PDX Eats (FEB 2016)
People keep asking us for recommendations for visitors and new arrivals. There are far too many choices in PDX to be comprehensive, but here are some places that are on my mind at the moment. These may or may not be of use to you, but they are reflective of how we like to eat.
- Holdfast (http://holdfastdining.com/home). Pop-up that has gone to a single venue and set times. They do one seating per night. The setting is intimate and friendly. The cooking is inventive without being cloying. It’s a lovely evening.
- Roe (http://roepdx.rest). You want to sit at the bar and eat whatever the boys are excited about on that day. It’s a lovely small room and bright flavorsome food.
- Nodoguru (http://nodoguropdx.com). This is a blast. Always Japanese-derived, always totally amusing (“Our menu this week is derived from the mascot animals of Japanese baseball teams” . . . “Each dish on this menu is mentioned in one of Haruki Murakami’s novels”… etc.). And always absolutely delicious. It’s one talented chef and his wife (the farmer that custom grows his veggies is usually running plates as well). Super-sweet people and totally awesome food.
- Langbaan (http://langbaanpdx.com). Simply the most exciting dinner in town. Reservations have gotten very hard to score, but if you can get in, JUMP at the opportunity. Just eat whatever they put in front of you. You’re welcome.
- Farm Spirit (http://farmspiritpdx.com). About 14 seats at the chef’s counter. Violent Femmes blaring. Elegant plates and lots of laughs. It’s EXACTLY the place that Aaron Adams wants on any given night. We’ve had some spectacular meals here. Oh, and it’s vegan — but you won’t care.
- Maurice (http://mauricepdx.com). Almost appears too twee to be enjoyable. Then you taste the food and you stop worrying about the fact that the menus are hand-stitched. One of the better meals in town at any time of day.
- Sweeteedee (http://blog.sweedeedee.com). Just adorable; and very Portland. Delicious baked goods and breakfasty items. Kind staff. Just a great joint. The lines move very quickly.
- Tasty n Sons (www.tastynsons.com). Emblematic brunch-all-day spot. Some of the better most reliable comfort food in town. Crazy good happy hour deals. Heart of the Gorham empire.
- Ha VL (https://www.facebook.com/HaVL-Sandwich-147737355280149). Best soup noodles in town. Everything made from scratch. No MSG. Two soups per day, but different soups each day. Thus if you want the peppery pork ball, for example, you know you have to go on Wednesday. Often sells out by noon.
- People’s Pig (www.peoplespig.com). Once-beloved cart gone bricks-n-mortar. They scraped together pennies to take a crap building on a booming street. Thus, the place might have about 37 minutes left before some developer puts an apartment building on top of it. Go now.
- Beast (www.beastpdx.com/info). Their dinners might be bit of a commitment, but their Sunday brunch is the best deal in the city.
- Broder (http://broderpdx.com). I like the original location in Southeast, but all three locations are doing solid Scandinavian-inspired brunch.
- Coquine (www.coquinepdx.com). Traditional small neighborhood restaurant serving basically flawless food. Obsessive chef wanted her own place and is killing it. Really comfortable warm room.
- Tanuki (http://tanukipdx.com). A wonderfully uninviting dive bar serving Okinawan & Korean drinking food. It’s run by a very talented misanthrope chef who will kick your ass out if you break her rules. You have to order booze (so that they can keep their license) and there’s a menu, but I’ve never seen anyone order from it. You tell your server that you want the omakase & she asks you to name a price (I think it tops out at $25). Then food just starts rolling out of the kitchen. Super-awesome. HOWEVER, she’s nuts — so sometime she doesn’t open at her posted times because she’s fired the whole staff (true story) or blown up the kitchen or whatever. Check the hours before you go and have a back-up plan.
- Navarre (www.navarreportland.com). Delicious, casual, understated, ingredient-focused, and totally w/out attitude, this joint reeks of Portland. Their menu is almost like a sushi place for Mediterranean food. Want the pork? Mark it on the sheet and select small, medium, or large. Want ten different small sized vegetables? No prob, mark them on the sheet. They change the entire menu and wine list every few months; Castilian to Lebanese to Provence. I always have great food there. And they do a very popular brunch on the weekend. The bar next door — Angel Face — makes some splendid refined cocktails.
