We take you through Portland’s best food cart parks, distilleries, weird donuts, and more.
A long awaited arrival of Texas-meets-Oregon cooking
As far as hotly-anticipated restaurants in Portland go, Bullard is up there. From Chef Doug Adams, formerly of Imperial and The Woodsman Tavern, Bullard is a Texas-inspired restaurant that’s wildly indulgent but thoughtfully crafted. During lunch Bullard is essentially a meat-and-three, with smoked meats and fried chicken and very non-traditional sides like smoked eggplant or roasted turnips. In the evening, though, the restaurant truly shines with braised elk shoulder, slow-cooked beef ribs served with tortillas and lime, and a stunning “shrimp and grits” on a crispy block of polenta rather than the traditional style of grits.
Another killer entry in the Paley Portland Empire with Roman vibes
Chef Vitaly Paley, the man behind Paley’s Place, Imperial, and Headwaters, has added another hotel restaurant and bar to his list, this time with a heavy Italian influence brought in by executive chef Kenny Giambalvo. Upstairs in the airy bar area, guests can find pasta dishes like spaghetti carbonara and rigatoni puttanesca, but also dishes from across the Mediterranean and beyond, like mezze platters and chicken chkmeruli, a rich, garlicky Georgian chicken dish. One standout is the çiya style lamb meatballs, Turkish meatballs with sumac and sour cherries, which pair nicely with the fun cocktail menu. In the basement dining room things get a bit more formal and Italian-centric, with reservation-only seating and plates of pasta and rich Italian meats.
Plant-filled Rooftop Taqueria and Agave Hall
Late 2018 brought La Neta to the Hoxton hotel in Chinatown, and early 2019 saw the opening of its upstairs bar, Tope. Like the downstairs, Tope specializes in Mexican cuisine, but with a much more casual vibe. Tacos are the star here, from meaty tacos like lamb, carne asada, and lengua, to vegetarian options like cauliflower. There are also a number of fun sides and dishes like a sonoran hot dog topped with bacon and a nacho caesar salad. All of this is paired with a list of agave cocktails, served in a gorgeous, plant-filled space with a view of downtown and the river.
Mac & cheese pick-up window with ridiculous food combos
As far as comfort food goes, macaroni and cheese is pretty damn hard to beat, and that’s exactly what California transplant Mac’d serves. The pickup/delivery-only window (with some outdoor seating) specializes in build-your-own mac bowls: customers start with elbows or shells (or gluten free cauliflower), then add from a choice of cheese sauces, mix-ins, toppings, and sides. It’s easy to go basic with a cheddar-jack cheese mix and maybe some chicken and roasted broccoli, or things can get wild: How about Buffalo sauce mac & cheese with hot dogs, Korean short ribs, and hot Cheetos? Or vegan cheese sauce with a pile of vegetables and truffle oil for a healthier option? In any case, it’s comfort food at its most classic.
Powerhouse collaboration with thai BBQ and tropical drinks
Opened on New Years Eve to busy crowds, EEM brings together two of Portland’s hottest chefs and one of its top bartenders for a powerhouse collaboration. Earl Ninsom, the restaurateur behind some of the city’s best Thai food spots: Hat Yai, Paadee, and Langbaan, and Matt Vicedomini of the eponymous Matt’s BBQ food cart team up to smoke and spice brisket and short ribs, vegetables and mackerel. The cuisine combines their two passions with dishes like a decadent burnt-end curry and chopped BBQ fried rice. Meanwhile, bartender Eric Nelson puts out “vacation drinks,” well-balanced tropical cocktails flavors bold enough to stand up to the food. There’s also a sizeable list of non-alcoholic drinks, speaking to the growing trend of healthier restaurant living the city is seeing.
An Iconic Portland Brunch Spot Reborn
Tasty n Sons, the global small-plates restaurant that helped launch the stereotype of long Portland brunch lines is no more. Long live Tasty n Daughters, its new incarnation in SE Portland in the former home to the Woodsman Tavern. The menu isn’t too different from its last, but the changes are all improvements: Turkish dishes, inspired by the owners’ recent trips to the country, dot the selection, and a pasta maker means an array of fresh pastas. Of course, items like the shakshuka and the Moroccan chicken hash aren’t going anywhere.
