Long before much of the rest of the country cared about where their meat, vegetables, or beer came from, there was Portland, Oregon. This city has long supported everything from global food carts to gourmet donut shops, but the food scene here has become much more than just a novelty and Portland is now one of the most interesting places in the country to eat.
With so many options though, deciding where to pay up for a nice dinner or even grab a quick lunch can be quite the dilemma, even for longtime locals. So we’ve compiled our favorite spots in all five quadrants to go for everything from Peruvian and Korean, to pizza, pasta, and vegetarian food. We’ve only scratched the surface here, but this is a great start for the next time you’re in Portland.
The New-ish spots everyone's talking about
If you only have one night in town, this North Portland Thai barbecue spot is worth the (inevitable) wait. They don’t take reservations, but just make a night of it by having a drink in the bar area first, or by heading to The Box down the street for a cocktail in the meantime. The menu is full of hybrid dishes, like burnt-end brisket curry and baby-back ribs with Thai pickles, and “vacation drinks,” which you’ll realize are just tiki drinks once you see the ceramic blowfish they come in and mini-umbrellas.
This wine bar has quickly become a local favorite, and if you’re in the Hawthorne District alternately debating buying a vintage seafoam-green couch and wondering how you would ever ship it home, be sure to stop in for some small plates and a glass or two of wine. You’ll find a lot of Asian ingredients throughout the menu, like Szechuan peppercorn in the fried chicken batter, sansho garnishing oysters, and XO sauce on the turnips, and there’s a big focus on natural wine here. They manage to keep the wine list from being too serious though, with $3 “bumps,” or shots, of wine, and headings like “Sierra Foothills Natural Wine Because Sometimes California Doesn’t Suck.”
Despite Portland being located near multiple bodies of water, the city isn’t really known for its seafood, or for high-end sushi. Then Nimblefish opened and changed things. Between imported ingredients like saba mackerel that’s cured in-house, the use of local shellfish, and the perfectly cooked and seasoned rice, this Hawthorne spot serves some truly excellent sushi. The menu is focused on nigiri, hand rolls, and sashimi, though there are two omakase options for $65 or $90 that are great for a special night. The small space is just a sushi bar and a long communal table (make sure you ask to sit at the bar) and they don’t take reservations, but once you put your name down, you can head to Ok Omens down the street to wait.
If you only have one weekend morning in Portland, spend it at Canard for one of the best brunches in the city. This small spot is from the same team as Le Pigeon (more on that later) and manages to strike a balance between upscale French food and what you crave when last night’s “just one drink” turned into about four. That means things like the duck stack - pancakes topped with a duck egg, smothered with gravy, and topped with an optional slice of foie gras - and a Ham Jam sandwich with prosciutto, goat cheese butter, and jam. Though if you can’t make it for brunch or the wait is a bit too long, they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and have one of our favorite Happy Hours where mini steam burgers and select cans of beer are just $3.
There are plenty of places in Portland where we’d suggest you pay a lot of money for an incredible meal. Thankfully, there are also spots serving really good food and not charging the equivalent of a washer-dryer set, and Casa Zoraya is one of the best. This casual Peruvian spot serves creative takes on things like ceviche and lomo saltado that we like a lot, and the best way to keep the bill down is to come with a few people and split a bunch of dishes.
There are a few things you can count on when you eat at Kachka: the room will be lively, a fishtank’s worth of vodka will get passed around, and you’ll be amazed at how good the Belarusian food is. The menu at this Southeast spot comes from the chef’s mother’s recipes and some of our favorites include the pan-fried dumplings, borsch, and Herring Under a Fur Coat, a very colorful seven-layer salad. They also have a wide variety of infused vodkas, which you can get in a cocktail or just take shots of with the table next to you. This is one of our favorite spots in Portland and if you’re looking for a place to start a night out with some interesting food and strong drinks, definitely come here.
If you want a spot to splurge a bit, whether it’s for an anniversary dinner or to celebrate having a free seat next to you on your flight with no turbulence, go to Le Pigeon. This East Burnside restaurant serves some of the best French food in the city, but with bare brick walls, communal tables, and a tiny open kitchen, it never feels stuffy. Along with classics like beef cheek bourguignon and duck à l’orange, make sure to order the foie gras profiteroles with caramel for dessert.
Beast is a tiny, 24-seat spot that feels more like a high-end dinner party than an actual restaurant. They serve a six-course, prix-fixe menu twice nightly, four days a week that changes every two weeks based on what’s available and in season. Don’t feel like you have to memorize that SAT question of a sentence, just plan to come and eat some incredible food. The variety of dishes and the experience of eating at large communal tables with strangers make this North Portland restaurant an incredibly unique experience.
