Neighborhood Gems

When I travel, I plan my meal itineraries like some people write a business plan, doing laborious research to seek out the best restaurants in every city. Sure, I like the ritzy glitzy ones as much as the next rather easily dazzled girl, but my first and foremost goal is to hit the neighborhood restaurants–spots that capture and characterize the feel and personality of a particular ‘hood. It gives me rare insight to dine at these local gems. In this same spirit, I attempted to pinpoint a dozen or so spots in Portland where you don’t just get a good meal, but a little inside peek at Stumptown’s people and culture. Bon appetit, you voyeur, and if you happen to see me, you can thank me for the tip by saying hello and buying me another glass of cava.

American Local

americanlocalgritcakesChef 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.

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>>

Bar Avignon

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 3.35.57 PMThis classy little Southeast wine bar is equally charming in the warmest of times and the coldest of times–and considering that we have far more of the latter than the former here, one of my favorite fall, winter and spring pastimes is to curl up in a cozy booth with someone special, wistfully sipping rosé and watching the rain pelt the front windows. The bar shakes and stirs consistently excellent cocktails, the wine list is beautifully curated, and the menu moves seamlessly from nibbles like oysters on the half shell and mix-and-match artisan cheese and charcuterie boards to heartier fare like stuffed sardines and roast chicken with basil pistou. Beware the bewitching happy hour—it’s disconcertingly easy to arrive at 5pm for the $7 Washington mussels in tarragon cream sauce and $5 Aviation gimlets and end up lingering until last call, because once you’re under Bar Avignon’s spell, it’s rather painful to return to the real world.

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.

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.

Caffe Mingo

caffemingosquareThis darling Alphabet District trattoria protects its patrons from the cold cruel outside world and lurking crowds yearning to get in with flowing curtains that part to reveal a small, colorful dining room punctuated by rustic wood family-size tables and two-tops, delicious melon and prosciutto and caprese salads and heaping bowls of fresh pastas, a well-stocked Italian wine list, and service so gracious you’ll want to come back every night, which I suspect some neighborhood residents do. Since everyone and their little Italian grandmother loves a good Italian meal at Caffe Mingo, you might want to arrive early to claim your table in the compact dining room, or just do what the locals do and put your name in, then go next door to jovial Bar Mingo for a glass of Verdicchio and a lamb meatball or three while you wait.

Cheese Bar

cheesebarThe wedge and wheel crowd flock up into the sleepy Mt. Tabor neighborhood, to the corner of SE Belmont and 61st Avenue, seeking out legendary cheesemonger Steve Jones’ straightforwardly-dubbed Cheese Bar. They come in search of the most exceptionally creamy Bries, boldest blues, and odoriferous Langres, as well as Steve’s full selection of expertly-curated charcuterie, specialty groceries and chocolate, and perhaps, while they’re here, a fortifying snack from the seasonally-influenced menu of beer and wine-friendly sandwiches, salads, soups, and small plates. Six rotating taps and a superb selection of wine ensures there’s always a stout for that cheddar and a rosé for the Mahón.

Coquine

coquinealbacoreWell past the bustle of Belmont’s commercial core, where the popular Southeast thoroughfare meets 69th street, sits pretty Coquine, joint venture of husband-wife, chef-manager team Katy Millard and Ksandek Podbielski. The surrounding Mt. Tabor residents seem pleased as punch by their new neighborhood joint, and rightfully so, considering that the kitchen opens at 8am every morning with bowls of chanterelle and Shishito pepper hash and hazelnut cocoa nib granola, then come evening, turns out refined dishes like oil cured Oregon albacore with new potatoes and sorrel-scallion vinaigrette, black pepper molasses glossed short ribs, and carrot cake with rosemary crème anglaise and smoked almond brittle. Pre or post-meal walk around Mt. Tabor: optional, but recommended.

