10 Portland Lunches We Can’t Stop Eating

Portland’s collective brunch trance is ending. The golden age of workday lunching has arrived.

By Benjamin Tepler With Karen Brooks and Kelly Clarke December 31, 2019 Published in the January 2020 issue of Portland Monthly


When Maurice first opened, I worried. Who would eat at a pricy French-Scandinavian “pastry luncheonette” that didn’t serve breakfast or dinner? I needn’t have bothered. Seven years in, Kristen Murray’s quaint, white-walled escape is without a doubt the most special lunch spot in the city. You can wander in on any given day and pick a plate of plump, briny mussels stuffed with wheat berry, dill, and sultanas while sipping stellar vermouth before moving on to a dessert layered with buckwheat gingerbread cake, parsnip creme, and persimmon. In a hurry? Grab a slice of the best quiche in town, with a shocking jiggle, or a tightly wound, seasonal anise brioche holding chunks of sweet plum in its center. For those who say lunch is a throwaway meal, Maurice is the definitive counterpoint. 921 SW Oak St —BT

Pine Street Market

While the food hall craze seemingly ended before it began, Pine Street Market’s game has never been stronger. After comings and goings over nearly four years at this bizarre tourist grub court, three champions stand out: Pollo Bravo, with its juicy chicken al carbon, pitch-perfect romesco sauce, and manchego-dusted, sherry vinegar–revved radicchio salad ($12); Bless Your Heart Burgers’ frizzle-edged griddle burgers, slicked with the works and crispy, Cool Ranch–spiced french fries ($11 for both); and Checkerboard Pizza, a side hustle from master baker Ken Forkish dishing some of the best New York–inspired, crackle-crusted pies in town ($10 for a 12-incher). 126 SW Second Ave —BT

BY ROW FROM TOP LEFT: Mushrooms and peppers on the grill at Mama Bird; buttermilk pie at Big’s Chicken; throwing dough at Checkerboard Pizza; a spread at the Higgins bar; a slice at Checkerboard; lamb hummus at Shalom Y’all; beet-cured sturgeon gravlax on spelt bread at Maurice; salmon bento at Giraffe; grilled asparagus at Pollo Bravo

Shizuku by Chef Naoko

Chef Naoko, as she’s known to regulars, lets it be known: “I can talk to vegetables.” It shows at her small, “Oregon farm to Japanese table” café. Don’t miss the teishoku lunch trays (Wednesday–Saturday only, $14–28), each perfect meal carefully arranged with miso soup, fresh Japanese pickles, a lovely salad, and toasted sesame-flavored rice. The centerpiece? Velvety grilled tofu, delicate wild salmon, or absolutely killer pork shu mai dumplings, rich and clad, oddly, in oats. Hot tip: northerly downtown workers can find Naoko’s grab-and-go bento boxes inside Japanese retailer Muji, next to Pioneer Place. 1235 SW Jefferson St —KB

Mama Bird

Not long ago, Portland was better known as Porktown, USA. No more. Chicken is it—fried, smoked, and roasted on every street corner in the city. At Northwest’s Mama Bird, poultry is elevated to biblical status, grilled in the center of the room on a giant funeral pyre of Oregon white oak. Dunk the juicy, smoky bird ($9 for a quarter) in creamy aji verde or vinegary chimichurri for best results. Creamy, parmesan-loaded Ayer’s Creek polenta and vibrant smashed herbed potatoes are a must. And with consistently excellent seasonal salads, this is a place all of Slabtown’s diet-observant—Keto, Whole30, or whatever comes next—can get behind. 2145 NW Raleigh St —BT

Olympia Provisions NW

Leave it to the folks who have dominated the cured meat conversation in this country for a decade to reinvent the charcuterie board. OP’s new DIY, sushi-style menu is a godsend for picky meat-eaters: a full page of salamis, grilled sausages, sliced meats, pâtés, cheeses, and accoutrements to mix and match at will. Just want a damn sandwich? The Italian hero, typically slapped together with the cheapest factory meat money can buy, is a thing of reverence here: the nation’s best salami cotto, capicola, mortadella, and smoked provolone wrapped, like a fat stack of Benjamins, around vinegar-slicked shredded lettuce. 1632 NW Thurman St —BT

