Burgers

In our increasingly complex world, there are a lot of seemingly simple things we take for granted, like doorknobs and anti-fungal cream and bendy straws and the humble burger ‘n fries, one of the most perfect and complimentary food pairings ever created. It’s important to pause now and then and think about how lucky we are that White Castle founder Walter Anderson came up with the bright idea of putting hamburger on a bun nearly a century ago. There’s nothing quite like a juicy meaty patty sandwiched between soft fresh bread with all the fixings, alongside a pile of hot, golden fries. It sounds simple enough, but these days, everyone’s trying to build a better and more bewitching burger. From the best chefs in the world to intrepid home BBQer’s, everyone is exploring fat-to-meat ratios and challah verses potato rolls with a studious concentration generally given to finding major medical cures. Drop in to one of these local restaurants to do some research of your own.

Bamboo Sushi NW

bamboosushinwVisit the Southeast Bamboo mothership’s sustainable sushi superstar sister early to beat the Northwest 23rd Avenue hordes (happy hour is Monday through Friday, 4-6pm, if that helps), and be sure to try the “house on fire” mackerel, a sashimi plate and the Chasing the Dragon roll…if you’re still hungry, there’s always the epic Sumo Burger–a half pound of Snake River Farms’ Wagyu beef with aged Tillamook white cheddar, caramelized onions, onion rings, bacon and a fried egg. And when you’re done with that, plan on double dessert, because even after you’ve had Bamboo’s chocolate egg rolls, you’re still going to want to investigate neighboring Salt & Straw’s ice cream palace. Read full write-up>>

Bamboo Sushi SE

bamboosushimixsquareThis sleek Japanese restaurants earned the impressive distinction of being the first certified, sustainable sushi restaurant in the universe as we know it, an accolade that does green-loving Portland proud. The kitchen crew slices flawless sashimi, crafts comely sushi rolls, and prepares sophisticated cooked dishes like the grilled Kobe flank steak with pickled mushrooms, seared scallops in ponzu brown butter, and crisp-creamy Alaskan black cod with smoked soy and roasted garlic glaze, a dish so delectable it caught the eye of GQ Magazine, who named it one of the five best dishes in America. This all makes for big crowds and the lines to match, so go early if you get cranky when your sushi levels are low. Read full write-up>>

BridgePort Brewpub

bridgeportburgerAs classic pub burgers go, the BridgePort Burger is a fine specimen, a thick savory half pound of freshly ground Cascade Natural chuck piled with Tillamook white cheddar, iceberg lettuce, crispy onions and house sauce, and accompanied by a heap of golden, über-crispy thick cut fries. Or, go big with the Brickburger–a brick-shaped burger with beer-braised onions, pickles, bacon jam and roasted jalapeno beer cheese sauce. If you prefer your burger sans cow, there’s also the far healthier red bean burger with curried coconut-cashew sauce, spinach and mango salsa. And of course, any burger you choose is just that much better with one of the house ales, especially when both are consumed outside on the old loading dock-turned-shaded and highly social terrace.

Brunch Box

brunchboxburgersquareNobody reveres the almighty patty quite like this downtown burger bar, a brick and mortar companion to its beloved Stark Street cart. Much like proud parents littering the hallway with family photos, Brunch Box greets visitors with a “Burgers of Fame” wall hung with portraits of their beefy, plump-bunned offspring, like Thai Bacon (grilled pineapple, jalapeños and peanut sauce) and the aptly named OMG Burger. For amateur burger babymakers, there’s the Build Your Own menu–layer on everything from Swiss to Sriracha, then wash it all down with a milkshake, IPA, or $5 mimosa.

Brunch Box (Cart)

brunchboxyoucanhasThese days, the humble burger is getting fancier and pricier, as burger bars let you customize your hunk o’ beef with asparagus and truffle oil, chefs experiment like mad scientists with patty thickness, shape and seasonings, and fries are served with increasingly embellished dipping sauces like orange-saffron aioli. So when you visit The Brunch Box on SW 5th Avenue, you might do a double take when you see the menu–a basic quarter pounder with all the traditional trimmings–lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion–for $3! Or upgrade to the YouCanHasCheeseburger, for $5 your patty comes cradled between two Texas-toast grilled cheese sandwiches. And Spam lovers (you know who you are) only have to fork over $4 for the 5OH! Burger with spam, pineapple and sweet teriyaki glaze.

