Where the Locals Eat and Drink in Portland
The citizens of Stumptown hate to admit it -- because it's soooooooooo played out -- but there's a lot that Portlandia gets right, especially when it comes to how seriously the city takes its food and drink. This is a place where even the salt on the table gets a shout-out on menus, where beer lovers rejoice over limited-edition runs at one of the 70+ breweries (then retreat to a dive for a tallboy), and where food carts jockey for supremacy with brick-and-mortar joints. It's one of the best damn places to eat and drink in the country. Here's an entry-level guide to exploring the goodness.
And if you want more, head to Thrillist Portland for hot openings and the rest of our longtime favorites.
Why you’re here: They've got one of the best damn hangover cures in the country
What you’re getting: Now rocking four locations -- including its original stand at the excellent Portland Farmers Market -- Pine State has become one of the city’s most buzzed about restaurants over the course of its life, and that reason is named Reggie. Reggie starts with one of Pine State’s signature biscuits, and is then piled with a thick slab of fried chicken crowned with bacon and bathed in thick sausage gravy (plus an optional egg). You can also load those biscuits with pulled pork or flank steak, but in case you didn’t read above: fried chicken, bacon, and sausage gravy. And it’s somehow even tastier than it sounds.
Why you’re here: Giant steaks grilled front and center
What you’re getting: Run by a long-beloved husband-and-wife team, Ox puts its meat in the spotlight: the centerpiece of the restaurant is a giant, flaming Argentinian grill. And while the place does perhaps the best damn steaks in the city -- two kinds of ribeye are the menu’s signatures, including a 36oz monster and a petite Uruguayan variety -- the menu’s loaded with everything from house-made blood sausage to lamb, foie gras, oysters, hominy stew, smoked tongue, oxtail terrine, and seafood such as ceviche, octopus, and crab cocktail. If ever your inner Flintstone was allowed to run amok, he could do it here.
Why you’re here: Fun takes on regional American classics
What you’re getting: Chef John Gorham is Portland royalty -- he’s got the cookbook and famous tapas place (Toro Bravo) to prove it. Here, though, he focuses on one of Portland’s favorite culinary pastimes: taking classic American food and tweaking it into something completely original. This is a place where items like Moroccan chicken hash or cheddar-biscuit sandwiches epitomize Stumptown’s brunch obsession, where a newly refocused menu takes a cue from East Coast crab shacks, where meats come on boards, and, where, at happy hour, you can tour the menu on the cheap while sucking down $1 beers.
Why you’re here: She's got Thai specialties you’ve never heard of... and can’t find anywhere else
What you’re getting: Nong -- an adorable, tatted Thai spitfire -- is one of Portland’s favorite and most recognizable chefs, and she got that way in the most seemingly simple way possible: by serving one dish and one dish only. Khao Man Gai is basically just chicken breast sauteed in a special broth, then hit with Nong’s special sauce and served over rice. It tastes unlike anything you’ve ever had. Nong recently opened an actual restaurant -- complete with cocktails and a whopping three items -- but you can still catch her at her two carts, which remain open and constantly busy.
Why you’re here: Their crazy Asian-fusion is served up tapas-style
What you’re getting: The name’s not just a play on Momofuku-trained chef Johanna Ware's name: this place specializes in small plates loaded with Ware’s unique takes on Asian food, allowing you to sample all sorts of craziness. Said craziness includes red miso-coated hanger steak, fried kale with candied bacon, sea urchin with chorizo aioli and bacon-fat rice cakes, and more. Bigger appetites can fill up on sandwiches, like a pho-inspired dip, or noodles off the constantly changing menu, which is also served late-night at the neighboring Barwares, where you can pair watercress pancakes with their most natural complements: tallboys.
Why you’re here: Hearth-roasted comfort food perfection
What you’re getting: When you’re sitting in a rustic dining room with a view of a meat counter in the adjoining room, it’s usually a pretty good bet that everything that comes to your table -- courtesy of an open-flame hearth you can be hypnotized by as you sip craft beer and cocktails -- is going to be the real deal. Simple stuff like roasted chicken or beef are transformed into works of art here, and the pork plate, which usually includes sausages and some cuts of leg, depending on what the in-house butcher’s got, is one of Portland’s best dishes. They also have their own version of omakase, where you name your price and let the chef go nuts. Do that. You will be comforted.
