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Seeking fine-tuning advice for first Portland trip

HI all,

I’ve been looking forward to a Portland trip for ages, and Mr. SF and I have finally found a long weekend we can take off together, Dec. 5-8th. I’ve been putting together a food itinerary using my fellow Van-hound greyelf’s very useful trip reports, as well as the original recommendation threads, but I could definitely use some feedback, so thanks in advance for anything you have to add!

We’ll be staying downtown, and no car, but we’re happy to take transit and/or cabs within reason. We love fine dining, great burgers, donuts, local food, brunch. As always, there just isn’t enough time! We often plan our dinners more comprehensively and then play it by ear earlier in the day, hence the flood of breakfast/brunch/lunch/happy hour possibilities.

Little Bird (table reseved)
Firehouse (this seems difficult to get to from downtown core without a car? Worth it? Could be replaced by Roost)
Café Castagna (burger! Also, am I correct in my guess that Hawthorne is a funky, hipster area with lots of interesting boutiques for browsing around in, earlier afternoon?)

Is there any really great fine dining spot that would be a good replacement for any of these? Or a second restaurant not a million miles away from Café Castagna that we could visit later that night?

I was really excited to try the 5-course tasting menu at Uptown Billiards, but opentable isn’t showing any reservations there for the entire month of December, so I suspect they are taking a hiatus :(

Lunches/early afternoon:
Gruner (burger!! Also conveniently close to hotel)
Savoy Tavern (is this location at all easy to get to by transit?)
Evoe – is this place still a going concern, or has chef Kevin Gibson already decamped?

Bunk (bacon roll!)
Blue Star (fritters!)
Lauretta Jean’s (biscuits!)

Ned Ludd? I’m not sure how we’d get there…
Veritable Quandry (overrated?)

Thanks again,

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  1. Both Ned Ludd & Firehouse are easily accessible by the #6 bus. Worth the trip.
    Near Castagna is the food cart pod SE 12th/Hawthorne. Pyro Pizza, Wiffie's Fried Pies etc.
    You can try Lauretta Jean either at their shops or at Portland Farmer's Mkt.
    Great list!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Leonardo

      Thanks for the info! I'm especially excited that we'll be close by to the late night food cart pod, which I didn't think we'd make it out to.

      All the fried pies will be mine!

    2. Ned Ludd - french toast! It is the best I've had at a restaurant by far.

      Veritable Quandary has great atmosphere but I didn't feel their brunch food is anything special. Tasty n' Alder might be a good replacement.

      3 Replies
      1. re: metalocity

        Appreciate the feedback, that was my feeling when I was researching Veritable Quandary too, however it's so close to where we are staying, I figured it was worth a shot.

        Tasty n' Alder, I don't know if we can brave the line-up since we can't make a reservation.

        Ned Ludd sounds great, I think we will try to hit them up for brunch!

        1. re: StarryFork

          If you get to Tasty n Alder when it opens, you won't have to face a line up. It opens at 9:00 am and the place is fairly large (lots of tables).

          1. re: StarryFork

            I haven't been to Tasty n' Alder, but if they run things like Tasty n' Sons, they take your phone number and call you. Then you can at least walk around a little. Beats having to hang out by the door. Or just show up at 9 like cellophane_star recommends.

        2. If you are staying downtown and are limited in transportation to mass transit or a cab there are a lot of options in the downtown/inner southeast area that you could access on foot, by street car or with a very inexpensive cab ride. Firehouse is very nice but seems an odd choice when there are scores of restaurants you could get to more easily and/or for less money and time.

          4 Replies
          1. re: oregonjim

            That's what I was thinking, too - I appreciate your confirmation.

            I am pretty sure we will replace Firehouse with Roost for dinner, their menu looks droolworthy and it looks to be much closer, potentially even walkable, depending on the weather!

            1. re: StarryFork

              I like Roost - their green bean caesar is awesome if it is still on their menu. Not much in the way of cocktails or a deep wine list, though there are serviceable options. And the atmsophere is very sparse and cold, IMO...but I do like their food and it is in my rotation.

              ...and I also love Nostrana and Ava Gene's (which take reservations (as does Roost), and both have great cocktails and wine lists). The price point at both of these is higher than Roost/Firehouse, though.

              Also, I have recently had the burger at Sunshine Tavern (I'm a fan, love their comfort food), and loved it. Also they have fries covered with cheese and italian sausage gravy that are awesome. Other menu items include good pizza and a great $16 steak frite (with housemade worcestershire).