Café Castagna

cafecastagnaextsquareThere are quite a few jobs I find scary–crab fisherman, haunted house caretaker, and those guys who drive semi trucks over ice come to mind–but scariest of all would probably be a Café Castagna cook. Think about it–every time a burger order comes in, you have to make sure that burger is the best burger the customer has ever eaten. That’s what happens when you carry the informal but fiercely defended title of best burger in Portland. Talk about pressure. They do an amazing job though, because every time I bite into one, I marvel at the flavor of the beef, the perfection of the patty, house-made bun, and paper thin little zucchini pickles. It’s all wonderously simple…and sometimes simpler is better–the best, actually.

Clyde Common

clydecommonburgerThe Clyde Common burger reminds me of the restaurant–simple, stylish, and belly-friendly. It’s a classic juicy burger-meets-soft bun romance, but you can spice things up a little by adding cheddar, blue cheese, bacon or a fried egg. The accompanying fries are thin, hot and slightly addictive (kind of like Ryan Gosling), and served with Clyde’s signature housemade harissa ketchup. The burger appears on the lunch, brunch and happy hour menus, but you’ll find it curiously absent from the dinner offerings. Not a problem–just ask your server to hook you up and they’ll gladly do so, especially if you are Ryan Gosling.  

Davis Street Tavern

davisstreetburgerOld Town Chinatown, bless its scuffed and slightly smelly heart, is not known for its fine dining. But when this sleek gastropub moved in in 2008, with its red brick walls, low leather banquettes, loungey bar sofas, flattering lighting, chic chandeliers and sophisticated menu, the neighborhood dining scene lifted its chin a little higher. Davis Street Tavern’s burger matches the ambiance–upscale but approachable–a Cascade Natural beef burger topped with Tillamook cheddar, peppered bacon, tomato bacon jam  and whole grain mustard aoili, and served with a pile of light, fresh and salty shoestring fries. And considering that it drops to $8 during happy hour, and microbrews are $4, don’t be surprised if you find yourself spending a lot more time in Old Town Chinatown after work than you ever imagined.

Grilled Cheese Grill

cheesusBehold the Grilled Cheese Grill’s Cheesus Burger! This burger wasn’t named after the Lord in vain–it’s the most sacred use of grilled cheese sandwiches and a burger patty I’ve ever eaten. The Cheesus’ brilliance lies in the “bun,” which is two basic grilled cheese sandwiches, one containing American cheese and pickles, the other pairing Colby Jack with soft grilled diced onions. Add a juicy 1/3 lb burger, crisp fresh iceberg lettuce, red ripe tomatoes, ketchup and mustard, and you’ve got something heavenly all right.

Hop & Vine

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 11.04.19 AMMismatched thrift store furniture and a relaxed demeanor make this North Portland hipster bar an excellent spot to savor a belly-warming red in the winter, and in the summer, the charmingly tousled garden is just the place to take down the house bacon burger and an absinthe-rinsed Remember The Maine cocktail (you may not, in fact, remember much of anything if you decide to have another and then another). If you need a bottle of beer or wine to go, duck into the adjoining bottle shop—the savvy staff will steer you towards exactly what you need, even if you didn’t even know you needed it.

Imperial

imperialexteriorsquareThose seeking a classy joint worth getting dolled up for are jazzed about Vitaly Paley and Ben Bettinger’s sensibly swank new Broadway Street eatery in the Hotel Lucia, where seasonally-driven Northwest fare fuels a convivial downtown crowd. And if you end up getting the proverbial room after a few too many of the dangerously affordable signature cocktails, come morning, the Imperial pastrami hash and crab croque-madame are but an elevator ride away—the dining room serves three squares a day, starting at the ungodly hour of 6:30am on weekdays.

