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Vancouver Hound's first trip to Portland -- help a hungry elf out?

Dear Portland Hounds:
I’ve been feverishly researching the embarrassment of riches that is the Portland dining scene in preparation for our first trip together to your fair city from Feb 29 to Mar 4 (Wed night to Sun afternoon).
My list of options is at 17 pages (!) and counting. Since we only have 4 lunches, 4 dinners and assorted snacks, I am asking for your help to narrow things down. Many thanks for any suggestions you may have.

We’re staying in the Pearl District and will have a car, but are happy to walk and take your lovely free transit. Also keen to try your vaunted street food offerings, and generally interested in big flavours and good value over décor and such. Not sure if dinners at the street carts are doable/recommended – I note some are only open for lunch, and on weekdays.

We have a dearth of good Thai and Mexican here in Vancouver so those are two things on our radar. Particularly love classic tacos (tiny double tortillas, meat, onion, cilantro, lime, great salsas). We also suffer from strict rules making it very difficult to serve burgers to order so contemplating trying one out. We have lots of Vietnamese at home but are always on the hunt for harder-to-come by bo luc lac (shaking beef) and/or thit kho to (porc au caramel).

Prolly not looking for Chinese or Japanese this time around.

It will mostly just be the two of us though we will be joining two friends one evening so a “nicer” place with gluten-free options would be grand. We don’t have a ceiling for $$ but maybe something around $50 or $60 per person before drinks and tip.

Generally not fans of lineups and will be looking for reservations for dinners.

Saturday we may hit the farmers market and check out Pine State biscuits.

SO is big on third wave coffee and it would be a shame to miss out as you have so many great options. How are Barista, Ristretto, Extracto, Coffeehouse Northwest, Sterling and Spella holding up? Any others I've missed?

Here are the places that are standing out for me, but I’m open to other considerations, and to excising bad options.

Lunches:
Tabor (weekdays only) – hello schnitzelwich!
Pok Pok – avoid the crazy lines by going at lunch?
¿Por Que No? – must tries here? The crispy snapper tacos sound worthy…
Bora Bora – la llorona! tacos ahogados!
Helser’s – the SO’s been and enjoyed; avoiding Sunday here re lines
Lardo – porchetta!
Taqueria Antojitos Yucatecos – panuchos! salbutes!
Sandwich Island – kalua pork!

Dinner (with friends):
South Park
Metrovino
Wildwood
Andina
Petisco
Dinner (just us):
Kesone Thai Lao Bistro - nam kao!! spinach leaf appetizers with red onion and spices! tried Lao food in Oakland last November, still dreaming about it…
Cha Ba Thai (Same owner as Red Onion)
Chiang Mai
Mee Sen
A really good burger, not sure which of the many options to choose, maybe Violetta
Po’Shines Cafe de la Soul
Puerto Marquez – ceviche ! seafood ! not really in Gresham!
Pambiche Cuban

Breakfast/brunch on Sunday:
Autentica: Chilaquiles!
Broder – aebleskivers!
Beast

Snacks:
Ken’s Artisan Bakery – croissants for the SO!
Pix Patisserie

beverages/happy hours:
Teardrop Cocktail Lounge
Matchbox Lounge - the $5 burg!

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  1. You have an amazing list! Andina was one of my favorite dining experiences, great food and great service...
    To add to your list, since you are in the Pearl, don't miss Nuvrei...the pastries, croissants and pretzels are superb. Cool Moon Ice Cream is also outstanding
    There are always lines at Pok Pok..don't be deterred...and Chiang Mai is delightful..
    Autentica is delish, don't miss Tasty and Sons for Brunch...best times are during the week.
    The fried muenster @ Tabor is heaven...
    you may want to check portlandfood.org for best burger...extramsg did a burger extravaganza, and tried all the burgers around town.
    when you go to Lardo..Rockabillies nearby has fried cheese curds....a little out of the way, but... Cocina de Chepe has amazing papusas...check them out @ foodcartsportland.com

    Enjoy!!!

    8 Replies
    1. re: cheeseisheaven

      Thanks for the tip on Nuvrei, totally missed that. I have Cool Moon on the "big" list but was thinking maybe not in Feb ;-).

      I did grab that best burger list, so many awesome choices...

      "Fried cheese curds" -- say what, will have to try that out.

      1. re: grayelf

        Excellent list.
        If you want Pine State Biscuits you'll have to go to their two eastside shops. They are not at the winter Portland Farmers Market. Actually the PFM will be closed altogether for the first two Saturdays of March, between the first-ever winter markets and the main season spring-December. Boo on your timing. Sorry.
        Bars: Beaker & Flask, Teardrop, and Thatch Tiki Bar on the eastside.
        Kesone is a perfect non-touristy choice.
        Other snacks: Coco Donuts (get the "coco"), Little T Bakery, BakeShop (owner got a James Beard award for her book).

