- American Local
- Apizza Scholls
- Boke Bowl
- Cheese & Crack
- Chiang Mai
- Country Cat
- Grilled Cheese Grill
- Jade Teahouse
- Kennedy School
- Lardo Eastside
- Little Big Burger
- Lovely’s Fifty Fifty
- Mi Mero Mole
- Mother’s Bistro
- Pacific Pie Company
- Park Kitchen
- Pip’s Original
- Pollo Norte
- Roman Candle Baking Co.
- Screen Door
- Staccato Gelato
- Tabor Bread
- Tamale Boy
- Tasty n Sons
To battle picky eating habits and teach proper restaurant etiquette (e.g., eat salad with the salad fork and lasagna with the lasagna fork, only blow bubbles in your chocolate milk with your straw if nobody’s looking, always share your dessert, etc.) I suggest dining out with your children regularly. Here are a few spots where you and the mini-you(s) can enjoy an excellent meal together.
Chef Chris Whaley and front of the house gal Jenny Nickolaus’s izakaya-inspired Division Street dining hall dishes an eclectic menu in a fun, energetic, comfortably casual atmosphere where you just may find yourself sharing your honey-drizzled bacon beignets with your new friends at the communal table (we did). Lots of shared small plates is the way to go here, and there are so many tempting choices, like barbecued Netarts Bay oysters, crispy grit cakes heaped with salmon tartare, a spunky watermelon radish salad with black garlic, and skewers of octopus blanketed in harissa. Sip everything from local pale ale and organic sake to housemade sodas, and please don’t leave without downing the banana pudding parfait.
My Apizza Scholls philosophy is very simple. Go for the Apizza Amore, stay for the Apizza Amore. It’s the pie I think about for days after our encounter—pining for its swirls of rich housemade tomato sauce, fresh whole milk mozzarella, pecorino romano, fragrant freshly-chopped garlic and basil, extra virgin olive oil, and layer of thin, salty, smoky capicollo (cured pork shoulder), or gabagool, if you want to practice your Sopranos accent. While I worship at the altar of Amore, Apizza’s owner/head pizzaiolo Brian Spangler and crew deftly toss and bake belly-pleasing pies a’plenty, like the house smoked bacon-lined Bacon Bianca, classic tomato and basil-topped Apizza ‘Margo’rita, and savory-spicy Tre Colori, made with semi-dried tomato and walnut pesto, ricotta and jalapeño. Packing a big boisterous Italian-American family? Bring everyone along—communal tables occupy the right wing of the restaurant’s two-room dining space, while private tables and a small bar line the left side, fostering a quieter, more romantic setting.
After 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.
It 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.
Cheese & Crack
Even the most finicky of eaters will find something to love at this cute Restaurant Row snack shop. The creatively-assembled cheese trays are dotted with a duet of cheeses flanked by a few slices of fresh baguette, a stack of homemade butter crackers and savory oatmeal cookies, and measuring spoons repurposed as Castelvetrano olive, cornichon, Dijon, honey, marionberry jam, apple butter and chocolate ganache holders. The kitchen also rustles up a handful of fun snacks like the potato chip and pickled lentil nachos, mac ‘n mornay, and Cheese & Crack sundae with cinnamon butter cracker crumble, plus coffee, breakfast bites, and some seriously good soft serve.
This 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.
Portland loves a good from-cart-to-walls-and-central-heating story, and Chickpeadx is yet another—once a lone food cart bravely occupying a small patch of asphalt on no-nonsense N. Interstate, now a full-fledged falafel destination holding court in NE Sandy’s pie-shaped, “dreams”-themed The Zipper, a micro-restaurant project by the same team that developed nearby The Ocean. Owner/falafel master Yair Maidan is turning out the same delicious salads, bowls and pitas as before, but with the added comfort of abundant indoor seating, both at the restaurant’s sunny window bar and in the common area, which unites the complex’s four restaurants via a peaceful indoor-outdoor courtyard shielded from the NE Sandy hustle. If you’re having trouble choosing your meal, order the platter—you can mix and match from Yair’s scrumptious seasonal salads and dips, and don’t forget to request his savory zhug, a Middle Eastern cilantro sauce that’s excellent both drizzled on everything and for pita-dipping.
After a long action-packed weekend, take a break from the kitchen Sunday night, grab the kids and make a beeline for Country Cat, because on Sunday nights kids aged 10 and under eat free at this laid-back Montavilla neighborhood bistro, a palate and budget pleasing arrangement. Tired of using your unappreciated positive discipline techniques to ensure peace at the table? Go with outright bribery–even the crankiest little eaters will play churchmouse when coaxed with the pudding and cookies trio, or Virgil’s root beer float (parents in need of liquid strength can fortify theirs with shots of Maker’s Mark).