Country Cat

countrycatsquareI don’t know what I found more compelling about my last meal at Country Cat Dinnerhouse in Montavilla—my Sweet Briar Farms Hog three ways (rolled belly, brined chop, and dark red perfectly seasoned shards of smoked shoulder on South Carolina Grits with sweet plump Brooks plums) or watching a particularly precocious 4-year-old try to unscrew her little sister’s head, in her own words, “like a ketchup cap.” Being a neighborhood restaurant and all, Country Cat goes out of its way to woo Montavilla inhabitants of all tastes and ages, with a comfortably sophisticated big person dinner menu, a savvy children’s menu, and a killer brunch menu that woos with cast iron skillet fried chicken and toasted pecan-bacon spoon bread, lemon ricotta pancakes, and the famous weekends-only cinnamon rolls.

Cyril’s

cyrilscheeseboardAh the Portland winter—frosty harbringer of cold sores, elbow eczema, and legs so white they glow in the dark…through your flannel long johns. Bring your sexy back at this glammy inner SE wine and cheese bar, where Clay Pigeon Winery winemaker Michael Claypool and author/former affineur Sasha Davies preside deliciously over their respective passions, uniting them on a well-rounded menu that includes simple, comforting foods like blue cheese gougeres and the Monger’s mac ‘n cheese, outstanding seasonal salads like butternut farro and cabbage kumquat in apple lime vinaigrette, and rich desserts like apricot almond tarts and a deep, dark, mascarpone-iced chocolate cake that doesn’t care a whit if you haven’t shaved your legs since October.

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>>

Dove Vivi

dovevivisquareDue to an unfortunate but mercifully brief post-college stint of suburbia dwelling, I developed a deep mistrust of any food that originated in a strip mall. But here in Portland, we’ve got food friends in low strip mall places, friends like darling Dove Vivi. It might take you few tries to find it, hidden in the blinding technicolor shadow of Pambiche, but just look for the clusters of happy pizza-loving hipsters crowding the patio tables outside. Like the patrons, the pizza has unique style–Dove Vivi uses a unique cornmeal crust and bakes the deep dish pies in thin cast iron pans, creating thick, hearty, richly flavored pizzas like spinach pesto, smoky collards with ricotta, and my favorite, the “Corn”–fresh sweet corn, smoked mozzarella, balsamic marinated roasted red onions and chives. Salads are simple and excellent–try the finely shredded lacinato kale and ricotta salata with lemon shallot dressing, and don’t pass on the housemade zuccotto for dessert. It’s strip mall dining at its best.

Firehouse

firehousesquareThis North Portland restaurant is so comfortable it feels almost like you’re eating at a good neighbor’s house–a neighbor who is a really great cook and has an enviable garden patio. Set inside the old Dekum Firehouse, the Firehouse coddles you with its warmly elegant interior, all gleaming wooden booths and rustic brick walls, its friendly service, a mellow atmosphere that makes it perfect for a quiet midweek meal or a lazy Sunday happy hour, and food that’s homey but that you wouldn’t necessarily make at home (unless you have a wood-fired oven for making Neoplitan-style thin crust pizzas and a rotisserie for perfect roast chickens)–so you can’t feel guilty for eating there five nights a week. Yes, the Firehouse is the kind of neighbor everyone wants to be friends with. Now, if only they had a pool.

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.

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.

James John Cafe

jamesjohncafebiscuitsThis charming old-school cafe nurtures the North Portland hamlet of St. Johns with its excellent coffee, fresh-baked pastries, a full bar, and satisfying eats like cassoulet, roasted vegetable bread pudding, smoked trout hash, biscuits ‘n gravy, and a half dozen sandwiches. The unassuming, black awning-sheltered storefront opens up into a big, peaceful café with soaring pressed-tin ceilings, well-worn sofas framing a coffee table strewn with NYT sections, and a vintage bar lined with hipsters sipping Stumptown coffee, fresh-squeezed lemonade and PBR. The décor is sparse but interesting—deer heads hang on the walls above muted still-lifes of fruit, and an antlered rabbit with a saucy expression is mounted above the doorway to the kitchen.

Kachka

kachkaherringunderafurcoatUnless you just got back from Saint Petersburg, and maybe even if you did, it’s probably been a while since you had a proper Ruskie Zakuski Experience accompanied by nine shots of vodka, Siberian pelmeni in fancy broth, short rib borscht, and Russian ice cream sandwiches dipped in black currant tea milk caramel. So thank goodness for this utterly charming Russian gem in the ever-evolving inner SE, where chef/FOH team Bonnie and Israel Morales dish up buterbrod, blini and beef tongue stroganoff with a side of infallibly gracious service. And vodka, obviously—nearly 70 local, international, and house-infused varities are served.

