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Aug 4, 2009 07:52 AM

easy dinners in PDX?

We come to Portland about one weekend a month, staying in the Riverplace area. We have yet to find an easy, dependable dinner spot. Suggestions?

What we're looking for:
* Easy, casual/casual upscale
* Reservations accepted but not required
* sit-down place. no food carts please
* prefer quieter places
* fast-ish service. (1 hour dinner, not 3)

What we're not looking for:
* No diners or dives please
* No "reservations only", booking months ahead type places
* No stand in line and wait - I know it might be worth it, but that's usually only if you don't have a starving toddler in tow.
* Not fast food
* Not totally fancy - we're looking for the "can go anytime and are sure to find something for everyone menu."
* no buffets
* Not too spendy
* No "kids friendly," type places that mean grilled Velveeta on white bread kind of places. The kid knows how to eat; why should we all suffer?
* No

Who we are:
2 Incurable foodies, with a well-behaved 3-year-old foodie-in-training and another on the way. Our son is an adventurous eater and loves food, but doesn't do well so well with Thai.
Plus I'm pregnant so can't eat at delis (nitrates) or salad bars (listeria), peanut products. Otherwise, fairly omnivorous.

Where we've been:
* Three Degrees - at the Riverplace. It's convenient and good, but too fancy for the pregnancy stomach. And a bit on the spendy side.
* Cafe Broder - good, but need more variety for what we're looking for. Plus it's so hot in the summer.
* Newport Seafood Grill - didn't like it. The quality just isn't there.
* Salty's - didn't like it. my salmon was fishy and overpriced for what it is.
* Bread & Ink - great vibe - that's the kind of place we're looking for, but with perhaps a broader menu? Food could be just a tad better too.
* Wong's King for dim sum - just not like in SF, despite what people say. except for the long wait times. haven't been for dinner.
* some Japanese place in the Pearl - can't remember the name, but it had a bar, a bunch of tables, a sake barrel outside and a few tatami rooms. It was decent, but not a staple.

Out-of-town references:
For those of you who know these places, we'd LOVE a place like this:
* 17th Street Cafe, in Santa Monica on Montana Avenue
* The Barking Dog, in NYC in the upper east side

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  1. Wow, you don't ask for too much!!!!

    Three ideas: Alba Osteria is one of the best Italian restaurants in the USA in my never humble opinion....they specialize in the food from Piedmont in NW Italy and do it superbly well. If you stick with apps and pasta, you can get out without spending too much (by the way, "spendy" is not a real word!!! despite its usage up here!). The agnolotti are amazing. Usually easy to get a table because folks here would rather eat bad Italian in more trendy places.
    Nostrana is another pretty decent northern Italian place and has what I consider the best pizza in Portland, though stating that opens a nasty can of worms. Service can be spotty, but not awful. Nice ambience, not too loud unless it's packed. If you go early, you should not have to wait. The other food is fine, but if you wanna try some decent, simple, very Italian pizza, this is a good choice.
    Laurelhurst Market: I'm surprised this hasn't already been mentioned 1000 time on this board, it's a new place and very trendy...people are calling it one of the best restaurants in town which it is not (well, maybe it is???), but the food is ok, nice concept with focus on meats. Just be very specific about the way you want your meat cooked, especially if you like a little char on it...i've had some ok meat way under cooked in that regard because I asked for it rare, so the exterior was not properly charred. Service is ok, and if you go early, like before 6.30 or 7, you shouldn't have to wait at all (Saturday might be different). Not sure about reservations, but probably they accept them. Again, it's a decent place, but nothing out of the ordinary when you place it in a NYC or LA context, in my opinion. Worth a visit.

    None of these places have a "broad menu", but, not sure a truly quality place is gonna have a broad, (Denny's broad) menu. Not sure you can get quality and quantity (menu-speaking).

    1. Pastini Pastaria isn't upscale or fabulous, but I find myself going there where I'm feeling lazy. No lines, fast service, lots of variety for pasta, kid friendly, etc. I love a great menu like everyone else, but sometimes I just want to go somewhere, get seated immediately, have someone bring me endless iced tea and my pasta when I'm tired, my kid's hungry and I'm on autopilot, and cheap enough for everyday dining. It's particularly nice for 1) pregnant cravings, in my case and 2) toddlers. It's just loud enough that I don't have to worry about that rare case of crying (yep, well-behaved kids cry too! Believe me, I've been there, sistah!) but easy to have a conversation. I'm sure I'll get some flak for suggesting Pastini, but it sounds like what you're looking for, and I think it's a great, dependable place!

      P.S. And if you haven't been to Alba Osteria, go. It's phenomenal.

      1. Country Cat

        It's a bit far out but close to the freeways so easy to get to. #1 place for my family since we had our child. Actually has a good kids menu with food an adult would like.

