While much of downtown traffics in chain eateries, hotel dining rooms, and workaday cafés, the West End boasts a high-low bonanza of edible wonders, from subterranean cocktail bunkers and a Northwest brunch mecca to one of the city's best food cart pods. Come hungry.
lunch & dinner A checklist of sustainable catches informs Bamboo’s non-preachy menu, an in-depth list of sake love, creative sushi, and playful, visual rolls drawn from the Pacific Coast. Even the California rolls rise above the mundane, holding only certified local Dungeness crab while keeping prices on par with most places serving the fake stuff. Adventure is part of the house philosophy, and on any night you might find horse mackerel and Scottish trout, not to mention a darn good burger, fat with high-quality American Waygu beef. Next door, Bamboo's grab-and-go QuickFish gives poke the artisan treatment, with a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure bar of raw fish, sauces, and toppings—seaweed salad to sesame brittle. Overwhelmed? Just order the Bamboo Bowl, with honkin’ cubes of Oregon albacore tossed in a sweet cilantro aioli, all topped with confetti strips of nori and crunchy fried shallots.
all day (or until they sell out) Prolific comfort food purveyors Micah Camden and Katie Poppe’s doughnut shop “for grown-ups” is a true, Portland-style sugar high. The Little Big Burger duo deftly mash up the city’s artisan-ingredient obsession with fried sweets. Five years in, with locations in nearly every quadrant of the city (not to mention outposts in LA and Tokyo) their clever brioche-dough offerings, from herby-tart blueberry bourbon basil to Valrhona chocolate crunch, threaten to dethrone Voodoo Doughnut as the city’s king dough pusher altogether.
10th Avenue Food Cart Pod
BREAKFAST, LUNCH & DINNER This massive cart outpost, which lines an entire city block and then some, can sate any craving, from Scottish fish and chips to spot-on bulgogi. Here’s our Top 5:
- Nong’s Khao Man Gai The best Thai chicken and rice you can imagine, bundled in butcher paper bound with a rubber band. Each packet holds perfect grains of rice simmered with great hunks of galangal root, poached chicken, a cilantro bouquet, and creator Nong’s addictive, nose-tingling sauce.
- Bing Mi! Portland’s take on Chinese street-food fixation jian bing folds giant savory crêpes and super-crunchy crackers into a many-splendored breakfast (or lunch) thing—packed with sizzling hot eggs, pickled bamboo and mushrooms, and black bean and chile pastes.
- The Whole Bowl This cart’s eponymous cult dish is essentially a deconstructed burrito, with rice, beans, avocado, salsa, Tillamook cheddar, sour cream, and olives. The secret? The addictive lemon-garlic Tali sauce drizzled atop.
- Wolf and Bear’s This indie spot’s all about the healthy Middle Eastern eats. Think crisped, sprouted garbanzo patties slotted into warm pita, swathed in homemade tahini paste and creamy labneh (yogurt cheese), then layered and rolled with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and grilled eggplant.
- Caspian Kabob You can pretty much turn any day around with a visit to this friendly spot, where one of the cleanest grills in town turns out awesome Persian meats. Get the doner kabob—owner Victor's take on the classic street food of Germany (via Turkey) is truly special.
Lunch & Dinner Micah Camden’s neo-pop noodle house looks like a ramen shop designed by Lucky Peach magazine. Wu-Tang Clan bumps from the sound system and an entire wall is clad in a mural of three cute but devilish Japanese girls hovering over a chicken, pig, or tuna leaping from a ramen bowl. The serial restaurateur’s spicy red miso ramen has addictive potential. The broth teems with the warm rush of Calabrian chiles, parmesan, and butter paired with bouncy noodles from LA’s famed Sun Noodle Co. For dessert? Pastel-hued mochi flown in from Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts in Honolulu. You want the passion fruit: creamy and softly fruity, a Dreamsicle reborn.
Late lunch, dinner & late night Steve Jones lives to share his latest cheese finds—the American farmhouse beauty, the insider artisan wheel, an oddball delight from a local or global up-and-comer. Now, the owner of Southeast Portland's top-notch Cheese Bar has masterminded a sushi experience that makes cheese, not fish, the object of worship. Sit at the counter, where Jones’s changing collection of chizu (Japanese for “cheese”) gleams from glass boxes, 30 options daily, served by the slice and accessorized with little surprises like fresh-made wasabi Filberts. Grab a beer or a sake, and, to get in the spirit, name your price and order the omakase, or “chef’s choice.” Then watch a true fromage poet create a dream cheese plate to match.
Lunch, dinner, late night, weekend brunch Set in the ground floor of the Ace Hotel, Clyde Common has a tastefully informal chic vibe—and the bar serves the best negroni in town, barrel-aged into something new and transcendental. Noise-sensitive diners, beware: high ceilings and resonant wood surfaces can make the buzz and clatter here deafening. But the small menu makes up for such inconveniences with everything from spicy fried chicken to halibut and house-made pastas. Chef Carlo Lamagna doubles down with “shared feasts,” from whole grilled spring trout with nduja to galbi beef ribs with scallion pancakes. (Now and again he fries up an entire pork trotter served with buttery spätzle too.)
Breakfast & lunch At first glance, this downtown café looks like a janitor’s closet. But you are not here to look. Drinking a cup of coffee at Courier is about staff engagement and human touch. Conversation is king, as workers only a handshake away pull special treats out of an oven and carefully pour hot water over your choice of fresh grinds. Everything speaks directly to the philosophy of its owner: scrappy, eco-minded, hyperfocused roaster and baker Joel Domreis. He seemingly communes with coffee growers, extracting the essence of the beans: each sip releasing oils and earth, chocolate sonar, floral signals, and juicy acid. While you savor his brews, the counter staff plays cuts from a vast vinyl collection, hip-hop to Bach. What it all adds up to? A delightful way to kill an hour, a few seriously good baked treats, and, seven years in, the best coffee in a competitive city.
