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Jul 16, 2009 11:03 AM

What Portland food item(s) should an out-of-towner not miss?

My husband, son, and I will be in downtown Portland for three days next week, and I want to know what food you believe is a must have. What type(s) of food does Portland do best? We're coming from San Francisco and eat almost any type of cuisine. The food doesn't need to be fancy (we're big street food fans who are as happy with a wonderful burrito as we are with high-end food). My son (6yo) is also a good eater and has good restaurant etiquette, and so, while I don't want to go somewhere where a 6yo would upset other diners, I don't want to be relegated to "family-friendly" places simply because they are family-friendly. From what I've heard about Portland, I am guessing that most places would welcome children (at least if the kid isn't screaming, running around, etc.). We have also heard that you have very tasty food! Please note that while we do have excellent Asian food in SF, please don't hesitate to suggest any type of Asian food; I believe ours can be overrated. We are looking forward to visiting Portland and would very much appreciate your advice! Thanks!

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  1. Laurelhurst Market


    HaVL for vietnamese breakfast soup-redefines soup, make sure to get Vietnamese iced coffee, even if you don't usually like it you'll love this

    AnXuyen for best banh mi (ask for extra spicy or they give you gaijin treatment though) and get a lotus stuffed pastry pig for your kid while you're there!

    Cool Moon for ice cream- must try the spicy thai chile peanut!

    Apizza Scholls for pizza. Get there right at opening to avoid a long wait

    Navarre for a nice wine bar small plates experience (I think they allow children but you should double check)

    4 Replies
    1. re: quovadis

      Definitely Toro Bravo! My wife and I just drove in from SF today and we ordered the tasting menu which included bacon-wrapped dates, salt cod fritters, summer fideos, etc. We loved it so much that we are coming back tomorrow night!

      1. re: Tomalley08

        Wow! I'll def look into Toro Bravo as well.

      2. re: quovadis

        Thanks for the suggestions. Very helpful! The ice cream sounds so yummy, and I def want to check out Vietnamese breakfast soup -- never heard of such a thing. Thanks for banh mi tip (definitely want it spicy), etc. Will call Navarre re: kids. Definitely want to enjoy some OR wine, as the pinots are some of my favs.

        1. re: pickles210

          HaVL is a tiny mom&pop that crafts everything in limited quantities.. you'll want to get there before 11am or they can be out of soup. Also, cash only there.
          They have banh mi but I'd skip them- they don't hold a candle to AnXuyens.

      3. Toro Bravo is my favorite restaurant; so I third the vote for it! I would also recommend the foodcarts if you're looking for some cheap, quick, eats. Portland has a huge foodcart culture, there's a bunch downtown and also a collection of them in SE on Hawthorne (potato champion is popular).

        If you're into Asian food, Pok Pok has recieved high honors around here for authentic thai; and many would consider it a "must".

        Also, especially with a little guy - I would hit up Vodoo Doughnuts! They are pretty famous around here (they have been on the travel channel, you can get married there, they have donut flavors you can't even IMAGINE). And if you are into coffee (I'm not, by my friends are obsessed) - Stumptown get's rave reviews.

        Have a nice trip, and let us know how it turns out!

        9 Replies
        1. re: Jenny15X

          eh, If a good donut is what you want, go to Coco Donuts in Goose Hallow on NW 17th. Considerably better than Voodoo, which has become a bit of a tourists stop and quality has slipped(or maybe it has stayed the same and its just become obvious how mediocre they were in the first place!?)

          PokPok as of Aug. 4th will be open sundays. Definately a place worthy of visiting. If more southern(read: what is typically avail. in the US) Thai is what you want I would normally have to send you to Lake Oswego to Dang's Thai Kitchen. The good news is that Dang recently opened Red Onion Thai on NW 23rd(in the former Miso Happy spot) and is doing basically the same menu with the same quality and execution. Just much closer to downtown!:-) P.S. be sure to ask for the "Thai menu" or the Off-menu items.

