A Newcomer's Guide to Portland's Essential Restaurants
New York dining is serious. LA is theatrical. Seattle is polite. Austin is, well, barbecued. Portland’s food scene is something else: personal. Very, very personal. You won’t find the next Michelin star here; we don’t have the money, the inclinations, or, frankly, the outfits. Portland thinks big in small packages, taking deep dives where you don’t expect them in cozy little spaces. The best menus are invitations to plunge into a cook’s personal world, deliciously, without a crumb of pretension. Even as the city changes, the attitude remains: food first, come as you are, and no idea off the table. That can mean ice cream for breakfast, or foie gras teriyaki for dinner. Fun is always on the menu; so, invariably, is Oregon’s world-class produce. Best of all, craft cocktails, great beer, and microroasted coffee are never more than a napkin’s throw away. The beauty of Portland is this: you don’t need an overstuffed bank account to feel nourished and entertained. Buckle up.
Chef Peter Voung crafts regional Vietnamese soups with free-range chickens, meticulous broths, and noodles fully soaked before boiling for an extra bounce of chewy goodness. Come early: the goods are often gone by noon.
A culinary poet and dessert artist, chef Justin Woodward splices seasonal high points, technical feats, and concentrated sauces into spare compositions of strange beauty. A classic, definining example: an edible “terrarium” with dreamy onion custard and hypergreen onion-stalk purée standing in for soil beneath a greenhouse of backyard leaves and flowers.
Naomi Pomeroy creates deeply seasonal prix fixe dinners that celebrate French comfort cooking, communal tables, and local farm finds. The four-course brunch is one of the city’s best.
Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton’s meaty love story is told over flames erupting from a hand-cranked grill. Don’t miss the Uruguayan beef rib eye or the clam chowder, served with smoked bone marrow shouldering some fierce jalapeños.
From its bare-bones beginning as a takeout shack, Pok Pok has become—perhaps—Portland’s most recognizable restaurant, progenitor of several cross-town (and cross-country) spin-offs. Charcoal-roasted game hens, grilled boar collar, and the signature fish-sauce wings are mandatory, but exploring the blackboard specials is always a good idea.
Chef Aaron Barnett writes a comforting love letter to the rustic bouchons of France, serving food made for cast-iron stomachs. The bubbled-over crocks of macaroni gratin pounded with bacon lardons and plates of blood sausage leave no doubt: Lyon is in the house.
Missouri native Adam Sappington is some kind of cross between a preacher of the nose-to-tail gospel and a Southern granny. His family-friendly neighborhood eatery turns out Portland’s landmark fried chicken and a squeal-worthy “whole hog plate.”
At this revelatory backroom Thai spot, there are no choices, no substitutions—only a two-hour tasting menu of traditional Thai snacks, coconut-chunked soups, raw dishes, chile relishes, grilled pig parts, and some shockingly delightful desserts buried in salty coconut cream or infused with Thai candle smoke. Start looking for reservations now—it can be a while.
Gabriel Rucker is a Portland original whose ideas crackle into something electric. Meat rules the ever-changing list—foie gras, pigeon, and pig parts are frequent guests. But salads can also be brilliant, and the French-focused wine list is deep, smart, and personal.
This busy Scandinavian café lures lines of breakfast seekers with Danish modern atmospherics and food pretty enough for Wallpaper magazine. Tuck into fried eggs over smoked trout and potatoes, or go for the æbleskivers: golf ball–size puffs of golden baked batter, served with homemade lemon curd and lingonberry jam.
Owner Brian Spangler channels New York’s Italian American coal-oven shops through an Oregon baker’s avid heart. The result: muscular pies with char-speckled bottoms that make East Coast devotees swoon, from a “New York White” to a sausage and spicy peppers—all ginormous.
John Taboada pioneered a new east-side indie food style with this 33-seat eatery in 2002, filled with local-farm gestalt, scholarly European village recipes, and his own definition of how a restaurant could be run—freewheeling, food-focused, and accessibly priced.