[Photo: Courtesy of AJ Meeker / Tusk.]
What makes Portland’s culinary scene one of the most compelling and creative in the nation?
In 2015, when Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema named Portland the best food city in America, his reasons included the small cohort of fastidious chefs, a sense of pride and, most of all, the ingredients fresh from the Oregon Coast and Willamette Valley. Sietsema isn't alone in his assessment; even the New York Times raved that this is “the most delicious small city in America.”
Setting all the hype aside, where do you really go if you want to get a taste of it all? Follow Portland’s most in-the-know writers, editors and trendsetters. Here they dish up some of their favorite spots around town for coffee, food carts, dinner, cocktails, wine and craft beer.
[Photo: Le Pigeon. Credit: Carly Diaz.]
Danielle Centoni, James Beard Award-winning writer:
- Coquine — Tucked away among quiet houses at the base of Mount Tabor, Coquine is at once a sweet neighborhood spot for breakfast and light lunch, and a bona fide dining destination worth driving across town for. Dishes are prepared with precision, elegance and with the utmost attention to the seasons. And the flavors will often surprise you.
- Le Pigeon — Two-time James Beard-winning chef Gabriel Rucker is Portland’s culinary mad hatter. No one mashes up more disparate flavors more successfully than he. At his tiny, rustically elegant dining room you might find pickled jalapeños on your foie gras, or passionfruit on your chicken hearts. Just let go of your preconceived notions and let the chef take your taste buds on the ride of their lives.
- ¿Por Qué No? — Is it authentic? Not really. Is it oh-so-Portland? Oh yes. Decked out with enough Mexican ephemera to outfit a dozen roadside cantinas, this fast-casual chainlet specializes in tacos, enchiladas and aguas frescas built on local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients. The food is delicious, the vibe is fun and it’s the perfect place for celebrating sunny days as well as chasing the rainy-day blues away.
- Tasty n Alder — Chef-owner John Gorham is one of the pioneers who helped put Portland’s food scene on the map, and Tasty n Alder, his cross-cultural take on the traditional steakhouse, revitalized an entire corner of downtown Portland. With brunch every day and crave-worthy dishes like wagyu skirt steak with Thai basil chimichurry, Tasty n Alder is incredibly popular all hours of the day, for good reason.
Food writer and recipe developer Danielle Centoni is the former editor of Eater Portland, Imbibe Magazine and The Oregonian’s MIX Magazine. She has written for Better Homes and Gardens, Modern Farmer, Portland Monthly and more.
Mike Thelin, co-founder of Feast Portland:
- Nostrana — Trends come and trends go, but Cathy Whim's Northern Italian gem Nostrana remains one of Portland's most beloved restaurants by staying true to its honest and rustic self. Some 13 years and counting, Nostrana is better than ever.
- Nuestra Cocina — The original great Southeast Division Street restaurant serves abuela-worthy Interior Mexican cuisine and my favorite margarita in town.
- Tusk — This is Sam Smith and Joshua McFadden's love letter to Oregon's seasonal produce and Smith's Middle Eastern influences. No restaurant feels more like Portland in 2018, and in a town of great salads, there are none better than Tusk’s.
- Davenport — On up-and-coming East Burnside Street, it's easy to overlook modest Davenport, but Kevin Gibson's restaurant is a window into Portland's soul with European inspired Northwest cooking and one of the most interesting wine lists in town.
Zahir Janmohamed, co-host of the Racist Sandwich Podcast:
- Kachka — This might possibly be one of my favorite restaurants in all of America as I can't think of anything better than their Russian style dumplings and their Moscow mule cocktails.
- Wares — Johanna Ware, an alum of David Chang's Momofuku restaurant group, offers incredibly delicious pan-Asian fusion food at shockingly affordable prices.
- Tapalaya — Chef Anh Luu fuses together two superb cuisines, Vietnamese food and Cajun food, at this adorable restaurant that is a standout for brunch and dinner.
- Handsome Pizza — I tried all the famous pizza places in Portland but this one was my favorite. The owners like to play with toppings, such as the Middle Eastern spice sumac, and even better, Handsome Pizza is committed to giving back to the community around their business.
Soleil Ho, co-host of the Racist Sandwich Podcast:
- Kayo’s Ramen Bar — Their spicy tantanmen is so rich and nutty, with a depth of flavor that you really can’t get anywhere else.
- Red’s HK Cafe — We’re spoiled when it comes to dim sum spots in Portland, but Red’s is a wonderful and consistently great generalist.
Georgia Frances King, former editor of Kinfolk:
- Sweedeedee — The egg sandwich with avocado at Sweedeedee is a sandwich I would jump on a plane for.