          If coffee is your thing, and you would like to try coffee from several different roasters at ONE stop, I would highly recommend Barista on 13th and Glisan. Stumptown Annex is a great place to go to a cupping(coffee tasting) if you are into that.

          1. re: nkeane

            Thanks for all of the suggestions! One thing I'm realizing is that few of these places are near our hotel (Hilton on 6th Ave.), which is fine as long as they are accessible via public trans. Any public trans advice? I'll try to find a map online. Also, are there any good places for Banh Mi near where we are staying? I'm not sure I'll be able to convince my son go to AnXuyen (and I soooo want to go) unless public trans happens to be quick and easy.


            Re: Thai food, we have eaten in Bangkok and northern Thailand (Chiang Mai) and definitely want authentic Thai food.

            1. re: pickles210

     has bus and train information.

              1. re: pickles210

                Pok Pok is your best bet for Northern Thai.

                Banh Mi in PDX is relegated to the east and westside(east of about 60th or so, and Beaverton/Tigard/HIllsboro respectively). Basically find the Viet. Populations, and find the Banh Mi . there is undoubtedly a bus that runs right by An Xuyen and is just a couple blocks off Powell on Foster. I believe the #9 bus will take you from the bus mall downtown right up Powell. Btw, An Xuyen has the best Banh Mi in PDX. go.

                1. re: nkeane

                  An Xuyen and Best Baguette are surely among the best banh mi in Portland; however, relative to what you can get in Oakland's Chinatown or south on the Peninsula (and probably in SF proper as well), they are just average. I wouldn't make the bus trip with a 6-year-old for a merely average sandwich, especially with only 3 days in town. By and large the Vietnamese food in Portland is sub-par and not very interesting. The soup at HA&VL is good, interesting because they make one different soup each day, and only one soup. However, it does NOT "redefine soup" as described above. And by the way, soup is a common Viet breakfast item, and that includes the now ubiquitous pho, so you have heard of these soups, you just might not have known that they are just as common if not more so as breakfast items among Vietnamese. Again, a long bus ride for small return.

                  Voodoo has terrible donuts, but for a kid, I imagine it would be a fun place. They really are not worthy of all the attention they get, at least when judging on their chow-worthiness.

                  I've been to Pok Pok about 10 times in the last year or so: it's been a 50-50 experience, sometimes quite good, other times, just so so. The waitstaff often carries a heavy load of attitude, so be careful. If you go in the evening, be ready for a longish wait. It's probably worth a visit if only because the menu offerings are a bit unusual.

                  Since you'll be downtown, the active food cart scene should be fun for the kiddo, though many of them are way overrated. Here is a decent listing of many of the better ones downtown:
                  Notice there are some interesting ethnic options including Venezuelan, Egyptian, Indian, Eastern European and so on...lots of choices and reasonably priced...and, a cool way to keep the kiddo entertained.

                  Portland is a beautiful city, but the food scene is way overrated in my opinion. Sorry. Lots of smoke and mirrors. But, there are a few solid, simple things done well including bread, beer, coffee, chocolate and local produce. (But SF has pretty good bread too.) There's good food to be had here, but, for me, it isn't in the places that get all the attention.

                  1. re: sambamaster


                    Perhaps it's worth mentioning the source of the overrating you refer to:

                    NY Times
                    Bon Appetit
                    Food and Wine
                    The Food Network
                    SF Chronicle

                    I'm sure there are a few other culprits in this mass deception, but these immediately come to mind.

                    1. re: Kim D

                      And will keep all of this in mind, too, Kim. We have the same kinds of discussions in SF re: what's overrated, etc. What place in particular do you feel is not overrated? Thanks!

                    2. re: sambamaster

                      thanks so much for the suggestions, sambamaster.

            2. There are a couple of places that I like to take out-of-town guests. Invariably, these guests are foodnerd friends of mine that have done their homework, and so they know about Pok Pok and Beast and so on. So I like to bring 'em to a few off-national-radar places.

