Noodles

There’s nothing quite like a noodle. It’s fun to say, fun to eat, and when you get to really thinking about the noodle, it’s pretty neat. Noodles are remarkably simple to make, extremely versatile, easily shared, can be dressed up or dressed down, and cross practically as many cultural boundaries as the Travel Channel. Below you’ll find a smattering of excellent Portland eateries that all embrace the mighty noodle, whether they be Italian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or Food Cartese. Canoodle with a noodle today!

Artigiano

artigianopastaBypass the Italy trip and head to this marinara-hued Division Street cart instead–for about $4,980 less you’ll get comparably divine pastas, like the handmade fettucine tossed with heirloom tomatoes, garlic and basil, and Yukon Gold gnocchi with sage-brown butter sauce and hazelnuts. During happy hour, you can graze a selection of simple small plates, and if you trust chef Rachael Grossman (and you should), give the prix fixe family-style chef’s choice feast a try. Beer and wine are served, and since a bottle of Sangiovese or Pinot Grigio will only set you back $18, might as well get one of each, and a slice of the rich dark chocolate torte with homemade caramel sauce too, you can afford it now that you’ve binned your Christmas in Venice plans in favor of eating here every night.

Ava Gene’s

avagenesextsquareGaze into the mirrors suspended over this Division Street stunner’s open kitchen and see your future…meal, that is (along with a LOT of lightbulbs). The latest project from Stumptown sage Duane Sorenson, this upscale hotspot is dazzling discerning diners with chef Joshua McFadden’s sophisticated take on rustic New York-style Italian, like warm chicken livers with raisins and marsala, Delicata squash fritto, housemade ravioli, and pork osso bucco. Finish with a vanilla bean panna cotta in pine cone syrup, then sip one of the bar’s exquisite grappas as you plot your next visit. Prix fixe seekers–opt for the five-course chef’s tasting menu.

Bar Mingo

barmingoextStrolling NW 21st Avenue on a warm summer evening, it’s easy to spot Bar Mingo. Bright orange chairs surround the sidewalk tables, and every single one of them is full of people chatting, toasting, gossiping, playing footsie, lamenting their mother’s nosiness (that would be me), and of course, sipping wine and eating cheese, among other things. Bar Mingo has an excellent wine list, tasty antipasti like lamb meatballs and oysters on the half shell, a half dozen or so housemade pastas, and hearty mains that include grilled flat iron steak and cioppino. From 4-6pm daily, there are $6 bellini, martini and wine specials, which will fill you so full of happy hour spirit, you’ll soon be calling your Mom right from the restaurant to tell her how much you love her, nosiness and all.

Biwa

biwabarsquare‘Twas a dark and porky ramen at stylish, happy little Biwa Japanese restaurant, tucked away in the inner Southeast Industrial district. From the Biwa ramen, best augmented with smoked pork shoulder or spicy ground pork, to the delicate, light and refreshing Green Tea Soba tossed with prawns, ginger and intensely flavorful shiso, to the hot, hearty udon, there’s no better place to slurp. And since Biwa has two daily happy hours, 5-6pm and 9-10pm, you can get your noodle fix on the cheap both on early bird time or late into the dark and pork night.

Boke Bowl

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 8.58.23 PMAfter many moons of elusive, exclusive pop up-only engagements, Boke Bowl ramen shop finally settled down and committed to an airy, fashionably-minimalistic space in Southeast Portland’s grungy-chic industrial waterfront district. The brief row of two-tops and long communal tables fill up fast when the lunch bell rings, so go early for easy access to the pork brisket-stuffed steam buns, divine warm Brussels sprouts salad with tofu croutons, and lineup of inventive ramens. Bring the kids along–there’s a Bambino Bowl on the menu just for them, and young or old, who can resist lemongrass ginger soft-serve and housemade miso butterscotch twinkies for dessert? And on Thursday nights, mark your calendar and claim your spot (and drumsticks) at Boke Bird, aka Korean Fried Chicken Night.

