Where to Eat & Drink in Portland's N Mississippi/Williams Neighborhood
You’ll never go hungry along North Williams and Mississippi—the area boasts everything from high-end spreads to excellent street carts—plus the requisite outposts of our beloved, homegrown mini-chains like Blue Star Donuts, Little Big Burger, and Ruby Jewel ice cream. Go deeper for delicate bowls of ramen, mind-bending smoked fried chicken sandwiches, Prohibition-era cocktails, and, arguably, the best brunch in town.
COFFEE Portland’s barista fetish owes more than a little to Billy Wilson, who elevated espresso pulling to vertiginous heights when he opened Albina Press with Kevin Fuller in 2004. He left four years later to start Barista, but his original launchpad still takes coffee seriously. Expect good crema and fine zucchini bread attracting the usual balance of North PDX regulars slinging screenplays and babies, and time-rich members of the MacBook professional class.
The Box Social
BAR Portland has long considered this candlelit cube a quintessential date spot. Unsurprisingly, it comes courtesy of Shannon McQuilkin, co-owner of the one of the city’s other quintessential date spots, the Sapphire Hotel. An extensive menu of original, classic, and bubbly cocktails holds some deliciously potent creations—along with plenty of drinking vinegars, beer, and wine—while well-priced nibbles range from parmesan popcorn to decadent fig compote panini. If this place doesn’t set the mood, we don’t know what will.
SANDWICHES Established in 2011, this humble neighborhood sandwich shop is a go-to spot for tasty subs with locally sourced ingredients and punny names like “Wham Bam Thank You Ham” or "Wake Me Up Beef-or You Go Go.” (It also happens to symbolize both the area’s gentrification and resistance to said gentrification—the shop once handed out bumper stickers reading “One Less Condo.”) Early birds are rewarded with a cup of Courier coffee and a breakfast sando filled with fried eggs or house-made vegan sausage.
Big Elephant Kitchen
FIJIAN-INDIAN This friendly Fijian kitchen is built on long-simmered family recipes that make good use of India’s spice cabinet, with mountainous tharkari plates big enough to share and still tote leftovers home. ($9.99 scores you three entrées plus garlic roti, rice, and daal.) The fare found in the café’s mix-and-match steam table trends hearty and rich, from salsa-y potato-eggplant to standout salty, bold fish stewed with tomato and coconut milk, with hot-bright chutneys on offer to add kick. Co-owner Saleshni Sundar is game to lend first-timers flavor CliffsNotes for Fijian eats, jackfruit and taro-heady dishes not often found in Portland, while her mom,Rajni, holds down the kitchen, blending spices and folding tasty, oversize, super-chewy samosas packed with hunky curried peas and carrots. Also, the mango lassi is a requisite order no matter the season; Big Elephant’s take is more like fruity slushy made with a bit of house yogurt, hiding a core of ice cream.
This hood is ankle-deep in locally brewed suds in roomy spots that cater to the whole clan.
From the bike-themed décor to the recycled building materials and locally sourced pub grub, supremely kid-friendly Hopworks Bikebar practically screams “sustainable” from the top of its healthy lungs; that includes Christian Ettinger’s all-organic brews. Its piney, citrusy Hopworks IPA is a classic. // Lompoc Brewing’s Fifth Quadrant is a casual spot for gigantic heaps of pulled-pork nachos and pints of toasty Proletariat Red. Bring the kids and dogs—everybody else on the covered patio does. (Sneak around the corner for barrel tastings and seasonal sips at Lompoc’s bottle shop, Sidebar.) // Ambitious, astronomy-themed Ecliptic Brewing offers higher-brow pub fare and a constantly revolving roster of heady brews from owner John Harris—otherwise known as dude who created Deschutes Mirror Pond and Black Butte Porter. // Wanna take your suds to go? Tin Bucket stocks the good stuff by the can or bottle, funky saisons and hazy IPAs to porters plus a whole case of ciders. Or, grab a growler of whatever the friendly bottle shop is pouring on its 40 taps that week.
