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March 7th, 2012 WW Staff | Cheap Eats
 

Cheap Eats 2012: Listings by Cuisine

by_cuisine_3818MI MERO MOLE - IMAGE: Liz Devine
     
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home AZ location cuisine cheaper 25things restgen Select a cuisine:

American (misc.) | Barbecue | Burgers and Dogs | Breakfast/Brunch | Cambodian | Chinese | Crepes | Cuban | Ethiopian | Filipino | Fried Stuff | Greek | Hawaiian | Indian | Italian | Japanese | Korean | Mexican | Middle-Eastern | Peruvian | Pizza | Polish | Sandwiches | Scandinavian | Salvadoran | Southern | Sweets | Thai | Vegan and Vegetarian | Vietnamese |


American (misc.)


Detour Cafe

3035 SE Division St., 234-7499, detourcafe.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

You can get eggs at Detour Cafe. The eclectic nook’s breakfast menu (“served all day, no questions asked”) has frittata options aplenty, but dig into the potatoes instead. Detour seasons taters in wonderful ways and then, for $7.50, builds a skillet around them with ingredients including the usual (sausage, bacon, fresh basil) and odder items like wild smoked salmon and Manchego. The breakfast sandwiches, served on housemade foccacia, are also a big draw. Go for the Don ($8.50) with onions, feta and portobello mushrooms baked into the eggs that sit atop Italian sausage, avocado, tomato and basil. It’s a lot of sandwich for one mouth, but the flavors blend impeccably. Also, décor-wise, let’s have three loud cheers for the ingenious dividers hanging between the cozy two-tops, which provide a measure of privacy that’s rare at brunch in Portland. MC.


John Street Cafe

8338 N Lombard St., 247-1066. Breakfast and lunch Wednesday-Sunday.

Need a place to take your Nana for breakfast before a day of antiquing? With its pastel-colored walls, classical-music soundtrack and friendly waitstaff, this quaint St. Johns corner cafe is certainly approved by the unofficial Grandma Restaurant Association. As such, the brunch menu is fairly traditional, offering a typical melange of well-made omelettes and scrambles. The secret here is the lunchtime pasta dishes. Try the fettuccine and chicken ($9.50), served with a creamy blue cheese and white wine sauce. Keep an eye on the daily specials board, too. MS.


Pause Kitchen and Bar

5101 N Interstate Ave., 971-230-0705. Lunch and dinner daily

Pause is Overlook/Arbor Lodge’s ideal neighborhood joint. With a kids’ menu and what have to be some of the hardest-working high chairs in Portland, it’s great for young families ready for an early evening out. For the pre-Alibi partiers, there’s a semi-separated bar area and a small but good beer list. For the young and broke, even a Reuben sandwich ($10) seems like acceptable date-night fare when it’s made with house-cured pastrami, while the young and slightly less broke can impress their honey with seasonal entrees that skate just above cheap-eats territory, like organic chicken chasseur ($14). And for the single and really broke, the Everyday Special—two sliders, hand-cut fries, housemade pickles and a pint of Sierra Nevada for $8.50—is balm for the soul. No wonder this place is packed on a regular basis. HF.


Savor Soup House

Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 548-7652, savorsouphouse.com. Lunch Monday-Friday.

Winter is typically a pretty miserable time of year for Portland’s food carts. But the lady in the Savor Soup cart once told me they do some of their best business when the drizzle begins, and I believe her: Savor’s hearty soups ($3.50 cup, $5 bowl) are just the ticket for a miserable Puddletown day. The menu changes daily (there’s always something vegan and gluten free), though a pot of the delicious tomato with fennel and orange is almost always on the stove. It’s a perfect partner to the cart’s buttery grilled cheese sandwiches (starting at $4.50), which can be made with an impressive variety of additions, like apple butter, bacon and truffle oil (my personal favorite is pesto and caramelized onion). Or for something less elaborate, the cup of soup and half sandwich combo is a simple cure for the winter blues, and at $5.50, much cheaper than Prozac. RB.


Stepping Stone Cafe

2390 NW Quimby St., 222-1132, steppingstonecafe.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; late-night Friday-Saturday.

The heart and soul of Stepping Stone Cafe seems to be in a constant struggle between wanting to be a simple neighborhood diner and a kitschy throwback greasy spoon for millennials. For the latter, there are microbrews for sale ($5), plastic helicopters hanging from the ceiling and a staff whose casual service borders on the indifferent; for the former, there are gut expanders like the gigantic buttermilk Mancakes ($3.50 for one), which take up a whole dinner plate; and a finger-slickening patty melt ($8) for the former. Which side are you on? RH.


