The Most Essential Bars & Restaurants in Eugene
Eugene has transformed in recent years from a sleepy college town to a bustling one. As the population continues to swell, so too does the food scene, with new restaurants opening each year and classic spots continuing to expand. Whether you’re a university student or someone who has made Eugene your home, here are some of the most essential places to eat and drink in town.
Best pizza by the slice
Sy’s, named for the New Yorker who opened it 30 years ago, is just what you want from a New York-style pizzeria. It’s right on campus, making it a great spot for a quick lunch for students; it’s open late; and the affordable, deliciously greasy slices are the best way to soak up all those drinks you pounded during the game; and, recently, it got a liquor license for beer and wine, making it even more of a destination. It’s no wonder it made it onto our list of the best college-town pizzas in the US.
Best fancy Thai
Locals call it Thai-Hop, as the building was previously home to an IHOP. It’s easy to tell what it used to be from from the layout and structure, but the food is a far cry from its former self. It’s pricier than spots like Sweet Basil Express on campus, but more appropriate for a proper dinner out. The menu is expansive, with plenty of noodle dishes and curries, but the best is the seasonal pumpkin curry, which will have you waiting all summer for its release.
Best hangover breakfast
Most know it only as a college bar -- a place to watch Duck games, celebrate the end of finals, or grab a quick beer before your 10am class (a practice we cannot officially condone). But the best reason to go to Rennie’s Landing is for the ridiculously affordable and high-quality breakfast. A Greek omelette or corned beef hash is the best thing to work off the hangover you got here last night from four Rennie’s Lemonades.
Stephanie Pearl Kimmel brought fine dining to sleepy Eugene with a number of restaurants. Most notably and longest lasting is Marché, the flagship restaurant in the Fifth Street Public Market. It might be ironic to include it as the best spot for a burger; it just happens to be. Found at the Marché bar (creatively named Le Bar), it’s a perfectly grilled burger with blue cheese, heirloom tomato, and a black pepper aioli. We suggest adding the bacon.
Best non-college bar
If you want to escape the college crowd and just grab a solid drink at a decent price, then Jackalope is your place. It’s a comfortable, casual sports bar; downstairs has drinks and pool tables, upstairs has more pool tables, dartboards, and TVs that show MMA fights and Ducks games. No frills or gimmicks here, just good service and product.
Best comfort food
Papa has passed on, but his legacy remains at this iconic Whiteaker spot. The menu is still delightfully designed with illustrated items, the catfish is as delicious as ever (as is the fried chicken), and the sides are some of the best Southern sides in the state; you will never regret ordering the homestyle mac & cheese. Unlike most soul-food restaurants, Papa’s has a section on the menu denoting which items are vegetarian and which are vegan; it’s still Eugene, after all.
Every U of O student knows about Sweet Life, and in the evenings, there’s going to be a line out the door, guaranteed, full of students and townies alike. Cakes, pastries, pies, cupcakes, savory treats, and even a gluten- and dairy-free monthly special cake are all made from scratch with local and organic ingredients, but our favorite item is the humble chocolate chip butter cookie. Recently, Sweet Life Petite opened, a smaller boutique bakery conveniently located near campus.
A few years ago, Downtown Eugene was all but dead. Now, it’s revitalized with restaurants and bars, and Noisette was one of the first to land. It’s named for the French word for hazelnut, Oregon’s state nut and a common ingredient in the excellent baked goods found here. In the evenings, Noisette turns into the Salt and Sweet Wine Bar, with small plates, desserts, and wine by the glass; it’s a great spot for a date night.
Most people don’t immediately think Chinese food when they think of Eugene, but the town hides a few spots. Twin Dragon offers traditional Cantonese-American cuisine (you can get both chow mein and a steak dinner here), but it does so extremely well. What you’re really here for are the potstickers, either chicken & chives or chicken & cabbage. They’re Chinese dumplings as good as you can find stateside.
Best beer bar
The Bier Stein isn’t just the best beer bar in Eugene, it’s one of the best beer bars on the West Coast, which is saying something. In recent years, the spot moved from its cozy, cramped little spot on East 11th and into the much larger space vacated by Midtown Market. What it lost in charm it made up for in capacity, an improved food menu, and an even greater selection of beers, with 30 on tap and over 1,000 (not a typo) in bottles. Luckily, no one messed with the amazing beer cheese soup.
Best coffee shop
Coffee roaster, shop, and music venue, Wandering Goat is an archetypal West Coast coffee shop, but that doesn't make it not great. The roast is the best in town, and distributes to other shops, and the cafe’s distance from campus means you can hide out without worrying about too many cheap college students ordering a coffee and working for three hours. Plus it’s open late (11pm on weekdays and midnight on weekends), and serves local beers and wine.
Belly Taqueria has followed an unconventional path to get where it is now. It started as an off-night menu at the fledgling Belly when it was in the tiny space that Tailored Coffee now occupies. When Belly moved into a larger building, Belly Taqueria remained before eventually moving into its current habitat. Today, it serves up some excellent quality tacos and other Mexican dishes, along with Latin-themed cocktails and an impressive tequila list.
Best ice cream
There’s still a poster on the wall at Prince Pückler’s of Obama and his choice of mint chocolate chip ice cream. If it’s good enough for the President, it’s good enough for us (and really, the ice cream here is that good). Being right across the street from the track and field doesn’t hurt, either, though occasionally it leads to some lines.
Best cocktail bar
Izakaya Meiji was one of the first dedicated cocktail bars in Eugene, opening around the same time the craft cocktail scene was erupting up north in Portland. It remains a fun destination, with a superb whiskey list, great cocktails, sake, and tasty Japanese small plates, all served in a stylish izakaya bar. At 11 each night, the bar serves a special ramen menu until close; it’s a great way to wrap up a night out.
Surprise, it’s not Ninkasi! Or Oakshire, or any of the other breweries that make Eugene the most beer-oriented college town in the country. Agrarian is both a brewery and a hop farm, which makes it the best brewery to visit, as you can sit out wathcing the farm, sip ales, and see the farmhands bring in the hops used in the beer you’re drinking. Unsurprisingly, the style is Belgian farmhouse, with hefeweizens, wits, and dunkels.
Best cookie-delivery program
Most students know Dough Co. as a last-minute savior during an all-nighter, with calzones delivered straight to their home, still mouth-scorchingly hot. And while that certainly is the case, the best thing about Dough Co. is the cookies, buttery and delicious and baked to order, the paper under them transparent with grease by the time they make it to your home. The minimum $7.50 delivery means you have to order something like eight of them, but that just gives you an even greater sugar rush to power through your essay that’s due in five hours.
Best wine bar
The Oregon Wine LAB (Local Artisan Brands) is an urban winery home to William Rose Wines. The space is a chic renovated warehouse and serves William Rose by the glass, with a wide range of whites, reds, and rosé, including lesser-known varietals such as Muller Thurgau and Semillon. The bar also offers rotating glass pours from other local wineries, all appreciably priced at or below the $10 range, and even has a few beers on tap. While you can grab bites from the kitchen, there’s usually the excellent Da Nang food cart parked outside, cooking up delicious Vietnamese food.
The best damn restaurant in Eugene
Party Downtown is appropriately named -- you'll always have a good time here. Ethically sourced ingredients, creative but comfortable dishes, kick-ass cocktails made by the inimitable, both in name and skill, Thor Slaughter, and a casual ambience make for a spot that wouldn’t feel out of place in Portland, save for the prices. If you’re looking to splurge, the chef’s choice is only $55, and that’s drinks included. Party Downtown alone is worth the drive from Portland.
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