The Portland Guide
As the country’s undisputed hipster mecca, Portland is the butt of a lot of jokes (see Portlandia for a full repository), but if you ask us, those bearded, tattooed baristas are onto something great. For starters, there’s the food scene, which thoroughly covers everything from specialty coffee shops and food carts to James Beard award-winning restaurants. Portland is also home to flagships of a few brands that are now national favorites, like Stumptown Coffee, Voodoo Doughnut, and even the Ace Hotel. And despite the rain, the city’s famously great for outdoor adventures, from hiking Mount Hood to the supremely bikeable downtown.
Ava Gene’s3377 SE Division St., Richmond | 971.229.0571
With its warmly-lit ambiance, intimate seating, and extensive list of regional Italian wine, amari, and grappa, Ava Gene’s makes an ideal date spot. The Roman trattoria-inspired menu offers plenty of options: gardini for starters and salads, primi for pastas, and sharing-sized secondi of steaks and old-school Italian dishes like braciole. Chef Joshua McFadden (formerly of Maine’s Four Season Farm and Franny’s in Brooklyn, where he’s said to have made the famous raw kale salad happen) is known to source his ingredients from a hand-picked selection of the Pacific Northwest’s best farm-to-table produce and meats, so expect some pleasant surprises depending on the season.
Bollywood Theater2039 NE Alberta St., Alberta | 971.200.4711
Helmed by veteran chef Troy MacLarty (formerly of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and Portland’s Ned Ludd), Bollywood Theater is a go-to for fragrantly spiced street-style food MacLarty discovered during his explorations in India—dishes like savory lamb samosas and rich, creamy curries. The original restaurant on Alberta in Northeast Portland, spacious and decked out with Indian imagery (including a projector for screening Bollywood films), has a fast-casual vibe: order at the counter, get a number, choose your seat. The location on Southeast Division, an even larger space with an open-concept kitchen, also features a retail market stocked with dry goods, fresh spices, rice, ghee, and more.
Castagna1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Buckman | 503.231.7373
The kitchen here is run by talented Executive Chef Justin Woodward, who previously had stints at Noma in Copenhagen, San Sebastian's Mugaritz, and with pastry chef Alex Stupak at NYC's WD-50. Woodward's tasting menu, which typically highlights fresh vegetables and fish, is perfect for a special date night, as is the excellent wine list. (Next door to the restaurant is the more casual Café Castagna, which has indoor/outdoor seating, a happy hour, and an à la carte dinner menu, plus a family-style option.)
Taqueria Nueve727 SE Washington St., Buckman | 503.954.1987
Taqueria Nueve first opened in 2000, then shut its doors in 2008—a disappointment for many Portlanders—but it reopened in 2013 with the same great Mexican fare (the ambience is perfect, too). Although it’s perfectly family-friendly, you could also come here with a group of friends for happy hour.
Tasty n Alder580 SW 12th Ave., Downtown | 503.621.9251
Tasty n Alder is not your typical steakhouse: after all, their Korean bulgogi strip steak is pretty much beyond. If you aren’t feeling up for a steak, you’ve got options: baja tacos, peking duck cooked on a Spanish-style plancha grill, and a variety of locally-sourced seafood. Their brunch menu is just as eclectic, offering everything from Korean bibimbap to classic steak and eggs. If you’re craving a change from the usual Bloody Mary or mimosa, indulge in their cognac-spiked chocolate milkshake.
Apizza Scholls4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Sunnyside | 503.233.1286
The pizza here rivals the best pies you’ll find in NYC, meaning it’s a good idea to make a reservation in advance if you can—otherwise, prepare to wait a bit for a table. While the menu is stacked with good options, they'll let you build your own with up to three toppings, a limitation imposed to preserve the integrity of their pizza dough, which is sort of similar to ciabatta. Old-school video games in the arcade room help the wait time fly by.
Le Pigeon738 E. Burnside St., Buckman | 503.546.8796
Le Pigeon, the sister restaurant of Little Bird, is a dinner-only French-inspired bistro opened by chef Gabe Rucker in 2006. It's become a local favorite thanks to dishes like salmon poke with curry aioli, duck breast with fava bean hummus and spicy tahini, and basil ricotta tortellini. You can also opt for the chef's five- or seven-course tasting menu.
Little Bird215 SW 6th Ave., Downtown | 503.688.5952
While its sister restaurant, Le Pigeon, may be better known, Little Bird has the same great food with a touch more casual vibe. The interior is pleasant but not overdone, with a mezzanine that stretches out over the bar, and dramatic, rounded mirrors flanking the wall in the main dining room. The menu is all classic French comfort food from the palourdes (a French clam dish) to the double-brie burger to the crème brûlée.
