When I decided to come to college in Portland, I didn’t realize how much excellent food there is to be found in this city. I regret that I’ve spent the past four years tied down by schoolwork and rather firmly ensconced in Portland’s Southeast neighborhoods, which means that my exploration was very limited. The good news is, I do have a few favorite neighborhood haunts. This page contains a list–by no means comprehensive or even all that fancy–of some of the places I like to visit and recommend to Portland newbies. If you’ve got favorites, send them my way.
Breakfast, Lunch, and/or Dinner:
- Grand Central Bakery: Ham Pockets. Monkey Muffins. Jammers. Could be obscure British bands from the ’80′s or some of the most delicious treats at Grand Central. There are several locations in Portland and Seattle, and they serve the aforementioned pastries–and dozens more–as well as awesome breads, breakfast sandwiches, and sack lunches. My mom and I basically lived on their food while she was here to help me out after a surgery, so GCB has a particularly special place in my heart.
- Cafe Broder: There’s going to be a wait. You will probably see some tight jeans, tighter than you wanted, on people of all shapes and sizes. You might accidentally order something with dill and be really unhappy about it, if you’re me, but Broder is a cool place with tasty food. It’s a small Swedish restaurant that draws scores of brunch-loving hipsters on the weekends, but I’ve always had a good time there. If you like to nibble, you’ll enjoy eating at Broder; orders come in tiny individual dishes and if you order a “bord” you’ll get to sample all sorts of savory and sweet bites. If you’re anxious to see what’s cooking or to check out that cool pan for the doughnut-hole/pancake hybrid aebelskivers, all you have to do is turn around to see the area behind the bar.
- Bete-Lukas: Wash your hands first. Ethiopian food can be daunting, because your only utensils are your hands and the flat, spongy injera bread used to scoop up saucy meat- and veggie-studded bites. You order a platter with pools of the different dishes surrounding the bread, and you have to be ready to tear off pieces of bread and fight your friends for the last smears of sauce or chunk of eggplant. If you’re sensitive to spice, start cautiously. I love Bete-Lukas for their food, but I also want to befriend the owner, a jokester who’s eager to make sure his customers have a really good time at his restaurant.
- Tom Yum: Tom Yum is just up the street from Reed College, and as such, I never even bothered to go anywhere else for my Thai food. I have no idea how many times I’ve eaten here with friends in the past four years: we’ve partied, cried, spilled water on each other, and gone on awkward dates here, all of it fueled by pineapple fried rice and pumpkin curry. I’m sure it’s not the ultimate Thai food in Portland, but it’s always quick, reliably good, and worth the walk up the hill. Plus they’re patient with Reedies, which is a good sign in and of itself.
- The Jade Teahouse: This is one of those places where I have a hard time ordering because I loved what I ate on the last visit so much that I can’t choose anything else. It’s a tough habit to break, made tougher by the new(ish) list of specials that you don’t see until you step up to order your food. Jade is owned and run by a small, cheerful family, and they’ve cleverly placed a small case of pastries and desserts next to the register. The dishes can be family-style, but it’s totally possible to devour a plate on your own. Good thing, because when it comes to the papaya salad–all crunchy, salty, and sour with slivers of green papaya, chilis, peanuts, and shrimp–I really don’t like to share.
- Salt and Straw Ice Cream: They’re so far away from me, and the lines are so long. But I’ll travel for ice cream, especially if I have a chance to taste a flavor that sounds a little peculiar but is probably lovely. Case in point, the dandelion sorbet, which I missed on my last visit but am anxious to taste if they still have it on my next trip. Even on a sweltering afternoon last month when the line stretched around the corner, the nice folks behind the counter were letting people sample ice cream and take their time deciding, and that alone was almost worth the wait. They’ve always got some weird, dessert-themed art on the wall for you to study while you finish your scoops, and a lot of extra little treats for sale. Go for the black currant sorbet, Arbequina olive oil (sounds bizarre, tastes wonderful), or sea salt with caramel ribbons.
- Burgerville: I know. I know. I just recommended a burger chain called “Burgerville” when there are hundreds of awesome restaurants and carts in Portland. The thing is, when I have to answer the siren call of a fast-food burger (you know the one), I don’t think there’s a better choice. Their food is fresh, much of it locally sourced from Oregon and Washington farms, and they have a ton of seasonal offerings (uh, deep-fried asparagus spears!) that make them extra special. If that sounds all foodie-pretentious, that’s Portland for you, but I dare anyone to turn down a Burgerville milkshake in the middle of the night. I know that as a Californian I’m supposed to remain loyal to In-N-Out, but I just can’t and won’t do it. B-ville has me in its clutches.
Drinks: Commentary coming soon. Full disclosure: I’m cheap and I like to drive, so my knowledge of Portland bars, particularly ones I really like, is very limited. These are all within walking and bus-distance from my neighborhood.
- Bar Avignon
- Whiskey Soda Lounge
- C Bar
Food Carts: Commentary coming soon. The best way to cure yourself of a fear of cart food is to move to Portland. It would be very easy not to set foot in a single restaurant while here, and eat exclusively from the carts. You’d have to eat in the rain, of course, but you probably wouldn’t mind.
- The Big Egg
- El Nutri Taco
- Potato Champion
- Pupuseria El Miguelena