Since 2006, Pok Pok has grown from a grilled chicken stand into a small empire of Thai restaurants, with four locations in Portland. The original spot on Division is still our favorite though, because the food is consistently great and because you can go to Salt & Straw next door for dessert. There’s always a wait, but grab a cocktail across the street at Whiskey Soda Lounge and use that time to plan your order, which should definitely include the fish sauce wings and khao soi. While Pok Pok isn’t a new spot anymore, it’s still a can’t miss for anyone’s first trip to Portland.
This Division Street Italian restaurant mills their own flour on-site for their five daily pastas, has one of the longest wine lists in Portland, and has all the plants and hanging lights you could want for a dinner where you plan on staring into someone’s eyes for long periods of time. Though if you want to have a really big night and try even more of the menu, go for the family-style option, which includes a customized menu for $79 per person.
Long before every spot in town was focused on whole animal butchery and obsessing about local produce, Paley’s Place was at it in a Victorian house in Northwest Portland. More than two decades later, this local institution is still doing great things. Nothing about the place screams hip - the chairs have backs and no reclaimed wood or succulents are present - but it doesn’t have to. It’s a comfortable place to eat some really good food, and it works just as well for a special occasion as it does for a calm dinner after a long day spent sampling a bit of “New Portland.”
Nostrana has been around for more than a decade, which makes this Southeast spot a wise elder of Portland’s Italian restaurants. They serve great pasta and Neapolitan pizza so thin that you have to cut it with scissors and have a pretty extensive wine list. Though if you’re more in the “I like wine, but don’t know much about it” camp, the super friendly staff will be happy to suggest a glass or bottle to try. If you can’t make it to Nostrana for dinner, stop by for their nightly Happy Hour at 9pm instead, with pizzas under $10 and $6 house wine.
No city in the US is home to more great and weird donut shops than Portland, but Blue Star stands above the rest. This local chain has eight locations around town, so you’re never too far from a donut break when you need one. They serve classic flavors, like PB and J, alongside their more unique combinations, like horchata glazed and blueberry bourbon basil, so there’s something for everyone. Stop by the Northwest 23rd location when you need a shopping break or a mid-day sugar boost. There will definitely be a line but it’s always worth it.
People routinely line up in January, in the rain, to eat Salt & Straw’s ice cream and yes, it really is that good. They make the most popular ice cream in the city and work with local candy makers and bakers on seasonal flavors that will make you wonder how you can start pairing ingredients like rose petals and molé in your daily life. However, their classic flavors, like pear and blue cheese, are just as interesting and definitely worth trying too. They have four locations around the city, but we like the original on Alberta since you can walk around the nearby Arts District while you enjoy a scoop or two.
If someone blindfolded you and took you to Langbaan, you’d probably think you were in some high-end luxury hotel after trying the food. But when you open your eyes and see the lightbulbs in birdcages and small space with wooden tables, you’ll wonder A) where your friend found a blindfold and B) how quickly you can plan another trip to Portland just to eat here again. The multi-course meals change seasonally and use local ingredients in traditional Thai dishes like Khai Thoon Puu, an egg custard with Dungeness crab, fried enoki, and garlic oil. If you want to eat here, you’ll have to plan pretty far ahead, though if you can’t manage to get a reservation, put yourself on the waitlist and spots usually open up.
Located in a hidden courtyard off Sandy Boulevard, Han Oak serves upscale Korean food inside a beautifully refurbished, open garage. All of the seating is at large communal tables, which - along with the backyard - gives this place a very cool, indoor-outdoor dinner party feel. The whole menu is great, but make sure to order the crispy fried chicken wings and pork and kimchi dumplings to start. Han Oak is super popular and reservations fill up more than a month in advance, but if you want to test your luck, they do save a few seats for walk-ins each night.
This small, Inner Northeast restaurant serves a long list of traditional Spanish dishes, from single bites of bacon wrapped dates to larger dishes like lamb chops a la plancha. We’d strongly recommend the chef’s tasting menu, which includes more than 10 courses and is only $50 per person. Just make sure you plan ahead, this spot usually has a wait for dinner.
Renata is a super popular Eastside Italian restaurant that serves handmade pasta and wood-fired pizza, and has an extensive wine list. If you come with a group, definitely make a reservation and try to sit outside on the patio where you can drink an Aperol spritz and be reminded of how nice Portland is when it’s sunny out. If you’re eating solo or you’re there during a colder month, head to the bar instead. You can still order a few different pizzas, along with cacio e pepe and spaghetti bolognese.