        1. Justa Pasta
          Three Doors Down
          Country Cat
          Por Que No (on Hawthorne - it's divy but in a put together kind of way)
          Silk/Pho Van
          Noble Rot
          Wine Down on NE 28th

          6 Replies
          1. re: MyNextMeal

            Be forewarned that—and I'm speaking of a Southerner whose mother was a great cook—the Country Cat has the absolute WORST fried chicken I've ever had in my life, and it's a dish people and critics rave about when mentioning this place. I wouldn't go back in 1000 years. My dining companion had a fish dish that was totally ordinary. Oh, and $18 for overcooked chicken fingers made my pals in Texas laugh like crazy when I told them about it!!!! Hell, the fried chicken at the deli counter at a supermarket down the street is better, and that's pretty low! However, this place and the Screen Door continue to draw in the crowds (and someone who is in the high end food biz in PDX told me the Screen Door's fried chicken is even worse!!!! And I can't imagine how it could be worse!) so what do I know?

            And Por Que No? is not what you are looking for. It's average food, served at inflated prices to folks who don't mind waiting in a very long line for mediocrity. If you want something Mexican along the guidelines you've described, check out Nuestra Cocina on Division...nicely done interior Mexican in a nice atmosphere and not too, too expensive. Or La Calaca Comelona on Belmont.... a bit down the scale, but the food can be good as long as you order the right thing. The kid will like the decor. Both many times better than PQN? for sure.
            Davis Tavern might be a good option as well, the food is pretty good, and there is some outdoor seating. Silk is watered down, gussied up Viet food for gringos, but maybe that's your cup of designer green tea.

            1. re: sambamaster

              Based on the OP's requirements, I think CC fits their criteria. I happen to like their burgers, have enjoyed brunch there many times, they have a very good bar, and am simply happy to see spoon bread on a menu.

              Do I recommend everything? No, I had the whole hog a few months ago and thought it was WAY to salty. So I won't order it again. But I will order most of the rest of the menu, including the fried chicken.

              1. re: sebetti

                Having grown up on my mother's amazing fried chicken, and having experienced the product of at least 3 different restaurants helmed by the legendary fried chicken genius Austin Leslie in New Orleans (he was the model for the cook in the late, great TV series "Frank's Place") , plus great chicken in Memphis, all over Texas, Kansas, North Carolina and more, I will stand by my statement about Country Cat's horrible excuse for fried chicken: it was cooked beyond the shoe leather stage (yes, I should have sent it back), it was 3 white meat chicken strips (what else do you call fried boneless chicken???), and it was $18!!!!!!!!! For 18 bucks, i can go up the street to Popeye's and get enough far better chicken to feed an entire family; downside? Popeye's doesn't serve beer! I've got friends who I know are knowledgeable about food and they share my assessment.
                I sure don't think it falls into true "ChowHound" chow by any means.

                1. re: sambamaster

                  Actually, I'm just annoyed that you're completely trashing a nice, simple place that happens to be a more than acceptable choice both adults and children. Trust me, those places are few and far between, especially places that have put a little thought in their children's menu.

                  I'll admit that every meal I've had there has not been a home run but I've have some very lovely dinners there as well and I can't think of a better place to take a toddler.

                  Is it my choice for a date-night out? No.

                  Does it fit the OP's criteria? YES. And isn't that the point?

                  1. re: sebetti

                    I had brunch at Country Cat with a friend last week and was really happy with the meal. Not only was the meal tasty, but I noticed a lot of young couples with young children having brunch as well. The staff was very friendly, the kids looked really happy, and the parents seemed to be having a great time at a "grown-up" restaurant. Country Cat's a homey, laid-back place. There was a small wait because we were walk-in, but otherwise fits OP's requests. I might not be willing to drive out to SE 82nd from Riverplace, but that's completely up to the individual. The food's worth the drive -- I'm just too tired most nights by dinnertime!

                    I love a fabulous meal as much as any Chowhound, but sometimes I just want to drop in somewhere and grab something above average without making a production out of it.

                  2. re: sambamaster

                    I LOVED FRANK'S PLACE!!! Thank goodness someone else can confirm for me that it was an actual fabulous series (great writing, great acting - and I will always remember that is where I learned about the "paper bag test") and wasn't just a dream.

                    I agree with the rec's for Nostrana and Laurelhurst Market. Great choices. Also good are Kenny & Zuke's, Pambiche (which is open continuously breakfast-dinner on the weekend, go off hours for no wait), and Dove Vivi (good cornmeal crust pizza fresh and good toppings)

            2. PING
              Davis St Tavern, too.

              Whether these places are toddler friendly (in terms of hospitality not menu adjustments) is not an area I can speak to...