PDX Airport Guide: Food

What to Eat Before Your Flight Out of Portland

PDX proves airport food doesn’t have to suck.

By Benjamin Tepler, Shannon Henderson, and Margaret Seiler September 23, 2019 Published in the October 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Jonathan Case

Best Taste of Portland

Blue Star Donuts (Pre-Security)
For years we watched tourists schlepping bubblegum-pink Voodoo Doughnut boxes onto planes across the country. It was slightly embarrassing, we felt, for the rest of the world to believe that this was the best fried round our city had to offer. Then, at the end of 2016, Blue Star Donuts landed a spot pre-security with the familiar white-tiled backdrop and a full lineup of flavors, Blueberry Bourbon Basil to Buttermilk Old-Fashioned, delivered several times a day for freshness. Bonus: the Coava coffee sitting in their metal thermoses (and nitro cold brew on tap) might be the best drip at the airport. 

Best Sit-Down Breakfast

Country Cat (just past the D-E security checkpoint)
While the original Country Cat in Montavilla shuttered in August, its nose-to-tail Americana eats live on in its airport facsimile. Technically, the PDX version is run by a company that also owns both airport and non-airport restaurants in the Bay Area, but this is still the last place on God’s green earth to find the Cat’s celebrated tallow-fried chicken. There’s no better plate to launch a long day of travel than the eggs Benedict: biscuits topped with ham (or smoked salmon) and poached eggs and drowned in a glistening, tangy hollandaise. If you don’t sop up every bit with the biscuit, dredge the rosemary-dusted home fries through the rest.

Best Breakfast Sandwich

Sausage, Egg, and Cheese at Henry’s Tavern (next to gate C11)
We take the airport breakfast sando—the animating meal for all bleary-eyed travelers—very seriously. There were many contenders: Kenny & Zuke’s (too dry), Burgerville (not exactly an Egg McMuffin), Capers Market (bad bagels), Country Cat (lead weight), and Stumptown (just—yikes). The dark horse? Henry’s Tavern, a corporate vestige of OG Portland brewing legend Henry Weinhard. Henry’s parent company might have declared bankruptcy this summer, but its breakfast sandwich—served correct on a tangy, oversize English muffin, and stacked with fluffy scrambled eggs, a thick, juicy sausage patty, and melted Tillamook sharp cheddar—is head and shoulders over the rest. Hot sauce upon request.

Best Lunch

Tamale Norteño at Tamale Boy (next to gate D4)
The longtime cart favorite (with a pair of brick-and-mortar locations in town) is far and away the best choice for lunch at the airport. These are proper Northern Mexican tamales: fluffy yellow corn masa, wrapped and steamed in corn husks and stuffed with chipotle-adobo-sauced chicken or roasted pasilla peppers. A full clamshell lunchbox, substantial enough to last an East Coast flight, includes black beans simmered in epazote and garlicky Mexican rice. Hot tip: get there before noon. Tamale Boy regularly sells out.

Best Grab-and-Go meal

The Rachel at Kenny & Zuke’s (Just past the A-B-C security checkpoint)
Take a moment, if you will, to marvel at the fact that we have both freshly boiled bagels and cured pastrami available inside our airport. K&Z’s Rachel, a Reuben with turkey pastrami, might be the best handheld consumable you can find at the airport. Caraway-heavy rye bread comes layered with smoky, salty turkey, crunchy pickled slaw, tangy Russian dressing, and a layer of melted swiss. Ding: it comes in at just under $18 ... which is a lot, especially for an airport with a street-pricing policy.

Best Beer and a Burger

Henry’s Tavern (next to gate C11)
Our pick for best breakfast sandwich surprised us again with an all-around excellent bistro burger. There are actual local brewery outposts at PDX, plus a pre-security, grandparent-approved Stanford’s location, but none put out a burger quite as archetypal as the corporate-chic taproom’s Brewhouse burger: a bloody, medium-rare patty sandwiched between a stack of pickles, mustard-seed-studded mayo, and shredded lettuce. Golden, skin-on spuds do a fine job of soaking up extra burger juice. Nearly 30 local taps help wash it all down, while pressed-tin ceilings, brick walls, and a view of the south runway make this a genuinely enjoyable place to wolf down a burger.

Best Latte

Stumptown Coffee (just past the A-B-C security checkpoint)
For third-wave espresso drinks, your best bet is Stumptown. It all comes down to the not-exactly-local-anymore icon’s reliably great roasts, like the classic Hair Bender, with dark chocolate and citrus notes that rock in anything from an Americano to a latte. Still, the person pulling the shots can mean the difference between great and undrinkable coffee, and Stumptown’s overloaded airport baristas might be, shall we say, inconstant. If Stumptown is a miss, head to runner-up Portland Roasting Company (pre-security, post-D-E security, and next to gate C17) for a solid lineup of roasts and no lines.

Best Grocery Selection

Tender Loving Empire (next to gate D5, with another shop coming next year to Concourse E)
There’s no doubt in our minds: PDX’s artisan foodstuff offerings are next level. You can find Smith Tea and Woodblock Chocolate at, minimally, three different grab-and-go markets. That said, the best curation happens at record label/boutique Tender Loving Empire. Some things you might spy: bags of Water Avenue Coffee, Salt & Straw’s Honey Lavender mini pints, Hot Mama Salsa, Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters, and a bottle shelf that runs from Sokol Blosser pinot to Breakside sour ale. Stocking. Stuffers. Acquired.

Best Tropical Vacation Pre-Game

Beaches (Pre-Security)
Anyone who’s set foot inside PDX knows that distinctive smell—a cloud of caramelized sugar as you pass ticketing and head for security. It belongs to Beaches, an outpost of the Vancouver-based riverfront restaurant, and a baffling tiki-den/fish-and-chips chimera. Plant yourself at the eight-seat fire pit and dunk surprisingly tender calamari strips in yuzu aioli. Sip a mai tai with a spiced-rum float and look deep into the eyes of that monkey hanging 10 on a radical surf mural nearby. You’re so close to the real thing. Just don’t miss that flight to Maui; it can take around 45 minutes to get in and out with a full belly and a bag of caramel corn, the source of that alluring aroma.

PDX Dining Cheat Sheet


Beaches (fried calamari, mai tai)
Blue Star (buttermilk old-fashioned, drip coffee)
Bangkok Xpress (Hollywood curry noodle, steamed pork and egg bun; not to be confused with neighboring Panda Express)
Flying Elephants (tomato orange soup, grilled cheese) 


Bambuza (pork banh mi)
Westward Whiskey (Aquavit Bloody Mary)
Kenny & Zuke’s (sandwiches and bagels)
Henry’s Tavern (Brewhouse cheeseburger)
Vino Volo (“Women in Wine” flight)


Burgerville (only Portland location with beer!)
Country Cat (eggs Benedict for sit-down, cinnamon rolls to-go)
Capers Market (fresh Willapa Bay oysters)
Tamale Boy (Tamale Norteño)

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