Glitzy and glam cocktail bar with bold Southeast Asian cooking
The Pearl District’s newest cocktail bar, Pink Rabbit specializes in bold, fun, sometimes zany cocktails in its glammy retro space. But the food menu alone makes it a worthwhile destination, a sort of melange of Southeast Asian and more traditional American bar food. The nachos here are made with puffy beef-tendon chips topped with Thai chili cheese sauce and pickled peppers; the burger is made with oxtail and topped with a som tam slaw and fried shallot; and items like the bim bap bowl and kimchi fried rice are excellent for soaking up the wild libations. Its party-like, laid back atmosphere makes it a fun spot for to grab some noodles and a drink.
Meaty, elegant prix fixe dining at its best
Beast, Naomi Pomeroy’s ode to meaty fine-dining, was a pioneer of Portland prix fixe dining and finished out a decade in the city as strong as ever, with its signature French-influenced, Northwest cuisine served in a communal setting. The six-course meal, served twice a night most nights of the week, changes every two weeks and remains the highlight of the restaurant; it’s hard to say what guests will see on their plates, but usually a hearty pasta dish at some point in the evening and elegantly arranged local meats and vegetables made with creative aplomb. On Thursdays, guests have a bit more flexibility with walk-in four course meals with vegetarian options, and the prix fixe weekend brunch is one of the most indulgent in town. With any meal, getting the wine pairing is highly recommended, as is stopping across the street at sister bar Expatriate for a cocktail.
Bustling steakhouse and grill
Chef Vitaly Paley’s influence on the city and “Northwest dining” cannot be overstated, but it’s his bustling steakhouse and grill that might be his best location. The secret is in the roaring wood-fired grills that light the back side of the spacious restaurant, where chefs grill half chickens, flat irons, and rib-eyes. It also quietly boasts one of the city’s best fried chickens, served with local honey and housemade hot sauce, and a number of hearty vegetable dishes to balance things out. Happy hour sees a pretty killer flat-top burger and $5 vieux carres, making it a busy destination every day of the week.
Downtown, & Buckman
Chicken and rice absolutely perfected
Nong’s is perfection in simplicity. Nong Poonsukwattana’s impressive story took her from Bangkok to the US with just $70 in her pockets, to restaurant work, and then a food cart where she served Thai chicken and rice: Khao Man Gai. Today she has two brick-and-mortars, and at both of them the dish is seasoned and poached chicken served with rice, a light soup, cucumbers, and cilantro. You can get it with peanut sauce and broccoli if you like, or with tofu for vegetarians, but the original reigns supreme. It’s not only a defining dish for Nong, but one for the city.
Ladd’s Addition & Downtown
All the meat that matters, between two pieces of bread
Starting with the emergence of beloved Bunk, Portland has gone into the throes of sandwich shops, with joints like Meat Cheese Bread, Stacked, and Guero all bringing chef-y techniques and cramming them between two pieces of bread. But ever since transitioning from cart to restaurant in 2012, Lardo’s reigned supreme. Every meat in this place is made in-house, from the succulent porchetta to the hunk of ham that finds its way into the deep fryer (along with the dirty fries). Sandwiches here rotate as often as the beer selection, with mainstays like the bahn mi and the mortadella sharing chalkboard space with goods like the Nashville fried chicken and a monthly sandwich by a famous chef from town. It’s one of the best sandwich shops in America, and has been since the day it opened.
Fresh, seasonal kitchen with killer cookies
Gathering national recognition and a number of culinary awards and nominations, the family-owned Coquine is a testament to Northwestern ingredients and style that's firmly rooted in French and old-world cooking. It’s possible, and tempting, to eat at Coquine for all three meals of the day, starting with its gorgeous pastries for breakfast, beautifully crafted sandwiches, soups, and salads for lunch, and the the transcendent roasted chicken chicken dish for dinner -- all of which will change seasonally, sometimes day-to-day. Don’t skip the chocolate chip cookies with smoked almonds and caramel, which the restaurant sells by the single or dozen, and even ships to other states.
