With a high concentration of serious chefs creating playful, accessible cuisine, not to mention a happy-hour scene offering gourmet action at food-court prices, Portland’s an essential destination for any itinerant epicure. From outstanding Italian baked goods and phenomenal fried chicken to fancy drinking snacks and casual tasting menus at five-star restaurants, here are seven places to hit on your next visit.
Since opening its doors in late 2013, this tiny luncheonette has earned lavish praise for its refined French-Nordic fare from critics and customers alike. In addition to a pastry case full of temptations, it has a tightly edited menu that changes daily, but expect small bites like oysters on the half-shell and radishes with butter as well as heartier dishes like quiche, Norwegian meatballs, and the open-faced sandwiches known as smørrebrød (above, with shaved radishes, rock shrimp, and a smattering of salmon roe; $12). If you’re staying downtown, it’s a great option for a mid-morning meal.
921 SW Oak Street, 503.224.9921; mauricepdx.com.
2. Bella's Italian Bakery
For serious Italian baked goods and the coffee to match, venture over to Southeast Portland, where chef and Culinary Institute of America alum Michelle Vernier is turning out impeccable pastries, breads, and more from a corner lot in the neighborhood of Lents. Everything we sampled was stellar, from sweets like amaretti cookies (50¢) and flaky blueberry tartines ($3.50) to savory treats like mushroom-tomato flatbreads ($3.50) and breakfast sandwiches ($5) stacked with salami cotto, provolone, and an herb-laced slab of frittata on a house-made sesame roll. Try the sfincione ($3), a thick, chewy Sicilian pan bread with tomato sauce, anchovy-spiked breadcrumbs, and a dusting of parm, alongside a cappuccino for a carberiffic afternoon snack.
9119 SE Woodstock Boulevard, 971.255.1212; bellasitalianbakery.com.
With a lush, six-course tasting menu and a highly acclaimed chef, James Beard Award winner Naomi Pomeroy’s Beast has been a fine-dining destination for almost 12 years now. At $125 per person, the regular prix fixe is a splurge-worthy indulgence, but cash-strapped gourmands can finally get a taste of the action too—one day of the week, at least. Introduced in December 2018, the casual Tuesdays at Beast menu offers four creative courses with varying themes (think: French Bistro or Spring Dreams) at a more moderate price (normally $65 to $90, service included). A block over from the restaurant is Pomeroy's spinoff bar, Expatriate, a hip cocktail den that served a well-received brunch up until last year, when the midday meal was sadly discontinued. But I lucked out, and when I was in town, Beast's Tuesday-night offerings were a highlight reel from that much-missed menu: light and crisp rice-flour waffles with chili-honey butter, congee garnished with fried shallots, candied peanuts, and a poached duck egg, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, and a near-genius plate of pho hash browns, all crispy squiggles of potato topped with rare beef, hoisin cream, mint, and chiles, not to mention a gorgeous lychee-glazed donut paired with a dollop of barely sweet black-sesame ice cream for dessert. The whole shebang cost $55 a head, which, considering the quality, felt like quite the bargain.
5425 NE 30th Avenue, 503.841.6968; beastpdx.com.
4. Portland Mercado
A small-business incubator in Southeast Portland, launched in 2015 to promote Latino culture, history, and cuisine, the Mercado is equal parts community hub and dining destination, with nine outdoor food carts and a slate of indoor businesses, from a coffee shop to a butcher to a juice bar to a wine and beer bar. The Oaxacan items from the Tierra del Sol cart are generously portioned and reasonably priced, from the empanada de amarillo (above left, $7), a blue-corn tortilla stuffed with shredded chicken and yellow mole, to the veggie stew–filled mole enchiladas (above right, $9.50). And at La Arepa, the Venezuelan truck, the pabellón arepa ($8) is a standout, a griddled cornmeal cake overflowing with shredded beef, ripe plantains, sliced avocado, black beans, and cotija cheese. When the weather is less than optimal, grab your haul and head inside to eat; on sunnier days, set up camp at one of the picnic tables for an al fresco feast.
7238 SE Foster Road, 971.200.0581; portlandmercado.org.
Portland’s happy hour scene is a local obsession, and for good reason—there aren’t many cities where you can get such delicious food and drink at such heavily discounted rates. Case in point: East Burnside bistro-wine bar Canard, a high-ceilinged space with pale yellow walls and tall street-facing windows. The latest project from chef Gabriel Rucker, it's a worthy addition to an increasingly diverse brood that includes fan-favorites Le Pigeon and Little Bird. It's also a 2019 James Beard Award semifinalist for best new restaurant, with a decidedly unpretentious vibe: From 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. to midnight daily, you’ll find elevated classics like perfect little steamed cheeseburgers ($3 each) and garlic fries with shaved gouda and green goddess dipping sauce ($4) sharing the menu with more unusual offerings, such as oeufs en mayonnaise ($5), a gloriously messy pile of jammy-yolked eggs doused with garlic mayo, bacon bits, and trout roe, and an artistically plated pork and eel terrine (above, $7). Wash it all down with a cheap lager or a $6 aperitif—Cocchi Americano with soda, perhaps?
734 East Burnside, 971.279.2356; canardpdx.com.
6. Oui Wine Bar + Restaurant
A small-scale urban winery with a cozy dining room and repurposed wine-barrel decor, Division/Clinton’s Southeast Wine Collective has been around since 2012, but during the past year or two, it's really upped its food game, thanks to a recently revamped menu from chef Althea Grey Potter. We popped by toward the end of service for snacks and wine, and even at that late hour, everything we tried was impeccably presented and utterly delicious, from the flight of deviled eggs (above, $8) to the “surprise” flight of wine ($14) selected by our bartender. We eschewed the menu's leafy-green salad section in favor of comfort food, adding an order of chicken-liver mousse and a simple, unexpectedly satisfying baguette, served warm with a dish of salty, smoky, peppery butter pooled with maple syrup. Whatever you do, don't forgo dessert—the half-baked chocolate-chip cookie is delivered to the table in a cast-iron pan still hot from the oven, topped with brown-sugar ice cream, a drizzle of caramel, shards of honeycomb, and a sprinkling of sea salt, and it’s ridiculously good. There’s also a family-style tasting menu offering five courses for $39 per person, a great way to sample the wares.
2425 SE 35th Place, 503.208.2061; sewinecollective.com.
This much-hyped Korean spot from Seattle-based husband-and-wife restaurateurs opened to great fanfare in 2016, and nearly three years later, the kitchen is still going strong. The fried chicken ($14) has achieved cult status around town, and when the stack of meaty flats and drumsticks arrived, smothered in a sticky, spicy-sweet sauce and liberally garnished with peanut brittle, it wasn’t tough to see why. The kimchi pancake ($13) and the sautéed greens ($8) were perfectly respectable too, but the spiced beef dumplings ($15), swimming in a tangy sesame-yogurt sauce and bedecked with leek relish, were the evening’s sleeper hit. Happy hour offers decent discounts from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. daily and 10:00 p.m. to close on Friday and Saturday nights, but Tuesday evenings are the real steal, when you can get that famous fried chicken and a beer for just a fiver.
210 SE Martin Luther King Boulevard, 971-339-3693; relayrestaurantgroup.com.