This Taco Costs as Much as a Car
11. Bit House Saloon's Bit House Burger
Bit House SaloonAddress and Info
On paper, this double-burger with American and griddled onions appeared to have everything I love. In practice, however, the burger missed its mark for me, mostly due to two factors:
1) a doughy, overly large bun that took up much of the room, and therefore taste, in each of my bites of the burger.
2) The addition of elk into the beef mix. The elk almost dried out the patty, and the flavor, though good, had a bit of a gamy aftertaste.
The American and grilled onion mix, on the other hand, did create a nice melty flavor with the special sauce, but it wasn’t enough to push this higher. Also, Andy made me eat popcorn-crusted Rocky Mountain oysters, and that was not cool.
10. Clyde Burger
Clyde CommonAddress and Info
I went to Clyde by myself at the end of a long night and sat at the bar, where an absolutely glorious bartender named Heather made the perfect Ford cocktail while I waited for my meal. The burger itself was unique — featuring a “fu manchu” kimchee-esque slaw, and a smoked onion aioli that played the parts of the acid and creamy texture on top of the melted cheddar and meat.
The flavors were right, but a few things went wrong: for one, the in-house baked brioche-style bun flaked off the top and got a bit soggy on the bottom, an issue of not holding it long enough on the grill to seal the butter and crisp it. And the meat, which tasted like it came fresh off a backyard grill, was overcooked to the point of near char on the outside. You could tell that the flavors were there with better execution, but I had to play the hand I was dealt, friends.
9. Classic Burger
Mississippi Studios and Bar BarAddress and Info
Andy, our local man-about-town, lives close to Bar Bar, so we walked over from his house to check it out. As we got there, a running group was finishing its run (literally people were sprinting to the entrance and getting high fives) at the bar, so it was a bit of a crowded mess. And though I have more to say about enjoying food in the company of extremely sweaty people, let’s focus on the actual burger itself: thin patty, American cheese, a sauce, which, to me, tasted almost like HP brown sauce, plus another Thousand Island clone on the bottom, shredded lettuce, and some sort of cabbage action, giving it an Asian-ish vibe that actually kind of worked. Like I kept saying, “This is kind of weird, right?” but I couldn’t stop taking bites.
But then came the bun. The bun, friends, is strange. It’s an Alessio potato bun, and pliable, but has a sort of weird flour-esque powder on top, and a nearly sour flavor. It was honestly the strangest bun I tasted, and not necessarily in the positive way of the rest of the burger. Also sour: the sweaty runners EVERYWHERE.
8. The Slowburger
Slow BarAddress and Info
If you’re looking for a quick little burger, this is not the place to go. Slow Bar’s burger is a full half-pound of Columbia River Reserve beef, as well as Gruyere, lettuce, pickle relish, aioli, and famously, a giant thick-cut onion ring on top. For me, the thick patty was flavorful but a giant meaty mouthful, and the even temperature throughout gave it a little bit of a meatloaf flavor. On top of that, the lead lettuce and onion ring slid off as you’d try and bite down, causing most of the toppings to drop out of the back, like a cargo plane opening up its bay door. On the plus side, the sesame bun was grilled perfectly and, when I did manage to get a bite of the entire thing, the flavors played nicely. It’s just that that might’ve happened once.
7. Single Cheeseburger
Helvetia TavernAddress and Info
Twenty minutes outside of the city in wine country, surrounded by grass farms and pumpkin farms and old railroad bridges, this place felt exactly like the perfect burger joint to me. And at $6, the griddled cheeseburger is a steal, especially compared to many of the city burgers. The meat was well-cooked and -seasoned, and the whole thing came together nicely, except for the bun. The bun did not play along. First of all, it isn't grilled, it just comes raw, which is one of my bigger problems, as it all but ensures you get a soggy bun. Second, said bun started to flake off the top, and that makes it seem not as fresh. It’s actually frustrating because I really think they’re onto something if they’d just take the time to take care of that bun.
6. Pimento Double-Cheeseburger
Trifecta TavernAddress and Info
Pimento cheese had a moment in the national sun a year or two ago, during the National Southern Food Revival, and it’s one of my favorite almost-exclusively Southern snacks/toppings, so I was excited to see that Trifecta featured it on its burger. Other pretty great things: it has an adjacent bakery, meaning the burger buns come out of the oven at 4pm each day, so they’re nice and fresh for dinner service. The burgers, a blend of brisket and chuck, come as doubles, with 4oz to each patty. The meat is loosely formed and thrown in the wood-fired grill, then topped with special sauce and pimento cheese, and placed on those fresh buns.
It is a glorious, salty mess. Like, extremely salty. But the burger flavor is fantastic off that smoky wood, and the pimento cheese mixes in with the aioli into a super-special sauce that should be required at every Southern wedding. The only real issue is that there is nothing to really cut through the salty, creamy, meaty mess and give you that yang to its yin. Otherwise, delicious stuff.