Grilled Cheese Grill
Everything about the Grilled Cheese Grill is genius, from the logo to the old school bus dining room, complete with tattered green leather bench seats and old class pictures blown up and laminated as tablecoverings. They’ve even got Capri Suns! And grilled cheese sandwiches, of course. They’ve got your basic model, the Kindergartener (white or wheat, American or Cheddar), fancier versions like the BABS (bacon, apple, blue cheese, and Swiss on rye), and sweets like The Jaime (mascarpone, Nutella, and grilled banana on grilled cinnamon swirl bread). Then there’s the mighty Cheesus–a fat juicy hamburger cradled between two grilled cheese sandwiches (one with chopped pickles scattered amidst the melted cheese, one with diced onions). Creamy tomato soup is optional, and you can opt for vegan cheese or gluten-free bread as well. And did I mention the Capri Suns??
Every now and then, when I’ve had a rough stretch of deviled quail eggs, steak tartare, and pork belly sandwiches, I give my stomach a much-needed spa day at this Hawthorne haven, where you can cleanse your digestive system’s pipes with chlorophyll-laced lemonade, freshly-grated ginger tea, jalapeño and cilantro-spiced Shaman smoothies, vegetable-laden rice and quinoa-based bowls, and beautiful raw salads and pastas. Feel free to take your mini-herbivores along, there’s a kids menu with oatmeal walnut pancakes, a Littlest Dragon Bowl, mac ‘n cheese, and even a peanut butter and jelly smoothie. Read entire write-up>
Bringing miso, maguro and maki to the previously sushi-bereft Belmont Avenue, this urbane Japanese restaurant has quickly wooed fish snobs citywide. Sit at the wide, beautiful sushi bar flanking the airy dining room and watch the line of chefs deftly craft traditional sushi favorites while the back kitchen turns out sophisticated dishes like a shaved daikon salad with arugula and ponzu vinaigrette, Kurobuta pork shoulder with Kabocha squash puree, and soy mirin-glazed roasted beet-wrapped Beet It roll. Reflecting the laid back, family-friendly neighborhood, wee ones are welcome, and while the bill does sometimes seem to add up fast, budgeteers with good sushi taste can take advantage of the daily happy hour.
Jade 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.
Your kids will be gnashing at the bit to get to school–the Kennedy School, that is. Schoolkids and former schoolkids alike will go wild at this McMenamin’s favorite, an old converted schoolhouse where classrooms are now meeting rooms, no bell will interrupt your time in the soaking pool, the gymnasium hosts prom-themed birthday-parties, the Detention Room is a bar, and frosty pints of beer and milk are served at patio tables in the schoolyard. Running in the halls is still discouraged, but it’s comforting to know that the occasional slip-up won’t result in a letter home.
I 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).
If 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.
Little Big Burger
With 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.
Lovely’s Fifty Fifty
In the name of research, I generally eat out every night, and if/when I have kids, I don’t see this changing–we’re just going to eat at Lovely’s Fifty Fifty every night. Oh sure Jen, you are thinking, just you wait you smug childless eat-out-every-nighter, when you have kids, the only thing you are going to be eating every night is crow and whiskey. But I have thought this out! After all, Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty is perfectly equipped for family dinners—they have big cozy booths, a laid-back vibe, and all the food groups necessary for the entire family’s well-rounded diet–wood-fired pizza, seasonal salads and small plates, creamy housemade ice cream, and very good wine. It’s good to be a kid here, your cheese pizza is only $6, you can slurp homemade sodas, and nobody gives you a second glance when you gleefully race the length of the restaurant, drenched in pizza sauce and melted honey lavender ice cream, squealing something about macaroni flowers, while your parents dazedly sip wine and nibble heirloom tomato salads.
Mi Mero Mole
Furthering the guisado cause here in Portland, cook/food writer Nick Zukin’s busy Division Street taqueria specializes in Mexico City-style stewed meat and vegetable-filled tacos, burritos and quesadillas served alongside unique cocktails like the Horchata Borracha and Señor Brown (mezcal and apple soda) and excellent house salsas, resulting in a dining experience that’s deliciously outside the norm. If you happen to be around on the Fourth of July, don’t miss their epic tribute to the American freedom to clog one’s arteries with over the top edibles (see: turducken, doughnut burger, pizza taco)–the Kosher Burrito, a Tex-Mex meets Jewish deli union of pastrami, beef chili and kosher hot dogs rolled into a flour tortilla with rice and onions. You’ll be setting off fireworks for days afterwards.