BAR This dusky North Mississippi watering hole lures the hungover and hungry on weekend mornings with balanced cocktails and burly breakfast fare, often soundtracked by ’80s rock. The menu runs from biscuits with boar sausage gravy to super puffy buttermilk poppyseed pancakes that taste like Costco muffins drizzled with zingy lemon curd ... in the best way possible. The finest mornings start with a salty, smoked-then-fried half game hen, often perched on a toasty house biscuit. (You can get the same bird at night, plus hefty burgers and steaks.) Slather everything in tangy jalapeño butter and devour every crunchy morsel between swigs of your a.m. libation.
DINER Locals ceded this decade-old woodsy diner with huge portions to lines of tourists long ago—who wants to wait an hour or more for middling gravy? But somewhere in the past few years the homey spot upped its game—the sausage gravy got spicier and silkier, the platter-size hash browns now boast a perfect ratio of crisp-to-creamy spud bits. The plates are still overwhelming: the Monte Cristo, with its XXL slabs of cinnamony challah French toast heaped with griddled ham, turkey, and Swiss is a prime example of the “Food As Dare” trend that will not die. But it also tastes damn good; the kind of thing you want to share with a friend (or three) over a lazy weekday breakfast fueled by bottomless mugs of Cellar Door Coffee. Insider tip: Wednesdays and Thursdays are slowest, if you can squeeze in a midweek meal.
Kayo’s Ramen Bar
JAPANESE Ramen! Ramen! Ramen! Listen, we’re all for it. But the ramen boom sometimes feels like one of those signifiers Portlanders are supposed to embrace—like woodworking, or beard oil—to demonstrate our artisanal machismo. Just a bunch of hearty lumberjanes and ’jacks, guzzling porky tonkotsu in the rain! This low-key, airy N Williams Avenue outpost takes ramen in a gentler direction, brewing elegant, nuanced broth in the lighter assari style to bathe the springy coils of house noodles (“Noodle #47, because it took 47 tries over three months,” as the menu notes). All the same, the fiery TanTan bowl leaves no doubt this is serious ramen. Kayo’s just doesn’t need to be aggressive about it.
BAR Located at the most southern tip of the Mississippi strip, this warm, rustic eatery/bar is the kind of place where you’d like to get snowed in with your sweetie or a posse of friends—nibbling vegan gorp or devouring Olympia Provisions chile queso dogs between rounds of bingo. During the winter, play cards and sip hot toddies or chai buttered rum. Come summer, guzzle a refreshing house-made ginger kombucha and pear brandy cocktail on the porch or patio, where a woodstove combats the evening chill. Either way, Liberty Glass has you covered.
PIZZA Purists, don’t bother. Sarah Minnick is the bold auteur of the Portland pie, deeply connected to adventurous local farmers, Northwest cheeses, and free thinking. (And the pizzas themselves? They’re terrific.) For dessert, consider one of the last reminders of what real ice cream tastes like, with seasonal flavors so ripe they could have fallen from a tree.
THAI The dimly lit den of reclaimed wooden planks and mismatched particleboard tables fashioned from recycled bicycle wheels looks just as comfortably at home on the hip North Mississippi Avenue as it would on a Bangkok roadside. And while the menu features a few familiar standbys, such as pad Thai and chicken satay, the heart of Mee Sen lies in its lesser-known noodle dishes. Order the house specialty, guay tiew, and mix and match your choice of bouncy noodles in combinations like the Thai-style stewed chicken, served in a sugary soy-chicken broth, or the light-as-air fishballs in vegetable broth with red bean sauce.
BARBECUE Smoked pork shoulder and lamb summon Austin, Texas. Juicy baby backs, upholstered in sticky, crackly bark, vie for PDX’s barbecue crown. But the smoked fried chicken sandwich is the real star: thighs, skins on, smoked to smithereens, baptized in hot oil for crispy ruffles, then glazed in jalapeño jelly and captured in a monumental, char-blistered sourdough bun.