5. Classic Cheeseburger
TILTAddress and Info
I went to TILT’s second location in the Pearl District, which was set amidst big buildings being advertised for lease for “creative space.” And now that I’ve set the scene, let’s talk about the burger. A lot to like here: grilled soft bun is nearly perfect, one of the best buns in Portland, good tang on the Thousand Island, functional acid from the hamburger dill pickles, great griddled look on the patty, which is a Wendy’s-style square move. But, as you can see from the picture, there is a shit-ton of lettuce. Like half a head. And a whole lot of raw white onion. And honestly, it took me wading through all of that salad in two bites to even really get to the well-seasoned, juicy burger. This, of course, is an easy fix -- just get it without all of that hoopla, and you’ll have yourself a damn fine burger.
4. Flat Top Burger
ImperialAddress and Info
Vitaly Paley’s Downtown spot is a fantastic place to hang for a happy hour, featuring on-point cocktails and a good after-work scene... even if things get slightly uncomfortable when the guys in ties, loudly discussing all the people from SF coming up there and ruining the character of the city, ask me where I came in from. Welp…
BACK TO THE BURGER! The burger, friends, is a delight. The bun is a soft, pliable, but grilled sesame bun, which holds up despite the fact that the salty, medium-thin patty is aggressively juicy. The dill mayo blends with the cheese, but is balanced by the acid from the pickles, and the thick red onions are grilled just enough to blunt their dangerous bite. I could easily see myself posted up at the bar, polishing off two of those things as I buy my friends with the ties a round of drinks for coming in and ruining their city.
3. Get Yo Bread Up
Stoopid BurgerAddress and Info
Amidst the heavy gentrification in the Williams/Vancouver corridor stands Stoopid Burger, a simple food truck offering up zero tricks. It's just making extraordinary burgers and shoving them into brown paper bags, then shoving those bags into your hands so you can wander away and delight in a perfectly charred, hand-formed patty that combines with cheddar and a good, spiced Thousand Island (aka Stoopid sauce), shredded lettuce (the only way to do lettuce!), chopped up pickle spears, and a soft, lightly grilled bun. The only thing that was nerve-racking for me was the raw red onion, which can ruin a weak burger. This is not a weak burger. It’s a stoopidly strong burger, in fact. I’M SORRY, I HAD TO.
2. Double Burger à L'américaine
Little Bird BistroAddress and Info
Gabriel Rucker made his name with Le Pigeon, one of a handful of restaurants that put PDX on the culinary map. Little Bird is a more casual restaurant, but still features white tablecloths, so all three of us showed up with patterned Hawaiian shirts on, because we’re gentlemen. The double burger on the menu offers up brie cheese, which makes me gasp in anguish, but they also do it à L’américaine, with American cheese, and that saves the damn day.
The house-made brioche bun is fluffy, light, and moist, the bread & butter pickles combat the salty cheese and meat, and pair well with the spicy (house-made!) ketchup and Dijon. Also, they’re smart, and shred the lettuce while keeping the red onion slices thin, so that it balances out the flavors and doesn’t get in the way. A truly fantastic, fancier double-double, definitely worth seeking out.
1. "Nick's" Cheeseburger with grilled onions
Stanich'sAddress and Info
When I first hopped in a cab from the airport to Stanich’s, and saw the Portlandia saturation of the area surrounding it, I cursed Andy’s name, thinking he’d sent me to some precious burger joint. But alas, he had not. Stanich’s is an old-school sports bar, opened in and family-owned since 1949, and walking in there felt like going back to the type of bar I used to walk into with my grandfather during the days when he wanted to sneak a beer before dinner. At this early hour the only three other people in there were construction workers, and the lady behind the counter. Old-school pennants lined the walls. I fell in love quickly. But I didn’t expect that the burger would change me, too.
What I had at 11am on a weekday sitting on a comfortable barstool in NE Portland was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life. The sesame bun was griddled perfectly, preventing the somewhat messy burger from leaking through and getting soggy. The ground chuck had a good crisp edge, and the grilled onions, which must sit marinating in something, melded with the American cheese for that perfect diner burger mix. Normally, we’d stop there, but Stanich’s does not yield. On the top bun, they use a combination of mayo and mustard while on the bottom, it’s mayo and red relish. The end result is a mixture of sweet and salty flavors I haven’t experienced anywhere else. In fact, I didn’t even see the hamburger dill pickles sitting on the side until after I ate the whole damn thing, but it didn’t matter. This burger is a national treasure that I’d like to keep discovering over and over again.
