The Portland Food Bucket List: 50 Things You Need to Eat Before You Die
Every other day, somebody else discovers what we've known all along: that Portland is one of the best damn food cities in the country, with great bites (and probably a strip club and brewery) on every corner. There's so much great food, in fact, that it can be hard to forget to eat some of the icons. Fear not: we've compiled an essential list of Portland eats everybody should consume before they die… probably from eating all this stuff. We've really blown our resolution this year.
At Broder, everything from the Swedish hash to the Lost Eggs to the aquavit cocktails contributes to a first-rate Scandinavian menu, but no meal here is complete without ableskiver (Danish pancakes). Served with lemon butter and lingonberry jam, the warm, fluffy spheres are so much more than the sum of their batter.
2. Ike's Fish Sauce Wings
Now that Andy Ricker’s Thai street food-inspired dishes have made homes in New York and LA, Portlanders may feel that nativist urge to boycott Pok Pok as the de facto poster boy for the city’s influx of outsiders drawn to our artisanal ways. But even those mourning the loss of “Old Portland” don’t need to bite past the wings to understand why Ricker’s creations deserve national attention.
3. Deviled eggs
G&G has become a mainstay of Portland’s booming restaurant culture that emphasizes local ingredients and inventive Northwest fare at a reasonable price. Although the menu changes frequently, the deviled eggs, topped with boquerones (marinated Spanish anchovy fillets), never leave, and every day we thank the gods of land and sea for the ever-pleasing combination.
4. The Cheesus
Alberta Arts District
Offensive to some, intriguing to others, tasty to all, The Cheesus is a one-third-pound burger with grilled cheeses for a bun. That’s two grilled cheeses -- each filled with add-ons like grilled onions and pickles -- protecting your hands from the juicy patty but threatening to further clog your plaqued-out arteries. Oh, and you can eat it inside a retro double-decker bus.
Podnah’s is a forerunner of Portland’s obsession with reinventing Southern barbecue, and this place does it best by not messing with Texas-style pit methods. While all of the oak-smoked meats will help you realize your most carnivorous fantasies, the mere scent of the brisket will bring you to your knees, a slice of white bread in each hand, ready to receive the beefy labor of love.
6. Korean fried chicken
The 48-hour preparation for Boke’s Korean fried chicken is so intense that these par-smoked birds are offered only one night a week. Our advice: get a group of friends together to ravage this family-style chicken alongside kimchi and terrific steamed buns.
7. The chef's menu
For years, Chef Earl Ninsom has quietly been cooking up some of the city’s best Thai food -- well beyond pad Thai and deep into tradition -- at PaaDee. But with the opening of the chef-driven Langbaan, he’s honed it all into an experience and emerged with the chance to get one of the best central Thai meals you’ll ever eat. If you can get in. Word spread pretty quickly, so this might end up being your favorite meal… of 2018.
We at Thrillist will never stop obsessing over the handmade cured meats of Olympia Provisions. Here, it’s all about the craft, and we’re convinced that salumist Elias Cairo could stuff a casing with manure and still make a salami that tastes better than most.
9. Beefy stroganoff
Famed as a vegan strip club -- and one of the raunchiest anywhere -- Casa Diablo might be the most appropriate place to enjoy a surprisingly delicious plate of soy stroganoff to precede a good strokinoff (hey-o!). Please, leave the establishment before you perform the latter.
10. Pho Dac Biet
This hole in the wall has developed a long list of regulars, and all of us feel like we’ve stumbled upon a steaming bucket of pho at the end of the Sandy Blvd rainbow. The fragrant bone broth, a perfected classic, is what keeps us coming back.
11. Foie gras profiteroles
Don’t let the name fool you: these caramel-covered, salty desserts do not smell of liver or have any iron flavor. The foie gras is actually in the form of ice cream, and it’s sandwiched between two flaky profiteroles. These are all very good things. Better, in fact, than your pronunciation of profiteroles.
12. Crispy pork belly
A stylish rooftop bar and pan-Asian restaurant, Departure could get away with serving noodles boiled in used bath water and still be packed with well-coifed loungers basking in a late-summer sunset. But Chef Gregory Gourdet brings us expertly crafted plates like the crispy pork belly adorned with pickled cherries that are so palate-pleasing, you’ll forget to enjoy the skyline view.