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.

Little Bird Bistro

littlebirddiningroomLate 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.

Lovely’s Fifty Fifty

lovelys5050Lovely’s Fifty Fifty owners (and sisters) Sarah and Jane Minnick have carved out this sweet, homey little nook along buzzy North Mississippi Avenue, creating a space that walks the line between modern and vintage, with high ceilings, massive wood beams, a huge roll-up glass garage door, and an eclectic collection of precisely-hung vintage prints lining the softly hued walls. Young hipster couples and families alike occupy the tables and booths, making for a lively neighborhood melting pot of top-notch vittles and people-watching, and the kitchen turns out all the trappings of a well-rounded diet–remarkable wood-fired pizzas, seasonal salads and small plates, creamy housemade ice creams, and very good wine.

Maurice

mauricecollagePosh restaurant pastry chef turned pastry luncheonette proprietress, Kristen Murray, has stepped in to save us all from a existence bereft of mango tarte tatin and cocoa puff palmiers by opening this sweet spot tucked down a pleasantly mellow tree-lined street in downtown’s happening West End neighborhood. Armed with a pastry background and aesthetic so impressive that entire shelves of sugar bags bow and curtsy in unison as she glides down the grocery store dry goods aisle, Kristen conjures up stunning sweet somethings like duck egg flan with chocolate consommé, geranium-scented pain perdu, and black pepper cheesecake with rhubarb-apple confiture and celery leaf gelée, served alongside craft cocktails and fine wines, on the heels of Maurice’s daytime “luncheonette” menu.

Mediterranean Exploration Company

mecpitaandshugEvery neighborhood needs a stylish supperish social hub, and MEC has the Pearl District covered—you’ll hear the buzz of conversation emanating off the open air window bar from blocks away. Inside is a lively hive of hip, well-dressed sorts sipping cocktails and sharing eclectic small plates like lamb tartare, Tunisian couscous with rose petal harissa, Oregon albacore with beet olive salsa, and cardamom ice cream affogato. Like its sister restaurant Toro Bravo, MEC will lead you by the fork through the long list of mezza via a chef’s choice tasting menu that’s well worth the $40, especially if you’ve already burnt out your decision-making abilities agonizing between the Spanish Diplomat and Retsina Spritz.

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.

Olympic Provisions NW

opmeatboardPortland is full of interesting secrets—secret catacombs, secret kebabs, secret gardens, secret creperie-speakeasies, and Secret Society, to name a few. Then there’s Olympic Provisions Northwest, which isn’t technically a secret, but unless you’re a particularly thorough wanderer, prone to getting lost, or have business in the industrial wilds of Northwest Portland, you’d be hard-pressed to stumble upon it. Walking through the deli’s front doors, you’re immediately confronted by one of the finest meat counters around—brimming with fresh sausages, frankfurters, patés, rillettes, Sweetheart hams, bacon, and a full range of Olympic Provisions’ acclaimed salami–all housemade on site. Orbiting the deli case is an intimate kitchen-facing marble bar, a few tables for two, and two boisterous communal tables—so you’re covered, whether you’re having salami sandwiches and cold microbrews for lunch with friends, or sharing one of the peerless rotisserie chickens with Schmaltz potatoes and a bottle of rosé with a hot date. Read full write-up>>

Olympic Provisions SE

olympicprovisionshashWith its pioneering spirit and sleek, reclaimed wood and white subway tile-lined little restaurant tucked into a renovated historic cereal mill, Olympic Provisions pretty much embodies the edgy essence of Portland’s still-gritty Southeast industrial district. Joining longtime culinary residents like Clarklewis and Produce Row and newer ones like Boke Bowl and Bunk Bar in deliciously populating this stretch of warehouse jungle framed by the concrete forks of the Morrison Bridge and the Willamette’s east waterfront, OP’s unmatched cheese and charcuterie boards, meaty eats like the ethereal pork rillettes hand pie and hearty choucroute garni, superb desserts (don’t miss the chocolate salami) and excellent wine list all make for the perfect reason to explore a part of town you might otherwise overlook. Plus, they offer complimentary canisters of pepper spray to help you make it back to your car intact. Just kidding! You’re on your own!