PERUVIAN This casual Peruvian spot serves addictive, authentic street bites and sweet, fruity drinks. Chow on Peruvian sandwiches, from chorizo to pepper-rubbed pork on crusty bread from Fleur De Lis, plus more substantial home-style plates of pollo a la brasa drizzled with creamy pepper sauce or lomo saltado. Las Primas’ national pride extends to their love of frothy pisco sours, and the restaurant’s is one of the best in town. Choose from a long list of pisco-based cocktails and mellow, fruity sangria, or sip Chica Morada, a super-sweet Peruvian purple corn drink that tastes like blueberries and dark spice.
Olympia Oyster Bar
SEAFOOD For oyster lovers in search of the quintessential raw experience, Olympia Oyster’s spare, small bar holds a curved, ornate ice chest of craggy, Northwest-grown half-shells. Behind that bar, staff skillfully shake up a short list of classic cocktails and pour well-chosen glasses of sparkling wine. Ambitious eaters can dive into an Asian- and Latin-inspired small-plates menu—oddly organized with more mixed results than the raw choices. But trust the house to select a dozen “chef’s whim” oysters, then sip a dry, arctic gin martini, and brace for briny pleasure.
¿Por Qué No?
MEXICAN Take one bite of the tacos here—especially the seafood versions, with cornmeal-crusted, line-caught Alaskan cod or chile-spiked wild shrimp—and you’ll be transported to Baja. The tacos are so good, it can sometimes be hard to try anything else, but they’re small enough that a couple of fried flautas with crema won’t hurt. If you still feel like you’re in Portland, a margarita or fresh-squeezed agua fresca (fruit juice) ought to reorient you farther down south.
Prost! & Prost! Marketplace Cart Pod
GERMAN BAR & CARTS The age-old pleasures of Bavaria find a home at this obsessively authentic German beer hall. Picture windows rimmed with golden orbs of light frame the small pub, its walls bedecked in dark wood and grainy photographs of co-owner Chris Navarra’s ancestral farm in Germany. Inside, spires of glassware brim with frothy lagers and diners feast on smoked bratwurst smeared with piquant mustard, while an outdoor beer garden buzzes with a festival of slurred conversation. For anyone who has braved the debauchery of Munich’s Oktoberfest, Prost’s menu is certain to reawaken those blurry memories. Imported German beers live permanently on tap, with an extra spout rotating weekly among rare, seasonal picks. Outside, the adjacent Prost! Marketplace cart pod explores other regions, from Pastrami Zombie’s epic meat-bomb sandwiches to Native Bowl’s veggie-world grub. You can eat ’em all in the lot or on Prost’s deck.
NORTHWEST Pared-down plates let the fresh food speak for itself at Bill Wallender’s hyperlocal seasonal kitchen, where the menu brims with nice updates on straight-ahead fine-dining fare (perfect roasted chicken with salty orach, fried summer squash with chile honey), subject to change each day according to farm harvests. Don’t miss the salads—this past summer, fragrant tarragon, creamy bits of shaved, cured egg yolk, and the nutty double punch of crunchy sunflower and bitter little nigella seeds vaulted Little Gems lettuce into something truly special.
Tasty n Sons
ALL THE BRUNCH At John Gorham’s globe-trotting go-to family-style brunch and dinner spot, you’ll find new ways to love eggs: fried with a cheddar biscuit, over-easy atop harissa-creamy hash, or baked in pepper-sauced shakshuka. And then there are the feather-light chocolate potato doughnuts, and the Auntie Paula’s eggy French toast.… Add on a stiff, Sriracha-spiked Tasty Mary and get nibblin’. It’s worth the (inevitable) weekend wait.