With a name like Mother’s, you can rest assured that this elegantly charming downtown favorite welcomes your hungry small fry. Chef Lisa Schroeder doesn’t mess around when it comes to comfort food, in fact she’s pretty much built a Portland institution celebrating the stuff, and the kid’s menu is no exception–breakfast staples include the mini eggs and bacon breakfast and kid’s pancake with bananas, lunch items range from house-breaded chicken strips to a good old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, dinner specials are half orders of pot roast and meatloaf, and dessert (you didn’t think she’d forget dessert) goes from healthy (fruit plate) to much more fun (mini hot fudge sundae). And with nothing over $8.95 and motherly little touches like the tiny homemade cookies that come with the bill, is it any wonder families flock here in mini sundae-loving droves?
Pacific Pie Company
While our knowledge of savory pies here in America is largely confined to the supermarket frozen food section, savory pies are huge in Australia, land of Vegemite, Shrimp on the Barbie, and Hugh Jackman. So we Portlanders are bloody fortunate to have this spunky Southeast pie shop filling the culinary void with warm golden fresh-baked Australian-style pies–beef and stout pie, roast lamb pie, Moroccan chickpea pie, creamy chicken pie, PLUS deliciously savory sausage rolls and a whole lineup of carefully crimped pasties. Like your pies sweet? The Blueberry Anzac pie, peanut butter chocolate pie, and cherry whiskey tarts should do, especially paired with some sparkling Australian wine and a rugby game on the bar telly. So, sorry my dear Hugh Jackman, you’re lovely and everything, but I’ve decided that pie is Australia’s tastiest export.
Having kids of his own, Park Kitchen owner Scott Dolich knows firsthand that parenthood and dining out at restaurants that don’t offer complimentary sippy cups and encourage drawing on the table don’t always mesh well. Perhaps this has something to do with this popular upscale North Park Blocks bistro’s relaxed and welcoming attitude towards wee diners, who in turn had best have an adventurous palate, since they’ll be supping on grilled terrine with pickled kohlrabi and roast pork with cotechino hash.
You’ve tried all the diets—grapefruit, caveman, raspberry ketone, water and tissue paper (very popular during Fashion Week), and never have been able to stick to one. Enter the doughnut diet. It might not incur weight loss, but for those who just want to experience long term diet loyalty for once, it’s failproof—who couldn’t adhere to eating this hip Beaumont bakery’s hot, pillowy mini doughnuts, made to order and rolled in cinnamon sugar or raw honey and sea salt? While there, celebrate your newfound staying power with a signature chai latte, “dirtied” up with an Extracto espresso shot.
Most of us have various contraptions around the kitchen with which to perpetrate next level gastronimical feats, ie, induction cooktops, sous vide machines, and carrot sharpeners, but very few of us actually own a genuine full-size rotisserie. Fortunately, we can outsource rotisserizing to this schmaltz-drip-sized Concordia chicken shack, which has a hard-working winner winner chicken dinner spinner that turns out golden-skinned Mexican-style rotisserie chicken for all those times when you can’t be bothered to construct a DIY version in your backyard using cinder blocks and rebar. As an added bonus, there’s cabbage and onions slow-cooked in the fat drippings, a handful of tasty sides, and homemade tortillas and salsas, plus cold beer that you can upgrade to a michelada for a dollar.
The first time I went to PREAM (Pizza Rules Everything Around Me), I developed tinnitus within 20 minutes, even though the hip hop wasn’t even that loud, reminding me that a) I’m getting old. That said, from salad to polenta to pizza to olive oil cake, the meal was solid, beautiful and inventive, and who really needs to be able to hear to enjoy a great pizza, anyway?
Roman Candle Baking Co.
Much quieter and more legal than the other Roman candles you hang out with, this buzzy bakery, coffeehouse and pizzeria still puts off sparks, thanks to the wood-fired pizza oven and embankment of ovens putting out a steady supply of fresh-baked artisan breads and pastries, from flaky croissants and fresh berry danishes to delicate lemon tarts and raspberry dark chocolate tortas. It’s also an all-day affair–you can stop in at 7am for an espresso, zucchini citrus zest quick bread and buttery golden kouign amann, take your lunch break with a mortadella baguette sandwich or albacore tuna on light-as-air foccacia (plus a canele for dessert), and linger late into the evening with a good bottle of wine and wood-fired pizza bianca.