The true king of Neapolitan pizza
The debate about who serves the best Neapolitan-style pizza in town has raged for years, and it often comes down to Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Apizza Scholls. Both are great, but Ken’s is unbeatable with its thin, wood-fired, oven-baked pizzas, dolloped with imported cheeses and topped with high-quality meats. Plus, it now sports a full cocktail bar, along with its already impressive wine list. Just be sure to add a heaping pile of arugula to any pizza you get.
Texas-style brisket and sausage served truckside
This North Portland-based BBQ food truck is open seven days a week from 11am until 7pm (or until it sells out of its Texas-style smoked meats, and it always sells out) at the Prost! Marketplace food cart pod. Matt Vicedomini is an unexpected character to be making Portland’s best Texas-style ribs and brisket, as the Long Islander worked at Michelin restaurants in New York before studying barbecue in Australia of all places, but there’s no denying the quality. While the pork ribs and beef brisket are the star of the show, a la carte or on a bun, his sausage shouldn’t be passed over either. You’ll want to get The Whole Shebang for $20, which is each of his meats and all the sides.
Portland's most traditional, venerable steakhouse
Portland’s historic steakhouse is still one of its best, a sliver of old-school, fine-dining charm in a constantly evolving food scene. The dark, warm interior still boasts white tablecloths and formally dressed servers, the latter of which present the thick, juicy steaks with well-practiced aplomb. The in-house, dry-aged steaks are the star here, but their ridiculously affordable happy hour menus mean anyone can come in for a bite; there’s also a $35 three-course prime rib dinner on Monday evenings. The steakhouse also quietly carries one of the best vintage wine collections in the city, if not the country.
Russian dumpling powerhouse
“Get the dumplings” is something you’ll hear when you announce you’re going to Russian restaurant Kachka. It’s the right move, too, as the beef, pork, veal, and onion dumplings are one of Portland’s most treasured culinary items, as are the tvorog vareniki dumplings with scallions and goat cheese. That being said, basically everything on the menu at Kachka is delicious, with signature dishes like rabbit in a clay pot (exactly what it sounds like) or Herring Under a Fur Coat, a Russian-style, seven-layer dip. A new, larger space also opened the restaurant up for lunch service and a larger dinner menu (the vodka's still here), while the old space became Kachinka, where those in a rush -- or without a reservation for Kachka -- can graze on drinking snacks, dumplings, sausages, and (Vladimir) poutine while practically bathing in vodka. As with Kachka, get the dumplings.
Buckman and Downtown
Japan’s #1 Portland export
Portland didn’t use to have the plethora of ramen restaurants it has now. And as such, we’re positively rife with Japanese noodle joints, many of them ranking good-to-great. Marukin, though, stands apart: An import straight from Japan, the counter service restaurant serves its sizable bowls of creamy broth and freshly made noodles for around $11 each. If it has a downside, it’s that the vegan bowls aren’t as remarkable as the ones with pork belly and egg, but for those that eat meat, it’s hard to find a better ramen spot in town. Plus there are two locations, one on Alder and one in Pine Street Market.
Temple to foie gras and indulgences
It’s safe to say that Gabriel Rucker helped put Portland on the map with his flagship restaurant Le Pigeon (which is pronounced as Americanly as possible). A house of decadence, the tiny, brick-lined restaurant is never empty, as guests pile in to try the rich, modern, French-inspired tasting menus. It’s probably most famous for introducing Portland to the wonders of foie gras: While it was not alien to the city, Rucker’s use of it bordered on arcane, especially with the foie gras profiteroles for dessert. The little puff pastries sandwiching foie gras ice cream became synonymous with the restaurant, and an icon of Portland’s culinary world.
Modern eatery with old-school Italian food
Portland has a lot of great Italian food, but Cathy Whims’ ode to country dining is pretty damn hard to beat. Whether it’s the crispy, uncut pizzas coming out of the massive stone oven, the deceptively simple tomato-butter sauce spaghetti, or rosemary-seasoned steaks, the dishes here transport diners from Southeast Portland to the Italian countryside. Thursdays are the best day to visit, when the pasta dishes are replaced by delicate housemade gnocchi, the best delivery system for that tomato-butter sauce. Recently, the lauded chef also opened Enoteca Nostrana right next door, a modern wine bar offering playful takes on Nostrana’s iconic Italian fare like a build-your-own pasta dish or a burrata with seasonal fruit. With the one-two punch, Whims has basically turned her little corner of Buckman into Little Italy.
