Cheap Eats

Cheap Eats 2017: 30 Portland Dishes That Will Break Your Mind—But Not Your Budget

Family-style Korean stews. Mood-altering chicken and jojos. A world of dumplings and $1 sushi delivered by a tiny train. Time to eat your way, wallet intact, across the city's rollicking food scene.

Edited by Kelly Clarke By Eden Dawn, Ramona DeNies, Zach Dundas, Rebecca Jacobson, Fiona McCann, Marty Patail, Margaret Seiler, Benjamin Tepler, and Tuck Woodstock April 17, 2017 Published in the May 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

Pomo 0517 cheap eats basilisk fried chicken sandwich rpkenq

Fried chicken joint Basilisk turns out a superlative double-stacked, super-crisp-skinned sandwich.

The Zipper Feast ($8–13)

NE Sandy Boulevard’s two-year-old microrestaurant pod has never looked so good. The champ? Fried chicken joint Basilisk, which turns out a superlative double-stacked, super-crisp-skinned sandwich. NE Fremont’s Smallwares recently downsized into just Wares at the Zipper, serving old favorites (fried kale with candied bacon and fish sauce) and welcome new dishes, like noodles tumbled with ginger-flecked sausage and pineapple. Meanwhile, ChickpeaDX continues to fry up the best falafel in town, with clever, tahini-drizzled salads to match. Bonus: You can devour it all from the dark, well-stocked confines of whiskey-loving Paydirt. —BT

Lauretta Jean's Biscuit Board ($6.50) 

She built her rep on butter-crust pies, but baker Kate McMillen also constructs towering, sturdy, sienna-hued biscuits that deserve the same love. At her SE Division Street location, the Biscuit Board comes with two beautiful monsters, plus butter, lemon curd, fruit compote (if blueberry’s on offer, mix it with the lemon), bourbon maple butter, and a chunky honey peanut butter that will have you planning a kitchen heist to score more of it. —MS 

Chop Italian Stallion Sandwich at City Market ($10)

Your imaginary Great Uncle Santino blows into town, slaps you on the shoulder sort of playfully, sort of not, and says stuff about the Democrats we won’t repeat. Before he drags you to the track, you get this sandwich: a pile of Chop’s house-cured charcuterie, ham, and mortadella in a ticker-tape parade of shredded lettuce, onions, peppers, and tomatoes, nice and tangy. The sub-style bun fights back just enough. This is a sandwich. You could split a whole one—its that big—but Santino already ordered two. Understand? —ZD

Tambayan Chicken Adobo ($8.49)

The unofficial national dish of the Philippines gets a fittingly simple presentation at this very casual Foster-Powell family restaurant (and party-platter takeout standby). The perfectly simmered chicken and vinegary, garlicky sauce need no adornment, just enough rice to soak up the liquid so no drop goes uneaten. For a shot of color, though, end the meal with ice cream–topped halo halo shaved ice, or pick up a pink-wrapped bath bomb by the register. —MS 

Mumtaz Dal Makhani ($10)

This Northern Indian/Pakistani joint excels at spice-simmered vegetarian eats. Its dal makhani reigns supreme: a textural roller coaster of whole kidney beans, melty carrot hunks, and multiple kinds of lentils goosed with chile and simmered until creamy, served alongside a mountain of basmati rice. You could share it—or, better yet, portion out the leftovers for two or three fantastic workday lunches. —KC

Phat Cart Korean Beef Bento ($10)

After a fire destroyed this cultish PSU food cart in 2015, its eclectic Asian fusion rose from the ashes last year in a tiny hole in the wall abutting a 76 gas station on the south end of downtown. While it’s no longer a cart, it’s still freaking adorable, all white brick and little potted flowers. Fried chicken and larb tuna poke bento are starring attractions, but a heaping pile of succulent, saucy Korean short ribs over rice, zucchini, and kimchi keeps us coming back. Wash it down with a Singha on draft—weekday happy hour starts at 4:20 p.m., wink wink. —MP

Russian Elegant Piroshki ($1–2.99)

Devour Russian pillows of golden, toothsome, doughnutty fry bread, stuffed with everything from herby feta to hearty diced beef. ZD

Pomo 0517 cheap eats jacqueline oysters eqe7ak

Slurp, swoon, and repeat at Jacqueline's happy hour, 5–7 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday.