Sunshine Tavern

3111 SE Division St., 688-1750 sunshinepdx.com. Dinner Tuesday-Friday, brunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday.

If you can tear yourself away from Sunshine Tavern’s gorgeous shuffleboard table long enough to actually get dinner, you’ll be rewarded with one of the friendliest staffs in town serving elevated comfort food in a cozy environment. Sunshine’s take on Caesar salad ($8) exhibits a deft touch with the dressing, the hint of anchovy playing nicely with romaine and fried capers. No time for the full fried chicken and waffle ($15) experience? A fried chicken sandwich ($11) makes for a nice alternative, the blue-cheese slaw a creamy complement to the crispy chicken breast. Try and sit at the kitchen bar, where, if it isn’t too busy, the fabulously congenial kitchen staff will be more than happy to engage you in a conversation. BP.

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Barbecue


Briskets

Q-19 cart pod, Northwest Quimby Street and 19th Avenue. Lunch Monday-Friday.

Bacon-topped brisket seems gratuitous. Really, how much could sufficiently tender and smoky cuts of beef benefit from extra fat and salt? Briskets, a newish cart in the Q-19 pod, has unleashed that crossbred beast. It does feel a little decadent, but the thick strips of bacon—the cart’s one twist on otherwise very traditional and very good barbecue—justify themselves as more than a gluttonous gimmick. This taxi-yellow cart makes only its titular dish, using an electric smoker that chars wood chips as the meat slowly cooks. Spatter on bourbon barbecue sauce, then top with bacon, and you have the bulk of the menu. The meat and a sweet sauce work well together, offering layered flavors suggestive of a Bolognese ragu—especially when served atop one of the springy, house-baked ciabatta rolls. MC.


Slabtown Ribs & BBQ

2606 NW Vaughn St., 227-2903, slabtownribsandbbq.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday.

The awards lining the walls of this small and Spartan room don’t lie—Slabtown makes damn fine barbecue. Pulled pork ($7.50) is smoky and succulent; the chicken ($8 for two pieces, $12 for four) has a smoke ring so deeply rosy that they had to put an explanation on the menu so customers wouldn’t worry it was still raw. Definitely check out the specials board for Southern delights like beef chili ($3.50 for a cup) and pecan pie ($3). The mustard-spiked beans are the best of Slabtown’s sides, and the Carolina Mustard is the best of its sauces. Portions are mammoth—we defy anyone to leave here hungry. Well, unless you’re vegetarian. HF.


Smokehouse 21

413 NW 21st Ave., 971-373-8990, smokehouse21.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

At this newcomer to Portland’s barbecue scene, your meat comes in a plastic basket…and the sides, in dainty ceramic ramekins. The rest of Smokehouse seems to suffer a similar identity crisis. The violet walls and sultry jazz purr “Northwest date spot” while the all-can beer selection served in customized cozies bray “good ol’ barbecue shack.” If you get past the interspecies awkwardness, though, Smokehouse has a lot to offer. The brisket ($13 plate, $9 sandwich) is fork-tender with a beautifully smoky bark; the chicken is anything but bland. But where Smokehouse really shines is in its sides: pert housemade pickles, tangy mac ’n’ cheese, and velvety greens revved up with plenty of vinegar. Goes great with a can of Fort George. HF.

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Burgers and Dogs


Bird Dog

3962 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 206-6418, birddogpdx.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

One feels like a bit of a saboteur eating at a new Hawthorne hot dog spot, considering that the kind folks at Zach’s Shack are just up the street, but then Bird Dog is less of a hot dog spot than a sausage-based laboratory that runs on bluegrass and hot sauce. Handmade corn dogs ($5, great with the house spicy ketchup) taste extra corny, with sausage that snaps open beautifully when you bite in. The Reuben Dog ($7) is a beautiful thing, thick with secret hippie spices and kraut. One expects a roomful of fat truckers, considering the marquee item here is a chicken-fried hot dog smothered in country gravy, but instead the clientele is of the funky Hawthorne variety. Which makes sense, given Bird Dog’s wild cart-style variations on the hot dog genre. CJ.