        Have fun. Please report!

        1. re: Leonardo

          Thanks so much for the additional suggestions and especially the market clarification! I was getting the farmers market mixed up with http://www.portlandsaturdaymarket.com...

          Sad that I can't do the real thing. Is the crafty one worth bothering with either for food and/or browsing? I do enjoy a good craft fair... but it's really about the snacks ;-).

          Love the classic look of Coco -- any thoughts on the apple fritters there? The SO would be so thrilled to find a good one.

          Appreciate the confirmation on Kesone as well. I would probably go no matter what in my nam-khao withdrawn state but it would be a shame to waste a night on a bad meal.

          I am struggling a bit with our "nice" dinner out. Kinda had my heart set on Andina (another thing we have virtually none of here is Peruvian food, and I'm always up for so-called ethnic eats) but didn't realize it was so fusiony. South Park's seafood slant and locavore action looks good though the website is kinda corporate and off putting. Metrovino is maybe too cool for us (we are nerdy and in our mid/late 40s). I can't get the Wildwood sample dinner menu to work but lunch looks interesting if a bit light on the gluten-free options for our friend. I know the Petisco menu changes frequently but I'm not really feeling the sample one posted. Damn gluten! Maybe we'll just go to Chiang Mai or Mee Sen. It seems to be easier at Thai restos to avoid the gluten than at other Asian, at least here at home, and excepting Japanese which we aren't in need of.

          Might there be a good Mexican spot we could try that is still "authentic" (sorry to use the A-word) but would work for a more leisurely sitdown, specialish meal?

          1. re: grayelf

            The food @ Andina was great..and it is a great fancy dinner. South Park and Metrovino are fancy..I wouldn't call Metrovino "too,cool", and the service there is fantastic...You could also look at the menu's of Aviary and Castagna for your fancy dinner...they have some great platings. Castagna was my 2nd favorite all time dinner after Blue Hill @ Stone Barns.

            1. re: cheeseisheaven

              Thanks for the steer to Aviary, cih, hadn't run across it yet. The chefs seem to have quite the pedigree.

              I guess my problem is I don't really want fancy! I am such a plebe, I never seem to appreciate the finer dining options I try as much as others do. I'm more into neighbourhoody restaurants where people go once a month for a special but not occasion meal if that makes any sense. Those are the places I like at home and in SF, the two places I eat most meals out! Examples would be La Buca in Vancouver and Canteen in SF if you are interested.

              I am back to leaning toward Andina because we have almost no Peruvian and it does get great feedback, including on service which is a nice bonus, but I am also reconsidering Metrovino. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick on the ambiance there! I emailed South Park late last night to check on the gf options and got a very positive response at 9 am today. So getting somewhere slowly. I want to lock down a reso soon as we are looking at a Friday for this dinner.

              1. re: grayelf

                Yes Southpark is pretty corporate.
                Castagna is a great idea, also Wildwood. Also consider Higgins or Paley's. These are the revered grandaddies of PDX locovore fine dining.
                More snacks: Sugar Cube at the cart pod 43rd & SE Belmont. Really special.
                Welcome on the distinction between PFM and Portland Saturday Mkt. Won't comment on the craft thing 'cuz this is a food board, but the food bites the big one.
                Richmond Night Mkt it ain't.
                You used my two least-loved food terms in one posting: authentic and ethnic. Well at least a thanks for the apology...hahaha...

                1. re: grayelf

                  Aviary is not fancy, just delicious...but Andina is solid...it can be a bit loud, as in festive and is usually packed...so reso is important!

                  Let us know what you liked!

                  1. re: cheeseisheaven

                    South Park is prolly out as I just found out one of our friends is not big on seafood (!). So now I'm thinking either Metrovino or Aviary, if I can get reservations at one of them. It would be nice to have a more mellow atmosphere so we can really chat, so thanks for the note on Andina ambiance.

                    Higgins' dinner menu had me at "Whole Pig Plate" so that's deffo in the mix as well, thanks. And I realize that these restaurants are ethnic in their own way. I just haven't figured out a good epithet to distinguish them from the type of dining I generally prefer (Asian, Mexican, Greek, Italian etc. etc).

                    Would love to try Toro Bravo but I'm way too lineup averse, especially for dinner. I just get too grumpy and then I don't appreciate the food.

      2. Andina and Toro Bravo are some of favs to dine at with friends since you can order small (or large) plates and share!!

        Paley's Place is another excellent choice!!

