Portland chefs use cheese better than MacGyver uses paperclips, so this article is long overdue: time to unleash the most creative uses of cheese in Portland. Short of wrapping cheese in cheese and deep-frying it in cheese, the following dishes are the cheesiest around -- the crème de la crème of cheese, if you will.
Raven & Rose (address and info)
The most gourmet guilty pleasure in the city, Raven & Rose's rarebit introduces itself like fondue on a bender. From Wales, rarebit is a cheese sauce with beer and spices, and the one at Raven & Rose changes with the seasons. Recently, the thick, creamy rarebit came over fingerling potatoes, country ham, and baguette and was topped with a crunchy, tangy garden of fermented sweet peppers, spicy rapini, and broccoli rabe blossoms.
Lobster mac & cheese burger
Melt It! (address and info)
It was hard to keep this Cartlandia spot from dominating our list due to its sheer number of insane cheese combinations. House-made mac & cheese pizza, deep-fried mac & cheese balls, and mac & tots were all contenders, but the mac & cheese burger takes the golden cheddar. Owner Debra Lewis is more secretive of her recipes than Walter White, but the result is charred beef and creamy cheese between a pub bun. If you want to get really outrageous, order the burger with lobster mac & cheese (no, it's not on the menu: it's another secret!), for a $14 surf-and-turf indulgence.
Levant (address and info)
Possibly originating in ancient Egypt and definitely one of the world's oldest cheeses, halloumi just doesn't melt. Taking advantage of this, Levant chef/owner Scott Snyder chops it into sticks and throws them straight into the fryer. The four emerging cheese sticks are crispy and come topped with local honey, walnuts, and chili flakes for the ultimate cheese-and-honey pairing.
Chizu (address and info)
What do Japan and cheese have in common? Almost nothing... until now. Chizu is a cheese-obsessed restaurant modeled after a sushi bar, and it was opened in March by Steve Jones, owner of Southeast's also-great Cheese Bar. The omakase platter lets you name your price and have the restaurant's cheese whizzes select from a 30-strong selection. The cheeses are all the right temperature for eating, and the staff's absurd knowledge results in such creative accoutrements as buckwheat honey and tomato jam.
Victory Bar (address and info)
For $8.75 ($5.75 during happy hour), this SE Division bar makes a spatzle as mean as Hannibal Lecter. House-made macaroni egg noodles sit up to their chins in a simultaneously creamy and sharp aged Gruyere sauce. Crispy shallots add texture, and the tangy house-made applesauce, served on the side, takes the whole thing into some kind of fruity heaven that you probably couldn't have ever predicted enjoying.
Paneer cheese kati roll
Bollywood Theater (address and info)
Division and Alberta Arts District
If you don't know about this dish, head to Bollywood Theater immediately: it's Portland's Indian burrito. The fact that the restaurant makes its own paneer cheese -- a traditional Indian cheese that it also sells on site -- is what really puts it over the top. It's absurdly good.
Punch Bowl Social (address and info)
Cheesier than a hipster mustache, these nachos begin with queso cotija, a melty Mexican cheese commonly found in burritos, and queso fundido, a sort of Mexican fondue. On top of that, the restaurant adds crème fraiche and a creamy jalapeño crema with a nice kick. With all that cheese, you can pretty much ignore the cauliflower while somewhat maintaining the belief that you're eating something healthy.
Podnah's Pit (address and info)
I thought that pouring melted cheese into a bag of chips only worked after 2am, but it turns out it's also a Texan tradition 24/7. At Podnah's, pit boss Rodney Muirhead serves Frito pie inside of a 2oz bag of Fritos with shredded cheese, raw onion, and Podnah's "all-meat" chili, Texas Red. The result is big chunks of smoky brisket and crunchy Fritos -- all beneath a melty cheddar cheese cap.
Fried cheese curds
Rogue Distillery and Public House (address and info)
The springy and melty texture of fried cheese curds makes this appetizer impossible to stop eating. Rogue Ales stands out for using top-quality curds from Rogue Creamery and a sweet-and-spicy jalapeño jelly for dipping.
