Diners and Diner Food in Portland
OK, so I'm from NYC...an outer borough girl, Brooklyn and Queens. When we don't know what we want to eat or those in a group can't decide on one type of food or we want a fast meal but not fast food, we go to a diner. Diners in the east, and especially NY, usually serve good fish, good burgers and grill items, good fried stuff, breakfast all day, always good coffee, etc. They are inexpensive and often open 24/7.
I haven't found a place in Portland that fills this niche for me. Where do you go if you want a burger or a huge salad with a grilled chicken breast on it, and your co-diner wants a turkey dinner or filet of sole, or even breakfast, and you want to spend less than $20 on the whole thing?
Puhleeze - don't give me chains - Denny's has it's place when you're on the road and hungry at 2am and all but it is not a diner, not what I'm looking for.
I've eaten at Cup & Saucer on Hawthorne and they fit some of the requirements - breakfast all day, inexpensive, burgers and other items - but the menu is not varied enough and although I am no foe of vegetarianism or healthy eating (even seek it out, sometimes), it is not the right vibe for a diner.
So, all you chilly Portlanders (could be worse, we could be living in a place that got over 6' (no typo there folks - six feet!) of snow like Buffalo, NY) let me know where to go.
SE or NE would be best but we will venture further for the real thing.
You may have already learned that all you'll get is blank stare if you ask a Portlander about diners (unless he or she is a refugee from the northeast). The word just doesn't exist in the lexicon, at least not in the sense you want.
We used to have cafes (aka coffee shops) which filled the same niche, but there really aren't too many of these left, either, unless you drive out of Portland proper to the remaining remnants of small town Oregon.
In SE Portland, look out along Foster Rd toward 82nd, where the Stumptown groove factor hasn't quite reached (and may never), or down toward Milwaukie and Gladstone on hwy 99. I can't really offer any hard clues, but those are the area where you're most likely to find an old school cafe.
In NE, you might give Waddles a shot (at the Jantzen Beach exit just before you cross the Columbia). It's really almost in Vancouver, and the last time they widened I-5 it nearly disappeared altogether, but it is one of the few holdouts of an earlier era. It is a little Denny's-ish, but it's not a chain.
But, like Hellman's mayo and regular coffee, there are some things you left behind forever when you came west.
re: Jim Dixon
I didn't leave Hellman's behind, it is just masquerading as Best Foods Mayo (and now that darned commercial jingle: "Bring out the ____ and bring out the best" makes a heck of a lot more sense!) and I still drink regular coffee (no latte or cap for me!) though it's a helluva lot better here! I haven't had a bad cup of coffee in the NW, it's definitely a bonus.
I take the 14 Hawthorne bus to and from work now that I'm in my new house in SE and I pass a candidate that looks like it has the right vibe: Sewickly's (the restaurant part, not the "Addition" - which I suppose is a bar - in OR, if they slap the word 'lounge' on a spot, does that mean they can have folks smoke and gamble on those lottery machines?).
It's on Hawthorne, in the high 40's, I think. The sign says they serve breakfast all day and it looks kind of coffee shoppish.
Before I decide to venture there, any warnings to stay away?
Last night went to Thai Hut again (it's our Saigon Kitchen! - which, by the way, we love too) and it was another good meal cooked and served by extremely nice people. Good chowhound vibe there...
Limelight in Sellwood (SE) has the best fries I've ever tasted. Plus they have grilled stuff and salads and burgers and mixed drinks. Don't know if they serve breakfast although Fat Albert's is a few doors away and they have AWESOME breakfasts.
Check out Byways Cafe on NW Glisan, I think you'll find what you've been looking for. They are open for both breakfast and lunch. I recommend that you try their turkey burger.
I second the endorsement for the Limelight. The atmosphere is divey, the presentation is so-so, but the food is tasty and fresh. Great apple pie by the slice, awesome clam chowder, a yummy cobb salad that comes topped with steaming hot grilled chicken (not cold - ick), and taco tuesdays (tasty and authentic-ish soft corn tacos 3 for $4) are the highlights for me. All very reasonably priced, too. It's a regular lunch stop for my workmates and me.