The deputy ideas editor at Quartz, Georgia Francis King previously lived and worked in Portland as the editor of Kinfolk magazine.
Judiaann Woo, culinary professional:
- Hat Yai — If I had to pick a single plate of food that I crave the most, it might be the #5 Curry & Roti Set at Hat Yai. The combo includes their house speciality Southern Thai fried chicken with an extra wing, Malayu-style curry, sticky rice and house-made roti. Eat the chicken with your fingers. Tear off pieces of the roti and dip it in the curry. It's a little messy but the place is super casual so everyone around you will be doing the same. When the weather is warm, sit outside and wash it all down with a Coconut Mango Horchata (with or without alcohol).
- Ox — I have yet to take anyone or send anyone to Ox without them loving it. The food by James Beard Award-winning Chefs Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Denton is "Argentine-inspired Portland food" and reliably delicious with excellent service. As you'd expect, the wood-fired meats are all pretty spectacular but it's their seasonal vegetable side dishes that really steal the show for me. My favorite dish on their menu is a clam chowder with smoke bone marrow and jalapeño. It's not your typical chowder and part of the reason why it's so memorable.
- Sammich Portland — Portland does a lot of great sandwiches. But Melissa McMillan of Sammich Portland — also the owner of Pastrami Zombie food truck and Sammich Ashland — is in a class all her own. Her Montreal-style pastrami with slaw and Swiss is a masterpiece and a favorite among all the chefs in town. Make sure someone in your group also gets a burger, because it's the underground favorite in Portland. And when it's tomato season, her version of a BLT with local heirlooms is pure sandwich perfection. All the meats are cured and smoked in-house, and all the ingredients are super fresh and local — just like you'd expect from Portland.
Judiaann Woo’s culinary resume includes roles at Hestan Cue, Food Arts magazine, The French Culinary Institute and iSi, and appearances on the Food Network and Cooking Channel.
[Photo: Courtesy of Prince Coffee.]
Lora Woodruff, owner of Third Wave Coffee Tours:
It’s very difficult to narrow down a list of favorite coffee shops in a city that claims more than 700 cafes — some chains, of course, but Portland is a town bursting with local roasters. Because of my job, I’m in and out of numerous cafes every week and tend to have my finger on the pulse of who is serving what around the city. Here are some of my favorites.
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters — Stumptown is an icon in Portland, and for good reason. They are credited as being one of the pioneers of third-wave coffee (essentially treating coffee as a specialty product like wine). They have five cafes in town, including their lovely new shop at the Portland International Airport, but my go-to is their downtown cafe at the Ace Hotel.
- Proud Mary Coffee — This newly transplanted Australian coffee shop has taken the city by storm. Not only are they roasting excellent coffee, they have the most evolved food program of any coffee shop in Portland. On a recent trip to Melbourne, I made of point stopping by Proud Mary and visiting their original roastery for a tasting. They are sourcing some really interesting coffees from around the world and offering flights for comparative tastings. It’s a place you can really geek-out over coffee and have a superb meal to boot.
- Ristretto Roasters — They win the prize, in my book, for the prettiest coffee shop in Portland — their Northwest Nicolai Street location inside Schoolhouse Electric is magazine-worthy. It’s the perfect cafe to sit with a laptop and work. The location is a little off the beaten track in a Northwest Industrial area, so it feels hidden. If their Nicaraguan coffee is on bar, I’m there.
- Coco Donuts — Did you know that Coco Donuts is also one of Portland’s micro-roasters? They serve single-origin coffees, so what you get changes as coffees go in and out of season. I love that you can walk in and grab a classic buttermilk bar and a cup of drip that pair perfectly together. Check out their bags for tasting notes and donut pairing recommendations.
- Coava Coffee Roasters — What more can I say? Coava does everything right. I really enjoy visiting their tasting bar at their roastery and trying a couple coffees side by side. Their roasting space is immaculate and it’s fun to watch their density separator in action — giving us, as customers, the very top quality coffee available anywhere. It’s also fun to participate in their daily cuppings at 1:00 p.m. (every day except Sunday).
Lora Woodruff operates Third Wave Coffee Tours, one of the few specialty coffee walking tour companies in the United States. She leads weekly trips to the city’s roasteries and cafes.
Sarah Allen, editor of Barista Magazine:
- Good Coffee — Stylish setting, seasonal signature drinks menu and some of the friendliest service in town.
- Prince Coffee — Barista alum Katie Prinsen's North Portland hot spot just opened and lines have been out the door since day one. Is it for the espresso or the stroopwafels? Probably both.