Christopher’s Gourmet Grill

3962 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 939-4643. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

The sign imploring patrons of Southern-style barbecue oasis Christopher’s to watch their language would be easy to adhere to if damn near everything on the menu wasn’t so fucking delicious. From one of the city’s best Philly cheesesteaks ($6.50 a la carte, $8 with fries) to the amazingly tender rib (tip or bone) baskets ($10.95-13.95) with greens and creamy mac and cheese as sides, the King neighborhood favorite nails its NOLA roots. The burgers are culinary heroin, ranging in heft from old fashioned to the Man Up ($7.75), a heart attack between buns with two patties, double cheese, bacon, egg and a spicy hot link. All you can do is lick the barbecue off your lips and try not to curse orgasmically with every bite. APK.


Dick’s Kitchen

3312 SE Belmont St., 235-0146; 704 NW 21st Ave., 206-5916, dkportland.com. Lunch and dinner daily. 

Dick’s brands itself as America’s first “Stone Age” diner, but its adherence to the Paleo diet (eating less processed food, sugar, fat and dairy—like a caveperson, savvy?) seems very much of our own age’s fascination with older, simpler ways of being. It’s ironic that the more traditional items at Dick’s compare unfavorably with their contemporary counterparts: The nutty agave-barbecue tempeh burger ($6.75) is better than the classic burger ($7), and the sweet-potato version of the air-baked potatoes Dick’s calls “not-fries” ($3 with the burger) beats the boring old non-sweet-potato version ($2.50 with the burger)—though both are so soft they could be fries. JF.


Foster Burger

5339 SE Foster Road, 775-2077, fosterburger.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

This highly divisive (if Internet commenters are any indication) burger joint seems to have settled down into a comfortable groove in the two years since it opened. The fancy pickle plates are gone, replaced with six kinds of poutine, and the signature burger now comes in three sizes ($4-$7.75), to accommodate diverse appetites. The beer list has grown, as has the cocktail lineup and the gig-poster collection on the walls. The best item on the menu is still the Burner ($7.75), which adds to the usual burger an intimidating mess of Sriracha, roasted jalapeños, fried onion and shredded lettuce. It’s a fiery, sloppy and all-around wonderful way to burn your face. BW.


Killer Burger

4644 NE Sandy Blvd., 971-544-7521; 8728 SE 17th Ave. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. 

This shotgun installation slings burgers of the crusty, drippy, big-stack-o’-napkins variety that hit all the right notes and offer no apologies. Bacon and fries—tasty and surprisingly crispy for how thick they are—come standard, so the only hemming and hawing while ordering is how adventurous you’re feeling. Like heat but want to retain nerve endings in vital areas? The Jose Mendoza ($7.95) is a staff favorite, and with good reason, as the grilled green chilies and Jack cheese provide just the amount of heat and “goo” to make it a prime greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience. It even works “metrofied” with a veggie patty (add $1). BP.


Little Big Burger

122 NW 10th Ave., 274-9008; 3747 N Mississippi Ave., 265-8781; 3810 SE Division St., littlebigburger.com.
11 am-10 pm nightly. 

Micah Camden’s micro empire (a fourth location in the South Waterfront is set to open this year) continues to pump out its definition of fast food, with a laser-focused menu that’s short on options but big on quality. The standard burger ($3.25) continues to impress, almost always a perfectly rosy medium and well-seasoned, but the real revelation here is the veggie burger ($3.50). If crisped-up properly, the vaguely mushroomy patty has all the umami goodness it needs to hang with its beefy brethren. Complaints have been made about the size of the overall burger, but it’s still a quarter-pound patty. If you show a modicum of restraint (and order some of LBB’s awesome truffle fries), satiety shouldn’t be an issue. BP.

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Breakfast/Brunch


Arleta Library Bakery Cafe

5513 SE 72nd Ave., 774-4470, arletalibrary.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

This is the kind of neighborhood spot every neighborhood wishes it had but few actually do. It’s tiny, cozy, worn-in and unfussy. The cafe is known for its biscuits and gravy ($10), and rightly so; the fluffy sweet-potato biscuits come topped with roasted pork loin and rosemary-sausage gravy. Everything on the menu has that same handmade feel, from the “Bullseye” breakfast sandwich ($5.50) to the scrumptious Portlander omelet ($8.50). There are a handful of sandwiches for lunch ($7.50), and don’t neglect the baked goods. A bottomless mug of Stumptown coffee ($2) goes nicely with one of Arleta’s “Five Dollar macaroons” ($2.50), which are dunked in chocolate and coated with pistachios. “They’re gluten-free,” a server told me, “so you can pretend you’re being healthy.” BO.