Pok Pok3226 SE Division St., Richmond | 503.232.1387
Andy Ricker’s Thai food is the stuff of legend at this point (with one outpost in Brooklyn and another in Downtown Manhattan), but it’s more than worth than seeking it out in Portland where the empire first began. The original location itself is notoriously dive-y, with multicolored twinkle lights on the ceiling and brightly patterned tablecloths covering the crowded tables. As ever, the papaya salad and the chicken wings are the must-orders, though you can’t go wrong with any of the traditional dishes here.
Bamboo Sushi SW404 SW 12th Ave., Downtown | 503.444.7455
Bamboo Sushi has four locations across Portland's quadrants: SW, NW, NE, and SE. Each location varies slightly; they all have a casual vibe and really good sushi (in addition to hot Japanese dishes). You can make table reservations, but seats at the sushi bar (always fun) are first-come first-serve. What makes Bamboo stand apart is their commitment to the sustainable way: they don't serve fish from endangered populations; their seafood is caught by fishermen who operate under environmentally ethical principles; and their grass-fed, hormone-free, and free-range meat comes from ranches in Oregon/Idaho. True to their word, Bamboo Sushi uses renewable energy sources, reusable teak wood chopsticks, biodegradable to-go containers, and so on.
Tabor Tavern5325 E. Burnside St., North Tabor | 503.208.3544
This spot has a definite neighborhood feel to it, but it’s famous across the city for its burger, which is served on a brioche bun with a generous helping of bacon jam (the jam can, and probably should, be ordered with any of the sandwiches on their menu). The casual vibe makes it exceptionally kid-friendly—there are plenty of high chairs to be found at weekend brunch.
Clyde Common1014 SW Stark St., Downtown | 503.228.3333
Though it’s on the first floor of the Ace, Clyde Common doesn’t feel at all like your typical hotel bar. Jeffrey Morgenthaler is one of the city’s best bartenders, and happy hour is one of the best times to be here, when cocktails like the Southbound Suarez (a boozy horchata with tequila and Becherovka) and the Bourbon Renewal (a mixture of bourbon, lemon, cassis, and bitters) are $6 each. Not to downplay this worthy dinner destination—the menu is a very Northwestern celebration of unusual ingredients like nettles, spring alliums, burnt yogurt, and fiddlehead ferns.
Lovely’s Fifty Fifty4039 N. Mississippi Ave., Boise | 503.281.4060
There’s a sizeable cohort of Portlandians who'll argue that Lovely Fifty-Fifty serves the best pizza in town. Their pies (each of which is big enough to serve two people) are cooked in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, which makes the entire restaurant smell pretty great. While several of the pizzas—try the roasted potato with caramelized onions and gorgonzola—feature more adventurous toppings, it’s the kind of place that’s welcoming to the entire family. Fair warning: Kids go crazy for the homemade ice cream.
¿Por Qué No?4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Richmond | 503.954.3138
This taqueria is a local favorite for its elaborate menu of Mexican fare, especially their next-level tacos. Their corn tortillas are made fresh onsite and filled with sustainably-sourced, unconventional-yet-delicious ingredients, including calamari, chorizo, and barbacoa-braised beef brisket straight from nearby Cascade Farms. Quick counter service and picnic tables for outdoors dining (weather permitting) make this a great casual spot to people-watch. There's a second outpost in Boise.
Ken’s Artisan Pizza304 SE 28th Ave., Kerns | 503.517.9951
Back in the day, Ken Forkish was just making pizza once a week out of his eponymous bakery. But when the pizza nights started getting out-of-control busy, he knew it was time to open a full-fledged restaurant. At Ken’s Artisan Pizza, you’ll find simple, Neapolitan-style pies that comes straight from a wood-fired oven in the open kitchen. The décor is as local as the ingredients, with a bar and tables made from old-growth Douglas firs that were salvaged from one of the city’s old roller coasters. P.S.: Ken’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Flour Water Salt Yeast, is a totally worthwhile souvenir. Photos: Alan Weiner Photography
Beast5425 NE 30th Ave., Concordia | 503.841.6968
This teensy restaurant in Concordia is so cozy that it feels more than a friend's dining room than an award-winning restaurant—though there's no question once your food arrives. Chef Naomi Pomeroy grew up in the area, but with a mother and grandmother who lived in France and New Orleans, her cooking style skews decidedly French. She’s also a James Beard Award-winner (she was a finalist three times), and we’ve yet to try a dish on her prix-fixe menu that wasn't worth writing home about.