Hawthorne (& other locations)
If you can get your hands on one of these hefty sacks of pork heaven, you’re in luck, because they go fast. Crunchy on the outside and gooey and fatty on the inside, this savory hunk of meat is topped with subtly tangy gremolata, caper mayo, arugula, and a nice helping of salty Parmesan. Don’t be distracted by one of Lardo’s other exquisite sounding sandwiches -- this is the one you didn’t even know you’ve been craving all these years.
14. Margarita pizza
Apizza Scholls has sat proudly on lists of the best pizza in the country for years, but we’re here to tell you that… well, nothing, really, because here it is on another list. For damn good reason. The New Haven-ish pies are perfect, but we recommend going with the simple margarita, mainly because it’s rare that the palette is just as beautiful as the painting that ends up on it.
15. Cointreau creme brûlée
Downtown (& other locations)
Forget about waiting in line for penis-shaped donuts and get in line for pipettes: Blue Star’s signature oddities would be just fine if they were just filled with house-made vanilla custard. But they’re impaled with a little plastic pipette filled with Cointreau syrup. Squeeze it in and savor donut science at its most Portlandian.
16. Dim sum
Boasting the best assortment of freshly steamed dim sum in Portland, HK’s got your hangover cure covered in the form of steamy pork buns, bamboo-wrapped chicken rice, and several different metamorphoses of fried shrimp balls. And if you bring enough people with you, the maitre d’ may even seat you at one of the tables with a very handy lazy Susan, so you don’t have to flag down a lady playing bumper cars with a dim sum cart just to get condiments.
Totchos may not officially be on the Florida Room’s menu, but if you’re nice enough to the bartenders, they may honor you with a mound of fried tots covered in cheese, beans, olives, guac, and sour cream… a combination that some believe was actually invented at Florida Room. Pro tip: Monday night is trivia night here, and everyone knows that totchos are brain food.
18. Oxtail croquettes
There’s a lot you’ll want to order off Toro Bravo’s laundry list of tapas, but this is the most drool-worthy of them all. These crispy oxtail-filled croquettes are topped with chili mayonnaise, providing a bit of a kick with all that savory oxtail crunch.
Sometimes you want to shake up brunch with something a little different, maybe even exotic compared to your basic French toast or eggs. For more adventurous brunch mornings, Tasty n Sons’ take on the classic Israeli dish, shakshuka, consisting of eggs baked in sweet, savory tomato sauce with merguez sausage and a side of freshly grilled bread that will satisfy your appetite and give you something to brag about. Because, face it, you’re in Portland, where bragging is just part of brunch.
Thick and crispy, the carnitas and extensive salsa bar here make up for the modest, fluorescent-lit, grocery store back room ambiance. In whatever form you choose your carnitas -- burrito, taco, quesadilla, bucket-o-meat™ -- carnitas as the protein of choice. Also, you do not want to make the amateur move of skimping on the salsa bar -- the avocado sauce is also the best in town, possibly the best outside Mexico. Oh, even more important: carnitas are not actually on the menu. You’re welcome.
21. Filet mignon
Not every town has its own cattle rancher-owned strip club that serves thick-cut $7 steaks, over 65 beers, and a few wines on tap. With that steak price, selection of beer, and four different stages, you could easily spend all day in this SE Portland joint, keeping yourself entertained and satiated without ever leaving the rack.
22. Khao man gai
Downtown (& other locations)
Poached chicken and rice, with a little thingy of broth. It seems like the simplest thing in the world. But thanks to food-cart superstar Nong, it’s anything but. In fact, her take on the obscure Thai street-food favorite is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and the stuff of legend.
23. Potted Judy cheese
Adam Sappington does wonders with everything from smoked steelhead to fried chicken and full-animal butchery specials. But this white trash-ish family recipe -- like pimento cheese, spiked with Budweiser and aged in the jar -- is essential with any meal.
24. Crispy pig ears
Alberta Arts District
A must-have when visiting Aviary, these crispy pig ears are not at all whatever freakish image you may have pictured in your head. Served with rice and garnished with cilantro and Thai basil, the crispy pork is as explosive in texture as it is in flavor. Which is to say, prepare for sensory overload.
25. Combo plate
Anyone who claims that Portland has no distinct BBQ style has never sat down in the dingy digs of the Pig. The menu’s sparse, but it’s impossible to choose which smoked wonder to get. Should it be the perfect ribs? The smoked fried chicken, which marries the Colonel with bacon? The pork shoulder, with its brisket-y pink rings? The answer is yes. Get the combo plate and get them all.