- Either/Or — This beloved Sellwood shop — named for one of the best records by hometown hero Elliott Smith — is about to open a second spot on North Williams Avenue.
- Kainos Coffee — To prove that the Roseway neighborhood is Portland's the next big thing, Kainos' shop draws standing-room-only crowds for its coffee on the daily.
- Guilder — Husband-and-wife team Mike and Caryn Nelson have birthed one of the city's cutest and friendliest spots of late, serving their stellar Junior's Coffee, which they roast in-house.
Sarah Allen is the co-founder and editor of Portland-based Barista Magazine, one of the foremost specialty coffee publications that’s distributed around the world.
[Photo: Downtown food carts. Credit: cariberry.]
Samantha Bakall, writer:
- Nong's Khao Man Gai — It says a lot about a restaurant if I could eat their eponymous dish every day, never get tired of it and continue to recommend it to every friend, family member and random person I meet. And even though Nong's has expanded to two additional brick and mortar locations, it was the cart that started it all.
- Mathilde's Kitchen — Rarely do food carts have a philanthropic side, less a nonprofit started by the cook herself. At Mathilde's Kitchen, run by Haiti-born Mathilde Aurelien Wilson, proceeds from her curried goat, roast chicken and other family recipes benefit Haiti Community Support, which brings brings basic necessities like water, electricity and education to her hometown of Au Centre in one of Haiti's most impoverished regions.
- Dos Mundos — Whenever I'm anywhere near Newberg, I have to stop here for a plate of tacos (the fish is a must-order). Helmed by the Hernandez family who combine traditional Oaxacan recipes with precision, fine-dining technique and service, Dos Mundos is arguably one of the greatest food carts in the entire state.
A former food and dining reporter for The Oregonian, Samantha Bakall is a writer and photographer in Portland. Her work appears in The San Francisco Chronicle, Portland Monthly, The Takeout and many others.
Soleil Ho, co-host of the Racist Sandwich Podcast:
- Kim Jong Grillin — Han Ly Hwang’s got the best rendition of Korean food in the city, and his banchan is killer.
Zahir Janmohamed, co-host of the Racist Sandwich Podcast:
- Sam's Saj — I tried 10 shawarma spots in Portland and this is the best by a long short. The owner cooks his own bread and inserts french fries in his shawarmas, Lebanese style.
[Photo: Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen. Credit: Charlie Marchant.]
Jon Shadel, writer and editor:
Count me among the late-night revelers, the musicians packing up after a gig and the nocturnal writers famished after a bout of inspiration. Where to go for a bite when the best restaurants have flipped off their lights? Thankfully, Portland has a surprising number of chefs sweating in kitchens long after midnight. You can often find me fending off shadows at these well-lighted spots.
- Shift Drinks — Devised as a bar for bartenders, Shift serves an all-day and all-night happy hour — deals include the tequila Negroni and tasteful snacks such as the panino Cubana and spiced nuts.
- The Roxy — Portland’s LGBTQ-friendly, 24-hour hot spot keeps the French fries and chicken fingers sizzling all night. You may not remember the food in the morning, but it’s hard to forget the theater of glitzy drag queens, goths and punks, and sloshed ravers loudly dining together.
- Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen — The best thing about Luc Lac is the fact that it keeps the kitchen open until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (12 a.m. on weeknights), when your inebriated self will likely swear the steamy bowls of pho and sticky fish-sauce wings are the best you’ve ever had.
- Noraneko Ramen — For a post-midnight bowl of shio, shoyu or miso ramen, Noraneko is your best bet. The kitchen turns out broth and noodles until 2 a.m.
- Sizzle Pie — I don’t think I’ve ever stepped foot in this punk-spirited pizzeria during the day. But when all you want is a vegan slice at 3 a.m., there’s nowhere else to go than one of Sizzle Pie’s multiple Portland locations.
- Muu-Muu’s — For late-night eats in the sleepy Northwest District, look no further than this self-dubbed “big world diner,” which cooks comfort food until 2 a.m. The ambitious menu is hit-and-miss, but you can’t go wrong with the solid small plates. Plus, it feels like Halloween year-round with the pumpkin-orange string lights draping from the ceiling.
Jon Shadel has authored and edited more than a dozen travel guides to the Pacific Northwest. Based in Portland, Shadel's byline appears in The Washington Post, VICE, Fodor’s Travel, The Atlantic CityLab and more.
[Photo: Courtesy of 10 Barrel Brewing.]
