Steak & BBQ
When it comes to carnivorous urges, the most striking and severe is generally the craving for Steak. Dripping with its own juices, grilled or seared to tender perfection, seasoned with a balanced hand, plated plain or sassed up with bearnaise, gorgonzola butter or salsa verde–there are few edibles more satisfying. Whether you prefer to wield your serrated knife at a stuffy steakhouse or a hip neighborhood meateria, here are a few places around town where you can find a DGS–Damn Good Steak.
El Gaucho is the quintessential highbrow steakhouse, complete with a masculine, elegant sunken dining room bordering the sizzling open kitchen, midnight blue walls, cushy booths, squint-inducing light levels, the smell of swank, and an eloquent server with a voice like James Earl Jones, who deftly handles the wide-eyed young couples getting ready to spend their future firstborn’s first college semester’s tuition on a proper steak dinner, the impassive regulars, and the boatloads of loud n’ slick suits that congregate in the bar. Sip a dirty martini while you look over the menu, order up a Dungeness crab cocktail or Oysters Rockefeller, the 12oz filet mignon or Australian lobster tail, a side of decadent lobster mashed potatoes or the Full Gaucho Baked potato–or heck, just forget the “or” and order the lot. Come dessert, even the most jaded of posh steakhouse diners can’t help but gasp when the Bananas Foster or Cherries Jubilee goes up in flame, temporarily blinding the entire squinting population of the dining room.
Those 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.
My Dad is notoriously spendthrift. He drives a battered taupe Ford Explorer circa 1990 with roughly 2 jillion miles on it, has a very sophisticated buying and trading scheme going on at his local used book store so he never actually has to spend any money on his beloved spy novels, and he isn’t allowed to gamble anymore when we go to Las Vegas because so much as a $10 nickel-slots loss sends him into a deep depression that even a Celine Dion concert can’t cure. But above all else, eating out is the greatest luxury in his book. If I had a dime for every pained look I get when I tell him about my culinary exploits, I could buy him a new Ford Explorer filled with Tom Clancy novels. So when the family came into town and we headed to this popular Kerns steakhouse for dinner, all eyes were on the cheapskate as we ordered some very luxurious-sounding dishes–smoked tri-tip with béarnaise, flat iron with Castelvetrano tapenade, ribeye with blue cheese butter. And understandably, all eyebrows went sky high when he not only splurged on the steak frites, but declared them worth it. In steak lingo, well done, Dad!
Little Bird Bistro
Late 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. Depending on your mood, sit at the gleaming copper bar, see and be seen in the main dining room, or, provided you don’t suffer from acrophobia, opt for my favorite perch—the tiny upstairs table hugging the balcony corner.
Chef and husband/wife team Greg and Gabrielle Denton’s widely worshipped Argentine-inspired Northeast Portland hotspot is many things to many people—a highly evolved steakhouse, a surprising source of superb plant-based dishes and allergy-friendly desserts, a purveyor of exceptional cocktails, aaand, originator of some of the best, richest, most memorable chowder you will ever eat. (And I eat a LOT of chowder.) Despite the restaurant’s beefy image, vegans and vegetarians needn’t steer clear—”from the garden” options are as compelling as the fleshy ones, and as for dessert, Gabi’s prowess with sugar and spice are legendary, and her cheese pairings and hazelnut brown butter torte with honey-chamomile ice cream have a near-fanatical following.
It should come as no surprise that this revered Northwest Portland den of deliciousness grills a mean steak. Set the tone with chilled oysters on the half shell and a bottle of Bollinger, move on to the legendary steak tartare–American Kobe Beef finely chopped and served with all the traditional accompaniments, then dig into the star of the show–a tender Highland Oak strip steak with schmaltz potatoes, which can be ordered as a half portion for smaller appetites and budgets. End with the chef’s selection cheese plate and a 10-year Tawny port or snifter of Clear Creek’s Williams pear brandy, and you are officially living the good life.
