Looking for some culinary comfort? We carefully selected eight of Portland's most soul-warming dishes to get you through these dark days. Weathering the storm never tasted so good. Click that play button above and let the mouthwatering begin.
(Need more ice-thawing, nose-clearing deliciousness? Dig into our full feature on local comfort foods from around the globe.)
1. Skyway Bar and Grill's Mac 'n' Cheese
Let’s be honest: restaurant mac rarely lives up to the dish lodged in our memory banks. It’s too soggy, too bland, and lacks that processed-salt shock hardwired into our brains since grade school. That is, unless you’re hunkered over a dish of molten noodledom at Skyway Bar and Grill, a tin-ceilinged warren of wood and roaring fireplaces just 15 minutes from the slopes of Mount Hood. This is the mac you’ve been looking for. Chef Jason Hornor’s deceptively humble casserole tastes more fundamentally mac-y than other macs: plump pasta shellacked in sticky sauce, deeply cheesy and laced with chile fire, crowned with toasty shards and a corona of frizzles, all for $7. It’s awesome.
2. 180's Xurros
In a city already fixated on goofy glazed treats, 180 swooped in and perfected xurros, Spain’s signature long, skinny fried tubes—digging deep into Euro tradition, adding Portland-playful fillings and chef collaborations, and achieving a level of commitment rarely found near a deep-fryer. It took three alums of a three-Michelin-star kitchen to nail the deets: the perfect dough (barely sweet, super crisp, seemingly weightless), the perfect fryer temperature (180 Celsius, of course!), and a crazy plan to fry and fill orders on the spot. Meanwhile, 180’s xocolata drinking chocolate transcends with PDX’s outstanding small-batch Cocanú, whose bars are complex in ways you can’t explain. The poster says it all: we now live in XURROLAND.
3. Bar Mingo's Risotto
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.
4. People's Pig's BBQ Combo Plate
What to eat? Everything. (Well, not the lame coleslaw.) Sandwiches are prime, juicy spare ribs vie for Portland’s best, and the heap of smoked pork shoulder—melting flesh and fatty halos on a sheet of paper—might even satisfy a central Texas hardliner. But the meat cave’s breakout hit is, somewhat ironically, smoked fried chicken—glazed in Allen’s fiercely hot jalapeño jelly, best tucked between house sourdough buns. Chef-y details, like fennel aioli to notch up a sumptuous lamb sandwich, signal that this isn’t just a throwback joint. The combo plate generously heaps all of Allen’s passions onto two trays, including the idea that three friends can still eat like barbecue kings for $40.
5. Pollo Norte's Rotisserie Chicken
Your supermarket takeout chicken this is not—and the lines and sellouts that used to plague this Mexican-style chicken shrine in Cully prove it. (Cálmate, amigo, they fixed all that—and added a second location in Kerns.) 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.
6. Pizza Jerk's Pepperoni Pizza
For incontrovertible proof that Tommy Habetz (also of Bunk Sandwiches) is Portland's comfort czar, 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.
7. Maharaja's Lamb Coconut Masala
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.
8. Pho An's Beef Noodle Soup
This is our “Goldilocks” pho broth, with an even-keeled balance of baker’s spices (clove to star anise) and a great salty-sweet ratio: not overwhelmingly rich, comforting but light. Coupled with fat-laced brisket, flank, tripe, and generous greenery—including pungent culantro—Pho An’s beef noodle soup is the ultimate rainy-day respite.