Food & Drink

Portland's Underrated Bars and Restaurants That Always Get Overlooked

Published On 01/19/2017 Published On 01/19/2017

No Fun Bar

Buckman

Of course naming a bar “No Fun” would draw a flood of ironic cynics out from their weird corners of the internet; taking that irony to its logical endpoint is knowing the fact that the space that No Fun Bar inhabits was once a Christian bookstore. It's a bar's bar -- a place just to sit and drink with no pilfered gimmicks, no cute cocktail names. Attached is Devil’s Dill, one of the better sandwich joints in town, even if it doesn’t get as much press as spots like Lardo and Bunk. Options like Chinese five-spice pulled pork, meatloaf sandwiches, and actually good takes on a BLTA to vegan sandos made with seitan are all available to order at the No Fun Bar, or delivered to your doorstep, if you’re within two miles. For those avoiding wheat, every sandwich is available on gluten free bread for an extra two bucks.

Jannie Huang

Verdigris

Irvington

When it comes to New American/French-influenced bistros in town, attention is usually paid to places such as Le Pigeon, Coquine, or Imperial. All for good reasons, but it’s curious that Verdigris hasn’t received the same levels of adoration. This cute and cozy restaurant feels like you’ve walked into a French country home, and the seasonal, homey food and exceptional old-world wines only add to the air of splendor. You might as well pay the $35 for a three-course meal -- it costs only a bit more than a single entree and gives you a fuller experience of the menu. The brunch here is also an undersung venture in Portland dining.  

Pure Spice

Powellhurst-Gilbert

It’s been said that Portland has no great Chinese food. While it’s true we don’t boast the amount of excellent dim sim and stir fry cuisine as cities like San Francisco or Vancouver, we do have a few standouts. Spots like H.K. Cafe and Shandong are well-known, but less so is Pure Spice out in the Jade District. Pure Spice has a lot to offer: dim sum made to order rather than off of a cart; a mix of classic Chinese-American dishes like Kung Pao and sweet & sour; and more traditional Chinese dishes like hot pots and congee. It might not reach the levels that some Bay Area restaurants do, but it’s pretty damn great all the same.

Stu

Xico

Clinton-Division

When Portlanders think Mexican food, they tend to think cheap burritos and large plates of cheese-covered chips. Xico, pronounced like “cheek-oh,” asks you to please reconsider. Upscale takes on Mexican dishes such as pollo asado and tamales grace the menu, and Monday and Tuesday nights feature family-style meals such as full rotisserie chickens and an unmissable carnitas plate. The bar includes a sizeable selection of hard to find tequila and mezcal, as well as, surprisingly, Mexican wines, something you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in town. If you’re looking for cheaper Mexican snacks and drinks, go for the late night happy hour that runs from 9pm until close every day of the week, when tacos, tamales, mezcal, tequila, and totopos are only $5 each.

Haan Ghin

PSU

Portland has a staggering amount of Thai food carts, but it has far fewer Laotian ones. The best is Haan Ghin, which just happens to be tucked away on the Portland State University campus; its relative isolation is probably why hasn’t made a bigger stir. The menu is extremely limited. You're either getting mii gai, egg noodles with chicken, choy, and crispy chicken skins, or laap gai, a minced, herbed chicken dish serve with lettuce cups and zesty cucumber slices. Both are exceptional, and which is better depends on your mood. It’s worth a trek on to campus, even if you're not a student.

Bang Bang Pdx

Bang Bang

Beaumont

Aalto Lounge on Belmont is packed almost every evening, but its sister restaurant Bang Bang up in Beaumont hasn’t yet been greeted with the same level of enthusiasm just yet. The Thai curry bowls and Asian drinking snacks were met with middling reviews when it first opened, but it quickly polished the food menu, and the drinks remain as solid as the ones at Aalto Lounge. These curries and noodle bowls are so good you won’t even notice they’re entirely gluten free (the whole menu is).

