There’s a reason Portland International has been named Travel and Leisure’s Best Domestic Airport four years in a row. It’s like a miniature “Best of Portland,” with Powell’s Books, Timberline Lodge, and some of the city’s top eateries (and a movie theater on the way), all under Port of Portland’s surprisingly stringent “street pricing policy,” which prohibits airport price gouging.
At most airports, the food is bad. This is not news. Even cheffy spin-offs—the Wolfgang Puck Expresses of the world—are a disaster. But PDX is different. Here you can get a cortado pulled on a La Marzocco machine with a fresh Stumptown roast, sample your way through one of Portland’s best local distilleries, and pick up Blue Star Donuts for the luckiest relatives ever. These are the six best places to eat at PDX Int’l as of December 2016*:
Like a beacon of white light shining behind Concourse A, B, and C’s thermal body scanners, Portland’s greatest caffeinated export pulls and pours top-level espresso, cold brew (on tap), and Smith Tea, with a full larder of good Roman Candle pastries. I repeat: You can get a Stumptown cortado at the airport. Hardy pastries, like flaky lemon-currant scones, hold up best behind the display. Sandwiches, like a simple breakfast number with fluffy egg and pimento cheese sandwiched between English muffins, are a godsend. Soon, Stumptown will add seating in the narrow alley behind the coffee bar for premium tarmac views.
If you’re in a hurry to make your flight, Portland’s favorite pseudo-fast food joint (Concourse D, between D4 and D6), is the way to go. To make sure the local chain wasn’t skimping on the fries, we ordered a pepper bacon cheeseburger with the works. It’s just like any Portland Burgerville—fast, Oregon-sourced, and not likely to make your 6-hour flight a gastro-nightmare. Major bonus: Rogue on tap and pumpkin-spice milkshakes…if you’re into that sort of thing.
The bowl-based food cart (pre-security, behind ticketing) is an actual, viable, healthy eatery that doesn’t simply serve wilted greens in vinegar. It’s also one of the only places for the gluten, nut, and meat-averse crowd to get a square meal. There’s only one option, and it’s loaded with brown rice, red and black beans, avocado, salsa, black olives, sour cream, Tillamook cheddar, cilantro and a wonderfully garlicky, lemony Tali sauce.
Post-security at the mouth of Concourse D and E sits the Country Cat, the airport’s premier sit-down dining option. It’s got the same Southern-Americana fare as the Montavilla original, served with surprising consistency. The headlining cast-iron fried chicken is shatter-crisp, juicy, and served with buttery mashed potatoes and tart, bacon-braised collard greens. For breakfast: buttermilk pancakes, eggs benedict, and pastrami hash. Against all airport odds, this place is the real deal.
Blueberry Bourbon Basil. Valrhona Chocolate Crunch. Apple Cider Fritter. It’s all here. No longer will you haul the flaming pink Voodoo Doughnuts box from downtown, traumatizing your taxi driver like the terrible tourist you are. Blue Star’s (pre-security, behind ticketing) deep-fried wonders are made fresh daily, taste just as fluffy, light, and marvelous as the flagship, and are served with really good Coava Coffee.
Spending time at the world’s first airport tasting room is officially the best way to spend a layover. House Spirits (Concourse C, near C8) offers flights and cocktails made with their Portland-made vodka, whiskey, aquavit, rum, and coffee liqueur. A quarter-ounce pour cocktail, like the Volstead & Pomegranate with vodka, Pok Pok drinking vinegar, and club soda, or a Krogstad & Root Beer with aquavit and Portland Soda Works root beer, comes in at $5 a glass. There’s also a gift shop stocked with the House Spirits greatest hits, and a plethora of local mixers, syrups, and bitters to help complete your artisan gift tour.
* Downtown deli Kenny & Zuke’s is also expected to touch down at PDX later this winter, offering fresh, handmade bagels for breakfast and a lineup of hearty soups and sandwiches like the classic pastrami for lunch and dinner.