- Apizza Scholls (http://apizzascholls.com). Full disclosure, we moved to Portland because of this place. It’s our single favorite pizza. Period. Full stop. Having said that, it’s just a pizza joint (red and white checked tablecloths, pitchers of beer, etc.).
- Talyor Railworks (http://trwpdx.com). Former sous chef of Le Pigeon doing creative, but well-composed food in a beautiful space.
- Ned Ludd (www.nedluddpdx.com/#an-american-craft-kitchen). Very Portland. Lumberjack decor. Only have an oven to cook with (because all they could afford to rent was an old pizza joint). Tends to be yummy, NW-centric, and warm.
- Olympia Provisions (www.olympiaprovisions.com/blogs/about-locations/8098615-southeast-restaurant). Probably our best salumeria runs a surprisingly lovely restaurant. The food is always shockingly good for a place that I think of as somewhere to run in and buy sausages.
- Kachka (http://kachkapdx.com). I have no interest in Russian food. This place doesn’t care. It just sends the deliciousness. You want to just work through their drinking snacks and then get like one larger thing (The rabbit. Get the damned rabbit). It’s quite awesome.
- Expatriate (http://expatriatepdx.com/info). This is basically a bar run by Naomi Pomeroy’s (of Beast) husband. Thus it has her idea of “bar snacks” in a wonderful comfortable room run by hipsters who are way too professional, welcoming, and skilled for their appearance and age. I have no interest in cocktails, but when I go there and state my general desires, they hand me something delicious and interesting. It’s a great, great joint.
- Pambiche (www.pambiche.com). Great Cuban food at really reasonable prices. It can get crowded, but they’ve got a lot of extra outside seating and they do take-out as well. Nice, nice people running the place.
- Dove Vivi (www.dovevivipizza.com). This is the ideal neighborhood pizza joint. Really good food, no pretence, and super nice staff. Their pizza is among our favorites — although it is NOT traditional pizza; more like a savory tart. The kale salad is also a must-have. They also do take-out. Pauline thinks you should order the sausage and corn pizza to start.
- Ataula (http://ataulapdx.com). Jose Chesa has all the right moves in the kitchen, but I challenge you to find a more friendly and welcoming restaurateur in town. It’s a delight to be in the place he and his wife Christina have opened. There can sometimes be a wait, but it can therefore be a great place for an early bite and a drink.
- Luce (www.luceportland.com). From the same people who run Navarre. Very simple Italian chow. Extensive menu of cicchetti for like $2. Super drinkable house wine for $5. Like eating in someone’s kitchen.
- Rose VL (https://www.facebook.com/Rose-VL-Deli-1667838193437939). From the same family that runs Ha VL. Son #2 runs the daytime place. Mom and dad run the night time place — with beer. I will deny this if confronted, but mom’s soup is better.
- Higgins (http://higginsportland.com). A decade before it was cool, Gregg Higgins was doing charcuterie in house, pairing good pork with Willamette Valley pinot noir, and applying solid cookery to the bounty of Oregon’s fields and coast. His place is still firing on all cylinders. The restaurant is warmly understated and staffed by perhaps the most professional crew in town. There’s also a VERY civilized bar attached behind. This is a great American restaurant that many people overlook these days.
- Ox (http://oxpdx.com). Although the grilled meats are the focus, I know vegetarians who jump at the chance to hit this place. It’s a vibrant place with good service and tremendous cooking. Really excellent.
- Chizu (http://chizubar.com). Very Portland. Picture a sushi place that serves cheese instead of fish. That’s about it. Portland’s most trusted cheese dude (“Steve the cheese guy”) always wanted a place that treated cheese as seriously as sushi places treat fish. So he built it. It’s a terrible business idea. It’s a wonderful place. Go in for a drink and an omakase.
- Trifecta (http://trifectapdx.com). Full-up restaurant from perhaps our best baker. Left me a bit cold in its early days, but we keep having really solid meals here.
- Ringside Steakhouse (www.ringsidesteakhouse.com). Sometimes you need some red hide booths and a bone-in ribeye. This place revels in its retroness and executes its throwback cuisine really well. Another crazy-good happy hour.
- Biwa (www.biwarestaurant.com). Super-comfy izakaya. Solid Japanese and Korean-inspired nibbles. Late night menu has an awesome burger.
- Bollywood Theater (www.bollywoodtheaterpdx.com). Not-authentic south-Asian street eats. Fun place with surprisingly solid service. The food can be a bit of a salt-bomb. Very tasty and veggie friendly.