Interurban

interurbanextsquareIt might take a while to elbow your way through this crowded bar to order the whiskey chicken liver mousse, Murphy’s lamb stew, and Luger burger, but the 14 taps and excellent house cocktails make it worth the effort. If you manage to shake off the effects of last night’s bottled Manhattans and rise early enough, however, weekend brunch is a breeze–come at 10am and have your pick of upstairs tables or a breezy perch on the hidden back patio, then relax with what’s possibly your second Walk of Shame of the day (Interurban’s involves Rainier and a shot of Fighting Cock bourbon), the salted caramel French toast, fried egg-topped Breakfast Burger, and a skillet of steak and eggs-smothered johnnycakes.

Lardo Eastside

lardoeastintsquareIf you’re going to stray from the caloric straight and narrow, you might as well do it right—and there are few more enjoyable failings than this super popular Ladd’s Addition hotspot’s pork belly sandwich—glistening, hot fat-streaked slabs of this most hallowed Portland mainstay laid to rest on a pillow-soft, golden-crusted Fleur de Lis Bakery brioche bun, or the bacon-topped cold fried chicken sandwich slathered in buttermilk blue cheese dressing, or the epic Double Burger, or the pork scrap and marinated peppers-littered “dirty fries,” or the three microbrews/ grapefruit margaritas you wash it all down with. No need to steer clear if you’re an herbivore either, the meat-free offerings and salads are some of the best around. Get your meal to go, or settle into a picnic table on the vast Hawthorne-fronting patio.

Lardo Westside

lardoburgerFollowing on the meaty heels of its perma-line-out-the-door-endowed sister spot’s SE Hawthorne successes, this West End sandwich shop is luring downtown worker bees from their hives with hulking porchetta, mortadella, and “porkstrami” stuffed marvels, plus the whopper of a Double Burger, slathered with Lardo sauce and best accompanied by the pork and pepper-studded Dirty Fries (because why not go all the way?). Though the sammies should probably come with vascular disclaimers, you’ll still find a way to justify an item from the short list of delicious sides (see aforementioned Dirty Fries). Wash it down with a drink from Lardo’s full bar, slinging everything from Heater Allen Pils to the signature Lardo Sour. Daintier eaters and herbivores, fear not, the eggplant parmesan-wich and escarole Caesar hold their own.

Le Pigeon

lepigeonburgersquareThis famed Lower East Burnside bistro’s “Chef’s Counter,” aka the bar, puts you so close to the little open kitchen you can almost touch the flock of pigeons tattooed on chef Gabriel Rucker’s forearm, and feel the flame as the scallops with radish and seafood butter are being seared. Rucker cooks up his own version of French fare both classical and with a twist, turning out dishes like his ultra-satisfying beef cheek bourguignon, poussin with shell beans and chanterelles, and grilled pork belly with strawberry jam. One of the most popular items though, is the big fat juicy Le Pigeon burger, a brick of beef cooked perfectly and piled with pickled onions, Tillamook cheddar, garlicky aioli and iceberg slaw on a Ken’s Artisan Bakery bun. It arrives speared through the center with a steak knife, and departs, well, in your stomach.

Little Big Burger

littlebigburgerextWith six items on the menu and just as many locations in Portland and Eugene, this stylish, frills-free, and rapidly-growing little burger brand has amassed an enthusiastic following who are more than willing to line up out the door for juicy quarter-pound grass-fed burgers topped with local cheeses and organic vegetables (order two if you’ve got a big burger-sized hunger), crispy golden truffle oil-drizzled fries, and frothy floats made with Barq’s root beer and Tillamook vanilla ice cream. Even the catsup’s unique—indignant at the piteous selection in the supermarket ketchup section, owner Micah Camden developed Camden’s Catsup—a unique interpretation of the classic condiment that’s spiked with honey, champagne vinegar, Sriracha and hemp seed.

Little Bird Bistro

littlebirdbistroburgersquareLate hours, a central location, and trés delicious dishes make this younger sibling of renowned Le Pigeon an inviting downtown destination regardless of the hour (they’re open until midnight) or your craving—stop in for a glass of wine and a charcuterie board or reserve a dark red leather banquette for a leisurely supper. The kitchen is helmed by longtime Le Pigeon sous chef Erik Van Kley, who orchestrates a simple French menu that zeroes in on beloved, expertly-executed bistro classics like steak frites, coq au vin, and marrow bones (and the iconic Le Pigeon burger), while pastry chef Lauren Fortgang spins sweet fantasies like strawberry elderflower floats, apricot givré with a corn financier, and her housemade chocolate plate.

