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Alberta/Downtown recommendations? Not too heavy, not too pricy

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I'll be attending a meeting at the Oregon Convention Center for a week, staying in the Alberta Arts District (w/bike). I'm looking for recommendations in the Alberta district, downtown near(ish) the Convention Center, or en route.

There seems to be lots of discussion on these boards about can't-miss Portland places like Le Pigeon, OX, and Beast - but I fear those are by and large both too heavy for me and out of my price range. Instead, I'm looking for can't-miss places that have great food and are quintessentially Portland (perhaps w/flavors/ambiances not available in the SF Bay Area?) but are perhaps a little lighter - both on stomach and wallet. Places that have caught my eye are many food carts (of course), Grain and Gristle, Salt & Straw, and Grassa, but I've have had a little trouble finding a lot of good options.

So:
- Any recommendations of not-to-be missed food carts in these general areas, other than the Khao Man Gai?
- Recommendations of other uncommonly Portland-y restaurants with lighter food, an informal vibe, and mains under $20 or so in this general area?
- Anything in this category outside of the downtown/Alberta circuit that is so good as to not be missed? (I will have that bike.)
- If I'm going to splurge once or twice, any recommendations? For what it's worth, the ones that caught my eye were Ned Ludd, Toro Bravo, and Andina).

Thank you, thank you!

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  1. Can't miss on Alberta: Sugar Cube.
    Other cart downtown: Kargi Gogo (Republic of Georgia).

    1. Don't be so quick to discount OX, as you do not have to order a "main" in order to be satisfied there. In fact, their smaller dishes and sides are the best part, IMO. Look at it again with only the smaller plates/sides/salads in mind and see if it works for you.

      Places like Toro Bravo, Tasty n Alder, Atuala all have plenty of small dishes to choose from (tapas style).

      1. We do two gastrotrips a year to SFBA (since 2007) and we've been coming to Portland for a couple of years to EAT and so far, one of my favourite places is Ned Ludd. Their preps strike me as a bit lighter and they are always interesting. Wasn't a fan of Toro Bravo and haven't made it to Andina yet. We liked Little Bird much more than Le Pigeon but it is not light food at all. Grain and Gristle was fun but it's comfort food and not terribly light either. We haven't had a ton of luck with carts in Portland but Burrasca is worth a look, though not light.

        I know you come from a land of great sandwiches, but if you get a chance to try the green bean sandwich from Meat Cheese Bread, do. It's pretty stellar, even cold two hours later in a rest stop on the way back to Canada :-).

        We've been to Davenport three times now and really love it. The chef is kind of genius with really simple ingredients. I had the single most outstanding fish dish of my life there on Tuesday, and the SO is going to be talking about the stuffed kalamari for some time. Even I liked it, and I generally don't enjoy squid. The dishes are smaller and on the whole somewhat lighter. Great little bar if you are dining solo as well.

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        1. re: grayelf

          Thanks for this - and my experience aligned closely with yours. Wasn't a fan of Toro Bravo - maybe with more folks to split things with it would have been fun, but it was not a great choice for a solo traveler. Ned Ludd was far and away the best meal of the trip - light, unique food in a gorgeous space. Pok Pok Noi was very tasty, though quite expensive for what it was. I was particularly impressed by the Bollywood Theater - a great mid-range option with stellar food and a fun atmosphere.