Bakery Bar

2935 NE Glisan St., 477-7779, bakerybar.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

Bakery Bar’s website tells me this so-called bakery does, in fact, turn out some pretty impressive-looking cakes. But that’s not the reason this place is absolutely jammed with cool Kerns kids come Saturday morning. They’re there for the biscuits—dense, soft, flaky and kicked up with black pepper, these are some of the finest specimens you’ll find in this already biscuit-obsessed city. You can get them in sandwich form stuffed with a variety of egg-centric fillings ($4.50-$6), smothered in sausage gravy ($9.50), or as a side to a number of very good hashes ($11), scrambles ($9.75) and various other griddled brunch standards. If you still have room, there are slices of cake (and tarts and cookies and scones) at the counter, but then, if you still have room, why not just order another biscuit? RB.


Fuller’s Coffee Shop

136 NW 9th Ave., 222-5608, Brunch daily. Cash only.

For 65 years, whatever has happened in the news—from the Vanport floods to Newt’s moon shot—folks have lined Fuller’s double-horseshoe bar the next morning, reading about it over eggs and coffee. Your grandfather might still recognize this greasy-spoon holdout had he eaten here decades ago, though condos now tower overhead and diners are as likely to be scrolling a smartphone as scanning a broadsheet. You’ll find more surprises in the paper than on your plate, but that’s fine: omelettes ($9.25) are still “Rich [and] Creamy,” buttermilk pancakes ($5.25 for 2, $6.25 for 3) are steadfastly fluffy, and coffee flows as freely as ever. CB.


Genies Cafe

1101 SE Division St., 445-9777, geniesdivision.com. Breakfast and lunch daily. 

One of Southeast Portland’s most consistently crowded Sunday-morning destinations, the lobby at Genies often resembles a post-disaster triage center. Waiting is half the point, though: Allot yourself an hour to nurse that hangover with a Genies bloody mary ($6.75), made with your choice of house-infused vodka, and it’ll make the moment when your name finally gets called all the more satisfying. Once a table is procured, you can’t go wrong with any of the Benedicts ($9-$9.25) or scrambles ($8.75)—the ham-intensive Denver omelet ($8.75) is killer. MS.


Helser’s on Alberta

1538 NE Alberta St., 281-1477, helsersonalberta.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

With its airy space, charming Art Deco bacon-and-eggs murals and kindly servers eagerly refilling coffee, people like to linger at Helser’s. It will take a while even to finish your plate, with weighty portions abounding. Some offerings (e.g., pigs in blankets, $8.95) are familiar while others (pear and havarti pie, $7.50) are somewhat adventurous. But it’s the hefty housemade Scotch egg served with golden potato pancakes ($6.95) that will have me returning, and I’ll be staying a while myself. CB.


J & M Cafe

537 SE Ash St., 230-0463, jandmcafepdx.com. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, breakfast Saturday-Sunday.

I’m a relative newcomer to this city, but I imagine inner-Southeast brunch joint J & M is the kind of place that bridges the gap between the “old Portland” blue-collar quirk I hear people wax nostalgic about so often and the “new Portland” plaid-collar trendiness I hear people complain about so much. The food is uncomplicated but well-executed breakfasty fare—scrambles ($8.95), biscuits and gravy ($8.95), French toast ($7.25), you know the tune—but with a nod to local and sustainable ingredients. Willamette Valley bacon is featured heavily, lox is made from wild-caught Pacific salmon and most everything comes with Grand Central bread. The coffee is self-serve in mismatched mugs, but it’s a single-origin brew from local roaster Extracto. Servers are young and Portlandian, yet if you want to pay by card, there’s some baffling ATM setup that seems antiquated in the age of Square. On a Sunday morning, it’s packed with both old and new Portlanders alike—and neither looks out of place. RB.


Junior’s

1742 SE 12th Ave., 467-4971. Breakfast and lunch daily.

Junior’s Cafe has been such a mainstay of the Hawthorne District that it feels like even the folks that live nearby gloss over it when plotting out their brunch adventures. Shame, that, as the breakfast fare is some of the best in Southeast. I’m particularly keen on the fennel leek hash ($8) that comes with some tart grilled tomatoes. At least the vegans, who make this spot a regular part of their eating out rotation due to its bevy of meat- and-dairy-free options, know what time it is. RH.


Pine State Biscuits

3640 SE Belmont St., 236-3346; 2204 NE Alberta St., 477-6605, pinestatebiscuits.com. Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner and late-night Fridays-Saturdays on Alberta only.