Paley’s Place

paleysburgersquare Paley’s burger holds its place in the echelons of Portland best burgers, a thick, pink-centered mound of just-ground and grilled American Wagyu beef dripping with juices and topped with a tender ring of grilled onion and melted cheddar, served on a poppyseed-sprinkled brioche bun spread with ketchup and a sharp whole grain mustard aioli. Plated with pickled vegetables and a light salad of fresh greens, the only thing that could make this burger more perfect is a deftly mixed drink–try chef Vitaly Paley’s favorite, the Tanqueray No. 10 martini, served up with a twist.

Ringside Steakhouse

ringsidePerhaps Portland’s most all-around popular steakhouse, the esteemed Ringside is stodgy enough to please the classic steakhouse afficionado and friendly enough to please anyone else who might happen in, even if they are wearing khaki shorts and a slightly sweaty lavender t-shirt. Late night happy hour is the great equalizer, with prices so outlandishly reasonable you’ll think you’ve been handed an old menu, like maybe one from 1944, when Ringside opened. The $2.75 steak bites with creamy horseradish sauce are a meal in themselves, and the $4.75 prime rib dip won’t leave much room for the $2.75 burger and $2.75 Caesar salad. Your grandparents, who probably did eat here in 1944, would approve.

Saucebox

sauceboxburgerWith its trendy good looks and stylish Pan-Asian menu, Saucebox isn’t the first restaurant that comes to mind when you’re craving a hearty burger. But their happy hour menu, one of the most popular late-afternoon draws in the city, features two gorgeous burgers–the signature Saucebox burger with Tillamook cheddar, kohlrabi coleslaw and peppered bacon, and the slightly more exotic Miyako burger with avocado, roasted red jalapeños and teriyaki. And since these are happy hour burgers and all, you’ll pay a mere $5 for them, which means you can afford another Boxcar or two before last call at 6:30pm.

Slow Bar

slowburgersquareSlow Bar might emit a dive bar aura, but the black napkins are cloth, the mesclun greens are organic, and the Dom Perignon 1996 Rosé is $300 a bottle. In accordance with its surroundings, the famed Slow Burger is also somehow simultaneously primitive and luxurious, presented with a serrated steak knife stabbed through its heart–both for visual effect and as a means to secure the two nearly inch-wide golden fried onion rings that top the half pound Painted Hills beef burger.  Shrouded in gruyere and served on a Grand Central Bakery bun with crisp butter lettuce and pickle relish, this Angelina Jolie of burgers comes with hot hand cut fries and makes an excellent companion for your Dom Perignon.

Slowburger

slowburgerminiFor one so small, this Northeast Portland burger bar in The Ocean restaurant mini-mall packs a meaty wallop. The required decisions between you and your hunk of beef are few—choose between three signature burgers (plus a seasonal and veggie version), all of which can be un-supersized into a three-ounce replica for $3.50, four beers on tap, and fries two ways—with or without stinky cheese. If all this doesn’t have you hot and bothered enough, utilize the locally-made Crazy Juice ghost chili sauce beside the soda fountain.

Tasty n Alder

TastyandAldersteaksandwichIt’s not always easy to catch a glimpse of a genuinely heart pounding hunk of beef in Portland, unless you have the time and lack of shame to blatantly loiter outside fire stations when it’s truck-washing time. Find a happy medium at chef/restaurateur John Gorham’s downtown sister restaurant to North Portland’s popular Tasty n Sons, dubbed Tasty n Alder, where the fried onion-topped smoked coppa steak sandwich, hazelnut romesco-slathered Alder Burger, steak ‘n eggs-centric Cowboy Breakfast, and cinnamon-laced Budapest coffeecake will leave you with a whole new kind of beefcake lust.