BAR/SCANDINAVIAN Radar’s glowing, raw-brick space, dominated by an open kitchen tucked behind a swooping bar counter, easily reels in neighbors, strolling couples, and restaurant industry vets. The maritime-tinged spot keeps its catch by serving as a relaxed-but-classy hideaway on a street that’s become increasingly rambunctious. The kitchen mingles strong Scandinavian influences with Northwest twists and Northeast seafood (they fly in smoked bluefish weekly for pâté), while the bar boasts top-notch drinks like the cocoa nib amaro-spiked Night Owl—one of our fave bourbon drinks in town. Insider tip: Broder Nord is running a 45-minute wait for brunch? Head up the hill to Radar’s warm, line-free environs.
SPANISH/NORTHWEST Over the past decade, restaurateur John Gorham has opened six thriving restaurants, enveloping the Portland area like a gluttonous ladling of duck fat. The empire took root here, in 2007, when the chef imported the rowdiness of a Spanish tapeo to Northeast Portland. A decade later, the newly remodeled Toro Bravo (years of squid ink take a toll) still dishes up many of its early classics. The manchego-dusted radicchio and salbitxada-coated coppa steak continue to shine, but the once-addictive salt cod fritters—served with a schmear of aioli, like seemingly half the menu—now possess all the personality of fish sticks. But Gorham and his team still dream up fresh ideas born of new trips to Spain: be on the lookout for magnificent tar-black rabbit fideo or melty, corn-pocked Kurobuta pork cheeks. All best washed down with rivers of Rioja and a toast to another 10 years.
The Secret Society Lounge
BAR The small, crimson lounge at this 1907 ballroom acts as a warm-up for hall’s roster of concerts, dance parties, and fashion shows (as well as a waiting room for Toro Bravo next door). But the Secret Society often triggers the desire for an extended stopover all on its own. Basking in the room’s sepia glow, one’s convinced they’ve stepped into a gentlemen’s club from a more civilized age.* The Prohibition-era cocktails further the illusion. Consider a good, copper-mugged Moscow Mule or a cherry brandy sweet Blood & Sand (created for the 1922 silent bullfighting film starring Rudolph Valentino, the menu thoughtfully reminds you). The spot is known for its elaborate crystal absinthe dispenser; the “green fairy” works well in a Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway’s drink of choice back in his bullfighting days, the sparkle from the Champagne brightening absinthe’s brooding licorice. Who needs dinner anyway?
*Also, according to the PoMo staff hive mind: the Secret Society’s “beautiful, large bathroom” with “flattering mirrors” and “soft furniture” is one of our favorite ladies’ rooms in town.
BAR Past the bar and shuffleboard tables, this Williams hangout hides a massive back patio styled after a Zen garden—you know, if Zen monks drank Old Crow and smoked American Spirits. The patio is partially covered, with big garage doors that shutter when the rain starts. Drink of choice: Don’t overthink it. Grab a beer and a plate of the inexplicably satisfying nachos.
MEXICAN/VEGAN/GF Mexican in spicing, farm-forward in spirit, this Portland chainlet boasts specials like local salmon tacos with crisped skins, fresh tomatoes, and avocado-tomatillo dressing. Vegetables are the main event, but meat is taken seriously: gringas (soft, rolled tacos) come off hot off the press, puffing and steaming with maize perfume, rolled with braised Sweet Briar Farm pork and dark, musky mole.
Wolf & Bear’s
MIDDLE EASTERN This cart has propagated a die-hard community of regulars who line up for homemade hummus, a grand Iraqi-style breakfast wrap, and one of the finest falafels around. The Wolf’s leafy bower on Mississippi is the most atmospheric of its three locations. Crisped, sprouted garbanzo patties are 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. The Sabich, an ingenious combo of sliced hard-boiled egg, hummus, eggplant, onions, and crisp cucumbers folded in a pita with tangy amba (a mango pickle condiment), makes for a revelatory morning ritual.
CHINESE Former Aviary chef Jasper Shen brings his take on soup dumplings, a.k.a. xiao long bao to Portland. The dumplings—pleated purses full of garlic- and ginger-flecked pork and scorching-hot, deeply spiced broth—headline Shen’s atmospheric little North Portland Chinese restaurant, joined by a trio of strictly un-Americanized noodle dishes, mellow chicken bites, and steamed buns.