We take you through Portland’s best food cart parks, distilleries, weird donuts, and more.
Le Pigeon’s casual wine bar side piece
Le Pigeon is often considered to be one of the best restaurants -- if not the best restaurant -- in Portland (which is why you can read all about it in the second part of this article). But with that standing comes long lines and high prices. Luckily, curious diners can now enjoy chef Gabe Rucker’s foie-happy French food in a more accessible environment, right next door. Canard feels as though you’ve stepped off of Burnside and into a Parisian cafe with its marble bar tops and cozy booths. Try foie dumplings and foie-washed bourbon, delicate steamed burgers, amazing crispy fried chicken wings, and geeky-yet-affordable wines poured by the glass.
Bold, avant-garde dining and cocktails
The Holdfast dinner program and its attached bar Deadshot have moved into a new space and completely revamped their dining model. Hidden in the back with multiple seatings a night, Holdfast delivers an experimental, primal dining experience full of bold and creative dishes. Deadshot used to be a Mondays-only affair, but is now operating seven nights a week and serving up some of the most inventive cocktails in town (like a clarified daiquiri, a cabbage-infused aquavit cocktail, and a whiskey sour with mustard and sesame) alongside pig ear nachos and colorful pickled eggs.
Incredibly tasty Georgian snacks
Kargi GoGo serves Georgian food -- the country, not the state, so don’t expect country ham. The cozy, whitewashed space serves a limited menu focused on two major dishes: Khachapuri (a cheesy egg-bread) and khinkali (little, twisted dumplings filled with a variety of fare for both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike). The restaurant fills out the menu with a variety of sides and sauces, most of which are vegan and gluten-free.
Chinese breakfast that’s not dim sum
Portland is slowly edging its way towards having a really legitimate Chinese dining scene, with help from places like Duck House and Bing Mi. Master Kong is the newest venue to assist in the movement, serving Chinese breakfast and lunch to an already impressive crowd. The wood-floored space is sleek and modern, and you’ll find a delicious array of fare from the Tianjin and Guangdong regions of China, including congee, jian bing, and goubuli buns (fluffy Chinese dumplings filled with ground pork and herbs).
A la carte offerings of one of Portland’s top tasting menus
OK Omens is the casual wine bar counterpart to Castagna, one of the city’s most lauded tasting menus. Rather than a $125 menu of esoteric, modernist dishes, OK Omens offers more accessible but no less thoughtful dishes meant to pair with its ridiculously affordable, high-end wines. Try pairing an Austrian riesling with the buttermilk fried chicken with hot sour cream, or a vintage California syrah with burnt beets and steak tartare, or just go for plate after plate of the beignets filled with Tillamook cheddar. And while the famous Cafe Castagna burger is no more, the current burger, served with a side of smoked beef fat remoulade fries, is a solid replacement.
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, Shut Up and Eat, 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.
The Spanish brunch that started it all
Any of Portland star chef John Gorham's restaurants -- tapas spot Toro Bravo, Israeli comfort zone Shalom Y'all, steakhouse Tasty N Alder, even Carolina-style burger joint Bless Your Heart -- wouldn't be out of place on this list. But if we had to pick one Gorham joint, it'd have to this sunny Mississippi spot, one of the few Portland brunches that's worth waiting for. Have you noticed how shakshuka is everywhere now? Tasty more or less popularized it for the Insta generation, making a superlative version that you'd do well to gussy up with house merguez. The happy hour is one of the city's best, and when the place transitions to dinner, the onslaught of small plates -- duck succotash, cedar-planked salmon, Alabama-style BBQ chicken, fancy White Castle-style sliders with house American cheese -- is a thing to behold. Still, if you're only gonna brunch once in Portland, make it here. And if you're gonna brunch twice, well, maybe make two trips.
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.
An iconic Portland dive with delicious burgers
It’s arguable whether or not The Sandy Hut, affectionately known as the Handy Slut, is still an authentic dive bar or not. What is inarguable, though, is the bar’s enduring popularity, especially amongst locals and Portland natives. Despite its 90-year-old history, the bar rocks a '70s vibe, with its golden-paneled walls and brown leather booths and stools. Dark and iconic, it’s generally packed from the early morning -- when it serves breakfast -- late into the evening, with plenty of tiki drinks, draught beers, and juicy bar burgers served all day. It’s also home to a 1930s Al Hirschfeld mural, one of the last of its kind.
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 up this 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.