Sure, there are plenty of jokes to be made about how seriously Portland takes its produce, but once you eat at Tusk, you’ll find yourself legitimately curious about farmers and soil content if only to find out how it’s possible for the plate of vegetables in front of you to taste so good. This Middle Eastern/Mediterranean spot on East Burnside serves colorful plates of vegetables, fruits, and grains, along with really great hummus and other dips you’ll want to eat with their homemade flatbread. If you need some extra protein, you can add grilled chicken or lamb and pork skewers to round things out. Besides the great food, Tusk also serves interesting cocktails with ingredients like rose, yogurt, and cardamom.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Ox is the smell of grilled meat coming from the huge wood-fired grill. This Inner Northeast Argentinian restaurant is definitely protein heavy, but you can balance out your meat intake with some ceviche and baked ricotta. This place also serves both small and large portions of many of their most popular grilled dishes, meaning that Ox is just as great for a date as it is a group dinner.
Bollywood Theater in Alberta is an excellent Indian restaurant that serves a mix of classic curries, along with regional street food dishes and thali meals. The entire menu is great, but we like to start with some of the street food dishes, like the kati roll and dahi papri chaat, before splitting some small plates and one of the thali sets. Combined with the Indian-influenced cocktails and laid-back feel, this is a great spot for a casual dinner or to start a night out exploring the Alberta Arts District.
Monday night pizza at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, the most beloved bakery in Portland, became so popular that Ken decided to open a new restaurant devoted entirely to the wood-fired, thin-crust pies. The result is Ken’s Artisan Pizza in Southeast, which serves a rotating menu of classic and seasonal pizzas, along with some excellent desserts. It’s always busy, but there’s usually somewhere to sit down outside and have a glass of wine while you wait, which is our preferred way to prepare for pizza anyway.
There are endless brunch options in Portland, but when you’re looking for Southern classics and a cocktail, head to Screen Door on East Burnside. The entire menu is great, from the shrimp and grits to the praline bacon, but they’re best known for their huge orders of fried chicken and sweet potato waffles. There’s always a wait, but just get a Bloody Mary in the meantime, or grab a coffee at Heart Roasters down the street, depending on what kind of morning you’re after.
Unlike basketball players attempting baseball careers and singer/songwriters trying out acting in Hallmark movies, Afuri manages to be excellent at a number of things. Their signature yuzu shio bowl is some of the best ramen in the city, but their menu also includes small plates, rolls, and sashimi - all of which we like a lot. Plus, they have vegan options like the Hazelnut Tantanmen, with a miso base flavored with the local nut, plus vegetables, and miso-cashew crumbles. It’s all served in a super modern and sleek space that’s just as great for a solo dinner at the bar as it is for a group of people who reject the premise that soups can’t be shared.
We’re all creatures of habit sometimes - we listen to the same playlist on every flight and always lather and rinse, but never repeat. Rose VL Deli, a Vietnamese spot in Foster-Powell, is where you should go to break out of your routine. Go early during the week (they often sell out) to try one of their daily changing specials, things like Bún Chả Ốc - sliced snail meatball, lemongrass, sliced pork, tofu, tomatoes, with vermicelli noodles in pork broth - or Bún Chanh Dây, with passion fruit, shrimp, squid, tofu, tomatoes, pineapple, taro stems, rice noodles, and pork broth.
While there’s no Pacific Northwest-style, there are still plenty of places to eat barbecue around Portland. Our favorite is Podnah’s Pit on Killingsworth, which serves all the greatest hits along with classic sides, like coleslaw, collard greens, potato salad, and black-eyed peas, plus lots of cornbread. And if you want to try a bit of everything, order The Pitboss, which comes with three meats, a sausage link, two sides, and cornbread.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai started off as a simple food truck that served Thai-style chicken and rice, which very quickly became a local lunch favorite. The original cart is still around downtown, but the Southeast brick-and-mortar location serves fun cocktails and additional dishes, like pork and rice and tofu in peanut sauce. If this is your first time though, just order the khao man gai, and make sure to add crispy fried chicken skins if they aren’t sold out yet.
If you’re in need of a mid-afternoon snack, head to Olympia Provisions in Southeast for some homemade charcuterie and a cheese board. This spot was the first of their many locations around Portland, and as soon as you walk in and see the pork cuts and sausages hanging from the ceiling, you’ll know you’re about to eat very well. They have a wide range of boards available throughout the day, along with great sandwiches like their beef tongue pastrami reuben and The Randy, with blue cheese, apples, and ham, for when you want to turn your afternoon snack into a proper meal.
Lardo is a downtown spot that serves excellent sandwiches and has a constantly rotating selection of regional and local beers. Their pork meatball banh mi is the most popular thing on the menu, but we’re also big fans of the griddled mortadella and the Pho’rench Dip, along with their Dirty Fries. If you have any room left and need something sweet afterward, grab a donut at Blue Star down the street.