- Pok Pok (www.pokpokpdx.com/index.php?id=home). People may be sick of hearing about it, but the place remains solid. If all you want is the wings and a drink, hit their bar (Whiskey Solda) across the street.
- Aviary (www.aviarypdx.com). Creative, welcoming, delicious. This is a lovely place. Three NYC chefs jumped ship and came out to PDX a few years back. Good things ensued. They continue to do a good job of executing elegant creativity.
“Best” places? I don’t know, but we have continuously impressive experiences at these places. Two of them are Gabe Rucker joints.
- Le Pigeon (http://lepigeon.com). They don’t generally give away James Beard awards. This place has two; which is one more than they have bathrooms. It’s about the size of your living room, but oh so awesome. The guys at the bus stop out front will generally let you share the bench with them if you have to wait. But you’ll have a glass of wine in your hand so that should be cool.
- clarklewis (www.clarklewispdx.com). Old-school Portland restaurant whose kitchen has been home to many of our best known chefs. One of the most inviting rooms around. And the food? Man of man do they knock it out of the park in unassuming ways. The four course “tasting” menu is one of the best deals in the city.
- Mediterranean Exploration Company (www.mediterraneanexplorationcompany.com). One of the best menus in town. Super accessible. Super comfy. Just go.
- Little Bird (http://littlebirdbistro.com). Chef Rucker opened this place as a venue for his sous chef a couple years back. Now the sous has moved on to his own place and Gabe’s in the kitchen most weeknights. The cookery here is super-solid in a comfortable venue with lots of options.
- Lardo’s porkball banh mi (http://lardosandwiches.com/assets/content/lardo_pdfs/Menu2.16.pdf). This is a sandwich crazy town, but this might just be the best one out there.
- Ha VL’s snail noodle soup (http://s3-media3.fl.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/p9RzaVemHpFn4Ik6Vm40sQ/o.jpg). Just get it. Don’t freak out. It’s awesome.
- Luce’s cappelletti in brodo (www.luceportland.com/pages/menu). Whatever’s wrong in your life, this soup will fix it. Take your time with it.
- Boek Bowl’s warm Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, seasonal fruit, house tofu croutons & Thai vinaigrette salad (http://bokebowl.com/lunch-menu). I really think that their ramen and steamed buns are crap, but this salad kicks butt.
- Tasty n Sons’ Burmese red pork stew (www.tastynsons.com/brunch). Basically old school Chinese comfort food with Burmese spices. No idea why it’s on Tasty’s menu. Don’t care. You need this dish.
- Lovejoy Bakery’s Lovejoy delux (http://lovejoybakers.com/breakfast). King of breakfast sandwiches. Fried egg, bleu d’Auvergne, bacon, tarragon & frisée. There exists no better breakfast sammie’.
- Pip’s Original’s sea salt & honey donut (https://www.facebook.com/PipsOriginal). A perfect bite from the cutest donut shop in town.
- Alma Chocolates’ Mom’s chocolate cake (www.almachocolate.com/ourshops). Alma is a serious chocolate maker. But on Fridays at the little shop on 28th, they make the greatest chocolate cake in town. It’s not fancy chocolate cake. There’s no ganache. No spice. No hyphenated descriptor. Nope. This is just chocolate cake. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. Why don’t they make more? Why don’t they offer it during the rest of the week? That would make sense — and this is Portland.
- Little Bird’s chicken-fried trout (http://littlebirdbistro.com/menus/Little%20Bird%20Dinner%20Menu.pdf). Picture that Thai deep fried whole fish that we all love. Curved from being fried in a wok. Accompanied by curry and SE Asian herbs. Now do it with Frenchy ingredients. Trout instead of pomfret. Dijon & gribiche instead of curry and fried shallots. Pickled carrots, dill, & radishes instead of sawtooth, holy basil, etc. Spectacular.
- Mediterranean Exploration Company’s Greek lamb chops (www.mediterraneanexplorationcompany.com/menu). This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a perfect, perfect dish.
Places on many people’s lists that I would personally avoid
- Ava Gene’s
- Blue Hour
- Bamboo Sushi
- Country Cat
- Kenny & Zuke’s
- Laurelhurst Market
- Paley’s Place
- Podnah’s Pit
- Portland City Grill
- Roman Candle Baking
- Sen Ya
- St. Jack
- Veritable Quandary
- Voodoo Donuts