Streets & Hoods

6 Essential Portland Neighborhoods for Newcomers to Explore

Shop, eat, and play your way across the metro area.

Edited by Kelly Clarke and Margaret Seiler August 3, 2018 Published in the Newcomer's Guide: 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

You’ve figured out the basic Portland navigation by now: Burnside splits north and south, the Willamette River mostly divides east and west, and that triangle of land west of Williams makes up the “fifth quadrant,” North Portland. You’ve found a place to live, your local market, the corner bar. Now you’re ready to explore. Consider these your starting points.


This close-in North Portland corridor is a gold mine for wanderers who hunger for Portland culture writ large. The booming area sports outlets of many homegrown mini-chains (Blue Star Donuts, Little Big Burger, Ruby Jewel, Hopworks and Lompoc breweries, Verde Cocina, The Meadow, She Bop, pedX ...), with massive new apartment projects popping up like dandelions. But the growth is also a part of Portland’s bitter legacy of displacement. Historically one of the city’s few black neighborhoods due to discriminatory redlining practices, this area was gutted by decades of so-called urban renewal and construction, with gentrification eventually pushing many of Albina’s longtime residents out of the area altogether. So, it’s complicated.

Lovely's Fifty-Fifty

Eat & Drink

Off Mississippi, ambitious, astronomy-themed Ecliptic Brewing offers higher-brow pub fare and a revolving roster of heady brews from owner John Harris—otherwise known as the dude who created Deschutes Mirror Pond and Black Butte Porter. Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty is a pie auteur, deeply connected to local farmers, Northwest cheeses, and free thinking. Friendly Fijian kitchen Big Elephant 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. The age-old pleasures of Bavaria find a home at obsessively authentic beer hall Prost, while its adjacent Prost! Marketplace hosts a range of cart options, from Pastrami Zombie’s epic meat-bomb sandwiches to Native Bowl’s veggie-world grub. You can eat ’em in the lot or on the deck.

By day, Mississippi Studios and its attached Bar Bar beckon with one of the finest garden patios in town (pictured above), while the intimate church-turned-recording-studio-turned-music-venue inside offers sweet acoustics and the cozy feeling of a living room jam session.

Over on Williams, juicy baby back ribs, upholstered in sticky, crackly bark, vie for PDX’s barbecue crown at The People’s Pig, 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. Dip into John Gorham’s globe-trotting empire at family-style brunch and dinner spot Tasty N Sons, where 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. A few blocks away, Gorham’s Spanish tapeo Toro Bravo dishes up manchego-dusted radicchio and salbitxada-coated coppa steak, washed down with rivers of Rioja.

Sugar Wheel Works

Shop & Play

Other cities boast car museums or vintage toy collections. Mississippi boasts half a city block full of old front doors, vintage conveyor belts, and yards of knobs and hinges at the nonprofit ReBuilding Center, which sells salvaged and reclaimed goods at discount prices to encourage locals to use recycled, sustainable materials in their home projects. You can wander for hours through this Portland memory palace—vintage handsaws, tulip pendant lights, fire hoses, old Powell’s bookcases—and never get bored.

Since 1989 visitors have walked inside the doors of Sunlan Lighting to hear owner Kay Newell call out from the desk, “How may I light up your world?” Walk the narrow aisles crammed floor to ceiling with Edison bulbs, lamp bases, funky novelties with hula girls inside, and disco-tastic nightlights. Sunlan’s window displays, crammed with teeny figurines and curios, are pure madness. 

With its dedicated bike lanes and steady stream of two-wheeled commuters, N Williams is a natural home for Sugar Wheel Works, which matches bikers with perfect custom hand-built wheels.

Dawson Park

Named after the county’s first African American sheriff’s deputy, Matt Dishman Community Center just off N Williams has been a hub of activity for nearly 70 years. With a large indoor swimming pool, on-site gym, a legit boxing ring, and dance classes galore, it has physical opportunities for all ages and levels. Plus, there’s a popcorn machine at the front desk. Nearby Dawson Park is a century-plus-old Albina neighborhood gathering spot, home to everything from civil rights marches to free summer concerts and movies.

Up the street and for adults only, N Williams hangout and shuffleboard bar Vendetta hides a massive back patio styled after a Zen garden—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.


SE Division Street (and its scrappy adjunct SE Clinton Street) is one of the most culinarily clogged thoroughfares in town—it’s where Andy Ricker started his Pok Pok Thai-street-food empire in 2005, and where the Reel M Inn has been satisfying chicken-and-JoJo cravings since long before that. And this stretch boasts plenty of charming shops and Old Portland oddities to explore along the way, plus stress-melting spas, leafy green hideaways, and the world’s longest continuously running weekly movie theater screening of The Rocky Horror
Picture Show
at the Clinton Street Theater.

