Quick Picks for Portland, OR: Best Restaurants

With endless natural beauty surrounding it on all sides, Portland, OR is commonly known as a major destination for outdoor enthusiasts, but the city’s urban-chill vibe has made it a welcome spot for all kinds of travelers. There are tons of adventures for tourists, and we’re not talking about stalking the cast of NBC’s Grimm, which shoots in the city. From riding the Portland Aerial Tram where you’ll see everything from Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helens to Mount Rainier on a clear day, to taking one of the city’s famous walking tours, shopping at the seemingly endless Powell’s Books, exploring the International Rose Test Garden, or just sampling the sights and flavors of the Portland Farmers Market– there’s literally something for everyone.

The downtown area is loaded with great hotels, from swanky and new to earthy cool, and though many are “green” they don’t skimp on luxury. Nightlife rocks with amazing brewpubs, live music venues, wild gay bars, and swank lounges. Plus, downtown is easy to navigate, both by foot and public transportation. The MAX Light Rail’s redline takes you from Portland International Airport into the heart of downtown in 37 minutes for only $2, while all buses, light rail, streetcar, and vintage trolley rides are free in the downtown area.

Among foodies, few cities rate as high as Portland. The state is rich with organic farms, wineries that rival anything in the Northern California market, and sustainable, local cuisine that makes meals here absolutely extraordinary. So with that in mind we called up Byron Beck, who has written extensively about Portland and seems to know everyone in the city. He offered up his quick picks on the top spots for eats in his favorite city.

High-End Destinations

Places you’d take a date, the parents, or go to for any special occasion. At these restaurants, it’s about the total experience.

Gilt Club
306 Northwest Broadway St.,
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 222-4458

As featured on IFC’s breakout hit Portlandia (the infamous “Colin, The Chicken” skit), this farm-to-table restaurant really does make it a practice to locally source its ingredients for Chef Chris Carriker’s highly personalized menu, which is heavy on offal and the odd body part. All culinary earnestness aside, this joint has a jazzy vibe and serves an intriguing menu way past midnight.

Paley’s Place
1204 NW 21st Ave.,
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 243-2403

If this place is good for both President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, then it’s good enough for you. Random political scandal references aside, award-winning Chef Vitaly Paley continues to delight and dazzle patrons with his exceptional Pacific Northwest regional cuisine showcased in a smallish (only 50 seats) Victorian-style home that borders on quaint. But there is nothing quaint about a menu that doesn’t skimp on details and continues to exemplify the very best this region has to offer.

Solid Selections

Well-priced restaurants that feature a wonderful atmosphere and incredible food. These are a person’s “go-to” place whenever they’re asked for a recommendation.

250 NW 13th Ave.,
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 226-3394

For more than a decade Bluehour has been the go-to restaurant for see-and-be-seen dining. Now, with a new chef, Thomas Boyce of Spago fame, in the kitchen, it looks like Bluehour has returned to its initial glory as the “most sophisticated and contemporary food in town” (Gourmet Magazine). With an accent toward European technique -Italy and France are the source countries for Bluehour’s cuisine-Boyce is also influenced by the flavors of Asia and India, making a meal here quite the international affair.

Mother’s Bistro
212 Southwest Stark St.,
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 464-1122

For a decade-plus now, owner/chef Lisa Schroeder has made Mother’s Bistro home away from home for anyone in the mood for slow-cooked comfort food and man-sized breakfast portions. Get here early or be prepared to stand in line for entree choices like wild salmon hash, pork apple sausage and cheddar cheese scramble, and a to-die-for, house-cured lox platter. Just like your mother’s cooking, if your mama happened to be a cookbook author and award-winning chef.

Secret Stashes

These are primarily known by the locals, covering any budget and any type of food; special, secret, and adored by those in the know.

Olympic Provisions
107 SE Washington St.,
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 954-3663

1632 NW Thurman St.,
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 894-8136

Under the glowing “MEAT” sign, OP is Oregon’s only USDA-certified meat-curing facility, or salumeria. Similar in size and offerings, the eastside outlet is a wee bit more Euro-ish than the stark westside space and both tend to offer long waits for those without a reservation (OP Northwest only takes rezzies for parties of five or more). If you can’t wait, try some salami from their delicious deli case-or just take a big breathe in. OP smells really, really good!

Pictured here, and as the main image up top.

Pok Pok
3226 SE Division St.,
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 232-1387

With restaurants both in Portland and New York City, it should be noted that Pok Pok isn’t really a “secret” anymore-the lines here can equal those of that other heavily-hyped Portland destination: Voodoo Doughnuts. But the wait is worth just one bite of their Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, which has taken what was a once-lowly Thai food cart and turned it into what many consider one of the top restaurants in the country. They are that good. Other favorites include shrimp chips and drinking vinegars. Yes, those are sweet vinegars that you drink.

Byron Beck is a writer and host who lives and works in Portland, Oregon. You can learn more about him at www.byronbeck.com.

Have six places in your city that people should know about? Submit your Quick Picks to editor@firsttoknow.com and we may use them for the column.

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