Potted "Judy" Cheese
The Country Cat Dinnerhouse & Bar (address and info)
Executive Chef Adam Sappington has a family recipe for pimento cheese as soulful as the bayou blues, mixing sharp cheddar with Budweiser, mayonnaise, Tabasco and olive juice. He even ages it several days to let the Tex-Mex flavors develop. If you want to make it yourself (which, trust us, you do), keep an eye out this September for The Country Cat’s cookbook, Heartlandia.
Potato Champion (address and info)
Even though it uses Wisconsin curds, Potato Champion makes a reliably rich, beefy, and salty poutine. A small costs around $5, and you can even get it vegetarian or vegan.
The Grilled Cheese Grill (address and info)
Downtown and Alberta Arts District
Only $8.50, it's a 1/3lb burger sandwiched between two grilled cheeses that smartly include key burger condiments: one has pickles and American cheese, and the other has grilled onions and Colby Jack. Some would call The Cheesus -- which may have pioneered the GC-burger trend -- wrong. I would call them nonbelievers.
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1. Raven & Rose1331 SW Broadway, Portland
2. Melt It!Cartlandia, Portland
3. Chizu1126 SW Alder St, Portland
4. Victory Bar3652 SE Division St, Portland
5. Bollywood Theater2039 NE Alberta St, Portland
6. Punch Bowl Social700 SW 5th Ave, Portland
7. Podnah's Pit BBQ1625 NE Killingsworth St, Portland
8. Rogue Ales Public House & Distillery1339 NW Flanders St, Portland
9. Country Cat Dinnerhouse & Bar7937 SE Stark St, Portland
10. Potato Champion1200 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland
11. Grilled Cheese Grill1027 NE Alberta, Portland
Housed within a historical landmark, Raven & Rose serves upscale comfort food and a nearly overwhelmingly large wine list. The beautiful dining room is inspired by the Irish and British countryside, as does the menu. Take dining to the next level by experiencing a bison cheeseburger paired with a craft beer you can't pronounce.
This Cartlandia food truck dominates the cheese scene with grilled cheese, pizza, mac & cheese and burgers -- a lot of them made with lobster. They have classic grilled cheese, but their signature is made with a variety of gourmet cheeses. One of their pizzas is topped with mac & cheese, as are many of their burgers.
This small cheese bar is set up like a sushi counter so you can sit at the bar and watch the staff slice various cheeses and assemble them on beautiful wooden boards.
The high quality and variety of burgers and beers have put this Richmond bar on the map, even in a beer and burger haven like Portland. Venison burgers, corned beef, and five different spatzles, give this popular spot a quirky menu that works well with the creative cocktails they serve.
Bollywood Theater offers Portland the chaotic, yet charming Mumbai experience with Southern-Indian eats all under one roof.
This grown-up's version of Chuck E. Cheese's has oh so many games... and booze. Lots of booze.
Podnah's Pit's a smoked meat temple in Portland with BBQ styles emulating Carolina and Texas. According to locals, there is no finer barbecue fare in Portland than the dishes served up a Podnah's, and we can't help but agree. Their ribs and brisket are as close to perfect as barbecue can be.
This brewery began in the late 80s, and now has expanded to multiple locations across the West Coast. This location features the brewery, spirits, and food that they source from their own farms. Check out American Amber or Oregon Golden -- those were their first two brews and go great with the killer fried cheese curds.
The husband-&-wife chef team at this cute little spot (decorated with tons of wooden tables) turn out fresh, Southern-inspired comfort food.
Potato Champion is a food truck that's open until late, specializing in hand cut, twice fried Belgian-style french fries with multiple sauces and poutine. These fries aren't in the least bit ordinary, with menu options like Pulled Pork Fries or the Palak Paneer Fries that come topped with curried spinach, Paneer cheese, and cilantro chutney. Plus, everything is made using only the highest quality ingredients.
The name Grilled Cheese Grill might be a bit gratuitous, like "We get it! This spot serves grilled cheese!", but don't discount this Portland shop's predilection for puns: they do make a mean grilled cheese. We especially like The Gabby: with four local cheeses and a ton of bacon between two hunks of bread, this is the hottest Union since Gabrielle starred in Bad Boys II. Ohhhh!!