Simply fancy-ass Mexican food
Any Californian or Texan moving to Portland will opine the common testament that “Portland has no good Mexican food.” What they really mean is “Portland doesn’t have good, cheap tacos,” which is arguable, but it’s also not the only kind of Mexican food out there. Xico serves exemplary high-end, casual Mexican cuisine with fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. Find dishes like enchiladas, mollete, gorditas, and more, along with mezcal, tequila, and even Mexican wines.
Fried chicken and curry from Thailand
Chef Earl Ninsom of praised Thai restaurants Langbaan and PaaDee proves he can run a casual counter-service restaurant without compromising quality. The southern Thai-style fried chicken is the focus here. Served best as a combo plate with sticky rice, rich curry, and roti (pan-fried bread), the chicken is aromatic and juicy with a thin but crunchy layer of well-spiced breading. For a truly indulgent experience, mix up a little bit of everything in the curry and wrap it in a piece of roti. Wash it down with a sip of Tamarind Whiskey Smash.
PSU, Downtown, & Buckman
Chicken and rice absolutely perfected
Nong’s is perfection in simplicity. Nong Poonsukwattana’s impressive story took her from Bangkok to the US with just $70 in her pockets, to restaurant work, and then a food cart where she served Thai chicken and rice: Khao Man Gai. Today she has a food cart and two brick-and-mortars. At all of them, the dish is seasoned and poached chicken served with rice, a light soup, cucumbers, and cilantro. You can get it with peanut sauce and broccoli if you like, or with tofu for vegetarians, but the original reigns supreme. It’s not only a defining dish for Nong, but one for the city.
Historic home to roast turkey dinners and pyrotechnic bartending
Allegedly Portland’s oldest restaurant and birthplace of the Spanish Coffee (ALLEGEDLY), Huber’s has been serving its coffee and roasted turkey since 1879, and has remained primarily owned by the Louie family, originally Chinese immigrants, for most of its lauded history. There’s even a story of Jim Louie, the patriarch of the family, serving guests from his rowboat after the restaurant was flooded in the late 19th century. Today, the arched, wood-paneled dining hall remains an institution. Order some perfectly roasted turkey, either as a sandwich or a full turkey dinner, and don’t miss the famous Spanish coffee, which is made tableside with plenty of pyrotechnics.
Hip prix fixe menu and stylish bar
Nomad.PDX has long given up its nomadic roots in exchange for a beautiful, spacious building filled with plants and exposed brick. The multi-course tasting menu varies from day to day, based on seasonality and availability of ingredients, and is always a bold, striking exploration of food and its source. It’s also got the stylish and sexy Ash Bar attached, where you can find a la carte items, cocktails, and wine.
Portland’s ultimate pizza darling
An industry darling, Pizza Jerk repeatedly proves that no pizza concept is too absurd for Tommy Habetz, the man behind Bunk Sandwiches, to pull off. It’s a truly Portland pizza spot, in that it’s inventive, laid back, boasts just enough pretension, and is a lot of fun. It’s also just really, truly good pizza. Happily, a new location in the SE Buckman neighborhood opened last year, providing late-night pizza options for the bar crawlers.
An acclaimed seafood restaurant, bar, and institution
Not much younger than Huber’s, Jake’s Famous Crawfish wears its age proudly. Servers are decked out in white jackets -- a rarity in a city that usually sees more tattoos on its servers than dress shirts. A long wooden bar with brass railings dominates the room, and the high walls are lined with vintage paintings. The food hasn’t changed much in the 100-plus years of its business either: Enjoy cedar-roasted salmon, whole dungeness crab, seafood pasta, bouillabaisse, and, of course, prominent crawfish.
Fried oysters and other seafood in what feels like a ship
A family-owned restaurant dating back to 1919, Dan and Louis Oyster Bar is, unsurprisingly, a seafood restaurant housed in a room that looks like the interior of a wooden ship. Essentially a fish and chips shop, it distinguishes itself by serving crispy, golden shellfish. Shrimp, oysters, and clams all get breaded and deep-fried, though more traditional diners can opt for the classic cod fish & chips. For those skipping fried food, the other signature dish is the oyster stew, a warm, rich, buttery stew that’s perfect in winter time.