Shift Drinks

Downtown

Sure, Shift Drink has received a good deal of positive press and had considerable attention when it opened, but since then, enthusiasm has waned. It’s really too bad, because with its inventive cocktails, fun and accessible wines, and a small but lovely menu of bruschettas and panini, Shift Drinks is one of the best cocktail bars in the city. It deserves as much love as the places that are packed each evening. Best of all, once the place shuts down at standard bar time, you can take a bottle of champagne to-go.

Dot's Cafe

Brunch at Dot’s Cafe

Clinton-Division

Dot’s remains a spot known for its drinks and heaping plates of cheese fries, but its weekend brunch menu often goes missed. It’s fairly standard but extensive, with scrambles, waffles (with fried chicken options), benedicts, and biscuits & gravy as the stars. Bottomless mimosas are only $10, and Saturday brunch occasionally has a DJ because it’s just that Portland. The best thing about brunch at Dot’s Cafe is that it’s incredibly affordable, with almost everything on the menu being under $10. While you can maybe find something more unconventional for breakfast across the street at Broder, here, you won’t need to wait an hour -- or at all.

Fish Sauce

Nob Hill

Portland has Vietnamese restaurants aplenty, the best of which are along 82nd Ave, hidden in strip malls and wide lots. However, if you’re in Northwest Portland, you’ll want to go to Fish Sauce. It’s not dedicated to phô or bánh mì, though you can find those here, but rather, less familiar dishes like shaken beef cubes with sweet potato fries or grilled Alaskan salmon with sauteed tomatoes served over greens. Fish Sauce also rivals Pok Pok for the best Vietnamese wings (Cánh Gà Chiên), with its own take on caramelized fish sauce wings. And, unlike most other Vietnamese spots in town, it also features an inspiring cocktail program with a strong focus on rum.

Mi Mero Mole

Mi Mero Mole

Chinatown

Mi Mero Mole is fighting hard against the commonly held position that Portland lacks good Mexican food. The casual Mexican joint has two locations, one on the east side and one in Chinatown, both of which serve exceptional cuisine. The staple here is guisado, a stew popular in Mexico City, which fills all of its tacos, burritos, and other dishes, and comes in multiple styles, including lamb, a rare meat to find in Mexican restaurants in town. While Mi Mero Mole is popular, what goes most unrecognized is the bar at the downtown location, which carries a wide list of tequila and mezcal and some of the best margaritas in the city. During happy hour, from 2-6pm every day, those margaritas are a mere $4.

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1. Devil's Dill Sandwich Shop 1711 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214 (Hawthorne Dist)

If there's one thing you need to know about sandwich stop Devil's Dil, it's that it's open late. Not only that, but it delivers late, too, putting its sandwiches filled with meats that are smoked and braised in-house at their most accessible. The bread is essential: the flour brushed ciabatta comes from Fleur de Lis bakery, a Portland standby. Expect very Portland takes on sandwich standards, like a BLT made with bacon, kale, and tomato jam, as well as barbecue classics like a five-spice pulled pork with sesame slaw. It's about the meats here, but vegans can opt for a chili-garlic grilled seitan number. There's only's sodas and kombuchas to drink, but if you want something harder, you can head next door to No Fun bar.

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2. Verdigris 1315 NE Fremont St, Portland, OR 97212

Chef Johnny Nunn, formerly of Ringside Fish and Brasserie Montmartre, takes on his first solo venture on NE Fremont with Verdigris, a simple 36-seat dining room for French-inspired fare. Formerly a wine shop, the candle-lit space is intimate and simple with hanging chandeliers and rows of four-tops, appropriate for the sleepy neighborhood nestled between Irvington and the buzzier North. The food is conservative, taking a traditional approach in dinnertime dishes like chicken pot pie with Oregon truffles, pork confit, beef Bourguignon, and steak frites. Brunch here is worth getting out of bed for, with dishes like croque madame, Maine lobster hash and a maple-smoked trout plate drawing a fanbase.

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3. Pure Spice Chinese Restaurant 2446 SE 87th Ave, Portland, OR 97216

Pure Spice Chinese is a dim sum outpost, yet it doesn't serve its bites on roving carts. Before you shout 'blasphemy!,' wait until you try it. The server-based format offers some levity to what is usually a more casual eating experience, and the flavors merit it. You just have to order correctly: vinegary chicken feet, turnip cakes, and a salted fish- and duck-fried rice are sure bets. Pure Spice may not get the adulation of it's nearby dim sum neighbor Wong's King, but at least here there's no wait.