Eat & Drink

The display case at Division Street’s Little T American Baker favors breakfast offerings like croissants, rustic tarts, chocolate chip cookies, and “slab bread,” a focaccia-style flatbread slathered in olive oil and sea salt. Take home a perfect crusty baguette. Ava Gene’s, an ode to Italy, Brooklyn, and the People’s Republic of Portland, specializes in wood-charred breads, vegetable intensity, and doctoral-level pastas. Find standout meatless Israeli dishes—often spiced with vivid green parsley-cilantro tsug and puckery mango-and-mustard-seed amba—at Aviv. Grab a scoop of ice cream at Salt & Straw, every flavor wildly different, with luxurious texture, daring combinations, and an unmistakable taste of place—perfumed with everything from Steven Smith’s Teas and local beers to Olympic Provisions meat.

On Clinton, always-smiling Burrasca chef Paolo Calamai spoons out authentic nonna cooking with a menu of strictly Tuscan plates: try the tender ricotta gnudi, soaking up sage butter, or the velvety cuts of tagliatelle in thick beef ragù. Across the street, humble watering hole Night Light Lounge is the hood’s living room and backyard, with plenty of big, dimly lit tables, 10 taps and cheekily named house cocktails, a roster of comfort food classics—grilled cheese to hot apple crisp—and a smoker’s paradise of a heated patio out back.

Books with Pictures

Image: Kelly Clarke

Shop & Play

For 20 years Village Merchants has been sucking up afternoons with hours of vintage hunting. Roam two stories and a patio packed to the rafters with furniture, potential prom dresses, ornamental baskets, funky jewelry, and cookware. A quirky analog realm of rare records, cassette tapes, and vintage audio gear, Clinton Street Record & Stereo is the spot to stock up on hard-to-find house, Italo disco, and darkwave (and get a quality old-school turntable). At Secret Forest—equal parts IRL hobbit house, Da Vinci Code set, and gothic library—tumble down a rabbit hole of metaphysics books, tarot interpretations, and animism in a series of chambers. Books with Pictures bursts with indie and LGBTQ titles, comics featuring kickass female and POC heroes, kids’ picture books, Marvel and DC standards, and small-run handmade comics.

With ’50s fitted silk floral-print bombshell dresses and the perfect little black 1960s cocktail dress, everything at vintage boutique Xtabay feels up-to-date. Shop Adorn sells flowy caftans, silk pants, and shift dresses from cult favorites like Prairie Underground and Splendid.

Need a break from the restaurant/retail overload? Clean, sleek, and filled with light, the Scandinavian-inspired communal sauna Löyly melts away stress to pre-Trump levels. Hang out au naturel during single-gender hours.

82nd Avenue

Once the eastern edge of the city, 82nd Avenue transitioned from farmlands and fruit stands to urban artery right around the time cars took over America. With its long crosswalk-free stretches, huge parking lots, and many used-car sellers, the four-wheeled focus is still felt today, despite many bus lines and the MAX Green Line, running parallel just a few blocks to the east. So you might want to hop in a car or hitch a ride to explore this bustling corridor, home to many Asian and other immigrant communities that have helped brand the area as the Jade District, a designation celebrated two evenings each summer with a busy night market.

HK Café

Eat & Drink

Migrating over the past few decades from downtown’s Chinatown, the bulk of the city’s dim sum options live along or just off 82nd. It will take multiple visits to get through all the push carts at stalwarts HK Café (don't miss the sugar-crusted egg yolk buns), Ocean City (up to 100 options on weekends), or choose chile-marinated pig ears right from the menu in Pure Spice’s more serene dining room.

At Best Baguette, find a cozy and joyful iteration of an American fast-food joint with a hyperefficient Viet-French makeover. The banh mi are star attractions, with meats stacked generously with veggies and a spiky house mayo. A few blocks north, the Harrison Street strip mall contains some of the best Asian eats per square foot in town, from Good Taste’s massive wonton- and roasted-duck-packed “Super Bowls” to Teo Bun Bo Hue’s lovingly crafted Vietnamese soups (snag a chile-salt dusted fruit slushie from Zero Degrees for dessert).

Rojo the Llama

About eight miles from the start of the Springwater Corridor near OMSI, the paved multiuse path crosses 82nd at Cartlandia. The pod boasts 30-plus food carts, from Mongolian to Moroccan to Hispanic-Indian fusion (happily, tikka masala enchiladas are a thing!). Plus a sports bar, the Blue Room, which welcomes cart food, pours 12 tap beers and serves up its own mystery shots (buyer beware). Watch for local celeb Rojo the Llama, who’ll pop up for “Llama Llibations” on select Fridays this summer.