Lunch & dinner Rick Gencarelli's Grassa hawks pasta with high-quality ingredients, fast-food expedience, and unbeatable prices. Lunchers line up for rotating pastas, from curvaceous strozzapreti to tubular rigatoni, salads, antipasti, and charmingly lowbrow cocktails. A recent dish of tiny agnolotti pillows, stuffed with ricotta and rich lamb sausage, speckled with mint, preserved lemon, and neon orange Sungold tomatoes, tasted like it had been cooked all day, but was delivered in minutes.
Happy hour, dinner & late night Oozing a modernist, Old West clubhouse aura, the friendly, focused bartenders at SuperBite’s adjoining bar stir and shake up a fun, sharp list of cocktails leaning on everything from black tea syrup to Underberg-spiked rum and pineapple sips. Take a seat on low-set schoolhouse stools and nibble SuperBite chefs Greg Denton and Gabi Quiñónez Denton’s highbrow takes on comfort throwbacks—hot dog and jalapeño mac to griddled PBJ&Foie (yes, that’s foie gras).
Breakfast, lunch & early dinner In Portland, Jamba Juice kiosks and Smoothie King drive-thrus have little hope. Green smoothies rule—packed with enough local fruits, vegetables, honey, and even algae to satisfy our mountain-scaling physiques and above-average IQs. In 2011, Nate Higgins and Nick Armour opened Kure Juice Bar, a ramshackle operation inside a tin shed on SE Hawthorne Boulevard. Now a mini empire, Kure draws lines out the door with its “Extra Mile” smoothie, a heavenly blend of kale, almond butter, and coconut, along with healthful bowls brimming with things like acai berries, probiotics, and matcha.
Lunch & dinner From a homegrown sandwich shop with national ambitions comes accessible adventure, big-boy portions, friendly ethnic spins (hello, smoked coppa Cubano), and touches of danger (pork scraps and pepper heat roaming the “dirty fries”). This outpost squeezed inside ChefStable’s mini restaurant row in the West End also boasts well-chosen taps, cocktails, counter service, a lovely escarole Caesar, and the optional heap of homemade chicharrones. Owned by Grassa’s Rick Gencarelli (the two restaurants are next door to each other), Lardo is consistently solid—and the option to turn any sandwich into a salad should become an Oregon statute.
Brunch & lunch Kristen Murray curates every molecule of flavor at her strange and delightful French-Scandinavian “pastry luncheonette,” where the experience veers from twee to revelatory, varying by the day and the plate. You’ll meet Murray’s sweet-craft, her nana’s lefse, and bitter salads. One visit lands you her “chocolate box”—black sesame seed cake, banana mousse, and chocolate mousse housed in glossy chocolate walls so stunning it belongs in the window at Barneys. The next yields bostock, a thick slice of brioche coated with walnut paste and poached fruit like an otherworldly French toast. It’s a gutsy spot—580 square feet of technical skill, refined palate, and tunnel-vision fervor.
Happy hour, dinner & late night If Portland’s quirk mated with a 1920s speakeasy and a conspiracy theorist’s “smoke-filled room”—the progeny might look a lot like the Multnomah Whiskey Library. At the top of a flight of stairs, just beyond an unmarked door, a host asks for your name—yes, your full name—and your phone number. (They’ll call you when your table’s ready.) Somehow, such rituals feel refreshingly stuffy. Yes, there are hours-long waits, portraits of frowning white men lining the walls, and library “memberships” available for $500 a pop. But there is also cool, dark comfort, an academic devotion to liquor, and an unhurried, intimate atmosphere, complete with a massive fireplace and cushy chairs. Downstairs MWL’s kryptonite-hued waiting room lures with stiff but balanced cocktails, served by a cadre of crisp-tongued servers not shy with the recommendations—no reservations required. You may never make it upstairs to the main event.
Happy hour, dinner & late night In this windowless underground bunker, time is erased as bartender supreme Jeffrey Morgenthaler (away from his usual post behind the bar at Clyde Common, located upstairs) lovingly stirs drinks we secretly desire, in near-pitch darkness. Schlocky cocktail pariahs rise again with newfound glory: espresso martinis croon velvety odes to Stumptown cold extract and Kahlúa; amaretto sours luxuriate under towering piles of ice cubes and sticky-wonderful brandied cherries. Rather than lofty infusions or fussy tinctures, Morgenthaler makes thoughtful tweaks to these long-scorned treats. Everything you want in your bomb shelter can be found here: succulent bivalves, nooks adorned with mini burlesque triptychs, and bygone cocktails to die for.
Happy hour, dinner & late night Sleek, chic, and seductive, this spot from two Multnomah Whiskey Library alums is a destination for clever cocktails and a seriously geeky wine list. With its 100-plus roster of classic and sought-after Euro and West Coast bottles (including natural and experimental labels), Shift rightly bills itself a “professional drinking establishment.”
Brunch & dinner The west-side sister restaurant to Tasty n Sons rules brunch, but carves out its own identity with a strong lunch program—the famous radicchio salad included—that gives the working set another solid downtown option. The family-style dinner options are endless—bone marrow boards to apple-brined pork chops—but always get a deliciously marbled steak, hit with a two-week aging vacation before getting a hot and heavy sear on the flattop grill, resulting in a flavorful plate of well-crusted, über-beefy beef.