Whether for the über-popular brunch or just a weeknight dinner, the masses flood this uber-popular Kerns restaurant’s cavernous dining room, a collection of booths, half booths, and long rows of tables that can be pushed together to accomodate familes, even old-woman-in-a-shoe-sized ones. When the restaurant is full, it’s so loud that even if your little one got up on the wrong side of the crib, their grumblings really won’t make a dent. The Southern-style fare is fresh, sustainably-sourced and comes in ample portions, service is fast and efficient, and the staff is noticeably attractive and good-humored, so if you don’t have any children to bring to brunch at Screen Door yet but would like some someday, you might want to chat up your cute, friendly server.
For 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.
Staccato Gelato is a childhood fantasy come to life–a gelato and doughnut shop that looks like a Nickelodeon set, with bright orange and blue walls festooned with cheerful bubbles, a massive mural of a Bernstein Bears-esque treehouse, lemon yellow plastic couch (great for spills), a kids play area with tiny purple plastic chairs and toys, and a fat striped neighborhood cat who strolls in now and then and lays in the afternoon sunbeams that cross the wood floors. Eighteen flavors of homemade gelato fill the cases daily, ranging from classics like peach, lemon, and coconut to more experimental blends like raspberry pomegranate lime and The Pope Says Hi (meringue & chocolate). Staccato makes their own doughnuts too–the lemon ginger and pink-iced sprinkle-adorned Fairy Princesses are sure to please your aspiring Fairy Princess.
They don’t come any more oh-lá-lá than this Belmont creperie, which produces some of the most thoughtfully-constructed savory and dessert crepes in town—I lust after the lemon butter-drenched, cider poached apples-topped Normandie. The prix-fixe weekend brunch menu (for those opposed to prix fixe confines, the full menu is served as well) is three courses—if you count a mimosa as a course, and I certainly do. As you watch your drink’s construction (perfectly proportioned at 7/8 champagne, 1/8 juice), you’re served a sweet, nutty housemade French almond teacake, followed by your choice of crepes–the prosciutto, Gruyére and caramelized onion, or roasted mushrooms, chevre, caramelized onion and mushroom cream sauce—both topped with a still-quivering fried egg and crème fraîche squiggle. Le sigh.
Those seeking a front-row view of an artisan loaf’s journey from yeast to feast need only perch at the wide stone bar facing this cozy Mt. Tabor bakery’s giant bread oven. (Mind the peel if you’re fond of your nose as is.) Since man and woman cannot allegedly live on bread alone (even house-milled, wood-fired whole grain bread), the pastry case is stacked with baked treats ranging from dark, dense little gingerbread cakes to streusel-topped cranberry oat muffins, and the sandwich menu is a thing of beauty; try the herbed egg salad with pickled celery, kale with Kalamata olives, fresh basil and goat fromage blanc, and on weekends, take advantage of the salmon toast special–lox, dill cream cheese, red onion and pickled vegetables on seeded dark rye toast.
Tamale caterer turned tamale cart turned tamale cantina, this super cute Woodlawn resident charms with bright muraled walls, cold beer, mezcal-spiked hibiscus flower iced tea, melon mint margaritas, and mucho, mucho masa—the menu is divided into Oaxacan-style tamales, Norteño-style tamales, and dessert tamales dulce-fied with sweet peanut butter crunch masa and jam or strawberries and chocolate chips, all of which are handmade by owner Jaime Soltero’s very own tias.
Tasty n Sons
Jay-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. Brunch drinks are serious business here too–champagne cocktails top the list, followed by a stable of Bloodys like the tequila-kissed Tasty Maria, gin-based Tasty Snapper, and beef jerky-accessorized Tasty Jerk. Or, you know, just have orange juice–they’ve got that too.
Debunking the myth that popular attraction cafeteria food must be both subpar and expensive, this cavernous new café inside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry dishes up tasty eats with a healthy bent in a dining room that’s got some of the best river views in town. Adults will love the chaat bar, kids will love the cupcake case, and everyone will love the big, dramatic gas-fired pizza oven. Best of all, even if feeding the whole family, you won’t have to dip into the kids’ college funds to afford the meal.
Chiles reign supreme and the mezcal mingles freely amongst the merry crowds that populate the sleek marble bar and hidden back patio of this airy, elegant, fresh flower-filled Division Street cantina, but although at first glance this all may look very adult-oriented, Xico has a separate kids menu minus the mezcal, add the $5 cheese quesadilla and $2.50 sopapillas, just for those in the 10 years and under dining set. And if one’s plate of Rancho Gordo beans and cheese tacos is cleaned, there’s the promise of the Cocada, a dark chocolate, coconut, raisin, and apricot candy bar.