1. Bit House Saloon727 SE Grand Ave, Portland
2. Clyde Common1014 SW Stark St, Portland
3. Bar Bar3943 N Mississippi Ave, Portland
4. Slow Bar533 SE Grand AVE, Portland
5. Helvetia Tavern10275 NW Helvetia Rd, Hillsboro
6. Trifecta Tavern & Bakery726 SE 6th Ave, Portland
7. TILT1355 NW Everett St, Portland
8. Imperial410 SW Broadway, Portland
9. Stoopid Burger3441 N Vancouver Ave, Portland
10. Little Bird219 SW 6th Avenue, Portland
11. Stanich's4915 NE Fremont St, Portland
Even though it opened in 2015, there's an age-old feel to the 150-seat Bit House Saloon, named for how much a beer cost before the US outlawed foreign coins in the 1800s. You'll walk up to a bar on floors made from old bourbon barrels to order a whiskey-focused list of specials. But don't expect service as rusty as the brass accents in the space, this saloon has beed lauded for its mixology since landing on the scene. Stay traditional with an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, or dip into the punch-packing proprietary drink list, featuring sips like the Astro City Cracker Jack (popcorn-washed Applejack, smoked maple syrup, Verjus, soda). The food menu is fit to soak up the drinks, with fried pork rillette or smoked chicken wings playing opener to fried bologna sandwiches or a smoked pork plate.
Clyde Common's rocking Prohibition era-themed cocktails are crafted by top-notch mixologists, plus this spot also offers European-inspired eats in its casual space Downtown. The trendsetting tavern has communal tables and small plates. Snack on truffle popcorn while you wait for your Heavy Petting cocktail, made with vodka, quinine syrup, lemon peel and grapefruit.
The little sister bar and patio to the musically inclined restaurant/concert venue Mississippi Studios (located in the same building), Bar Bar's specialties are the life's simple pleasures: a high quality burger, a cheap can of beer, and good music. The burger at this Boise joint's, with its grass-fed beef, house-made ketchup, and a secret-recipe sauce between a thick and soft potato bun, is one of the best in Portland, and while the beer list is short and craft-free, the inventive list of specialty cocktails will more than make up for it.
Onion ring-topped burgers. Crispy fries drowning in melted cheese. Smoked bacon and onion wood-fired pizza -- the upscale branding and polished interior of this East Portland hangout might have you believing it's a snooty bistro, but what this place really delves out is glutenous American favorites. While menu items like ahi tuna salad and white wine fondue keep this place's image intact, most know to go straight for the house burger or bbq pork sandwich with their specialty cocktail.
The 20-minute drive out to Oregon's wine country might not sound worth it for a burger, but that hasn't stopped people from all over the state (and country) from making the trek just for a bite of their famous Jumbo Burgers. The rustic, string-bulb-lit bar surprisingly doles out simple creations that look less like Portland's usual artisan suspects and more like something you'd get at a drive-thru window -- two greasy patties, American cheese, special sauce, and traditional toppings nestled between two halves of a soft, sesame bun. It's utterly massive, but that's nothing a cold draft beer can't help wash down.
Trifecta Tavern and Bakery is a fancy and stylish Eastside eatery where prime steaks, grilled flatbreads, and artisanal cocktails rule the menu. Fresh baked bread and fresh churned butter accompany every meal, which includes daily specials, wood-oven pizzas, and other snacks. Warm cocktails and an impressive wine list are also at your service.
Tilt's self-proclaimed blue-collar cuisine is surprisingly more upmarket than you'd think -- the best handcrafted burgers in Portland are fresh beef patties on three-layer buns with global inspiration like the Carne Jefe with avocado and jalapenos and the pastrami-based Koolakofsky. Hand-carved sandwiches and homemade pies are made in-house and offer up an experience somewhere between a diner, a dive bar, and a five-star bistro.
Imperial restaurant, located in the historic Hotel Lucia, is owned and operated by Chef extraordinaire Vitaly Paley. This spot has a modern bright interior, and all the food is dishes made with local ingredients. The menu's combination of new and traditional American cuisine can be paired with any of Imperial's fine wines, specialty cocktails or draft and bottled beers.
Sometimes, amidst even the fastest and heaviest of gentrification, and old gem will withstand the pressure to leave and remain standing -- Stoopid Burger is one of those gems. The simple food truck, always found in the same Boise spot, doesn't bother making a big deal of its image; its burgers, dogs, and desserts do all the talking for them. The Get Your Bread Up burger (a simple yet easy choice of a beef patty with all the fixings) will be delightfully soaking through the brown paper bag by the time you walk to the nearby Irving City Park.
From the accolade-bagging dudes behind Le Pigeon, Little Bird plays to the strengths of their Eastside bistro with a simple menu of gourmet-level poultry and seafood dishes like chicken-fried trout and seared duck breast at super affordable prices. The swanky bi-level restaurant stays open until midnight, making it an ideal spot to camp out on the weekends with a large glass of vintage or valley wine or a craft cocktail.
The unembellished exterior of this Roseway houses on of the city's most beloved sports bars, open since the 1940s. Despite the small space and the eerie graveyard in their backyard, veteran customers have been returning here on a regular basis to admire their wall-to-wall team pennants and sink their teeth into The Special, a portion-defying beef and ham cheeseburger with bacon, egg, and all the fixings your (very hungry) heart desires.