Portland!

Portland Out the window of my former downtown apartment, early morning Feb 2016, iPhone 6

Last Updated: 16 Jul 2017

I've been out of town a while, and then the pandemic came through and changed things a lot. Make sure to click the Yelp links below to verify these places are still open before you go. --C

Cocktails & Spirits#

Portland's cocktail scene is absolutely world-class, highly recommended.

Multnomah Whiskey Library (Downtown) — They have something like 2000 bottles of whiskey (Scotch, Bourbon, Japanese, whatever) and pretty much every other alcohol imaginable. Some really rare and unique selections available. Incredibly knowledgeable bartenders. Outstanding cocktails. Ridiculously good steaks, and other food options. A world-class experience. Also, conveniently located right across the street from Tasty 'n Alder.

Rum Club (Inner Eastside) — Hop an Uber and get over to this inner Eastside gem. Totally hipster and cool yet somehow completely unpretentious, the kids here do the cocktails totally right. Afternoons are a super chill time to try a Rum Club Old Fashioned. Loud and fun on weekend nights.

Pepe Le Moko (Downtown) — This is a very special spot, home of maybe the best cocktails I've ever had anywhere. It's completely next level. Must-try drinks include the unbelievable Amaretto Sour, the Espresso Martini and a Hotel Nacionalé. To get down to the bar, enter through the small nondescript door off the street and (after checking in) make your way down a narrow staircase into the underground. You'll find yourself in a super dark, small bomb shelter (seriously) of wonder and amazement (once your eyes adjust). Not to be missed.

Teardrop (Pearl) — Deserves to be on this list for its tenure alone, they were cranking out great cocktails long before it was fashionable in Portland. Excellent cocktail craftsmanship. They're always changing up the menu and trying new things. Easily the best bar in the Pearl. If Matthew is still there, say hello for me.

Benson Hotel Lobby Bar (Downtown) — Is this place called The Palm Court? I've never quite figured it out. Anyway, ask for Jonah, the lead bartender, who's usually there during the prime times. He hand picks every bottle behind the bar, and once introduced me to Yamazaki 18 (... and my life was forever changed ...). Some would say he makes the best Spanish Coffee in town. The rest of the staff is also extremely pleasant. I think everyone has been there forever, like 10-20+ years... one of those joints. Notably and sadly, this is now one of the very few places left in town to watch jazz, including the incredible Tony Pacini trio.

Kask (Downtown) — This was basically my neighborhood bar for a while, and it's lovely. Great cocktails. Last I checked they also had a selection of fabulous Taiwanese whiskey, which is pretty rare in Portland.

Casa del Matador (Eastside, NW 23rd) — Excellent tequila selection. Flights available.

Bars#

Aalto Lounge / Circa 33 (Belmont) — These two cool places are part of a cluster of bars and late night stuff known as Belmont. I'm fond of them for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

Moloko Plus (Mississippi) — Why is it "Plus"? Well, I guess they couldn't figure it out either, so they took it off their Yelp profile. Anyway— Infused vodkas and very cool fish tanks full of odd creatures. Recommended.

Santé (Pearl) — This small bar (originally wine only, but since diversified) was in the same building as my office was for a long time, so I drank here quite a bit and got to know the owners well. Really good food. It's also easy to make a lot of random friends here, which is great.

Portland City Grill (Downtown) — The reason you come here is for the view and for the atmosphere. It's 30 stories up and the views of the city below are amazing.

Honorable Mention — Loyal Legion (Inner Eastside) — I've only been here once but it showed a lot of promise, and I need to go back. Great whiskey and scotch selection, lots of beer (if I remember correctly) and also awesome food. Heavy. I hope you got your run on in the morning.

Western Food#

Tasty n Alder (Downtown) — It's stupid good. The Iberico Pork Skirt Steak is one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth. In fact, I've never had anything I didn't love there. Excellent service. Great cocktails. Not to be missed.