Jacqueline Happy Hour ($1 Oysters and $2 Rainier Tallboys)

From the Steve Zissou portrait above the bar to the deep sea critter print that papers the walls, this Clinton boîte is a convivial delight, wooing dinner guests with highbrow riffs on local seafood. But while daylight reigns, dirt-cheap oysters are the draw—the seats packed for happy hour platters of craggy, just-shucked Nevor and Cougar Creek bivalves (among others), served alongside bright, little house tinctures—blood orange to jalapeño ginger. Toast your shucker with a macrobrew tallboy, then slurp, swoon, and repeat. Happy hour 5–7 p.m. Tue–Sat —KC

Pixie Pearl Build-A-Puddin’ ($3 and up)

At their Pearl District perch, the raw, honey-friendly vegan geniuses behind Pixie Retreat’s addictive L’il Puddin’ cups now allow fans to create custom combinations from an array of organic toppings. One scoop of sweet, creamy coconut-cashew cream sets you back three measly bucks—from there, mix in (gluten-free) cookie dough, salted caramel, almond butter, berry purée, and more. —MW

Suzette Crêperie Prix Fixe Brunch ($14, weekends only)

Remember Suzette? It’s that super-cute Belmont spot run by former Chez Panisse pastry chef Jehnee Rains. After five years in the space, she’s still folding up some of the best crêpes in the city. On weekend mornings, go prix fixe: egg-topped, herb-roasted pork loin crêpe with gruyère, a custardy almond and brown butter teacake, and an orange blossom mimosa. —BT

Chungdam Boodae Chigae ($29.95, to share)

Spicy, punishingly salty, and viscerally disconcerting, boodae chigae tastes like Campbell’s alphabet soup, Top Ramen, and Van Camp’s pork and beans on a drunken bender through Korea-town. Which makes sense, since the “army stew”—bobbing with Spam, tofu, duk rice cakes, and more—popped up around Seoul after the Korean War, as home cooks incorporated canned US Army rations into their kimchi and hot pepper paste hot pots. Served on a tabletop burner, the orange soup reduces to a rich, homey, ramen slurry by the time three or four eaters finish up a few big bottles of Hite, each ladleful unearthing another treasure trove of weird.* Bonus: the cheery, K-pop soundtracked spot’s late-night menu hides an odyssey of solid bites ($4.99–8.99) until midnight Friday–Saturday. —KC

* Too weird? Order a platter of meltingly rich steamed bosaam pork, ready to tuck into napa cabbage wraps drizzled with salty fermented bean sauce ($25.95).

Dãnwèi Cãntīng Lamb Burger ($7)

This Beijing-loving quick-bite spot’s Chinese rou jia mo street burgers are messy pockets of awesome—although “burger” is a bit of a misnomer. Danwèi’s lamb variant, braised with cumin and chiles, and topped with herby Asian salad, is essentially a drippy-wonderful pot roast caught between a pair of chewy, griddled dough rounds. Bonus: dive bar nonpareil the Slammer, a Christmas-light-lit wonderland of cheapness, is across the street. —KC

Homegrown Smoker Combo Plate ($17, to share)

Grab your favorite herbivore and make for this celebrated vegan barbecue cart, where the signature sampler is heaped high with “meats” smoked for hours over applewood chips—soy curls to tempeh ribs (choose two). The platter’s rounded out with Southern-inspired sides, hush puppies, and rémoulade. (Dairy-free folks love the creamy “mac no-cheese,” but feel free to play it safe with sweet potato fries and chipotle slaw.) —MW

Pomo 0517 cheap eats han oak dumplings noodles cgjeqz

Han Oak dumplings are little purses of umami goodness.