26. Whatever you're told
Naomi Pomeroy has ascended to the heights of celebrity chef-dom, But even before she was a familiar face, her prix fixe feasts were an essential Portland experience. What you’ll get is up in the air, but expect charcuterie. Expect piles of lovingly prepared meat and fresh veggies. And pray for the signature foie gras bon bon.
27. Beef tartare
They might as well just call it sashimi ‘cause this beef tartare is as delicate as anything you’d get by calling omakase. It's salty, olive oily, and velvety on the tongue -- the French knew what they were up to when they came up with this genius dish. And the in-house butchers over at Old Salt Marketplace took that genius to the next level.
28. Ribeye and chowder
Greg and Gabby Denton’s house of Argentinean meat is the best thing to happen to steak in the PNW since the Acropolis. Except, you know, everybody’s fully clothed and the food’s really, really great. Indulge and get the ultimate surf/turf combo: a 36oz ribeye and a bowl of the clam chowder that houses smoked marrow bones. You’ll smell like meat when you leave. You’ll be grateful.
29. Rabbit in a Clay Pot
At the Russian hotspot, the zakuski (small bites) menu and pelmeni are the most popular, and rightfully so considering the artful and playful dishes like Herring Under a Fur Coat. But they also overshadow the entrees, of which the garlic-bathed Rabbit in a Clay Pot -- a saucy hindquarter spruced up with cherries -- is the best. Still get the zakuski. Split the rabbit.
30. Vietnamese tumeric noodles
My mom always said that sure signs of good Vietnamese noodle soup are the variety of floating accouterments and the soup color. Let’s just say that HA VL’s shrimp cake-jammed, golden turmeric soup -- garnished with peanuts, rice crackers, and various ground meats -- would make my mom very proud.
31. Pork belly Cubano
Transplants, you won’t be in Portland long before someone forces you to devour a pork belly Cubano, and this person will suddenly become your best friend for life. Or will it be the sandwich itself that you helplessly befriend? No time to ponder such questions, just order another one to go.
32. Fried chicken
There are a lot of great fried chicken places in this town, but Reel M Inn is the stuff of legend. Yeah, you’ll have to wait one to two hours if you come here during prime dinner time, and there are only a handful of tables, and it can get pretty rowdy seeing as it’s primarily a dive bar. But with that full disclosure in mind, get yourself over to Reel M Inn before they turn this diamond in the rough into a yuppie apartment complex with tenant-only happy hours and communal pingpong tables. (Please, please don’t ever let that happen… this place is the best.)
33. Fish & chips
At the risk of angering Queen and country, one of Portland’s mightiest beer bars also makes a fish & chips that tops its UK forefathers, with thick hunks of halibut dunked in a thick beer batter. And you don’t even get newsprint on your fingers when you eat it.
34. Iberico ham
Billed the world’s finest ham, the Iberico doesn’t come cheap. But it does come lovingly cut from an on-bar bone by folks specially trained to serve it. Spring for it. It’ll ruin honey-baked for life.
35. Roasted chicken
The simple roasted chicken is having a moment in Portland, and the best moment you can have with it is at our pick for the best new restaurant in Portland: it’s a whole bird, meant to share, but you might find youself fighting over the entire thing once the red kuri squash, spicy yogurt, pomegranate, and perfectly cooked meat hit your tongue. Save room for chocolate chip cookies. Or don’t. You can bring those home for your recovery.
36. Bistecca alla Fiorentina
OK, yes, we put this 1kg, 40-day dry-aged steak on the list because it’s ridiculous (and ridiculously good), but basically we’re just saying to eat at Nostrana more often, dammit. It’s Italian perfection. It has one of the best happy hours around. Can somebody just give Cathy Whims a damn Beard award already? Because there’s a reason she’s been nominated six times, making her the DiCaprio of the Portland restaurant scene.
37. The Reggie
We hate waiting for our food, yet we’ve stood in line many times to get our fix of Pine State’s fried chicken biscuit sandwiches. The no-frills Reggie is topped with bacon, cheese, and sausage gravy, making for the rare offering that both locals and tourists will continue bragging about having tasted.
38. The Slowburger
Long before the humble burger became a gourmet trend -- seriously, look at all these amazing newcomers -- this semi-divey OG of the Eastside Industrial scene was getting national attention for plopping a half pound of grade-A beef between brioche buns, then adding Gruyere, butter lettuce, and a fat onion ring. It’s so good that Slow Bar opened up a mini-restaurant just to focus on it. We prefer it chased by a Tijuana Speedball at the place of its birth.