Verde Cocina (Pearl) — YUM. A truly excellent spin on Mexican food— not the stereotypical California taco shop stuff. All of the food is super fresh and full of delicious veggies, handmade tortillas, and some of the best marinated meat in town. Everything is delicious. Outstanding margaritas and Don Hulio 1942, done. Side note— It is not even remotely the most expensive restaurant in town, but some of my wealthiest and most powerful friends haunt it like there's no tomorrow!

Nuestra Cocina (Division) — Also mega yum for basically the same reasons.

El Burrito Azteca (North Portland) — In case you are, in fact, looking for more of that California taco shop type stuff. Bar is open late serving food.

Ringside Steakhouse (Near Downtown) — Commonly shows up on lists of the country's best steakhouses. All aspects of it are wonderful, not the least of which are the steaks. It may not be completely unique, but that's not going to stop it from being one of my favorite spots in town. Not to be confused with Ringside Grill out near Gresham, which is not good.

Oven & Shaker (Pearl) — If you've never had a reasonable wood-fired Neapolitan pizza before, this is the last place in Portland I'm aware of that does it. Good food, good bar, happy hour specials.

Grassa (Downtown) — Delicious pasta. Very casual, you can be in and out in 20 minutes.

Andina (Pearl) — Peruvian food, who knew!? This is a classic Portland restaurant, and there's a reason it's been around so long. Delicious. If they have a habanero cocktail available, hit that immediately.

Pudnah's (North Portland) — Yay BBQ. Tasty. I hope you like meat.

Thai & Vietnamese Food#

Portland has a very high concentration of SE Asian immigrants, and the food stanard is high. This is excellent news for your taste buds!

Nom Nom (Vancouver) — New update for 2021! The Thai and Vietnamese dishs here are award winning and delicious. Ask for Bob. Also check out his new nearby restaurant Saap Fusion Kitchen.

Maiphai Thai (Downtown) — Awesome. The owners are great and their space is huge— if you need to throw a huge party— which I have done, on occasion. If they aren't open, Esan Thai is across the corner and also awesome. (Esan also has a cart near SW 10th and Alder if you need a quick grab.)

Khao San (Pearl) — I was really enjoying this place a lot before I left the neighborhood. Really cool vibes, good food. The TVs are always playing sepak takraw matches, and the owner seems to love driving people around the district in his neon-lit go-kart thing. All of this is very good, in my book.

Phở Hung (Southeast) — When my Vietnamese ex-girlfriend and I went out, we would go here. As their namesake recommends, get the phở.

Phở Oregon (Eastside) — This place is Asian legit (tortoise shell artwork and fish tanks), and it's damned good. Order the Phở đặc biệt and some spring rolls, and eat it like PHO BAE. It may take a few tries to get the proper swag down for this place, but do not fret, nobody will judge you (overtly). When I have Taiwanese friends in town who have been eating fat American food too many days in a row and need a bowl of noodles, we go here.

Nong's Khao Man Gai (Downtown, Inner Eastside) — Nong is legendary in the Portland scene—  her food cart was one of the first in Portland to receive national attention. The dish is a simple Hainanese classic chicken-rice, but she's doing her own subtle Thai spin on it. I believe there are a few locations around town still.

Japanese Food#

Shigezo (Downtown) — It's not world-class Japanese food, but it's totally solid, and the vibe is really fun. It's an old worthy standby of mine— for a while my girlfriend and I were doing happy hour there every weekend. They also have private tatami rooms at no extra cost if your party is big enough.

Mirakutei (Inner Eastside) — Great sashimi and nigiri at a reasonable price point. I recommend ordering one of everything off the specials board. Ensure that you ask, however, to go very light on the wasabi— for reasons completely unbeknownst to be, the chef likes to go crazy with it from time to time.

There's a slew of new ramen joints that are supposed to be good, but I haven't tried enough to comment yet.

Chinese Food#

Portland isn't known for this. But if you're local and you can't immediately drive to Vancouver BC or San Francisco, then I recommend the following.

小肥羊火鍋 Mongolian Hot Pot (a.k.a. "Little Sheep") (Beaverton) — Yeah, it's a reasonable rendition of a Chinese hotpot place.