              1. re: JillO

                I was looking at Ava Gene's while doing some more research last night, it looks like a really fun spot - we don't mind the higher price point at all, and a good wine list is indeed a draw for my husband :) Another good contender! Thanks for the advice - I really appreciated your valuable comments on grayelf's various travel threads too.

                I've got to admit, I'm obsessed with this listing on the Roost menu, which is pretty much the reason I want to go to there: Worcestershire Soaked Beef Burger with Blue Cheese, Aioli, Sautéed Arugula and Hand Cut Fries

                Can you tell I love burgers?

                Sunshine Tavern menu looks amazing, but I suspect we won't get out that way...

                1. re: StarryFork

                  Too bad you won't be getting to Sunshine. Near them is Salt & Straw and SE Wine Collective.

          2. Not much of a breakfast/brunch/egg person but Imperial does a very good, somewhat different menu type brunch. No waiting.

            1. Burgers:

              I live on the West side (downtown) and we have been doing a burger tasting over the last several months. I have not had Castagna Cafe's burger yet, BUT, I have had the burger at Gruner and Lardo and I would steer you (get it?) toward the burger at Lardo for sure for your lunch. Also, and this might just be me, Portland has a lot of great food to try, so maybe try a different burger everyday for lunch then try some awesome dinner food. Do not be tempted to try the burger at Little Bird. WAAAYYY too much bun to burger and not as well seasoned as I would have liked. One day I will write up our burger tasting opinions...If you want more details about other burgers you are thinking about, let me know.

              I would second Tasty & Alder and Imperial over VQ. (Also, Imperial has a great burger, but not as good as Lardo's)

              For Fine Dining:
              Noisette or Castagna (right next to Castagna Café) are both very good options.

              4 Replies
              1. re: cobpdx

                Castagna Café's burger is as good as it ever was. Their $29 3-course menu is usually a nice meal and a good deal too. Good cocktails, and I love their housemade ginger soda.

                1. re: cobpdx

                  I can easily see this turning into a burger-eatin' trip - would you say there is any difference in quality between the two Lardo locations?

                  I think it's likely that we'll try to hit Lardo up for lunch one of the days, especially with your recommendation. Other burgers I'll be aiming to try: Cafe Castagna, Savoy Tavern (happy hour), Gruner (happy hour), Imperial (lunch or happy hour). It sounds like Gruner is maybe the one to skip, but it's conveniently close to our hotel, so we'll see if laziness or tastiness wins out....

                  Are there any other burgers you'd particularly recommend?

                  1. re: StarryFork

                    Lardo East and West seem to be equally delish.
                    Imperial - I would completely pass after having such random/poor consistency. And never thought the burger was ever stellar.
                    Gruner - one of my favs
                    Biwa - used to be tied with Gruner, but then they completely changed and we sent the last two back.
                    Little B/Pigeon - horrible burgers

                    1. re: StarryFork

                      Gruner is awesome for burgers as is Cafe Castagna. I have recently tried the burger at Sunshine Tavern and am totally hooked now (the beef one, their pork burger is good too, though...and go all out, get the gravy/cheese fries with it ;o)

                  2. So glad my ramblings are proving useful!

                    Little Bird was one of our top dinners in Portland but agree with avoiding the burger there. It is the same one from Le Pigeon.

                    We liked Firehouse a lot, both for the food and the setting, but it is a schlep. Breakside is right across the street, though, so you could go there for their Azteca (spicy) or other good beers before dinner to amp up the value.

                    We hit Café Castagna at happy hour to try the burger. It was very good if not world altering. Would it be weird to go there for HH, then do some strolling, then hit Castagna for dinner?? I've not yet been but it has a solid rep and was started by Kevin Gibson I believe.

                    We have had both lunch and dinner at Gruner and I have to say I preferred it for dinner. The spatzle is outstanding. The burger was good but not transporting.

                    I heart the burger at Savoy Tavern but have only had it once (so far!). Note that the Tavern opens daily at 4 pm, reservations only for groups of 4 or more. I'm thinking go for happy hour, then maybe St Jack's or Sok Sab Bai for dinner.

                    Chef Gibson has moved to his new place, Davenport, which would be top of my list. I understand that his old crew are staying on at Evoe and offering similar plates, with a slightly different timetable. Let's see if I can find the articles on the move... ah, here it is (links to several articles, just scroll down): http://pdx.eater.com/tags/kevin-gibson

                    We've done one brunch and two dinners at Ned Ludd. Worth the schlep (which is less schleppy than Firehouse) for sure. Food and setting v. cool and kinda only in Portland. Get the rilletes if you can.