Sometimes when I’m stuck lucky enough to be in a long boring enthralling meeting at work, I play the “If You Could Only Eat One Thing Until The End of Time, What Would It Be?” game. Coming in a close second to “spoonfuls of melted Valrhona,” is the Park Kitchen flank steak salad. Always on the menu, probably because there would be a revolt and possibly a few bocce balls through the front window if they took it off, it’s the perfect meal–a combination of tender strips of flank steak gently mixed with blue cheese, parsley, and sherried onions. It’s exactly the sort of dish this beloved North Park Blocks bistro excels at–simple, true to the ingredients, and relentlessly flavorful. Order any of their other salads with confidence, but don’t be surprised if every other salad, that you ever eat henceforth, pales ever so slightly in comparison.
Podnah’s Pit BBQ
The legendary Podnah’s Pit BBQ’s simplistic down-home charm goes hand in hand with some of the city’s finest barbecued ribs, brisket, pulled pork, prime rib, hot links, smoked trout, and yes—Frito pie (they’ve got pecan too, sweet tooths). It’s hard to say what the best day of the week to visit is—if you’re in the service industry, it’s Monday, because you get happy hour all night, but Tuesday is all day rib and draft happy hour for all, Wednesday is Fried Chicken Night, Thursday is Smoked Lamb Ribs Night, and Friday is Fried Catfish Night. On Saturday and Sunday brunch is served, and until you’ve had Podnah’s eggs and brisket, you might have thought breakfast meant a sad little plate of bacon, eggs, and toast, verses a mammoth plate of smoked brisket, eggs, potatoes and a warm homemade muffin. You’ll never feel the same about your favorite diner’s blue plate special again.
Perhaps 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. Start your swanky old school supper with the NW Oyster Medley–a half dozen oysters on the half shell with cucumber & ginger mignonette or a classic shrimp cocktail, get your greens with an iceberg wedge, then move onto the endless surf and turf possibilities. If you’re on a budget, but want to feel like a high roller, opt for the quite-affordable Supper Menu–your choice of soup or salad and an entree of surf ‘n turf, prime rib, pork chop, or jumbo prawns for $33.50. Finish up with Bananas Foster and another dirty martini, and then head out for a cigar and maybe some jazz. You’ll be in that kind of mood.
Simpatica Dining Hall
The only thing better than a really good steak is a really good steak that only costs $14. Good $14 steak is hard to find, so imagine my glee when I tucked into Simpatica Dining Hall’s bavette steak at Sunday brunch the other day. The meat was impeccably seasoned and practically tender enough to cut with my fork, and the portion so ample for the price tag, I thought I might still be in bed dreaming. Served with with Flageolet beans, Tuscan pancetta, preserved lemon, and wilted escarole and topped with a sunnyside-up egg, it was the by far the best $14 I’ve spent since I bought my first bottle of Gruet Brut, which is high praise indeed.
Tasty n Alder
It’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, and steak ‘n eggs-centric Cowboy Breakfast will leave you with a whole new kind of beefcake lust. If you can sneak out of the office early, or don’t even have a pesky office to have to sneak out of, by all means become a regular between 2 and 5pm, when the “Midday Menu” (aka happy hour), renders a sizable slab of 21 day-aged ribeye just $15, and the warm, flaky biscuits that are its soulmate a scant dollar. Be still, my heart! (Seriously, my steak-loving arteries can’t handle all this excitement.)
Set in the inner Southeast’s historic Plow Works Building, so close to the tracks that your Kentucky Cardinal cocktail trembles when the trains go by, this low-ceilinged space beguiles with its wide wood beams, stunning open kitchen, sexy swanky bar, and chef/owner Erik Van Kley’s expertly prepared “Borderless American Cuisine.” Even the most sophisticated dish has a hint of both the homey and exotic, like the hearty grilled marrow bone topped with bánh mì fixings and served with warm housemade dinner rolls. Staunch pescatarians will be thrilled, the menu leans towards the sea, with starters like two sweet scallops on a bed of cucumber and spicy mayo, mains like Oregon albacore topped with nectarine salsa, and desserts that…well, they’re just normal desserts, no fish there. Actually, I take that back, the desserts aren’t normal, they’re fantastic, especially the signature waffle with bruleed banana, smoke-laced crème fraiche, and melt-in-your-mouth pecan praline.
Downtown 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’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).