Why you’re here: For one of Portland’s -- and the country’s -- best sandwiches
What you’re getting: Like many Portland institutions, Lardo started as a cart. Yet in a few short years, it’s expanded to three restaurants, all of which rock impressive tap selections and house-cured meats stacked into towering sandwiches like the fatty porchetta (the flagship), a pork-belly gyro, and Korean pork shoulder with house kimchi... plus a rotating selection that includes guest sandwiches from Portland’s top chefs. And, lest you doubt their meat love, consider this: even the fries come with fried pork scraps.
Why you’re here: It's the best sausage party in town
What you’re getting: Odds are, if you’ve eaten charcuterie in the last couple years, you’ve had something from OP, which specializes in some of the best boarded meats in the country, including tons of salami (there's even a chocolate one!), mortadella, capicola, and prosciutto, plus rillettes, breakfast links, bacon, and more. So yeah, at OP’s two restaurants you’re going to get a lot of that, plus rotisserie items like chicken and prime rib, fish, and other things that haven’t been hanging in the back for months on end. Even better: you can leave with a suitcase full of sausage.
Why you’re here: You need a literal underground ramen fix
What you’re getting: Unlike other cities, ramen’s been slow to fully catch on in Portland, but that hasn’t stopped Biwa from becoming one of the Rose City’s most beloved eateries by serving just the rich noodle soup, plus izakaya favorites like skewers, rice balls, and sashimi, in a hip, dark basement space. How Portland is this place? They’ve got their own garden out back for herbs, which find their way into food and cocktails alike, though you just might be better off ordering from the gigantic sake list. Or get a flight and a cocktail. This is, after all, drinking food, so it’s only appropriate.
Why you’re here: Sometimes you just need a mid-bike ride pint
What you’re getting: Plopped in the middle of a busy bike corridor and at the foot of the bustling Division Street restaurant row, Apex sports 50 taps that are updated in real time via an electronic board. You can expect everything from Oregon go-tos, like Hair of the Dog and Boneyard, to national favorites, like Russian River, plus Belgians and other hard-to-find European treats. In the summer, the sprawling outdoor area turns into the city’s best beer garden, packed with drinkers looking to try something new, paired with a honkin’ burrito from Los Gorditos next door.
Why you’re here: For two kinds of topless blonde
What you’re getting: Look, if you thought you were going to escape PDX without hitting a strip club, you're clearly delusional. Along with being the oldest topless joint West of the Mississippi, Mary's feels more like a neighborhood bar that just happens to be populated with fully nude women than a skeezy perv den. Hell, people even go on dates here, and the dancers collect quarters (and take requests) to feed the on-stage jukebox. They’re so iconic that they even have their own beer, which is naturally the Topless Blonde Ale. Pro tip: snag a burrito at Santeria (which you can access in the back of the club) and bring it in. But don’t request “Santeria.” They don’t have it on the juke.
Why you’re here: Imperial pints and British pub fare
What you’re getting: Walking into the Horse Brass -- one of the best damn beer bars in the country -- is like wandering into a cavernous Manchester watering hole, except the fish & chips are made of halibut and the beer isn’t warm -- but the nearly 70 taps are constantly rotating. Each table is adorned with a menu featuring all the new brews of the week, many of which are inevitably crossed off. That’s because this joint’s like a beer nerd’s dream, with rare pours from all over Oregon, the nation, and beyond. So beloved is this place that Rogue even named a beer after its late owner.
Why you’re here: Beer. All the beer.
What you’re getting: Yet another of the best beer bars in the country, the Station’s like a museum for beer nerds. With more than 1,200 different bottles available on the market side, it’s pretty easy to get lost for hours just staring and drooling at one of the biggest collections in the West, repping everything from local one-off releases to rare bottles from throughout the world. Luckily for you, you’re allowed to drink those beers on site at the adjoining bar, which also includes a meticulously curated row of taps that will often contain a Belgian beer you’ve never heard of, but can sample before buying out their entire stock of the stuff.
Why you’re here: Craft cocktails and fusion bites
What you’re getting: Fun fact about Portland: you can’t serve booze without a full food menu. Which means if you’re serving up some of the best cocktails in the city, you’d damn well better pair them with great food. Luckily, Clyde has both. Legendary bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler works wonders behind the bar, as evidenced by the mad-science level of fresh juices, top-shelf spirits, and tincture bottles on display to make everything from barrel-aged Negronis to the wine- and Cynar-infused Broken Bike. Those cocktails pair up with everything from venison carpaccio to sturgeon with bone marrow. Common? Hardly.
