Lamb Coconut Masala & Samoas at Maharaja
Maybe it’s the heady mélange of spices, the creamy-sweet coconut milk, or the deeply homespun flavors of sautéed onion and tomato; all I know is that a bite or two of this silky Indian curry produces the kind of deep, satisfied sighs usually reserved for hot tubs and (for some) cigarettes. It’s that good. This tidy, family-owned Hillsboro restaurant shines at South Asian cuisine, lacing that stew with warming cumin, coriander, and cloves, cooking its basmati rice just right, and simmering pleasantly gamey lamb to fork-tenderness. Pair your curry with fresh naan or hot samosas: golden fried ziggurats, filled with a delicately spiced potato and chickpea mash, that taste like a cross between a state fair fritter and a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook. Hands down, Maharaja is the most comforting thing ever found crammed between a McDonald’s and an Econo Lodge.
Pizzoccheri at Nostrana
This unlikely fusion of Alpine decadence and Northern Italian pasta-craft hails from snowy Valtellina, Lombardy, where warmth is in high demand all winter long. For starters, thick buckwheat tagliatelle-like pasta, tiny cubed potatoes, and savoy cabbage are steamed and coated with copious amounts of butter. Next, the casserole is studded with hunks of taleggio cheese, layered with ribbons of cured speck, garlic, and sage. Finally, it’s buried under a snowdrift of parmesan before getting baked and bound in the oven. Clear your evening schedule: this opulent, dairy-fueled dish has more tranquilizing power than a double-dose of Ambien.
Wednesday Night Risotto at Bar Mingo
Risotto is the kind of dish that imparts a rare satisfaction that is part primal urge (“I want something warm, soft, rich, big, now!”) and part Sophia Loren, luxurious and slightly unattainable. Bar Mingo delivers the real deal on Wednesday nights only: swollen beads of creamy-firm rice backed by a savory intensity of flavor earned only with 30 minutes of intense stirring, served within moments of the last whirl of the wooden spoon. Great risotto demands an almost mystical feel for how liquid absorbs into grain, and chef Jerry Huisinga has the touch. The techniques are ancient; the flavors change weekly, charged with the likes of the chef’s house sausage, seasonal chanterelles, or a swoon of butternut squash and radicchio.
Schweinshax'n at Stammtisch
The word Schweinshax’n—pronounced shu-vines-HACKS-in!—sounds exactly how this slow-roasted Bavarian pork shoulder tastes: like your tongue just released a stream of expletives from sheer pleasure. Roasted golden-brown on a bed of spätzle and red cabbage, the pigskin is fried to crispy, snackable perfection. Once you break through, the textures flip: meat, juicy and rich, falls from bone while the skin’s underside goes all soft and chewy. To ready yourself, order up a cold beer—keep it Munich, keep it lager, keep it in a liter-size Maß—and let your tongue do the talking. Schweinshax’n, Schweinshax’n!
Vegan Garbage Burrito at Los Gorditos
The veggie-friendly crew at Los Gorditos sidelines animal bits to stuff giant tortillas with refried beans, rice, house-made soyrizo, perfect soy curls, vivid salsa, and even more spicy, plant-based goodness. All combined, the cruelty-free behemoth engenders the nap-inducing contentment of a two-pound grease bomb minus the feeling that you may actually die from cholesterol and carcinogens. It’s the perfect prescription for hangovers, rainy days, or anytime someone expresses concern about your protein levels.
Prime Rib Eye at the Woodsman
Three bites into our meal at the Woodsman, my dining companion narrowed her eyes and declared, “This might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten. It’s making me so happy—I feel like it’s my birthday.” Indeed, this spread feels designed for all the primitive pleasure points: 25 (or 50!) ounces of rib eye, pink in the center and coated in a perfectly seasoned char, sided by a wooden board heavy with braised shiitake and crimini mushrooms, pickled veggies, Gorgonzola dolce, and horseradish. You will want to try every permutation of these elements, and you will want to take sips of a big red wine between bites. And you will then feel deeply, deeply happy.
French Toast Sandwich at the Big Egg
There are few emotional potholes that a home-cooked breakfast can’t patch. Gail and Elizabeth Buchanan’s cart-turned-Alberta-café, the Big Egg, combines the meal’s greatest mood enhancers in a triumph of breakfast sandwiching: a perfect over-medium egg and salty Tails & Trotters smoked ham smooshed with stanky gorgonzola and maple syrup spiced with thyme and black pepper, caught between two craggy slabs of panko-crusted, cardamom-perfumed French toast. Each bite releases a heady torrent of herby, pepper-smacked yolk and sticky meaty sweetness backed with massive, lemon-and-sugar dusted brioche crunch. With this in your belly, you can go out and conquer the damn world.