Tasty n Sons

tastyburgerJay-Z touts the Empire State of Mind, Steinbeck opined that Texas is a state of mind, and here in Portland, well, Brunch could probably be declared the official state of mind…and few restaurants here do brunch as well as Tasty n Sons. The menu is nothing if not diverse, try the Breakfast Board–a something-for-everyone spread of chicken liver mousse, pickled beets, six-minute egg, thick chewy bacon and housemade labneh, Auntie Paula’s French Toast (dredged in ice cream batter before it hits the frying pan), and the Shakshuka, a savory red pepper and tomato stew with Merguez. Or, just get the Tasty Burger with smoked blue cheese and call it a day.

The Original

voodooburgersquareWhen I saw The Original’s Donut Burger Sliders on the menu, at first I laughed incredulously, then I snorted disdainfully, then I turned the page and checked out the salads, like a sensible person. But as I debated the Cobb verses the Caesar, I couldn’t stop thinking about a Highland Oak beef patty fused to two halves of a soft, sweet buttermilk donut with Tillamook cheddar, even as I decried the revolting, shameless, grandstanding novelty of it all. Naturally, I ordered them. And I must say, those little doughnut burgers were awfully good. But next time, I’ll definitely get the Caesar. I think.

Toro Bravo

torobravoextIf you have yet to fulfill that lifelong dream of running with the bulls of Pamplona but you have a low fear threshold and a lean pocketbook, just go to spirited little Toro Bravo on North Russell Street  instead — it is as much zesty good fun as its “brave bull” moniker, and a lot less likely to gore you to death. The tapas menu can induce paralysis-by-indecision, because more than likely you’ll want to order each and every Spanish-inspired small plate on it–who can resist dishes like piping hot manchego and paprika fritters, radicchio Salad with green olive toast, braised lamb with apricots and coriander, oxtail croquettes dipped in spicy chili mayo, the infamous bacon and Manchego burger and impressive house Paella Toro? If trying to choose what to order is giving you croquette-sized hives, let the kitchen choose —the Chef’s Tasting Menu is a steal at $30 per person.

Urban Farmer

urbanfarmerburgerDowntown Portland’s luxurious Nines Hotel’s flagship eighth floor restaurant, Urban Farmer, which dubs itself “A Modern Steakhouse,” takes their steak seriously, offering a dozen cuts of steak in five categories–Butcher’s Cuts, Tenderloin, Ribeye, New York, and American Wagyu. Pork, lamb, lobster and fish dishes round out the menu, and sides include creamed spinach gratin, mac ‘n cheese with cured tomato, and a twice-baked fingerling potato tart. If your budget doesn’t allow for anything that’s been dry-aged for 21 days, go for happy hour–the food and drink specials are grand, and while there aren’t any steaks on the menu, you can get your Wagyu fix in the form of the popular beef slider, served on a warm Parker roll.

Woodsman Tavern

woodsmanseafoodWoodsman’s got a knack for memorable dishes that are both rustic and innovative—like duck drumettes with Sriracha-laced kumquat sauce, a Lacinato kale Caesar with rye croutons, whole roasted trout in “crazy water”, biscuits and sausage gravy with pickled collards, the majestic Woodsman burger, and the formidable bone-in ribeye for two, while at the bar, spirits sorcerer Evan Zimmerman crafts puckery Omaha Sours and 24kt gold-accented Bentley cocktails. Next door, the European-style Woodsman Market sells fresh produce and farm eggs, cheese and charcuterie, exceptional wine and other genteel sundries, as well as hearty housemade sandwiches and a chocolate pudding so exceptional, you will want to buy it by the barrel (you can’t though, sorry for getting your hopes up).

Yakuza

yakuzaburger“The fries were inside the burger,” my dad blurted as we were leaving this sleek little North Portland eatery the other night. “They were inside.” My dad’s a pretty old-fashioned guy, so I wasn’t sure how he’d take this assault on french fry tradition. “What did you think?” I asked hesitantly. “It was a darn tootin’ good burger!” he crowed. And there you have it, straight from my dad. The exalted Yakuza burger, darling of Portland’s haute burger world, with its thick round of Highland Oak Farms beef piled with Cypress Grove chévre and catsup and spicy mayo and of course, the mound of misplaced shoestring potatoes mentioned above, makes for a darn tootin’ good burger.