Jen Anderson, writer and editor:
- Altabira City Tavern — You don't have to twist my arm to get me to a sun-soaked rooftop patio with 16 local beers on tap, especially when it's in the middle of the bustling Lloyd District with views of Portland's bridges and a buzzy vibe.
- 10 Barrel Brewing — This rooftop in the Pearl District is where I love to take out-of-town friends for brunch. First, I love that head brewer Whitney Burnside really gets my taste in beer. Second, bloody mary oyster shooters. Third, steak and gorgonzola nachos. This low-key party spot pretty much hits all the bases.
- Salty's on the Columbia — As a lover of seafood buffets, particularly peel-and-eat shrimp, I used to make my family take me here for Mothers Day brunch every year. From the patio outside you can pile your plate high with king crab legs, sip on endless mimosas, and watch for sea lions and jet boats on the sparkling Columbia River. It's about as close to eating on the pier that we have.
- Departure Restaurant + Lounge — Every so often I like to get dressed up to go out, and there just aren't that many places in Portland to do that. Departure is one — a spot to revel in the glamorous cocktails, sushi, chicken wings and people-watching. Its famous rooftop patio is what dreams are made of, and if it's too crowded, check out another downtown Portland spot with a similarly sexy vibe: Xport Bar & Lounge at The Porter Hotel.
Jen Anderson covers food, drink, travel, culture and outdoor recreation for the Portland Tribune and Travel Oregon.
[Photo: Amaretto sour at Pépé Le Moko. Credit: DYLAN + JENI.]
Margarett Waterbury, managing editor of the Whiskey Wash:
- Rum Club is a wonderful, hip little bar that dishes up rock-solid creative cocktails (not just rum!) in a perfectly mood-lit space that makes everyone inside look and feel just a little bit cooler.
- For the full tiki experience on a drizzly Northwest night, Hale Pele slings theatrically garnished tropical drinks ranging from refreshing crushed ice swizzles to one-and-done volcano bowls accompanied by peals of faux thunder and wisps of dry ice smoke.
- Clyde Common is my favorite downtown cocktail haunt; I love the sense of restraint on this cocktail menu, as well as the great options for lower-alcohol imbibing. The three-martini lunch is a thing of the past, but you might be able to pull off a three-bamboo lunch and live to tell the tale.
- If you've never tasted baijiu, Vinn Distillery is a perfect introduction. Owned by a Vietnamese family who came to the United States as refugees, Vinn makes a delicate rice-based baijiu using a recipe their family has been honing for generations.
- Rolling River Spirits celebrates the owners' Scandinavian heritage by making what must be one of the largest portfolios of aquavit in the nation, including special releases around the holidays.
- And Stone Barn Brandyworks makes everything from scratch and uses only locally grown produce to make fruit brandies and liqueurs, plus creative whiskeys featuring grains like rye, spelt and heirloom corn.
Margarett Waterbury is the managing editor of the award-winning website Whiskey Wash and former managing editor of Edible Portland.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler, award-winning bartender:
- Teardrop Lounge — A pioneer of Portland’s craft cocktail scene, they’ve been at the forefront of the game for more than a decade.
- Palomar — It’s a Cuban themed-bar from Teardrop alum Ricky Gomez. Don’t miss the signature daiquiris and slushy drinks.
- Low Brow Lounge — Low Brow is a fun bar, an unpretentious hangout in a neighborhood that feels increasingly pretentious.
A James Beard Award-nominated bartender, Jeffrey Morgenthaler runs the show at two of the city’s most acclaimed cocktail bars, Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko. He’s the author of two books on bartending.
Geoff Nudelman, writer:
- The Florida Room — No-frills service, solid food and happy hour. Portland's last bastion smoking patio is nostalgic of yesteryear.
- Pope House Bourbon Lounge — I feel like this place gets routinely overlooked, but it always has maintained one of the city's best whiskey lists — and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better Manhattan.
A former director of a spirits festival in Los Angeles, Geoff Nudelman is a Portland-born writer who covers travel, lifestyle and culinary topics for outlets such as Travel Channel, Robb Report, Observer and Bloomberg Pursuits.
[Photo: Courtesy of Joshua Chang / Southeast Wine Collective.]
Kerry Newberry, wine editor at SIP Northwest:
- Southeast Wine Collective — Taste wines from Oregon’s young guns and under-the-radar producers (more than 60 glass pours) and get a behind-the-scenes peek during grape harvest when the 5,000 square-foot winery is packed with winemakers tending to vats of fermenting fruit. Bonus: The wine dog, of course, an endearing black lab named Cassidy.