Why you’re here: They rock tapped cocktails and other innovations
What you’re getting: Another spot that functions perfectly in the middle ground between bar and restaurant (hell, it’s helmed by an Iron Chef champ), Imperial’s the kind of place where your cocktail ice is cut right on the bar from a gigantic block and where you can score a craft cocktail out of a tap... for $5 at happy hour, no less. It’s a joint where radish gastrique and any variety of bitters (Chuck Norris Bitters?!) could end up in your cocktail. But don't worry; while some of the drinks’ ingredient lists are as long as a short novel, you’re in good hands. This is one of the best damn cocktail bars in the country.
Why you’re here: In Portland, you'll require a tropical reprieve from the rain
What you're getting: Some thatch, rum, and fat guys in flowery shirts does not necessarily a great Tiki den make. Luckily, Hale Pele is just so much more. Sure, you have the bric-a-brac, velvet paintings, leis, indoor streams, and fake thunderstorms that you’d expect, but that’s all for nothing if you can’t back it up with great cocktails. So it’s with great joy that we tell you that the Boo Loo is the best thing to go inside a hollowed-out pineapple since SpongeBob signed his lease, and the rest of the cocktails -- some frozen, some on fire -- are top-notch. And lest you still think Hale Pele’s screwing around, well, there’s also a 16-page rum menu, and a Loyal Order of Fire Drinkers who strive to get through every single one of them.
Why you’re here: Getting the high score in Cruisin’ USA is more satisfying when you have a drink in hand
What you're getting: Ever wonder how many beers it would take to finally beat the Ninja Turtles arcade game? Find out at one of the greatest barcades in the country. Tricked out in enough neon insanity to fuel a whole Tron sequel -- minus the creepy younger version of Jeff Bridges -- GK is two floors of nerdgasm, featuring more than 60 (mostly) classic arcade games (NBA Jam, Area 51 Star Wars, and Frogger are all roommates here) and 30 pinball machines, most of which have cup holders built in. Those are essential when you consider this place has a full bar pouring basic cocktails and craft beers (plus tallboys). Basically, you just shouldn’t plan to leave.
Why you’re here: The best chaser for whiskey is always more whiskey
What you’re getting: If Hugh Hefner, Teddy Roosevelt, Don Draper, and Winston Churchill got together and designed a bar, it might look a lot like the MWL, a magical place where you can grab a cocktail at the bar or just sit in a leather chair and wait for a server to roll up, dim sum-style, with a selection of whiskey. And man, do they have whiskey. More than 1,500 bottles of it, to be exact, all stacked up against a brick back bar that is accessed by a rolling ladder. That makes it official: drinking in libraries is no longer just for drifters and weird old cat ladies.
Why you’re here: All dive bars deserve skee-ball
What you’re getting: Portland’s got its fair share of great dive bars, but not all of them advertise themselves as “Portland’s friendliest bar” on a sign outside. And dammit, it might be true. The Slammer has basically refused to change as the industrial area around it has hipsterfied (that skee-ball and the acceptance of credit cards are the only new flourishes). The whole layout is built around the centerpiece bar. The ceilings are low enough to give half the Trail Blazers concussions. The drinks could be used as Molotov cocktails. The men’s room is doorless. It’s a perfect place... and one that only gets better during the holidays, when the place covers the ceiling with enough Christmas lights to give Clark Griswold a seizure.
Why you’re here: Sandwiches and booze
What you’re getting: It’s no surprise that Bunk’s one of the city’s most beloved sandwich shops: it’s a joint run by a top-tier chef who just said “screw it, I want to make sandwiches.” That spawned multiple locations, a food truck, and, most importantly, three different versions of Bunk Bar. The original, in the Eastside Industrial District, remains the king, a place where famous bands might just pop in for a low-key show as they’re passing through (the co-founder runs an indie record label), and where you can chase a pork-belly Cubano with a gigantic frozen margarita mixed in a slushie machine: a drink that only gets better when they jam a mini Corona in the side.
Why you're here: Farmhouse-style ales, minus the farmhouse
What you’re getting: Upright takes a serious cue from French and Belgian brewing traditions, but make no mistake: these are no copycat styles. The brewers take pleasure in incorporating seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients, rare yeasts, and hops in a brewing process that involves open fermentation and barrel-aging. How open to experimentation are they? The only year-round draught beer is the Engelberg Pilsener. Otherwise, expect to be wowed with sours and saisons: the bottle series -- which goes by numbers instead of names -- includes variations on the classic Belgian style ranging from low impact to high ABV and seriously toying with expectations of what a saison can be.