Ox

oxmarrowbonesChef 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.

P’s & Q’s Market

psandqsmarketIt’s no secret that I like a good picnic, that’s why I founded the Portland Picnic Society, after all. Nothing’s more convivial than gathering a group of friends, picking a park, spreading a blanket, and commencing a fuss-free deviled egg and baguette sandwich-fueled al fresco fiesta. And speaking of fuss-free, this darling Woodlawn community cafe and market makes the picnic process as streamlined as possible–just borrow one of their beautiful wood and wicker picnic baskets, fill it with market goodies like housemade roast beef, BLT, and ham and gouda sandwiches, Castelvetrano olives, fresh stone fruit, just-baked fleur de sel-sprinkled chocolate chip cookies, and a chilled bottle of something sparkly from the cooler, head a half block down the street to lovely Woodlawn park, picnic your afternoon away, then return the basket and go home…no mess, just memories. Genius!

Park Kitchen

parkkitchensquareBecause I put Park Kitchen in the Special and Splurgey section, I debated over whether to include it in the more casual Neighborhood Gems section, before realizing that’s one of PK’s unique appeals–it’s the perfect woman. I mean, restaurant. Let me explain using a celebrity gossip metaphor. Way back when US Weekly alleged that supercute actor Bradley Cooper had chosen Renee Zellweger over Jennifer Aniston, a friend of Renee’s explained his choice by extolling Renee’s versatility: “She’ll show up wearing a sexy dress and Louboutins, but will still order a beer and rattle off the dirty jokes.” This is how I feel about Park Kitchen, it’s the sort of place that can show you a good time whether you’re in the mood for one of the city’s finest chef’s tasting menus or just want  the flank steak salad and a pint of Burnside Brewing Company’s Oatmeal Pale Ale.

Pip’s Original

pipsdoughnutsYou’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.

Pollo Norte

pollonorteMost 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.

Relish

reslishdessertIf you like hanging out in idyllic Sellwood AND have always wanted to eat Fourme d’Ambert-stuffed potato croquettes in a former mortuary, we’ve got just the spot. Chef Josef Valoff crafts sophisticated eats like Quinault River steelhead and mussel stew and a silky chocolate tart nestled in peanut butter mousse in a relaxed, many-roomed space rumored to have a (friendly) ghost or two. There’s lots to like here–glass pours are both voluminous and affordable, booths are plentiful, and patios come in two varieties…sunny and shady.

Roman Candle Baking Co.

romancandlefeastMuch 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.

Shut Up and Eat

shutupandeatrapiniFor a good time, call (or you know, just walk into) this boisterous Gladstone sandwich shop, which fills to the gills with famished regulars expecting not just a sandwich, but a SANDWICH—foot-long feasts so formidable you may as well preemptively concede defeat and bring your own doggy bag. Case in point, the Broad St. Bomber, a heap of Painted Hills top round tossed with fried onions and peppers and thick with tendrils of cheddar and provolone, a belly buster rivaled only by the magnificent Meatball Sub.

Songbird

songbirdinteriorsquarePerched atop SE Belmont at 68th Avenue, this cheerily stylish little Mt. Tabor eatery dishes up three squares most days starting not long after sunup, making it the ideal spot to savor a celebratory Stumptown espresso after dropping the kids off at school, reward/reprove yourself with the Nuvrei pastry sampler/steel-cut oatmeal following a long/embarrassingly brief Mt. Tabor Park hike, enjoy a romantic Painted Hills steak au poive with shallot bourbon cream sauce for two on a quiet Friday night, or tuck into a blueberry-smothered short stack and smoked salmon scramble whilst having a lively discussion with your next door neighbor about your backyard neighbor’s unfortunate decision to invest in a 600-horsepower leaf blower (after making good and sure they aren’t sitting right behind you).

