Portland is home to a lot of food and drinks you might expect: vegan barbecue, food carts serving cuisine that spans the globe, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it seasonal produce, niche breweries. Yet there are also plenty of unexpected delights lurking behind closed doors, up hidden stairs, and at fly-by-night pop-ups if you know where to look. Here are suggestions for diners seeking experiences beyond Portland’s usual suspects.Read More
Portland’s Top 12 Out-of-the-Ordinary Eating and Drinking Experiences
1. Pip's Original Doughnuts
Pip’s stands out from Portland’s crowded fried dough playing field with its fried-to-order mini doughnuts simply sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or drizzled with honey, served with fancifully named chai blends. Regulars know that there is more to the chalkboard menu than meets the eye, though. Ask for a rocky road (Nutella and mini-marshmallows) doughnut, or when it’s rhubarb season, the Zelly (house-made rhubarb-strawberry jam and warm Nutella), for a secret treat.
2. Ash Bar
Take a left after you enter Nomad.PDX, a celebrated restaurant with no signage, to find Ash Bar, a small concrete room taken up mostly by a horseshoe-shaped bar and framed by a large arched window. The space manages to feel cozy, not claustrophobic; you’ll want to stay for a cocktail made with a rose-rhubarb cordial — or even snap peas — and if you get hungry, you can order halibut fish sticks served with remoulade, fries dusted with nutritional yeast, or just a good old-fashioned cheeseburger held together with an American flag toothpick.
Still one of the toughest reservations in town, Langbaan serves a tasting menu from a different region of Thailand each month out of a disguised back room inside the more accessible Thai restaurant PaaDee. Chances are you’ve never tasted anything like these dishes that meld traditional preparations with seasonal, locally purveyed ingredients that never feel forced. Take the som tam sua, a papaya and vermicelli noodle salad that here uses Dungeness crab and bright orange Sungold tomatoes, plus pla rah, a northeastern Thai fermented fish sauce, to keep it real.
Roving cocktail party Shipwreck brings acclaimed guest bartenders to popular Portland restaurants for an evening. For an idea of what an event entails, the most recent was a delicious culture clash at Taqueria Nueve with food by Gado Gado, a pop-up helmed by a chef-couple that cook Southeast Asian food as a side gig when they aren’t working at local faves Han Oak and Coquine. Snacks found neither in Mexico nor Malaysia were served, like a blood sausage corndog with corn anglaise and a beef tongue rendang sandwich topped with green strawberry sambal. Bible Club’s Jessica Braasch crafted drinks containing esoterica like black sesame St-Germain.
5. Imperial Beefsteak
Popularized in 1800s New York, the beefsteak, a carnivorous male-only, beer-fueled banquet eaten with bare hands, might seem at odds with 2018 Portland’s vegetarian-friendly image. There are clearly enough steak lovers in the city, though, since Imperial, the sprawling restaurant inside Hotel Lucia, turns back the clock from time to time and offers a meat parade starting with bone broth and ending with grilled steaks (with dry-aged beef sausages, barbecue brisket, and deviled kidneys in between). Women, napkins, and silverware are now allowed, thankfully.
6. Mississippi Studios and Bar Bar
A former Baptist church turned music studio turned bar? At Mississippi Studios and Bar Bar, you’ll find a combination of entertainment and dining experiences all wrapped up into one chic lounge. Artists come here to record and play to a live audience in an intimate venue, while concert goers come for a good show and to grab burgers and an Elysian Space Dust IPA next door at Bar Bar. Look out for a changing Burger of the Month and Cocktail of the Month, too.
7. Grand Central Restaurant & Bowling Lounge
Your average night hitting strikes just got a luxe upgrade. Hit the lanes at Grand Central Restaurant but then stay for dinner, where you can order an Elysian Dragontooth Stout with smoked chicken enchiladas or more off of an upgraded American menu. Also on tap for the summer: “Brewie Nights,” movies paired with local beers. Grab a local beer or from neighboring breweries, like Elysian Brewing Company.
8. UCHU Sushi
Sushi and fried chicken? Why not. In addition to vegan sushi and rolls like the Portland (shrimp, cucumber, and avocado), this loungey Mississippi area restaurant with enormous fresh and salt water aquariums for show (not sushi) also makes traditional Japanese fried chicken, aka karaage. Guests can order breaded and fried chicken fingers marinated in soy, sake, and ginger, Southern fried chicken, or good ol’ American buffalo wings served, nontraditionally, with ranch dressing. Try pairing with a fruity plum wine or floral Elysian Brewing Avatar Jasmine IPA.
9. Solae's Lounge
Portland, OR 97211
You’d be forgiven if jazz and blues are not the first genres to come to mind when thinking of Portland’s music scene. But Solae’s Lounge took inspiration from the jazz bars of New Orleans and brought that spirit and live music to what’s called the Alberta Arts District, a historically black neighborhood that’s now home to a mix of residents. Take a break from crowds that line up for artisanal ice cream and biscuit sandwiches along this strip and try some fried catfish or stewed oxtails instead.
Cruzroom calls itself a taco lab, which makes more sense when you get a gander at the creatively filled tortillas. On the carnivore side of the menu, the Fresh Prince is like a Philly cheesesteak taco topped with tempura green peppers, while on the herbivore side, the East Meets West, using pulled jackfruit and masala roasted cashews, is a vegan standout. No matter where you stand on the meat versus meatless debate, everyone can probably agree on a pint of Elysian Men’s Room Original Red with part of the proceeds going to families of military vets.
11. Shanghai Tunnel Bar
The Shanghai tunnels — a network of underground passages downtown said to be where men were “shanghaied” in the 19th century and forced to work as sailors — are a part of colorful Portland lore, whether true or not. Shanghai Tunnel, the subterranean mainstay, is decidedly less dangerous despite house cocktails with names like Orange is the New Blackout. The basement dive may look gritty, but juices are fresh-squeezed and handcrafted touches like the fig-infused whiskey and huckleberry puree abound.
12. Verde Cocina en la Perla
Leave it to Portland to accommodate a multitude of dietary needs in one restaurant. While the name of this Mexican café with locations around the city hints at vegetarian roots, the menu is far more crowd-pleasing. Sure, everything they serve is gluten-free, but they also have many bases covered with paleo-friendly dishes like a carne asada salad with sweet potatoes, vegan “chicharrones” using Ota (a local brand of tofu to mimic fried pork), as well as queso fundido, melted cheese fondue with chorizo and potatoes for your average omnivore.