Burrasca

burrascalunchIt didn’t take long for Florentine transplant Paolo Calamai to transition from food cart to brick-and-mortar, buoyed by the ardent support of regulars partial to his rich, homey, authentic Tuscan cuisine. Occupying an airy, modern space on SE Clinton street, Calamai’s kitchen boils and braises away, making ribollita, wild boar pappardelle, spinach and ricotta gnudi, and inzimino, a forgiveably homely squid stew that will fast become one of your winter staples. Finish up with zuccotto or biscotti and vin santo, then bid everyone ciao and head across the street to Fifty Licks ice cream, where you can continue your Italiana theme with a triple-scoop cone for the kids, and a Cocchi Americano Rosa laced Bitter Rose cocktail made with grapefruit rosewater sorbet for the non-kids.

Chiang Mai

chiangmaiporksoupThis tiny Thai hidey-hole on Hawthorne is one of my favorite cold weather destinations, especially when I’m craving a quick soup fix–my go-tos are the Gang Hung Lay, a hot and heady concoction of tender slow-cooked pork, pork belly, pineapple and garlic in a northern-style curry, and the Palo Moo–more tender slow-cooked pork and pork belly with chunks of fried tofu, shiitake mushrooms and boiled egg in a rich herbal broth. And for dessert, if it’s on the specials board, you must try the kabocha squash that’s filled with coconut milk custard and baked, then sliced into wedges, set in a pool of sweet coconut sauce, and sprinkled with candied coconut. It’s the kind of thing that could actually turn your kids on to squash, and speaking of kids, this is a very family-friendly establishment, so feel free to bring yours along.

Double Dragon

doubledragonramenNormally, I stand firmly in the camp of waste not, want not, but I cannot tell a lie—many, many napkins were harmed in the making of this story. It’s inevitable, because when this hip little Division Street sandwich joint slings a pork belly, roast duck, or heaven help you, its meatball monstrosity onto the pick-up counter, you best head straight for the napkin dispenser—or better yet, get everything to go and eat at home in the shower. But lest I dwell too long on the sandwiches, know that non-sandwich offerings are exemplary too—branch out and experience the coconut milk-based curry ramen and terrifically rich beef noodle soup, both especially beguiling when paired with a bourbon and Lapsang Souchong honey-laced Burnt Reynolds cocktail on a dark and nasty Portland winter’s evening. Read full write-up>>

Fish Sauce

fishsaucebarI accept the occasional MSG headache as part of many an authentic Asian food experience, but prefer to avoid it because I’m already planning for a champagne headache and don’t need to compound that, so it’s nice to find a place that advertises MSG-free pho, and this hip Alphabet District Vietnamese restaurant is one of those rare sorts. Plus, they make their beef pho with filet mignon and meatballs, AND it’s only $6 during their popular twice-daily happy hour, as are five of their bánh mì, including the Chinese sausage and eggs, and Vietnamese bacon, pork roll & pâté. Let’s all raise our champagne flutes to that!

Grassa

grassapastaIf you’re sick and tired of carbs being unfairly maligned, show your support by downing 10 pounds of them in one sitting, which is surprisingly and somewhat dismayingly easy to do at this casual downtown noodle joint. Conceived by the same folks behind much-revered Lardo, Grassa’s menu tempts with a half dozen beautiful handmade pastas like the brown butter-drenched ricotta mezzaluna, a delicate fritto misto, pasta fagioli, and fragrant garlic bread baguettes. And since nothing costs over $10, sticking up for carbs has never been so easy or affordable.

Hot Pot City

hotpotcitysquareGuaranteeing a bellyful of hot soup and a mouthful of spicy garlic ginger breath, this frills-free downtown Chinese spot is the dining destination for anyone who’s ever wanted to boil things in pots of broth. Choose your broth and get it simmering, then work your way down the buffet-style meat, vegetable, and sauce bar, piling your plate with boilables and mixing fiery garlic, ginger, red chili, and soy sauce potions to swirl into your soup. Return to your pot and let the boiling begin! Everything goes in the hot pot–chicken thighs, paper thin slices of beef and pork, broccoli, fat udon noodles, skinny rice noodles, cilantro, clammy white fish balls, your straw, your earrings, your wallet, anything you can lay your hands on…because once you start boiling things in broth, it’s hard to stop.