Shop & Play

Asian shopping center Fubonn offers everything from fat-straw bubble tea to Meianna Bakery treats to marble statuary. Its supermarket is a sprawling treasure hunt with signage in four languages packed with gummy snacks, fermented crab sauces, roasted duck, sake, and more. In a former Safeway up the street, Hong Phat is Fubonn’s less-crowded, no-frills little sister and stocks all of the ingredients in your Vietnamese cookbook, with way more parking. The star here is the affordable produce section, where huge, pebble-skinned jackfruits pile high next to heaps of fresh herbs, lychee, dragon fruit, rambutan, and large, juicy limes cheaper than almost anywhere else in town. (It also stocks Chinese, Korean, and Japanese treats.) 

The Lumberyard

Got some daredevils in your crew? Get thee to The Lumberyard, an indoor-outdoor, all-year, all-day temple of cycling boom, racked and stacked with ramp courses and jumps. Bring your own mountain- or BMX-style ride, or rent from the in-house fleet.

West End

For most visitors, downtown Portland is just the launchpad from which they explore the city’s patchwork of neighborhoods. But amid the central city’s staid maze of banks, federal buildings, and big-name stores hides a vibrant pocket of high-end, locally owned boutiques; fancy, semi-secret bars; old-school Portland weirdness; and one of the city’s best food cart pods (for now). Explore this neighborhood while you’re hungry.

Eat & Drink

Kick off your day savoring a cup of joe and some seriously good baked treats at Courier Coffee Roasters, while the counter staff plays cuts from a vast vinyl collection, hip-hop to Bach.


Image: Michael Novak

SW 10th & Alder’s massive food cart outpost, which lines an entire city block plus some offshoots, can sate any craving: fish and chips at The Frying Scotsman; the best Thai chicken and rice you can imagine at Nong’s Khao Man Gai; savory crêpes from Bing Mi! packed with sizzling hot eggs, pickled bamboo and mushrooms, and black bean and chile pastes; the Whole Bowl’s dependable deconstructed burritos; and so many falafel-shawarma-gyro purveyors you’ll wonder why you didn’t become a chickpea farmer. (Gorge now—development plans will bring radical change soon enough.) 

Pépé le Moko's amaretto sour

For sit-down fare, find sustainable catches at Bamboo Sushi. Next door, Bamboo’s grab-and-go QuickFish gives poke the spendy, artisan treatment, with a choose-your-own-adventure bar of raw fish, sauces, and toppings. French-Scandinavian “pastry luncheonette” Maurice holds first-rate quiche to world-class brioche plumped with fat berries while restaurant sibs Lardo (gutsy sandwiches) and Grassa (housemade pastas) sate all your carb cravings. Set in the ground floor of the Ace Hotel, Clyde Common has a tastefully informal chic vibe. Upstairs, the bar serves the best (barrel-aged) negroni in town. Downstairs, cocktail bunker Pépé le Moko gorgeously updates cocktail pariahs, Long Island ice teas to grasshoppers.

Shop & Play

Locally owned and operated for more than 40 years, Finnegan’s is the largest independent toy store in Portland, packed with classics like Mr. Potato Head, Etch A Sketch, and wind-up robots, as well as educational fun like workbooks, abacuses, and alphabet flash cards. For, um, more adult toys, Spartacus is a three-decade-old den of leather gimp masks, fishnet hose, kinky boots, and corsets. From the sprawling wall of lube to a rainbow of wigs, they’ve got you covered—for whatever your night may have in store. Liberating womenswear one fitted blazer at a time, Wildfang’s band of modern-day Robin Hoods raid men’s closets and dispense the styles they love, from wingtips and wildly patterned suit pants to exclusive content and inspiration, like that Wild Feminist T-shirt you’ve been seeing, oh, everywhere.


Portland has danced, shouted, and bounced on the Crystal Ballroom’s trademark “floating floor” for more than a century—a live music and dance venue as storied as any museum. Owned since the 1990s by the McMenamins brothers (the region’s preeminent beer + restoration experts), the vividly decorated theater’s mainstage has played host to acts from ’60s-era Grateful Dead and Ike & Tina Turner to Sleater-Kinney and Future Islands. Downstairs, Lola’s Room deploys ’80s Video Dance Attack dance parties and smaller shows weekly.

Northwest/Nob Hill

This streetcar-serviced neighborhood centered on NW 21st and 23rd Avenues has many names: Northwest, the Alphabet District, Nob Hill, Trendy-Third.... Bustling with both transplants fresh in town and Old Portland types who remember when these streets weren’t lined with boutiques and Biketown stations, it’s grown even busier in recent years as a trucking company’s old parking lots in neighboring Slabtown see new life with apartment towers and airy new commercial spaces.

