’t handle much heat? Order anything with “alicha” in the name, as those dishes are the mildest.

Chile Relleno Burrito at Taqueria Portland

As hardworking as their burritos are, it’s no wonder Taqueria Portland is the lunchtime favorite of the construction crews transforming Portland’s Central Eastside District. This one comes stuffed not only with a stuffed pepper, but also rice, beans, onions, cilantro, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, guacamole, salsa and Monterey Jack ($6). Dine in and you can help yourself to free chips and salsa.

Ribs at Matt's BBQ

If you seek Texas-style barbecue by way of Australia on the patio of a German beer bar, Matt’s is the food cart for you. Until they sell out of it, there’s brisket, pulled pork, housemade sausage and ribs ($6.50 for half a pound), all of which come with sauce, pickles, and bread. Get the whole shebang for two — that’s brisket, pork, a sausage and two ribs, plus coleslaw, potato salad, and pinto beans — for just $25.

Breakfast Plate at Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry

You can get a cheap pile of greasy hash browns and a three-egg omelet at almost any diner. But a beautifully poached egg with brioche toasted to just the right shade of golden and perfectly crisp bacon? That’s a rarity. This neighborhood café on a bustling corner delivers all that, plus a hunk of good cheddar, a heap of lightly dressed greens and a few slices of fruit ($10). Grab a newspaper and a cup of Coava coffee and let Carol King, the sounds of the espresso machine, and the light from the huge street-facing windows wash over you.

Sushirito at Rollin' Fresh

Can’t decide between sushi and a burrito? Get both at this cart in the Piedmont Station pod. The Northern Lights comes with salmon, shrimp tempura, ginger guac, veggies, aioli and sushi rice rolled up in nori instead of a tortilla ($10; you can also get it on a bed of sushi rice or spring greens). Just like the pod, also home to Armenian food, spaghetti, barbecue and more, there’s something for everyone: Rollin’ Fresh has vegan options as well as deep-fried sushi burritos and Spam musubi.