Jade Teahouse

jadeteahousesquareJade is not the contemplative nest of tranquility that might come to mind when one thinks “teahouse.” It is an aesthetic win, blessed with copious amounts of natural lighting and a tidy bamboo-fringed patio, and it’s a lively meeting place for all manner of local folk—toned Lycra short pants-wearing patrons of the nearby Sellwood Yoga studio having heart-to-hearts over prawn and pork-stuffed lettuce rolls, Eastmoreland Ladies Who Lunch taking an exotic grilled tofu salad-fueled minibreak, and stay-at-home moms and dads sharing platefuls of stir-fried rice noodles with towheaded pixies in pink cowboys boots whose swinging feet don’t quite reach the floor. The great unifier? The bright green pandan-dyed Vietnamese wedding cake, one of the many delightful pastries you’ll find in the case on any given day, and a unique delicacy that goes very well with a pot of one of Jade’s beautifully-curated 70+ teas.

Khun Pic’s Bahn Thai

kuhnpicsbahnnoodlesEverybody loves a good secret, and that’s exactly what you’ll find behind the creaky black wrought iron gate at 3429 SE Belmont. The weathered little Victorian engulfed in an earnest thicket of brambles might look like the neighborhood haunted house, but it masks a lovingly restored, coiffed and gilded dining room filled with a hodge podge of mismatched antiques, Southeast Asian statuary, and patient locals who don’t mind waiting upwards of an hour for Chef Mary Ogard’s tangy coconut chicken soup, green papaya salad, and delicious noodle dishes like the Pad Thai or Pad Kee Mao–wide noodles cooked to perfection and tossed with spicy chili sauce, fresh basil leaves, and roast chicken. Read full write-up>>

Kukai

kukaiyuzuramenI tend to stick close to home for my ramen, after all, Umai’s within walking distance so why stray, but this snazzy Beaverton izakaya is well worth a pilgrimage into the suburban wilds. Understandably, this Japan-based chain takes noodles very seriously, as evidenced by the strict and sensible instructions for ordering extra: “Order the extra serving of noodles when you are almost finished with your first serving. Please leave enough soup in the bowl to accommodate the new noodles.” As far as your first serving goes, you’ll have a dozen ramens to choose from, if you’re a pro, you’ll likely gravitate towards your favorite shio or shoyu, if you’re a ramen novice, let the pretty pictures be your guide (my strategy).

Ling Garden

linggardenchowmeinbettersquareThe other day, I was asking a very respectable Portland restaurateur what his guiltiest food slumming pleasure was, and I figured he’d say something relatively benign, like white chicken eggs or Grade B maple syrup, but instead he said “Popeyes.” And we all gasped, because it was so improbable, so scandalous, so shocking that someone would stoop so low. (Cue loud throat clearing to mask the Taco Bell accusations flying my way from those who know me best.) But there are times when even those of us who can get a little snobby about our food crave something off the foodie grid, and my favorite off duty meal involves sinking into a worn red booth at this immaculate Alphabet District Chinese restaurant and ordering a bowl of hot and sour soup and a steaming pile of the house chow mein. It’s nothing fancy, just completely consistent and fresh food served super fast with a smile. They even deliver to most of NW Portland and Downtown. Beat that, Popeyes!

Luc Lac

luclacIt’s 3am on Saturday night, last call has come and gone, you’re wandering around downtown Portland, and all you want, besides some hot action, is some hot eats. Well, Luc Lac can help with at least one of those needs, since they are considerate enough to feed the post last call-crowds until the unheard of hour of 4am on weekends. As if that weren’t enough to instantly endear them to you, they also have every kind of pho and vermicelli bowl you could ask for (all $10 and under no less), plus a generous three-hour daily happy hour with a $6 Dealer’s Choice cocktail and nearly 20 $2 small plates like the pork and shrimp spring rolls, sugar cane shrimp, and mussels in lemongrass-tamarind broth. So they’ve got the hot eats covered, but as for the hot action part, you’re on your own.

Mai Pho

maiphoYou’ll get good cheer and great pho at this cheery downtown cart in the SW 9th & Alder pod, where the darling proprietress dishes up hot, fragrant, flavorful pho specials (rare beef, well done beef, and meatballs) for a mere $6.50. If you aren’t in the mood for soup, try the rice noodles with lemongrass chicken. If you aren’t in the mood for going back to the office and eating at your desk, head a couple blocks over to Director Park and dine at one of the outdoor bistro tables. And if you aren’t in the mood for going back to work period, dine at Director Park, text your boss that you’ve been struck with acute afternoonmeetingsitus, and go see a movie at Fox Tower then get drinking chocolate at Cacao Heathman. (I’m letting you borrow one of my favorite fantasies, you’re welcome.)