HK Café (Eastside) — Dim sum. Not world-class, but good enough that my Asian friends will eat here.

Duck House (Downtown) — If I want Chinese food in Portland I'm probably going to go here. They have the best 小籠包 xiǎolóngbāo in town, but it is not exactly a substitute for the Din Tai Fung in Seattle.

Brunch#

Brunch is a Portland institution. If you like brunch, you are in a good place.

On the weekend, for most of these places, I highly recommend arriving as close to opening time as possible to avoid a long wait.

Tasty n Alder (Downtown) — Yeah, I'm mentioning it again. Like I said— stupid good. Put your phone number into the wait list with the host, and go get a coffee across the street at Heart.

Mothers (Downtown) — Really really good, solid, Portland staple. Relatively unbury during the week. Generally avoid weekends, unless you're willing to get there early.

Screen Door (Eastside) — Everything is really good, but the chicken and waffles are out of this universe. I've seen people queue on Saturday morning for an hour and a half before the doors even opened. This is another one to try during the week.

Byways Café (Pearl) — Delicious Americana diner food in the Pearl, with a few lighter options. TV famous. The owner frequently waits on customers personally.

Gravy (Mississippi) — American with a bit of a southern flair. Heavy and delicious. Again, go early or late on the weekends.

Brøder (Division) — Scandinavian brunch. Very tasty.

Radio Room (North Portland) — I started hitting this place a lot on the weekends because there's never a wait, and the food is very good.

City State Diner (Eastside) — They serve breakfast into the afternoon. And it's good.

Helser's on Alberta (North Portland) — Good! Long wait sometimes.

Jam (Eastside) — Solid. Less of a wait issue.

Pine State Biscuits (Division, North Portland) — Super yummy. However, does not really fit well with my frequent paleo diet kicks.

See also— Waffle Window and HK Café.

Coffee#

Other than two absolute "must" recommendations (below), there are so so many amazing coffee shops in Portland that I would just recommend googling to find the nearest of one of these options:

Barista, Stumptown (must try— nitro cold brew!), Courier, Compass, Roseline, Coava, Heart, Ristretto, Good Coffee, Dapper & Wise

Barista (Pearl) — I believe this is the original multi-roaster coffee house. Started by famed award-winning barista Billy Wilson. It's exceptional.

Courier Coffee (Downtown) — They make a really really excellent pour-over coffee, and are super cool to boot. The shop itself is very Portland.

Bagel.#

Bowery (Pearl) — I ate here basically every morning for many years. That's why it gets its own category. Very delicious bagels and Stumptown coffee to go.

Beer#

There are a million places to drink beer in Portland. This list of a couple picks doesn't even scratch the surface.

The Big Legrowlski (Pearl) — If I'm in the mood for a microbrew, this is a go-to for me. I like the vibe a lot, lower key, never too crazy. 20 premium taps hand selected by the owner.

Bailey's Tap Room (Downtown) — Maybe the original high end microbrew place. This place is super popular, loud, and usually quite busy— the energy is high. I prefer the "secret" bar upstairs, which is around the north-side of the building behind an unmarked door. The upstairs bar has only a few beers on tap, which are generally super premium or high ABV, and a few fridges of unique bottles. It is much more quiet and never crowded.

Deschutes Brewery Public House (Pearl) — Lots of classic Deschutes beer on tap, plus a ton of rotating seasonal and specials. Really good food too.

Music#

I haven't been out as much in the past few years, but I have a couple suggestions.

Tony Pacini — Incredible jazz pianist and performer. Any of his bands are a delight to watch.

Blue Diamond (Eastside) — A dive bar with amazing live soul music. I have not been here enough and need to go back.

Doug Fir (Inner Eastside) — Probably the best small venue in PDX. Excellent sound system, great vibe. All the good shows I've seen lately have been here.

White Owl (Inner Eastside) — Hipster bar with extensive backyard patio area. If it's good enough for Questlove to spin at, it's probably aight.

Jimmy Mak's — Closed. (RIP Jimmy) This was the place where I truly learned jazz.