                    1. Hey everyone, thank you very much for your helpful advice.

                      I think I'm starting to get more of a handle on what/where we'll be eating, my only regret is that I didn't jump on making Ava Gene reservations until it was too late!

                      Fortunately there are also lots of backup options if we're too full/lazy to carry out the following plan:

                      Thursday afternoon - arrive, hotel check-in
                      Thursday dinner - Little Bird

                      Friday early brunch - Tasty N' Alder
                      Friday early dinner - Davenport (if possible)
                      Friday happy hour - Gruner?
                      Friday dinner - Ned Ludd

                      Saturday - day of the burger:
                      Saturday early - Blue Star
                      Saturday lunch (arrive for noon) - Sunshine Tavern
                      Saturday happy hour - Savoy Tavern
                      Saturday dinner - Cafe Castagna
                      Saturday late (depending on appetite) - food cart pod

                      Sunday early - Lauretta Jean or back to Blue Star
                      Sunday brunch - Imperial
                      Sunday late lunch - Lardo

                      then off to the airport!

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: StarryFork

                        Whoa to your Saturday -- hope you're splitting all those burgs just for tummy space! I'm looking forward to hearing how those three compare back to back. Based on a single try of each, I'd go Savoy as frontrunner (my current fave in town), CC as solid and Sunshine a very distant trailer, but we may have hit them on a bad day, though there were two burgers at our table and both were just okay.

                        Happy trails!

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Yeah frankly I know there's no way I'm going to be able to pull it off, even with us splitting burgers. Also, I really shouldn't be eating potentially undercooked meat at the moment, so my dreams of dozens of burgers may have to be curtailed.

                          I'll keep you posted about Davenport though! I called them up and they seemed to think there would be no problem with us getting a spot if we arrive at their opening time, 3 pm on the Friday, so wish us luck.

                          1. re: StarryFork

                            They're really that busy already? Good on 'em but bad news for me as I don't do lineups :-(.Will have to live vicariously through your visit!

                            1. re: grayelf

                              Well I'm not sure if they're THAT busy yet, I didn't really ascertain that from my call. I just didn't want to go all the way out there and then have to wait around. They don't take reservations.

                              1. re: StarryFork

                                I definitely want to hear about Davenport.

                                I go to the pet food store, Meat, on the corner of that block and I looked at the Davenport menu last weekend when I was there.

                                I especially want to know if a scallop plate with one scallop on it could possibly be so awesome as to make me pay $14 for it. ;o)

                                Take one for the team and let us know! Their website is just a placeholder, but they post their menus on their Facebook page as pics - Davenport pdx is the Page name.

                                1. re: JillO

                                  Hahaha well I'm allergic to scallops, so unfortunately you'll have to seek that particular bit of intel elsewhere!

                                  Thanks for the tip RE their Facebook page, I'll check that out asap.

                                  EDIT: Looks like they got their pasta machine in! I may be in luck :D

                                  1. re: StarryFork

                                    Damn, someone go eat that scallop! ;o)

                                    I had Xico serve me two tiny scallops as an entree for $23 a few months ago...I laughed long and hard, and probably won't ever be back (mostly because I don't love the place to begin with). Maybe I am wrong and the going rate of a prepared scallop of less than an inch in diameter actually is $12-$14.


                                  2. re: JillO

                                    I think I'd sooner pay $14 for one scallop from Kevin Gibson's new kitchen than the $16 the SO shelled out (get it?) for one at Raven and Rose in October :-). But I don't eat cooked scallops either so we'll all have to wait.

                                    Seriously, though, Starry, really hope you make it into Davenport. I might have to break my no-waiting rule if you say it's good.

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      If you have to wait head 3 blocks up the street and have a drink and nosh at Levant. It is very good and considerably larger than Danemport.

                                      1. re: oregonjim

                                        Thanks, we hit Lavash for dinner in October. It was decent.

                                        1. re: grayelf

                                          Ate at Levant (not Lavash the cracker) last week, it was great.

                                          1. re: grayelf

                                            I've been doing low carb lately, musta had bread on the brain. Meant Levant of course!

                                        2. re: grayelf

                                          I haven't been to R&R and everytime I suggest it to friends, those that have been say no thank you...I'm-a gonna stop suggesting it...thanks! ;o)