Nonna

nonnamenuJust when you thought the intersection of NE Killingsworth & 30th couldn’t get any tastier, enter restaurateur Dayna McErlean’s lovely new Nonna, neighboring DOC’s casual counterpart, a chic but homey trattoria focusing on Italian-inspired small plates and good wine. Even if you swear you don’t like them, try the excellent Brussels sprouts with chile flake and lemon cream, then continue feasting on chef Jobie Bailey’s mussels, manicotti, and good old spaghetti with meatballs, then get a second bottle of Barbera d’Alba with your brown butter hazelnut cake, just like your Nonna would.

Noraneko

noranekoIf you’ve ever rolled up to Biwa at 12:05am, then upon finding the doors locked, collapsed sobbing on the sidewalk, then this one’s for you—Biwa’s sister restaurant is slinging nourishing late night noodles, karaage and cocktails in the Hawthorne Bridge’s dark underbelly until 2am. Not that early birds are excluded from the fun— stop into the daily 4-6pm happy hour, and you’ll get highballs for $5 and bar snacks like curry pickled eggs and kimchi and cheese croquettes for a mere dollar.

PaaDee

PaadeenoodlesSophisticated cocktails developed to complement the bright, unique Thai flavors at this hip 28th Avenue eatery make for a well-balanced meal, and the long communal tables in the center of the dining room make for interesting random interactions over chive cakes, Sriracha and fish sauce-glazed fried chicken wings, grilled hanger steak with spicy tamarind dip, and bowls of hot noodles–pig lovers, the egg noodles in spicy lime and pork broth with fried pork belly, tender slices of red pork, and ground pork is the porkfecta of your dreams. On weekends, find fun brunch fare with an exotic twist, like the coconut French toast with tamarind syrup and fried chicken wrapped in ginger crepes.

Pho An Sandy

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 2.11.32 PMWhen the rain is dribbling down the windows and night falls at 4pm and my Seasonal Affective Disorder has rendered me unable to muster enough serotonin to make dinner (or so I say), the obvious solution to not starving in my dark, cold kitchen is to head up NE Sandy Boulevard to this immaculate, brightly-lit beacon of pho and traditional Vietnamese fare. The bowls come fast and hot, and paired with an order of fresh salad rolls and a pot of hot tea, make for the perfect foul weather picker upper. And speaking of picking up, you can get speedy takeout too, from 9am in the morning to 9pm at night, so input their phone number into your winter speed dial.

Pho Hung

phohungYou might have to do a few u-turns on Powell Boulevard before you can zero in on the parking lot of this curb appeal and frills-free Vietnamese restaurant, but once inside, you’re in pho heaven. Service is friendly, efficient and lightning fast, so if you’re in a hurry, depending on how averse you are to a burnt tongue, you can get your pho fix and be gone in 20 minutes. Sometimes the small bowl leaves me wanting more noodles, so even if you don’t usually, upgrade to the large. Come winter, there’s no better chill-banisher, so maybe the guy who says “see you tomorrow” to everyone who leaves is onto something. Why slave over a hot meal when you can get one for under $10 and 20 minutes?!

Pho Oregon

phooregonsquareThe white granite foo dogs outside Pho Oregon might not appear to be guarding much–curb appeal isn’t one of the restaurant’s attributes–but beyond the slightly shabby white stucco facade and darkened doors they flank is a vibrant land where shiny granite-topped topped tables stretch in long rows as far as the eye can see, and merrily chattering diners young and old alike slurp steaming bowls of pho and delicious skewered pork and prawns over vermicelli noodles, and friendly and efficient servers hustle to and fro the kitchen with tea kettles and avocado smoothies. It makes for a delicious combination of people watching and a good tongue-scalding–the pho is so good, you just can’t help yourself.

Pho Van

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 12.17.59 PMThis Vietnamese chain’s SE 82nd mothership is my go-to pho joint when I’m craving hot noodle soup. The menu offers over a dozen beef, chicken, duck, seafood and vegetarian soups teeming with pungent aromatics like lemongrass, mint, basil and rau răm, but there’s no greater pleasure than a steaming hot bowl of phở gà on a wintery evening, full of thick slices of tender chicken breast, silvery rice noodles, and the accompanying dish of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeños, and pungent Japanese basil.