Han Oak Dumpling and Noodle Night ($9–13, Sunday & Monday only)

Sundays and Mondays only, casual Korean Han Oak ditches its prix fixe menu for an à la carte night of noodles, dumplings, and fried chicken. The classic pork, chive, and black vinegar dumplings are head and shoulders above anything in the city, but the changing specials, like little Korean-Italian purses of garlic-pork sausage, charred broccoli rabe, Mama Lil’s peppers, and fried Hannah reserve cheese, are works of art. —BT

Roman Candle Cheese Toastie ($10)

Pizza bianca—that chewy, dimpled, wood-fired Italian flatbread—may very well be the Goldilocks of grilled cheese delivery vehicles. Not too soft and not too hard, it holds up to cheese while keeping both crackle and bounce. Proof is this sandwich: cheddar and fontina on generous squares of pizza bianca, tangy pickled peppers tucked within, served alongside a bright tomato soup topped with a fistful of arugula. It’s straight-up comfort, with plenty of spark. —RJ

Duck House Peking Duck Dinner ($45.95, to share)

Roasted, hung, and dried in traditional Beijing style, this PSU-area haunt serves sliced duck generously but unceremoniously on a platter arrayed with scallions, cucumbers, sauces, and a pile of steamed tortilla-like pancakes. Assemble the crispy, fatty-skinned meat into a Chinese taco and delight in its simplicity (as well as the dining hall’s stripped down, Olive Garden vibe). Psst: Quantities are limited, so a call ahead to reserve your duck is worth the trouble. If you’re still hungry—not likely, as the duck dinner serves four—order deeply flavorful xiao long bao soup dumplings ($11.95) bursting with hot broth. —MP

Pomo 0517 cheap eats beeswing sourdough waffle qutivv

Beeswing's sourdough waffles offer up bite after bite of morning goodness.

Beeswing Sourdough Waffle ($8)

Cully’s nearly wait-free brunch spot excels at super-homey Belgian liege-style sourdough waffles, crisp edges weighted down with macerated berries or caramelized apples (depending on the day) and a golden flood of butter. Cut the dish’s yeasty tartness with an extra drizzle of maple syrup. And don’t leave without a chocolate chip cookie ($2) packed with shards of bitter chocolate and still warm from the oven. —KC

Grain & Gristle 2-fer Dinner Special ($25, to share)

The golden rule when it comes to this rustic meal for two? Make it an early dinner. Sauntering into the friendly Northeast Portland dining room come 7 p.m. only to see a line slashed though the 2Fer on the chalkboard menu is a special kind of gut punch. Punctual patrons are rewarded with a generous double portion of whatever hearty delight is on offer that day—steaks to roasted chickens, plus veg and beers. On a recent visit, duos tucked into tender grilled pork with a potato, beet, and carrot hash zinging with harissa paste—clinking their brewskies with the aplomb of those with full bellies and wallets. —FM

Pomo 0517 cheap eats uno mas taco tazuiza kjpi2p

Taco Tuesday (or Monday, or Thursday, or Sunday), anyone?

Uno Mas 12-Taco Taquiza Surtida ($22, to share)

A no-brainer: One of PDX’s best taquerias sells a dozen tacos for just over $1.50 a pop. That’s a total feast of tender barbacoa brisket and salty, squeaky queso for two. BT

Alberta Market Chicken Wings & JoJos ($6)

The hot case inside a drab Northeast minimart hides one of Portland’s most perfect chicken cravings: golden, juicy, salty-sweet wings that deliver a titanic crunch with each bite, so crisp you can nibble ’em down to the tips. A grease-streaked bag of six wings with a grip of silky little spice-dusted jojos is six bucks. That’s it. The chicken’s secret? Draper Valley birds sizzled in an open fryer rather than a soggy pressure cooker, according to owner Chris Chung, who’s been tinkering with his recipe for more than a decade. “I try this and I try that, and it came out good,” he shrugs. Chris Chung: Master of Understatement. —KC

Wolf & Bear's Out to Lunch ($8)

This local veggie-leaning cart chainlet’s falafel and hummus wraps are already gold standard in grab-and-go noshing. But next time, order W&B’s Out to Lunch. The pita-swaddled bouquet of hearty, textured falafel, caramelly onions, roasted red peppers, and ruffly greens is amped up by the bright tang of labneh (a cream cheese-esque Greek yogurt), gorgonzola funk, and hits of black pepper. It tastes exactly as fresh and satisfying as it sounds. (Woe to those who do not ask for extra cilantro-chile green sauce.)  —FM

Xico Chicken Dinner for Two ($22, Mondays only)

Xico’s upscale Mexican street-style rotisserie chicken—tender, brined in chipotle and avocado leaf, basted with scallions and apple cider vinegar—is a Monday-night tradition. Served family style for two ($22), the half-bird dinner comes with puréed Oaxacan black beans, toasted rice, tortillas, and two rotating escabeches. Spring for one of Xico’s sublime add-ons, from “one hundred chile” chorizo to velvety moles and red peanut sauces. —RD

Pomo 0517 cheap eats burger stevens cheeseburger tyz9bd

Burger Stevens makes the cart burger to rule them all.