Why you're here: Excellent beer paired with excellent bar food
What you’re getting: Located on the outskirts of hipster oasis Mississippi, Ecliptic doesn’t look like much more than a huge parking lot with a big-ass, anonymous-looking building plopped in it. But there’s a damn good reason people were trembling with excitement before it opened: this is a brewery helmed by the dude behind Deschutes’ Black Butte, among other local greats, and here everything hits, from a hefeweizen/pilsner hybrid to Belgian-style table beer. Even better? Food’s not an afterthought here, and they’ve got the lamb dips and trout po’ boys to prove it.
Why you're here: For Portland’s most singularly inventive brews
What you’re getting: Having opened in 1993, Hair of the Dog has finally reached legal drinking age, and during those 21 years, brewer Alan Sprints has become the stuff of Portland brewing legend. All he had to do was create some of Portland’s boldest, best, and most challenging beers. They range from low-ABV ales to the bottle-conditioned Adam and candi-sugared Fred strong ale. How devoted are Hair of the Dog’s fans? If you want a bottle of Dave -- a 19-year-old barleywine -- it’ll set you back $2,000. Luckily, most of the brews at the rustic tasting room are under $5.
Why you're here: Amped-up saisons by beer nerds, for beer nerds
What you’re getting: Tucked away in a warehouse space in the beer-dry industrial zone near Reed College, Gigantic has spent the past two years carving out a niche with beer nerds seeking innovative takes on traditional styles. One of their flagships -- The City Never Sleeps -- is a high-octane black saison; their Ginormous IPA clocks in at 8.8%; and their collaborations -- which have included everybody from Breakside to Three Floyds -- are always cause for celebration. And if you don’t really like beer but are for some reason hanging out at a brewery with little else around it, you’re in luck: they keep the place stocked with Champagne by the bottle.
Why you're here: Barrel-aged everything
What you’re getting: Cascade has mastered the art of barrel-aging, which makes it a great place for hardcore beer folks to get the more casual drinker up to speed on sours, kreik, and other more worldly flavors. And for the even harder core, most of the ales are available in bottles, which are great for popping away or squirreling away in a cellar. If that all sounds a little too stuffy for folks just looking for a pint, fear not. The 16 taps will also include stouts, wheats, and other more common varieties. Of course, those are also barrel-aged, so get ready for a little extra oomph on the ABV front.
Why you're here: For the OG organic brews
What you’re getting: These days, organic ales are pretty common (Hopworks does a great slate of them), but Laurelwood was the OG of that movement in Stumptown, and its Free Range Red remains one of the best crimson-hued pints in the area, though the Tree Hugger Porter is also a thing of beauty. At the flagship brewpub, you can actually watch the brewers doing their thing through the window behind the bar. Bonus points (or point deductions) also go to the kid-friendly vibe, which includes a playroom separate from the adults-only area for those of us who go to a brewery to escape those demons.
Why you're here: A mix of traditional and experimental beers
What you’re getting: A relative newcomer to Portland’s brewing scene, Breakside quickly climbed to the upper echelons of a crowded beer market. Yet despite the rapid growth, the place hasn’t slowed its innovation game, spitting out tons of experimental beers (in 2013, the brewmaster came up with 100 different varieties, including salted caramel stout) to go along with flagships like the habanero-infused Aztec and a GABF gold-medal IPA, which stands out in a region obsessed with hops.
Why you're here: For playful seasonals and hard-hitting standards
What you’re getting: Burnside’s brewers really, really like to mess around with ingredients, as evidenced by their tendency to take weird ideas -- say, beers with sea urchins or beef hearts -- and emerge with improbably good beers. But Burnside also stands out with a great slate of normal-ish offerings, among them a smooth Oatmeal Pale Ale, a seasonal Lime Kolsch, and Sweet Heat, which combines apricot puree and Scotch Bonnet peppers into a wheat beer with a drinkability that belies the impending burn.
Why you're here: To behold Portland’s biggest breweries
What you’re getting: It’s hard to imagine, but before Widmer became one of the largest microbreweries in the country, it was just a little brewery in a town where the idea of microbrewing was quaint, and an unfiltered hef sounded gross. You might now be able to find Drop Top and the flagship hef everywhere, but it’s still brewed in its original location. It’s just gotten much bigger. Lucky for you, any hunger you build up while touring the expansive facilities can be satisfied at the German-heavy Gasthaus, where all the beers -- including the more experimental ones that still get cooked up on site -- can be sampled.