Piazza Italia

piazzaitalianoodlesWhen my favorite Brits, Matt & Sian, lived in Portland, they were simply mad about Piazza Italia–or “Piazzer Italier,” as they pronounced it. It reminded them of Italy–the pasta, the wine, the World Cup games on the big screen, the accents, the bickering. They ate there at least once a week. You’ll be equally taken with this likeable little trattoria, a great spot to both eat and observe the native Pearlites in their natural habitat, such as the lady at the table next to me, who kept asking “Shu-Shu” if he wanted some of “Mommie’s yummies” while using her fork to poke bits of her lunch into Shu-Shu’s furry chops. You can’t blame Shu-Shu for lapping it up though, who in their right mind would turn down the Linguine Squarciarella with egg, proscuitto and black pepper, hearty housemade pappardelle with braised wild boar, and simple, summery pesto penne?

Renata

renatapastaBringing a touch of gloss and glamour to the Central Eastside, this pizza and pasta-centric eatery anchors a block of deliciousness, with adjoining sister enterprises including Mi Piace specialty market, Ancient Heritage Dairy’s creamery, and beloved Alma Chocolate’s production space. Kickstart your meal with one of the excellent cocktails, dabble in the bites and antipasti, then dive into the pasta and pizza sections of the menu, which hold such delicacies as mint pappardelle with braised beef shank and leek ash corzetti with clams, pork sausage and black garlic, and a handful of nicely blistered pies, from a classic margherita to the robust beef tongue, bone marrow and peppers. Early bird eaters, flit in for the bar-bound weekday Punch Hour.

Ristorante Roma

ristoranteromasquareArguably, there is no place more romantic than Italy. And the unassuming and authentic Ristorante Roma in downtown Portland reminds me of so much of the little trattorias I ate at in Italy–simple, immaculate, family-run holes in the wall with gracious service, fresh salads, hearty plates of uncomplicated pasta, and plenty of Sangiovese to sip with your sweetie. If I avoid looking out the window at the Portlandness outside, I am completely transported to Italy. This makes Ristorante Roma a very romantic sort of place to dine and wine that special someone, and it’s a lot cheaper than airfare for two to Rome.

Rose VL Deli

rosevlnoodlesOf all our first world foodie problems—brunch lines, unreliable food cart hours, coming down with a cold the day your Langbaan reservation finally rolls around—one of the most consistently irksome was developing a terrible craving for Ha VL’s soups, and then realizing it was post-4pm, so, no soup for you. That is a problem no more, because now, starting at 4pm every day except Sunday, you can get Christina and William Vuong’s famous soups at night, at their sister restaurant just off Powell, across the street from ABC Seafood. Don’t dally though, because in true Ha VL style, when the soup’s gone, it’s gone.

Samurai Bento

samurainoodlesThis longtime downtown Japanese food cart’s tip jar has a sign on it that says You Make Me Happy, and judging from the long lunch hour lines of regulars, the feeling is mutual. After all, anytime a yakisoba craving strikes, it’s second nature to make a beeline for the SW 10th and Alder cart pod and get in line with the rest of the chicken katsu and yakitori lovers. Pay attention to the white board in the window, if you’re lucky, the staff has written a sage Samurai-ism on it, e.g., “Happy president day, everyone. We presidentially open today. It is fun day. Go be your own president!! You can do it.” Well, yeah!

Sawasdee Thai

sawasdeethaisquare“I’ll nod at you when your order is ready,” the nice lady at this venerable downtown Thai cart reassured me. It was my first food cart experience, and I guess I must have looked a little worried about how this all went down. After all, she hadn’t asked for my name, or given me a number, or written my order on my forehead. How would she know which noodles were mine? What if someone else took my noodles? What if I got someone else’s extra spicy version and my nostrils exploded? Foodcartlandia was a nerve-wracking place. I waited at the curb with the rest of the curry and spicy eggplant-philes, watching each order get bagged and distributed with baited breath until I got the much-awaited nod, then I collected my pad kee mao and headed to the park to eat with the pigeons. And from that day forth, I was a food cart and Sawasdee convert.