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4. Xico 3715 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202

The modern and presentation-forward take on Mexican food at South Division St's Xico give the food a quality that is hard to peg down to any single region. Queso fundido is sprinkled with chorizo and sliced radish, which oozes as you try to scoop it with housemade masa tortillas. The signature mole is complex, livening chicken with notes of chocolate, chili, and spice. Perhaps the standalone must-order is the whole trout posole flavored with ancho chili and orange. And if it wasn't your reason for coming already, the margarita is a contender for the best in the city: La Miela is a take with mezcal and honey that's served up with a salt rim made with chile and dried worms.

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5. Bang Bang PDX 4727 NE Fremont St, Portland, OR 97213 (Beaumont Wilshire)

A Southeast Asian spin is put on the bar bites coming out of this Thai curry kitchen and cocktail bar, known for food with intense and aggressive flavor. A ten-seat bar in the back turns out affordable cocktails, like a Thai-ified version of an Old Fashioned (with housemade orange-cardamom bitters), while the cooks ladel curries late-night. Curries are served in karafs, to be poured into bowls filled with ingredients (like shrimp cakes, sticky rice, fried chicken) at your discretion. If you'd rather use your hands, vinegary chicken wings and skewers serve as the ultimate bar bite.

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6. Shift Drinks 1200 SW Morrison St, Portland, OR 97205 (Downtown)

Housed within the old Terminal Sales Building, Shift Drinks nods to the it's office history in the name. But that's pretty much all that remains of the former office: it's been erased by a 90-seat, airy drinking stop with more than 100 Northwest and European vintages, curated by sommelier Anthony Garcia. His wife, Anne Garcia, is behind the food, which acts as a support for the wine with a straightforward Italian character. Even if you can't stop in for a leisurely sipping session, feel free to pick up any of their bottle to go.

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7. Dots 2521 SE Clinton St, Portland, OR 97202 (Clintondivision)

Dots is a Portland mainstay, mostly because it fuses the concepts of diner, dive bar, and hangout so seamlessly. All the elements clash in the most beautiful ways: grizzly billiards boys (there's a pool table) mix with theatre geeks from the nearby Clinton Street Theater in a dark space with a faux-baroque charm that serves food fit for a highway diner crowd. The menu is an American eats encyclopedia, with burgers fries and grilled cheeses joined by a few Asian-inflected surprises like a pulled pork banh mi. The cocktails are good, but it's more about the atmosphere and the people... though we do love the daily slushy specials.

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8. Fish Sauce 407 NW 17th Ave, Portland, OR 07209 (Nw Portland)

Fish Sauce, between Nob Hill and Peal District, keeps drinkers buoyed with inexpensive Vietnamese eats and strong cocktails in a casual nautical space lit by mason-jar lamps. The sips are the true lure, formulated by mixologist Tommy Klus, who was the bar consultant at Kask and Bluehour. But when happy hour rolls around, the food prices impossible to resist: half banh mi sandwiches, fried jicama-egg rolls, and steamy bowls of pho are natural partners with cocktails that nod to Southeast Asian flavors, like Two Birds (vodka, orange liqueur, lemon, with a pickled kumquat garnish).

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9. Mi Mero Mole 32 NW 5th Ave, Portland, OR 97209 (Old Townchina Town)

A tribute to the street food of Mexico, Mi Mero Mole by Nick Zukin (of Kenny & Zuke's) has upped the Chinatown taco game... and just about everyone has noticed. Guisados are what the place is about, a Mexican City concept translating to "a stew, stir-fry, or filling," and you can select the kind you want from a chalkboard on the orange wall. Count on a meat, seafood, vegetarian, and vegan option that can be poured into corn tortilla tacos, served as a plate with rice and beans, rolled into a burrito, or grilled into a quesadilla. Boundaries are pushed with adventerous meat options like tongue, rabbit, and blood sausage, which are always better with a margarita from the fast-casual dining room's bar.