St. Jack

stjackfishermansstewIf two heads are better than one, then two restaurants must be better than one, and if the two restaurants are attached and one of them is actually a bakery, that must be better than a private Living Room Theater showing of Amélie, a bottle of Cristal Rosé, and a bucket of bacon fat croutons. Enter St. Jack, Portland’s very own bistro-bakery dream team, part darling Clinton Street corner bistro, part patisserie, the latter which opens daily at 8am to supply the neighborhood with pastry chef Alissa Rozos’ divine housemade éclairs, flaky croissants, and feather-light mini-madeleines. The bistro menu reflects chef Aaron Barnett’s affection for rustic French cuisine (think tureens of puff pastry-capped escargot, oyster and scallop-studded fisherman’s stew, and whole roasted trout over creamy French lentils), while Rozos’ dessert menu reflects…well, my dreams, actually (think chocolate crème brûlée with beignets and strawberries and créme chiboust with pistachio financier). If you find it hard to choose, just remember—two dinner entrees are always better than one, and two desserts are better than the aforementioned Amelie and bacon fat croutons screening.

Sweedeedee

sweedeedeesquareAs fun to say as it is cute, funky, and downright delicious, this petite light-filled space sits quietly in a previously breakfast-barren stretch of North Albina Street, and from the moment they open the doors at 8am, the staff is cutting slices of ethereal homemade honey pie, doling out gooey sticky buns and blueberry cornmeal muffins, pouring hot cups of Extracto coffee into mismatched crockery, and dishing up  hearty breakfast and lunch plates as fast as they can, to overjoyed neighborhood residents and gastro-tourists alike, all whom pack themselves into the handful of tables and window bar like happy hash-devouring sardines. Try the baked egg-topped corncakes, smoked trout plate with pickled vegetables, cream cheese and thick slices of rye bread, and any of the the exquisitely fresh salads and sandwiches.

Tabor Bread

taborbreadgalettesquareThose 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 Boy

tamaleboycollageTamale 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 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

tastyandsonsbrunchsquareJay-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.

Taylor Railworks

taylorrailworksmarrowbahnmiSet 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.

The Baowry

baowrybunssquareThis St. Johns bungalow is yet another Portland food cart rags to brick-n-mortar riches heart warmer. After laboriously renovating a dilapidated North Portland bungalow to its former glory, Ross Skomsvold and Molly Scott were able to move their mobile bao operation into a real kitchen, where they dream up Asian-inspired culinary innovations like confit duck buns, bacon black bean mussels, and miso butter noodles with shaved shiitakes, served with unique house cocktails best sipped in the tiki torch-lined garden. Hungry night owls and insomniac whiskey enthusiasts rejoice–the bourbon ‘n bun fun goes until 2:30am every night of the week.

The Tannery Bar

tannerybarmontecristosquareSometimes we all wish we could change identities, but having learned from Jason Bourne that it’s no piece of cake, few actually do. Under ‘exceptions,’ enter chef Caleb McBee’s Tannery Bar, which shed its old Skin & Bones bistro concept last autumn and transformed into a snug candlelit tavern where exceptional craft cocktails reign, and bar food is exiled to the menu’s back page. It manages to enchant nonetheless, particularly the unforgettable Monte Cristo built with airy slices of Fleur de Lis’ Pullman loaf, and served with marionberry preserves.

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.

Uno Mas

unomastacosWith vibrant azure walls, Baja sunshine-hued barstools, a Pacifico-packed cooler, and nearly two dozen tasty tacos both tame (chicken, steak) and adventurous (octopus, tripe, blood sausage) to choose from, this itsy bitsy new cantina tucked into NE Glisan Street’s The Ocean mini-restaurant mall offers a cheery south-of-the-border escape in foul weather, and thanks to the giant roll-up doors, a breezy sun-splashed hangout when skies are fair. Grazers, hearty eaters, and those who have difficulty making decisions should indulge in the Taquiza Surtida—a kitchen’s-choice collection of 12 tacos for $20.

Woodsman Market

woodsmanmarketpicnicRight next door to its ever-popular sibling restaurant, this European-style 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).

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).