Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez
Lately, my trips have been centered around food, with just a sprinkling of history and city tours. When I traveled before, I’d always search out the best shopping districts, find a cute little pastry shop, and manage to sneak in a massage or a manicure with my travel mates. But these days, it’s all about the food and booze.
When I started planning this trip, the top priority was to seek out and eat at the best restaurants in Portland. I researched on my own, got some tips from friends and screened through pages of Yelp. But this might be the first time that I leveraged Instagram to lead the way.
After just minutes of going down an Instagram black hole, I came across dozens of restaurants that looked absolutely amazing. From waffles and pastries to French food and famous chicken wings, I was salivating and bookmarking everything. And honestly, what better platform to go hunting for food in foreign territory than with Instagram?
Here are some of the restaurants I found using my favorite PDX food hashtags and some other gems we found along the way.
Instagram-Famous Joints You Need to Check Out
People freak out over Pok Pok and its creative Northern Thai street food fare. I HAD to go to their original location on SE Division St. and try their fish-sauce wings for myself. I was told a number of times to go for lunch as the line can be much more manageable. The second that I step foot inside Pok Pok, I immediately felt like I was back at the food stalls in Jakarta and Bali. Servers are super enthusiastic about all of the menu items and specials and the casual, outdoor vibe might be just what you need after a long day of exploring.
The dishes at Pok Pok Portland are meant to be shared so either come incredibly hungry or with your food adventurous friends. Between the three of us, we ordered a little something of everything.
You MUST order Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. These wings are marinated in fish sauce and sugar before being deep friend and tossed in a caramelized fish sauce and garlic sauce. Great on their own or with a side of coconut rice, these wings are definitely a standout.
We also ordered the Kung Op Wun Sen, a noodle dish with gulf prawns and pork belly baked with soy, ginger, black pepper and other Thai ingredients. The Neua Naam Tok was another favorite. This flank steak “salad” is served up with a bunch of fish sauce, lime, chili powder, cilantro, lemongrass and toasted rice powder. The grilled fiddlehead special of the day was amazing and off the menu. Make sure to ask about the specials of the day as Pok Pok focuses on seasonal dishes whenever possible.
Pine State Biscuits
For whatever reason, soul food is a major player in the Portland food scene. You’ll find chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy and meat and three specialties all across the city. If you have a long day ahead of you and need a serious start to your morning, you must try Pine State Biscuits.
This locally famous joint has four locations across the area and will likely have a line outside the door whenever you go. Trust me when I say this place is worth the wait. Stop by for breakfast or lunch and you’ll be in awe of the biscuits piled high with bacon or fried chicken and a healthy serving of gravy.
The Reggie Deluxe seems to be everyone’s favorite with fried chicken, bacon, cheese, egg and gravy. Adventurous diners will love the Pine State Fried Club, a trio of fried grit cakes each topped with a slab of fried chicken drizzled with spiced honey, pimento cheese, country ham and white cheddar. Check the specials board whenever you arrive and you might find some fancy waffles or homemade pop tarts.
Nothing makes me happier than a well-executed, no frills, locally-inspired sandwich place. I found out about Lardo during one of my late night Instagram black hole benders and I’m so happy I did. If you don’t order something porky at Lardo, you’ll still find something on the menu to dream about weeks after you leave PDX. The restaurant’s showstopper is the Pork Meatball Banh Mi and it’s f*cking unbelievable. Giant pork meatballs are stacked with pickled vegetables, cilantro, cucumber and sriracha mayo on a fresh baguette.
I had to show some form of restraint and ordered the Lardo Fries which were tossed with fried herbs and parmesan. But the heathen in me was definitely eyeing everyone else’s Dirty Fries, which are topped with pork scraps (!!!) and marinated peppers. Once again, this place is great to go to with friends so order some beers and snag bites from each other’s sandwiches, while you sit outside and watch all of the kooks walk and bike by.
Voodoo Doughnuts vs. Blue Star Donuts
These guys need very minimal introduction. One is known for its colorful and quirky, available-at-all-times-of-day, donuts and the other takes an artisanal and seasonal approach to its flavors.
We stopped by Voodoo Doughnut super late at night and had our pick of freshly fried doughnuts. (Go for the Portland Cream doughnut!) This place is a hot tourist destination so don’t get trapped in a humongous line at peak times.