Phat See Iew at Sen Yai (Now Closed)
For Thailand’s favorite street food, “simple is best,” says Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame. At Ricker’s Division Street noodle house, Sen Yai, platters of springy wide-cut noodles, made fresh at SE Foster Road’s JC Rice Noodle Shop, benefit from a vigorous wokking in black soy sauce alongside egg, bright spears of Chinese broccoli, and fatty nubs of pork. Add sizzle with the tabletop house-made accoutrements (pickled serrano rounds, Thai chiles in funky fish sauce) and then—we strongly advise—refuse to share. What the kitchen’s servings may lack in size, the wokmaster makes up for in salty, seared perfection. You will want to protect every bite.
Parker House Rolls at Imperial
Butter, feathery fluff, butter, a yeasty tang, butter, a dome of golden crust, and finally, just before serving, more butter. That, in a nutshell, is the century-plus-old Parker House roll, once an immutable fixture on America’s family dinner table. Now, the addictive rolls rise with fresh purpose in downtown’s popular hotel kitchen, served warm for $1 a pop throughout the day with, of course, more butter on the side. “It’s our most popular item,” says chef-owner Vitaly Paley. “We go through hundreds every day. You can’t buy anything for a dollar anymore.” Bonus: the rolls underpin the great breakfast sandwiches at Imperial’s Portland Penny Diner next door.
Pepperoni Pizza & Caesar Salad at Pizza Jerk
Let’s call it right now: Tommy Habetz is the city’s comfort czar. After opening a bicoastal constellation of scrappy sandwich institutions (see Bunk’s Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup, below), he doubled down on the red-sauce goodness in December with Pizza Jerk, a pitch-perfect throwback to the family pizza parlor—a PBR-themed stained glass lamp and tables covered in red-and-white oilcloth included. (Bonus: raucous punk songs and booze for your fountain Coke.) For incontrovertible proof of his cozy dominance, go to town on his classic pepperoni pie: a flexible, char-spotted crust slathered in bright, fruity marinara, puddles of Grande mozzarella, and tiny rounds of Molinari pepperoni. It’s a foldable slice of East Coast heaven—right down to the sharp hit of pecorino romano that Habetz says harks back to the pies he grew up on in Connecticut. Do not attempt to consume a slice without a side order of Jerk’s lemony Caesar—a classy workhorse with just the right amount of acid on the tongue, it’s the Martin Sheen of the salad world.
Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup at Bunk
We all know the singular appeal of grilled cheese and tomato soup. There’s just something about the warmth of melted cheese combined with the silky depth of the soup that summons a powerful form of nostalgia from the recesses of childhood memories (or vintage TV commercials). Bunk takes that nostalgia and torques it with a surplus of super-stretchy Tillamook cheddar between generous slices of Portland French Bakery white bread. And the soup! It’s the Platonic ideal of tomato soup: creamy and complex, with a nice bite of acidity, and concealing furtive chunks of cheese and bread.
Rotisserie Chicken at Pollo Norte
Your supermarket takeout chicken this is not—and the lines and sellouts that used to plague this Mexican-style chicken shrine in Northeast prove it. (Cálmate, amigo, they fixed all that.) Seasoned liberally with sea salt, achiote, lime, and chile, a hot, juicy, just a li’l bit spicy whole chicken on your table is guaranteed to satisfy all the stomachs. A tip: This pollo tastes even better eaten while in your PJs. On your couch. Add a side of epazote-spiked frijoles negros, fresh lime, and cilantro slaw, and a short stack of hot, hand-pressed corn tortillas, and fire up the Netflix machine.
Genki Ramen at Mirakutei
Mirakutei’s sushi master, Hiro Ikegaya, is known for his deft hand with raw seafood. But in winter, noodle lovers skirt the fish counter and make a beeline for one of Portland’s best bowls of ramen. Of the six varieties on the menu, the Genki may just be king: a bowl of white-miso-steeped pork broth, eggs scrambled in heavenly matrimony with char siu pork and garlic and topped with scorching flecks of Thai chile. Don’t stop slurping—heat and umami intensify as you get closer to the bottom.
Spicy Spaghetti x 3
The brain can judge a pasta shop in many ways, but what calls to the soul in times of trouble? The holy trinity. Noodles. Oil. Heat. Rejoice in three essential versions.
Luce achieves austere beauty with its spaghetti with garlic and hot pepper, the thinnest pasta gauge ever called spaghetti sparking and smoldering with Calabrian chiles—like eating little shards of campfire, in the best way. Certain heretics add clams. Downtown’s Grassa aims for mass-industrial chic, and its aglio olio is indeed made perfectly, every time: a vintage Vespa of a dish, cobbled from pasta, oil, garlic, chile flake, Grana Padano, bread crumbs. You could build it yourself, but could you tune its growl like Grassa does? In deepest Slabtown, the old neighborhood favorite Justa Pasta often plays a jazz soundtrack. And appropriately enough, its standby garlic-chile oil improvises, amid a sea of golden garlic and chopped parsley, a crucial twist: finely chopped olives. Here, you choose the noodle. (But really, the noodle chooses you.)