        2 Replies
        1. re: ORtastytravels

          I had my first trip to Toro Bravo over the holidays. Boy, was it good! Yes, there was a 45 minute wait....BUT we walked down a few doors to an oyster place and had a beer and oysters on the half shell. Toro Bravo called us when our table was ready.

          1. re: Jane917

            There's a few bars in the area so it's nice. And yes, they'll take down your cell# and call you when your table is ready! I love that!!

        2. Ack, just realized I neglected in that uberlong first post to inquire about beer/breweries/tastings. The SO will not be best pleased if we miss out. So far only Cascades (for the sour beers, which are my thing) on the radar. He prefers less hoppy brews. TIA.

          6 Replies
          1. re: grayelf

            there a so many fairly good brewers...Migration, Coalition, Burnside...and there are some good places to try other beers...I end up close to home(SE) and also Captured by Porches in the cart pod across from PokPok...there will also be local beers on tap almost anywhere you go!

            1. re: cheeseisheaven

              True. You will find local beer everywhere. My favorite beer place: Sareveza. They also have great pasties!

              1. re: Leonardo

                Thanks for the brew feedback. I am homing in on our dinner choices and will post a tighter itin in a bit for your kind thoughts. Really appreciating the help from all!

                1. re: grayelf

                  Less hoppy is not the easiest thing here in the land of hops...sigh. If you like sours, you will loooove Cascade, do not miss it. I'd go someplace where you can get both local and nonlocal stuff on tap like Apex, Roscoe's, Bailey's...and Green Dragon, which happens to be walking distance from Cascade!

                  Fancy dinner I'd go to Metrovino, Laurelhurst Market, Genoa, Nostrana. Nostrana and Laurelhurst Market are less fancy, but all are great choices.

                  Personally, I'd start at Roscoe's and have some beers (two nitro taps for some great creamy stouts - love that), then walk down to Tanuki for the omakase and some sake - no sushi, no kids - but like nothing you have ever had and nowhere you've ever been. Kick ass evening, just factor in a cab ride. ;o)

                  Love Chiang Mai, defintiely over Chaba...even, sometimes over PokPok...depends what I am in the mood for. And Pok Pok has a line at lunch even on the weekend, but it will surely be less crowded than at dinner.

                  Another place not mentioned but worthy of a list is Wafu, and if you ened comfort food, next door is Sunshine Tavern which is great for what they do.

                  Lots of info on food beer and other stuff at: www.portlandfood.org

                  1. re: JillO

                    More on my beer list:

                    Horsbrass Pub -- lotsa micro brews on tap

                    Belmont Station -- unique taps

                    Bazi Bierbrasserie -- selection of Belgium ales, across from Chiang Mai in case there's a line, though the SO's not such a Belgian fan :-)

                    I've noted all the suggestions for beer emergencies, and the Green Dragon one is especially useful as it may get me my sours from Cascadia!

                    Also just had a quick look at portlandfood.org -- I think my list is going to top 50 pages easily once I get into it more. Thanks JillO

            2. re: grayelf

              Hair of the Dog is a good brewer to check out. Really unique beers. Decent food at the tasting room.

              If you're downtown, Bailey's Taproom. One of the best beer bars I've been to on the West Coast, maybe *the* best considering how affordable they make it to try a lot of really good beers. Cheers -

              1. re: Sarah

                HOTD and Bailey's added! Thanks for reminder re bunrab who I've referenced for SF.

              2. I just want to throw this in. Pok Pok is well worth the wait. But to not go for the dinner menu is a serious shame. What I think I do is out smart the very smart Portlandites is I go at 430 and sit and have drinks until 5 when dinner is served. This way I have a good seat and Am ready to order as soon as they officially make it Dinner time. If you ask they will seat you with both menus. Just sit and watch the crowd and enjoy some of there very good drinking Vinegars.

                2 Replies
                1. re: KevinULI

                  Thanks, Kevin, will keep that in mind. I had read that the daytime menu is not the same as the evening one. Just not sure we'll have the opportunity (or belly space!) to arrange such an early meal this trip. I'm certainly intrigued by the drinking vinegars, recalling the raspberry vinegar mum used to make when we were kids and wondering how they will compare to the various Taiwanese ones I have in my fridge. Am I right that much of the Pok Pok seating is outside? I wonder if we will be too cold given that we will be there at the beginning of March (yes, we are cold wimps despite being from northern climes).

                  1. re: grayelf

                    They have seating inside but the outside seating is covered and heating lamps are on. It shouldn't be an issue. Although the lunch menu isn't as extensive as lunch, some of my favs are also on the lunch menu (Ike's wings, Yam tuna, boar collar, khao soi). If time and belly space allow, I would highly recommend it!