- Teutonic Wine Company — Wine geeks will revel in the focus here on German and Alsatian-style wines made by Barnaby Tuttle (try the slyvaner sourced from 40-year old vines). Plus, there’s twice-weekly live jazz nights, thematic pop-up dinners and dollar oyster happy hour throughout the week.
- Boedecker Cellars — Seeking classic Oregon? Beloved husband-and-wife winemaking team (hi, Stewart and Athena!) turn out elegant pinot noirs from this urban winery set on the edge of the Northwest Industrial District. The couple was one of the first wineries to move their operations from wine country to the city.
- Division Wines — Every wine has a story. Shopkeeper and part-time philosopher Will Prouty knows them all. Feel like a local at this charming neighborhood wine shop and wine bar with more than 800 bottles from near and far.
- Thelonious Wines — Run by world-traveling somms, Kelsey Glasser and Alejandro Marchesini, you’ll find the shelves stocked with a mix of bottles from around the globe and off-the-beaten-path Oregon producers (many with a natural bent). The fun and friendly owners enjoy uncorking something new.
Kerry Newberry is a Portland-based writer who covers food, wine and travel for outlets such as Forbes, Fodor’s Travel, Sunset, Travel Oregon, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) and many others.
[Photo: Courtesy of Breakside Brewery.]
Jeff Alworth, author of “The Beer Bible”:
What are a few spots to get a taste of Portland’s beer scene? I get this question a lot. I always preface my answer by saying that people have different tastes, so it’s always a bit challenging to find a representative sample. In a city with more breweries than anywhere else on earth, choosing three to five spots means you’re leaving out a style or expression that might appeal to you. That disclaimer aside, here are a few that I direct people to.
- Breakside Brewery — Breakside is setting the pace for everyone in Portland’s beer industry right now, and they’re probably the hottest brewery in the state. They turn out the most interesting, honest Northwest-style IPAs.
- Upright Brewing — I’d put Upright in the “best in Oregon” category for their Belgian- and French-inspired farmhouse beers. They have limited hours, so you need to plan ahead.
- Deschutes Brewery — Deschutes has a wonderful variety of beer. Anybody that goes into Deschutes is going to find something they like.
- Gigantic Brewing Company — Gigantic has a fantastic tasting room. It’s a fun place to drink beer with a mostly local crowd. They have one of the most dedicated groups of repeat customers.
- Wayfinder Beer — Check out some nice lagers, which is what this new brewery on the scene specializes in. It’s a German- and Czech-inspired pub. On sunny days, they have a gorgeous patio.
Mark Stock, writer:
- The Beermongers — Friendly staff with high beer IQs and an always intriguing, and never overwhelming, tap list.
- Garden Home Growlers — Arguably the best tap list of any grocery store in town, plus a great cast of convivial usuals.
- John's Marketplace — This is the most fun beer shop to get lost in, plus it now has draft beer and is dog- and kid-friendly.
A former editor at Imbibe Magazine, Mark Stock writes for such outlets as Forbes, 1859 Magazine, Willamette Week, Travel Oregon and many others.
[Photo: Olympia Provisions Public House Eatery. Credit: Nickie Bournias.]
Nickie Bournias, guidebook designer and dog owner:
- John Street Café — Mention St. Johns to any longtime Portlander and they’ll inevitably reminisce about this classic brunch spot with a backyard garden patio. As Portland has become trendier, as has brunch, and this simple throwback has newfound appeal. (Think pancakes as large as your plate and a handful of classic omelets as your options.) Of course, dogs only care that it’s a dog-friendly patio, and if they’re lucky, a piece of bacon might magically fall at their paws.
- Ecliptic Brewing — Outside tables and lots of them … It’s a Portland miracle! (You try finding an open outdoor table on a beautiful Portland day and you’ll understand.) The west-facing patio means plenty of afternoon sunshine, but shade umbrellas and water bowls will keep your dog happy. That is, if yours is Oregon-born like mine and thinks 75 degrees is a bonafide heatwave. (Oh, and the beer! Their brewer/owner is Oregon-famous for the brews he’s concocted for McMenamins, Deschutes and Full Sail before opening Ecliptic in 2013. Our go-to is the Starburst IPA.)
- Olympia Provisions Public House Eatery — Think Alpine-cuisine — bratwurst, charcuterie, pretzels and German beer — along with a few American classics. Their love of dogs extends to include the furry kind as well with a large dog-friendly patio and events that benefit the Oregon Humane Society. What’s not to love about that?
A creative director based in Portland, Nickie Bournias has designed dozens of travel guides to the Pacific Northwest, including the official Travel Oregon guide. Her Portuguese water dog, Daisy, has appeared in the pages of many of them.