The Night Scene#

Contrary to common belief, there are 3 or 4 places in Portland that are open past 9.

East (Chinatown) — The music is generally focused on hip hop and the DJs tend to be pretty good.

Church (Eastside) — It turns out, this is not a church. But it does have well shots, loud hip hop music, heavy crowds, very drunk girls and a photo booth. I have found it to be a good place to go after corporate parties. Pro tip— if you end up having to carry the drunk girl out, do better than me and please make sure that she hasn't left her cell phone behind.

Cassidy's (Downtown) — Good late night food, full bar. Open till 2 AM most nights I believe.

Noraneko (Inner Eastside) — Ramen until 2 AM. Cool.

Original Hotcake House (Southeast) — 24 hour heavy American diner breakfast. Fair warning that non-ABC Asians tend to really dislike this place.

Ava Roasteria (Beaverton) — Exceptional only because it is open 24 hours and does not appear to be filled with transients or rampant drug users. Workable coffee. Good place to work on your laptop in the middle of the night.

Keep Portland Weird#

I'm not even scratching the surface here, but I'm also not the weird expert.

Voodoo Donuts (Downtown) — The infamous.

The Roxy (Downtown) — Another 24 hour breakfast joint, very Portland. And very crowded after the bars close on Friday and Saturday night.

McMenamins Ringlers Pub & Crystal Ballroom (Downtown) — Not super weird persay, but definitely a mainstay Portland institution, and worth checking out for the vibe. Ringlers was my neighborhood bar for years and I've been there more times than I could ever count. Very friendly staff. The music venue upstairs is built in an old swing dance hall with a bouncing floor, and it frequently hosts big name acts coming through town.

Dessert#

Blue Star Donuts (Downtown, Mississippi, SE) — The Mercedes of donut— topped with ingredients you've never heard of, and ringing up around $3 per. Eat one; it's worth it. Controversial among locals for reasons unbeknownst to me. All the rage in Japan right now.

Salt and Straw (Division, North Portland, NW 23rd) — Really good ice cream. The line during summer can be up to an hour long; during peak times, the Division location usually has the shortest line. Stumptown cold brew coffee on nitro (!), if you're not in the mood for a sugar bomb. Girlfriends and other females of the ABC and non-ABC variant alike seem to love this place.

The Waffle Window (Southeast, North Portland) — A Portland classic. Just good waffles without mountains of stuff on them. It comes out of a window— bet you didn't guess that!

Non-consumables#

Check out the walking trails in Forest Park, the Willamette Waterfront, and the famous Powells' City of Books.

Walkable areas#

SW 12th and Alder, Downtown — I spent a good chunk of my early adult life at this intersection. It was borderline dilapidated when I moved in, and by the time I left, it was literally the hottest place to be in all of Portland. Most of what I recommend on this page is within walking distance from this point. Powells' and the Pearl is next door. It is also a great spot to catch an Uber from if you need to get somewhere.

N Mississippi Ave — Cool vibe, markedly different than downtown. Lots of good stuff to try, very walkable, many places stay open late, and it's not impossible to find parking.

SE Division Street, between about 11th and 39th — Food mecca. There's so much out there, it's crazy. And it all came out of nowhere— just a couple years back it was a regular old nothing street in Portland. My, how things change.

Tips for getting around#

Uber / Lyft — My preference for getting around the core of the city. Quick and reasonably priced. Super friendly drivers.

The MAX — MAX is the closest thing Portland has to a Metro system. It's great for getting from the airport to downtown, and if you need to get out to the suburbs or cross over to the inner Eastside. You can always hop on to get somewhere else in downtown as well, but it'll cost you a couple bucks.

car2Go / ReachNow — These are car sharing services that you can use if you'll be in town for a while and have a US drivers license. ReachNow has a fleet of BMW and Mini vehicles which are far nicer to drive.

Streetcar — Basically useless. The line gets shut down all the time because cars can block the whole system just by parking wrong. Even when it works, it's unbelievably slow. Take an Uber instead.