Recently, my college boyfriend Jacob traveled to Portland for work. He is a bit of a food snob, not bougie about it, but selective and deeply appreciative of good food. Before he arrived, he messaged me about a few places he wanted to try, and I felt so proud of myself for being able to suggest alternatives to some of the over-hyped places on his list and even surprise him with a few hidden gems.
I should clarify that my travel list is limited by location. I do not live in a hip part of Portland, and I am a nervous driver with a very accommodating husband, so many of these suggestions are places I’ve found on my walk to and from work.
broder: This is a local Swedish restaurant with three different locations, broder nord, broder soder, and broder cafe. I have been to broder nord & broder soder, and both locations are painfully slow, so be sure to eat a little snack before you go, but not TOO much because the broder breakfast is delicious. They have these little Danish pancakes that are good with the lemon curd and lingonberry jam! Honestly both times I’ve visited this restaurant I could have stopped at those and a cup of coffee and been totally satisfied. They also have traditional open-face sandwiches, lots of pork dishes, and even a cream herring salad, which I have not tried, but I like that it’s an option on the menu.
Cup & Saucer: A local Portland diner with locations in a few neighborhoods. We have only visited the one in the North Portland neighborhood, Kenton. We like this place because they serve breakfast all day, the service is fast, and the garden scramble and veggie sausage & biscuits are fantastic.
Blue Star Donuts: I LOVE Blue Star donuts (especially the meyer lemon donut). Jonny loves Coco Donuts (especially the traditional cake donut). Whatever you do, just don’t go to Voodoo. They offer sub-par donuts with wacky toppings and a lonnnng line most of the time. Skip it. Do Coco or Blue Star.
Little Red Bake Shop: Jonny and I visit this bakery about once a week. We recognize a few of the bakers and the counter girl. We always get the cinnamon roll. I always feel a deep sense of pride when I achieve “regular” status somewhere, and this was our first spot in Portland where I did that. Two thumbs way up.
Devil’s Dill: When I first moved to Nashville way back when, I discovered Mitchell Deli and pretty much ate their turkey/cranberry/brie sandwich every other day. I tried Lardo here in Portland and didn’t like it that much and had basically resigned to giving up sandwiches until a colleague ordered Devil’s Dill one evening and shared Sandwich #2 with me. It’s incredible.
Thai Peacock: There are several great Thai places in Portland (Pok Pok is arguably the most famous, what with its drinking vinegar and across the way whiskey bar), but this one happens to be our favorite. I like how it’s kind of tucked away and you can sit upstairs and order blackberry margaritas. They have lots of adventurous options but I am lame and generally always order pad Thai or pad see-ew.
Masu: Bamboo Sushi is probably the most-loved sushi place in Portland because of their incredible sustainability efforts, but that also makes it one of the most crowded. My friend Gabi took me around the corner to Masu Sushi when we couldn’t get a table at Bamboo, and I have never looked back. The service is particularly outstanding when you sit at the sushi bar. I never remember what rolls I order when I visit, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by everything I’ve tried so far.
Mothers Bistro: This restaurant reminds me so much of the front-porch style restaurants of my hometown, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, except with cocktails(!). It’s homey and cozy and definitely the place to take your visiting relatives, if the restaurant name wasn’t enough of a clue. I recommend the macaroni & cheese du jour or a big bowl of clam chowder.
Boxer Ramen: Portland has its own top ten restaurant guide specifically for ramen, which is absurd, but Boxer is the place I keep going back to. I am obsessed with the vegetarian curry ramen, which is probably sacrilegious and disqualifies me as a judge because I haven’t actually tried their traditional ramen, but whatever. It’s delicious.
Hale Pele: Jonny and I LOVE tiki bars and tiki culture. We try to find one in every city we visit and are gravely disappointed when we travel to a city without one (I’m looking at you, Austin!). Hale Pele is a small tiki bar that often has a significant wait, especially on sunny days, but it’s totally worth it. I personally recommend the Coconaut because they light it on fire before they serve it to you and who doesn’t love novelty fire cocktails? The only trouble with tiki is that it can really knock you off your feet if you’re not careful — definitely pick a designated driver ahead of time and pay attention to the little liquor guide next to each drink!
The Driftwood Room: Jonny and I happened on this hotel bar one evening and like to go here when we’re celebrating something or if we need to have a serious talk because it’s super tucked away and VERY dark on the inside. They have a great happy hour menu which we’ve never timed right but always make note of, ha. The real high note here is the service, particularly if it’s a slow evening. Great conversation and delicious, inventive cocktails.
Salt and Straw: This is certainly not a hidden gem, but anyone who knows me knows I am always looking for an excuse to go get ice cream, especially rad novelty flavors. The best Salt & Straw experience I’ve had so far is the Thanksgiving flavors: Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey and Sweet Potato Casserole with Maple Pecans. Unreal.