Big’s Chicken 

Remember the bummer that was Big’s? The cultish smoked-chicken operation from the Laurelhurst Market team burned down in 2017 after only a few months in business. Unless you live or work in Beaverton, where Big’s reopened in 2018, it’s probably been a while since your last crisp-skinned, hickory-perfumed bird. The new Northeast Portland Big’s, plastered in agri-antiques, feels big enough to house the entire workforce at Providence Health across the street. The proximity might be a good thing, too, because things are Paula Deen–heavy here, complete with sour cream–topped buttermilk pie for dessert. Not everything works, but that smoked-chicken sandwich, bedaubed in Alabama “White Gold” (gussied mayonnaise) is a comfort-food slam dunk, served with fluffy-inside-crunchy-outside jo-jos. 4606 NE Glisan St & 4570 SW Watson Ave, Beaverton —BT

BY ROW FROM TOP LEFT: The double at Bless Your Heart Burgers; karaage bento at Giraffe; the smoked chicken sandwich at Big’s Chicken; diners at Shalom Y’all; a pepperoni pie at Checkerboard Pizza; charcuterie at the Higgins bar; banh mi at the House of Banh Mi; roasted chicken at Pollo Bravo; mussels with wheat berry at Maurice

Higgins Bar

For a place that’s been around for a quarter-century, Higgins’s wood-gleaming cocoon of a bar, tucked behind the pioneering farm-to-table dining room, can still feel like a secret. In the darkened den, toothsome, flavor-packed risottos come topped with foraged chanterelles and frizzled leeks, and a hefty open-face sandwich groaning with house-smoked pastrami and sharp cheddar begs for a pint from the lengthy bar list. Abandon traditional food groups altogether to dive face-first into the vaunted charcuterie plate, a very large triumph of house-cured meat-craft and crisp garden pickles often grown, plucked, and preserved by the chef Greg Higgins himself. Lunch weekdays only. 1239 SW Broadway —KC

Shalom Y’All

The Tasty empire’s three-year-old shoebox-size homage to Israeli street food finally hit its stride in 2019, making it an essential sit-down spot for downtown lunchers. Scoop up silky hummus holding crispy maitake mushrooms or braised lamb with steam-puffing flatbread or fork-tender grilled octopus and crispy potatoes slathered in punchy green harissa. All of John Gorham’s restaurants flaunt their own take on radicchio salad. Shalom’s twist thrums with oniony yogurt dressing and the sticky chew of big dried cherries. Try it. 1128 SW Alder St —KC

The House of Banh Mi (The HOB)

The Vietnamese subs at this spartan spot across the street from Glisan’s cult Bui Tofu are exactly what they ought to be: monster loaves of crisp, pillowy bread stuffed inches-thick with roasty meats, intense liver pâté, slabs of cukes and jalapeños, and heaps of pickled veggies and cilantro. It’s the extras that make HOB worth return lunch stops for its neighbors: soft, fragrant, celadon-hued pandan waffles griddled to order (just $2 each!), brain-freeze fruit slushies, and a rainbow of dangerously rich, criminally cute macarons piped to look like Pikachu and teddy bears. You made it through half your day. Reward yourself. 511 NE 76th Ave —KC

Giraffe Goods

There’s nowhere else in town quite like Giraffe: a grab-and-go ode to Japan’s superior convenience-store cuisine, a homey spot to savor curry rice, and a pit stop for quality Asian pantry staples—all socked into the corner of Cargo, the Central Eastside’s sprawling world import market. Leave with a picture-perfect bento box or post up in the minuscule dining area to nibble hot, feather-light chicken karaage. Either way, don’t forget to snag a flaky, sweet potato–filled croissant or beefy, deep-fried curry buns from Beaverton’s Oyatsupan: Giraffe’s the only place on the east side that stocks the Japanese bakery’s wares. 81 SE Yamhill St —KC 

A charcuterie spread at Olympia Provisions NW


Filed under
Show Comments