From left: Besaw's; Breakside

Eat & Drink

Mornings mean a perfect pastry at Ken’s Artisan Baking or a full eggy breakfast with a cocktail or two at Besaw’s (or weekend brunch at its sister bar Solo Club). For lunch, hit Mediterranean food cart Gastro Mania or grab a foldable slice at Escape from NY Pizza. Find your happy hour destiny in a three-block stretch of NW 21st home to North 45, Muu-Muu’s, and the beloved patio at Twenty First Ave Kitchen and Bar. Settle in for dinner with a side of belly-dancing at Marrakesh, or get to know a local James Beard Award–winning chef at Paley’s Place. Have that nightcap at cozy (as in tiny!) M Bar or mosey over to Breakside Brewing’s taproom. Revive with teenagers out late at Coffee Time or indulge in some late-night cake at Papa Haydn. Then collapse.

Betsy & Iya

Shop & Play

Oh Baby Lingerie

Outfitting a place? Northwest is home to not one but two locations of 43-year-old local standby Kitchen Kaboodle, plus furniture-and-décor-packed Manor Fine Wares and a newly expanded four-story Restoration Hardware. Outfitting a person? From Oh Baby Lingerie to Sloan Boutique, this district has you covered. Top it off with unique jewelry at Twist, Gem Set Love, and Betsy & Iya, and just the right pair of frames at Fetch Eyewear, which donates its profits to animal welfare organizations.

Bar-heavy Northwest can be hopping at night, with lines for Cinema 21’s art-house screenings and packed private karaoke rooms at Voicebox. Find a more anything-can-happen karaoke feel at Mazatlán’s Bar & Grill a few blocks south just off of Burnside (technically in Southwest).


Once a small farming community called Beaverdam and incorporated in 1893, this city just west of Portland houses its nearly 100,000 residents in suburban cul-de-sacs, sprawling former farmhouses, and new transit-stop condos. It’s also home to Nike’s sporty world headquarters and a good chunk of the Silicon Forest, with tech biggies like IBM and Tektronix. The MAX Red and Blue Lines ease commutes, but a car is handiest for exploring the Korean markets, sweets purveyors, and kiddie fun palaces of Beaverton and its outskirts.

Eat & Drink

Mo Cha Tea House

Image: Thomas Teal

For more than 90 years, an iteration of Beaverton Bakery has been cranking out house-made pastries and custom birthday cakes. (Editor's Note: Beaverton Bakery has closed.) Cheery Mo Cha Teahouse caters to icy cravings, from smoky-sweet bubble tea to giant plates of feathery Taiwanese snow ice topped with rainbow of freshly-flavored fruit jellies. A few blocks away Mexican paleta emporium Ome Calli doles out handmade fruit pops, ice creams, and the fruit-spicy chamoyada—a chamoy and chile-salt sprinkled Slurpee on steroids.


In the metro area’s unofficial Koreatown, mandu and sundubu jjigae abound: Nak Won wows with seafood pancakes, spicy octopus stir-fry, and all the banchan (snacky side dishes); DJK delivers great tabletop barbecue; and shoebox-sized Du Kuh Bee provides dinner theater in the form of chewy noodles often stretched a few feet in front of your face, then stir-fried to order (and served with a big bottle of Hite, of course). Meanwhile, strip mall stunner Yuzu traffics in some excellent Japanese pub food and sake—karaage (fried chicken) to yuzu-kissed black cod. Still hungry? House-made pupusas and tender mango and habanero chicken are on order at Gloria’s Secret. If there’s a cheerier restaurant in town than this lunch-focused pan-Latin American café, we haven’t found it. 

Shop & Play


Image: Courtesy iFly

Sweet-talk someone at the shoe company out of one of their coveted guest passes to the Nike Employee Store and feel like an instant local insider. The possible inspiration for the Onion story “Family Takes Rare Trip to the Good Mall,” Washington Square off of Highway 217 encompasses the state’s largest Nordstrom, an official Lego store, and, opening later this year, the only Oregon location of Taiwanese dumpling phenomenon Din Tai Fung.

Once those dumplings are (well) digested, consider a stop at the local outposts of nationwide chains Sky High Sports Trampoline Park or iFly indoor skydiving, or other sporty spots like the Winterhawks Skating Center and indoor complexes PDX SportsCenter and the Tualatin Hills Athletic and Aquatic Centers. If it’s all too much, just nestle in with a good book at the main Beaverton City Library, where you can also check out a projector, a green-screen kit, or knitting needles from the new Library of Things.

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