Burger Stevens Cheeseburger ($7–10)

There are plenty of monstrous, fancy burgers in town, but Don Salamone’s sweet cart, nestled under a grand old tree in the Hillsdale cart pod, gets the humble sandwich right. He pairs a well-seasoned patty of custom-ground Pioneer Ranch beef, griddled for crunchy bits but still crazy juicy, with chunky onions, tomato, lettuce, sweaty Tillamook, and classic sauce on an old-school squooshy Franz bun, generously buttered and toasted up right. It’s like McDonald’s, if that fast food giant ever had a soul. A few thick slices of bacon and a fried egg will up your tab to $10, or stay basic and tack on a paper sleeve of perfectly golden fries for $3. Soft serve, too! —KC

Sushi Ichiban Sushi ($1–2)

At this dingy yet beloved magnet for budget eaters and train lovers, a tiny tank engine ferries plates of $1 sushi. Torn between a vegan Eliza roll with tofu, bell pepper, carrots, and a thick layer of avo slices under a squirt of sweet sauce or a simple salmon-avocado roll? Get both (they’re just $2), then tack on squishy agedashi tofu ($2), a scallion-laden Tiger roll with red snapper and egg ($2), and an indulgent Lager roll packed with tempura asparagus, cream cheese, and house sauce ($1.50). All aboard! —ED

Whiskey Soda Lounge Late-Night Phat Thai ($9, late night only)

Twelve years in, Andy Ricker’s original Pok Pok remains so popular that its waitlist literally fills another restaurant: the low-slung Whiskey Soda Lounge, across Division. But come 10 o’clock, the lounge itself is the draw, as Toki-toking barflies line the counter for Ricker’s superlatively eggy, springy, black-soy-and-peanut-slicked phat Thai. The basic platter ($9) delivers dried shrimp-studded funky comfort; dress it up with pork or prawns  for a few extra bucks. —RD

Pomo 0517 cheap eats op wurst wurst fries aldhgl

Wurst fries: definitely not the worst.

OP Wurst Wurst Fries ($7)

There’s some weird, hedonistic stuff going on at the growing OP Wurst empire. (Peanut butter-bacon-banana dog, we’re lookin' at you.) But we let ourselves go a little for Wurst’s thick, crisp, dirty fries, which most recently included crispy caps of OP chorizo, jalapeños, sage, and piquillo peppers, all drowned in Velveeta-style cheese sauce. These go well (probably!) with a $134 bottle of Billecart-Salmon Champagne, also on the menu. —BT

Pop Bagel Veggie Sandwich ($5.75) 

Herb cream cheese is the essential binder in this Big Pink bagel counter’s stack of hardboiled egg, pickled red onion, tomato, cukes, and dill: a handheld salad that actually stays together as you eat it. Select the sunflower seed bagel from Pop’s pretzel-like options for added texture and crunch. —MS

Ome Calli Paletas ($1.50-2)

Mango with chile or tangy soursop to creamy rice pudding, this Beaverton spot’s Mexican frozen pops are a wild, sweet surprise. KC 

Mae Wednesday Take-Out Fried Chicken Bucket ($25, Wednesdays only)

It seems like a back-alley drug deal: you check your six, scurry across Old Salt’s parking lot, and duck through the red door in back. Inside, the aproned kingpin herself—Mae’s Maya Lovelace—counts out 10 pieces of golden, triple-fat-fried** crack into a bucket, dropping handfuls of Wet-Naps and packets of hot sauce on top. You hand her a wad of cash and walk out hugging your prize, avoiding eye contact with the next addict in line. Yes, every Wednesday, the chef of Portland’s lauded Appalachian pop-up restaurant posts an announcement for around 8 to 16 to-go buckets of her cult chicken on Instagram. The first people to comment on the post get one. That’s the deal. You drive away one-handed, tearing into a hot, juicy, crackling-crisp drumstick or breast, dusted with Lovelace’s slightly sweet secret spice mix. Three bites in? You’re already scheming how to score it again next week. —MP 

** Yeah, her chicken is fried in lard, bacon fat, and chicken fat.

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