              One is Ha&VL Sandwiches. If you recall an episode of No Reservations where Bourdain went to Vietnam, gushing about a woman who does one type of soup everyday that everyone loves, I was a bit nonplussed because, um, Portland already has that. Many pics here:

              Another place is a recent opening, Laurelhurst Market, which is a great reflection of the town's growing appreciation of a good butcher and meat purveyor. It's totally friendly, and allows you stick with straight meat-and-potatoes (so to speak) if you like, as well as be a bit more adventurous.

              I gotta say that one of my other favorite places is a sandwich shop called Bunk. Every day the chalkboard has whatever sandwiches they're making (if only they were on Twitter!) but they're all quite excellent.

              Biwa is kind of in line with the fusion-y Vietnamese places in the Bay Area in that it's upscale without being high-end. It's a Japanese pub that gets a lot of press for it's ramen, but at it's heart is the grill, so really I think it should be thought of as a yakitori-ya.

              The food cart scene will also be right up your alley, as street food appears to be something of a novelty in the Bay Area, whereas here it's a thriving genre. The majority of the carts are open for lunch in Downtown, but there's also the late night carts open on the Eastside, most notably Whiffies. Hell, we even have a Korean taco truck.
              This site will be invaluable:

              I started this thread because I don't think Portland is a town that can be easily consumed and digested, even for locals, and especially not in a short time. Truly, this isn't meant to dodge your question as to what you and your son shouldn't miss, but hopefully it gives you even more ideas (which, perhaps paradoxically, makes your decision harder).

              215 SE 9th Ave Ste 102, Portland, OR 97214

              HA & VL Sandwich and Soup
              2738 SE 82nd Ave, Portland, OR

              Laurelhurst Market
              3155 East Burnside Street, Portland, OR 97232

              Bunk Sandwiches
              621 SE Morrison St, Portland, OR

              5 Replies
              1. re: SauceSupreme

                Sauce Supreme -- Thanks so much, especially for including links! Yes, food carts (other than taco trucks) are relatively new to SF. The city makes it tough for them (don't even get me started w/ SF city gov't!). Geograohically, the carts seem like a good way to go for at least one lunch. I get what you're saying about not being able to "digest" Portland in a short time. Have you had banh mi and/or pho in the SF Bay Area by any chance? I'm curious about whether there is a big difference -- sounds like some would say yes and others would say no. What do you (or others!) think?

                1. re: pickles210

                  I'm vietnamese and grew up in the Bay Area, including San Francisco. We moved to PDX 7 years ago and I'm thrilled that we can get a great bowl of pho, bun bo hue, and banh mi here. Still, I wouldn't recommend "wasting" one of your portland meals on Vietnamese food 'cause you can get the same or better in the Bay Area. Instead, I'd eat at Biwa, Toro Bravo (we took my 2.5 y.o and staff were fantastic!), Pok Pok, food carts...i wish i could make more recs but because we've eaten out a lot less since the birth of our 2nd, I'm a little out of it in the restaurant scene...
                  also, wanted to add that I totally disagree with SambaMaster on 2 things: 1) the portland food scene is not overrrated -i think we get amazing, creative, and affordable food in this city; and 2) the bread scene here is NOT good. What I would do for a good, fresh loaf of bread!!

                  1. re: edamommy

                    I happen to think that the bread scene is quite exceptional in Portland (though I'm not at all familiar with the Bay Area).

                    1. Fleur De Lis - NE Hollywood
                    2. Kens - NW 23rd
                    3. Little T American Baker - SE
                    4. Pearl Bakery
                    5. Grand Central - multiple locations

                    And New Seasons bread is pretty darn good, too. And all the farmers markets have bread purveyors, too.

                    1. re: MyNextMeal

                      The baker at New Seasons used to be at Pearl Bakery, and at the Olive Mountain Baking Company (the precursor to Apizza Scholls), so that might be why their bread is good.