Long before izakayas were popular, and before most Americans considered the possibility of spending more than 25 cents for a bowl of ramen, Biwa was serving up the best bowl of shoyu in town. It still does.
40. Korean BBQ
Why go to Beaverton? Well, there’s a mall. And, um, a Five Guys. Oh, and also Oregon’s answer to LA’s Koreatown. DJK is the most authentic, and best, KBBQ experience in the state, done unpretentiously and without making you feel like an idiot for not knowing how to cook bulgogi at your table without a side of third-degree burns.
41. Baked stuffed trout
You want some overcomplicated, crazy-ass Italian food? Well, you won’t get it in this tiny little Kearns spot, which is about as close as you’ll get to the Lady & the Tramp experience in town. The trout comes stuffed with herbs. That’s it. And it’s incredible.
42. General Tso chicken sandwich
Johanna Wares is one of Portland’s most inventive chefs, rightly praised for taking Asian concepts and warping them to her whims. By all means, listen to everybody and get the fried kale. As a side for the General Tso chicken sandwich. Simply turning the generic, sticky, Americanized staple into something good is a task unto itself. Transforming it into a delicately layered, perfectly lowbrow sandwich is something else, and making it a standout on a menu, where most items would individually be the stars at any other restaurant is a triumph. Let’s hope it becomes a mainstay.
43. Hardcore Omakase
You have to move pretty fast to get tickets to Nodoguro’s “hardcore” sushi nights, but when a chef named Ryan Roadhouse promises something hardcore, well, you listen to him. Mainly because he knows pain don’t hurt, and he takes great pains to find the freshest, most unlikely fish. Nights are themed, and you never know what you’re going to get. Don’t worry. Trust the master.
44. Bavette frites
More tender than your lonely heart on Valentine’s Day, Laurelhurst’s steak frites fulfill both your meat hunger pangs and your salt cravings. And hey, what’s so different from a perfectly cooked piece of meat and a Valentine’s Day date anyhow? Speaking of which, Laurelhurst is also a very romantic spot, pulling out all the stops with candles and white napkins and all that mushy, fancy stuff. Basically, your date won’t see the meat juice running down your mouth in the candlelight.
45. Brunch buffet
You’ll notice that there aren’t so many brunch picks here. That’s mainly because there are far too many similar places doing variations of the Portland experience, which generally means waiting in line for expensive eggs. Here, the experience is that you don’t feel like you’re in Portland at all. No, it feels like you’re on a cruise ship. Or at a fancy maritime-themed casino, grazing on fresh, delicious seafood. The summer patio seating is clutch. But regardless of when you go, you’ll feel like you’re on vacation.
46. Buttermilk fried rabbit sandwich
Juicer and more flavorful than your standard fried chicken, the buttermilk fried rabbit sandwich at Downtown Portland’s Raven & Rose is just what you need to spruce up your bland, stucco-infused workday. Served with marinated sweet pickles in a toasty, fresh Fleur de Lis ciabatta roll, this sandwich is one of a kind.
47. Seven-course chef's tasting menu
Yeah, it’s expensive. But sometimes, you treat yourself. And when you do, it’s nice to have an onslaught of raw, shelled, and finned seafood thrust at you by one of the region’s best and most discerning seafood chefs, in a secret-feeling spot located in the back of his also-great Block and Tackle. Should you spring for the caviar service? Of course you should. You deserve it.
48. Oyster hour
The Northwest boasts the best oysters in the country -- sorry, Northeast -- and The Woodsman Tavern takes full advantage by bringing us the briniest hour in Portland: $2 bivalve delights straight out of the Pacific, shucked to order. Slurp, swallow, repeat.
49. Boudin noir
One of the most meticulous chefs in town, Aaron Barnett makes every thing from scratch, using old-school methods often ditched because they take too much care. So, yeah, this blood sausage goes with the cliché of being made with that extra ingredient of love. Also, blood.
50. Stan's Meat Plate
Creamy, nutty, and in its own league, Imperial knows how to cure its own meats and put together a top-notch, best-in-show meat plate. In a town so obsessed with charcuterie, that’s really saying something. Pair it with a $5 Vieux Carré on tap at happy hour.
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Thrillist senior editor Andy Kryza contributed to this report, then also quit the gym.