Sen Yai

senyaiduoContrary to idiomatic opinion, you can’t have too much of a good thing, especially when that thing is noodles. Thus, prolific Portland chef Andy Ricker continues his mission to steadily increase Division Street’s Thai noodle slingers per capita with new Sen Yai, a bright, busy neighborhood joint devoted to the namesake “big noodle.” Order the rich boat noodles with stewed beef and water spinach, creamy rice porridge in pork bone broth, and anything involving rendered pork fat with confidence, but the housemade durian ice cream is only for the brave.

Silk

silkextProbably Portland’s most high-end pho experience, this is the Pho Van empire’s schmancier spot—your pho comes with side of posh decor and snazzy Pearl District folk to watch (actually overheard here during an intense discussion about manicures: “Once you go shellac, you never go back!”). During their daily Silky Hour (yes, that’s it’s real name), you can score a hot bowl of beef or chicken pho for a mere $4 in their sexy little adjoining bar, plus the $5 Crazy Noodles and a handful of $5 bahn mi, including hand-pulled five-spice beef and turmeric catfish. Which if you ask me, is worth getting a shellac manicure and swapping my sweats/dirty jeans for real trousers/clean jeans (because one can hardly patronize a Pearl District Silky Hour looking unsilky).

Tabla

tablapastaTossing, twirling and swirling some of the loveliest pastas in Portland, this popular Restaurant Row bistro woos noodle lovers with their silken signature chard and ricotta ravioli, melt-in-your-mouth mushroom and sherry agnolotti with pickled chanterelles, and supremely summery fettuccini lathered in basil-pistachio pesto. Come winter, plummeting temperatures and blustery squalls will have you blowing in on the westerly winds to huddle over a plate of spicy pork sugo tagliatelle. All the pasta is housemade, there’s excellent wine to be had, and club soda is available if you are silly enough to wear a white shirt to a pork sugo tagliatelle dinner.

Tanuki

tanukitantansquareTanuki’s deep, steaming bowl of pork belly udon with whole clams, tofu and egg, and Tan Tan udon with Sichuan-style peanut sauce and minced chicken are probably the best uses you’ll ever find for that $8 you were otherwise going to spend on porn. But guess what, it’s your lucky lucky day, because it’s not uncommon for Japanese skin flicks to be playing on the television above the bar at this fierce and fiercely popular little Montavilla izakaya. So maybe think twice about taking your conservative Christian parents here, and opt instead to take your 50 Shades of Pinku Eiga club.

Tarad

taradnoodleduoCrafting authentic Thai food at home generally involves a slew of pricey exotic ingredients, a crate of Singha, fish sauce in your eyes, and a whole lot of swearing, so if you just aren’t in the mood, head to this funky little pink facade-fronted offshoot of popular Paa Dee restaurant. Since it’s part noodle bar, part market, you can consume a hot bowl of khao soi gai and a Thai iced tea with lime, then shop the impeccable selection of affordable Thai foodstuffs, then return home and con your significant other into making homemade gaeng hung lay. Well done.

Umai

umairamenThe next time you feel like ca-noodling with a bowl of ramen al fresco, this unassuming cart tucked down the House of Vintage alleyway should be your first stop. The eight-item menu offers three ramen choices—brothless, veggie, and porky, all teeming with housemade noodles, steamed greens, pickled shiitake and a marinated egg, the latter two with your choice of shio, shoyu or miso broth. It’s not unusual for Umai’s ramen to sell out mere hours after the window opens at noon, so either settle (and you’re not really settling considering how delicious they are) for the kale and roasted konbu salad and a chicken karaage sandwich with bacon chutney and bok choy coleslaw, or go home alone—no canoodling for you.

Yataimura Maru

yataimuramaruramenFor those evenings when you feel like eating in a Japanese alleyway, this cozy izakaya, created in the image of a ramen, robata and sushi yatai-lined Japanese alleyway, will do the trick. Once you’ve arrived, the folks behind downtown’s Shigezo will serve you katsu curry, pork and kikurage mushroom-topped Tokyo ramen and spicy hamachi rolls until you get your next feeling, which might be to drink in a nearby Division Street bar, and the next feeling after that, which will probably be to stumble home to your Portland bungalow and go to sleep.