Blue Star Donuts uses local and seasonal ingredients in their brioche-based donuts. I brought home all kinds of flavors ranging from Blueberry Bourbon Basil to Lemon Poppy Seed. It’s nearly impossible to buy just one of these bad boys unless you give zero f*cks about your waistline.
Salt & Straw
I’m pretty sure Portlanders, Portlandia-folk?, have made it their goal to keep the secret that Portland actually gets really amazing weather in spring and early summer. We visited in March and it must have been 75 degrees outside. So it’s no surprise that fancy ice cream is a thing in PDX and that there was a huge line nearly every hour and day at Salt & Straw.
In proper form of a sweet tooth addict, we went for an ice cream flight so we could try a little bit of everything. The Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper flavors was one of my faves, as well as the Honey Lavender and Pear & Blue Cheese. It’s pretty easy to see that Salt & Straw is known for its unconventional flavors. Make sure you ask about all of their seasonal flavors as they are plentiful.
Amazing Portland Restaurants and Eateries We Found Along the Way
I was directed by a number of friends and strangers that a Spanish Coffee at Huber’s Café is a must. The place is cozy and intimate, but you can also belly up the bar at chat it up with bartenders, locals and passersby.
Don’t ask any questions; just go directly to Huber’s at any time of day or night. These things are seriously strong so you’ve been warned.
We stumbled on Bollywood Theater after killing sometime in the Alberta Arts District and I’m so glad we did. The appeal behind Bollywood Theater is the fact that Bollywood videos are projected on the restaurant’s beautiful wooden walls and that everything is served on authentic Indian dishes and cups. But the street food dishes and small plates are what really lures people in and to visit again.
The Kati Roll was such a good afternoon snack. Inspired by Indian street food stalls, the Kati Roll is a piece of flatbread with egg, your choice of meat, pickled onion and green chutney. The Lamb Samosas were another favorite and were filled with lamb, spiced potatoes, mint, onion, ginger and peas. Do yourself a favor and order an extra side of Tomato Raisin Chutney; you’re going to love it.
The Screen Door
If you’re looking for down-home Southern food in a hip atmosphere, The Screen Door is where you need to be. I heard about this place a while ago, looked for their social media presence, and found out that these guys seems to be doing it old school via word-of-mouth marketing. The restaurant is nestled on a quaint part of East Burnside, but rest assured that the crazy lines will lead you the way to their front door.
You’ll find a little of everything on the menu. People seemed to love the Fried Chicken and Waffle stack and Po’Boys. We ordered essentially everything. but you MUST order a side of the Screen Door Praline Bacon, which is coated with pecans and cayenne brown sugar. I seriously could have just eaten that for breakfast. We ordered items like Shrimp & Grits, Huevos Rancheros and Eggs Benedict and they were all amazing. The brunch cocktails here are money so when in doubt, order a couple rounds of The Ramos Gin Fizz. Who knew gin, cream, egg whites, citrus and orange flower water could be so delicious?
When You Want to Try it All in a Single Day
My man and I had the absolute pleasure of going on the Best of Portland Food Tour with Eat Adventures Food Tours. Co-owner Angie Johnson graciously allowed us to join a trip and she somehow managed to show us a glimpse of nearly every type of PDX cuisine in a single afternoon. This tour is perfect if you’re not in town too long but still want a slice of everything.
You might think that Portland is just about their food carts and craft breweries, but there are so many things happening in between. In a matter of just three hours, we visited five different spots. Our marathon of eating and drinking began with appetizers at Southpark Seafood as we got to nibble on a board of house-made smoked fish, crackers and mortadella.
Other stops along the way included Ecliptic Brewing for some locally-made brews and delicious bar bites; an urban winery called Enso for AMAZING Rosé and some of the best bread and olive oil I’ve ever nibbled on; the Hapa PDX Ramen food cart on SE Division, which is also home to a handful of other adorable and delicious carts; and Ruby Jewel for some delicious ice cream sandwiches.
The Best of Portland Food Tour is a fantastic way to learn about the history of Portland and how chefs and food trends have shaped the area to what it is today. Take this trip at the beginning of your stay as you’ll travel through several different parts of Portland with Eat Adventures. If you want to eat off of the beaten path and be among locals, book a tour with these guys immediately. You’ll be in good hands and with good company and Angie will definitely take care of you and your appetite.