Fried chicken for breakfast? Yes’m, much obliged. “Pine State” refers to North Carolina, where the owners hail from, and the two locations of this breakfast spot fly the metaphorical rebel flag proudly. Paula Deen would love Pine State’s namesake offering—buttery beauties with a satisfying saltiness, made fresh from dough you watch the cooks roll and brown. Get yours topped with fried chicken rather than pulled pork, which is nearly pickled in vinegar, and whatever else strikes your fancy. Decadent? Yes, but worth it. The McIsley ($6), fried chicken covered in pickles, mustard and honey, will have Chick-fil-A lovers whistling Dixie. Sandwiches aren’t huge and Saturday lines are obscene, which is probably for the best given how poor Paula is faring. MC.


Sugar Mamas

539 SW 13th Ave., 224-3323. Breakfast and lunch daily.

Sugar Mamas, run by sisters Zelda Nelson and Michelle Schmitt, is also one of the most genuine and friendly spots in town, serving mountains of great, cheap diner grub and baked-from-scratch goodies fortified with artery-clogging love. Flaky biscuits are served with creamy, almost sweet sausage gravy ($4.50), and mellow pulled-pork hash is tossed with sweet potatoes and crisp apples ($8.50). The spicy housemade pork, turkey and beef meatloaf is served with eggs or slapped between two slices of bread or inside a burrito with salsa, grilled as a panino or, best yet, wrapped with sautéed onions in a huge blanket of fresh Yukon gold hash browns ($7.50). “Pancake Monday” isn’t a cute title—it’s all they serve that day ($4-$7.50). Order the funky Power Cakes, packed with thick strands of sweet coconut, toasted walnuts, cranberries and bananas, and you won’t eat the rest of the day. KC.


Yolk

4804 SE Woodstock Blvd., 568-0787. Breakfast and lunch Wednesday-Sunday.

Toast restaurant owner Donald Kotler’s bright-yellow new food cart, Yolk, debuted in September in the parking lot of the Joinery furniture workshop, alongside excellent established cart El Gallo. It’s stiff competition, but Yolk is up to the challenge with a lineup of over-the-top breakfast sandwiches like the Brother, a small loaf of Little T pretzel bread stuffed with wilted arugula, maple-glazed pork belly and two fried eggs ($8). It’s like a good bowl of ramen in sandwich form. Even better is the Glendale, a messy slop of onions, peppers, ground sausage, scrambled eggs and sharp cheese fried up and served in a baguette ($7)—essentially a sausage pizza for breakfast, without the embarrassment of calling Round Table at 10 am. BW.

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Cambodian


Sok Sab Bai

Southeast 11th Avenue and Clay Street, twitter.com/soksabbai. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

[Note: Sok Sab Bai is presently closed for winter and will be opening in a different location TBA.] With this new cart-plus-dining-room, Bara Sushi House owner Nyno Thol, a Cambodian-born cook, is determined to acquaint Portlanders with the greatest hits of Khmer cuisine. The menu changes daily, so there’s no knowing what will be around when you visit. The dishes I had were very good: a pair of soft, baolike buns ($5) wrapped around little heaps of braised pork belly, marinated vegetables, jalapeño slices and cilantro sprigs; grilled chicken breast ($8), tender and smoky and a little sweet, served with rice and salad; and, best of all, khwa ko ($8), a Cambodian sausage stuffed with coarsely chopped pork, beef and rice and seasoned with garlic, galangal, salt, vinegar, sugar, lemongrass and pink food dye. BW.

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Chinese


Best Taste

8350 SE Division St., 771-0812. Lunch and dinner daily.

Don’t let the spare decor, cramped dining room or roasted ducks and pigs hanging behind the counter throw you. Best Taste is the real deal. Get there early for plenty of dim sum options—don’t miss the lotus leaf that hides sweet rice, chicken and a deliciously fatty piece of sausage within ($2.50 for three)—or arrive at your leisure and let them chop up one of those tender and flavorful ducks for your table ($8.50). RH.


Chen’s Good Taste 

18 NW 4th Ave., 223-3838; 8220 SE Harrison St., 788-6909. Lunch and dinner daily.

This Chinatown eatery has one of those insanely long, unwieldy menus that read like a neuroscience textbook and make your eyes gloss over just as quickly. So let me save you the trouble of skimming through it and recommend going straight for the Super Bowl ($9.50), a massive, core-warming bowl of wonton noodle soup augmented with pieces of pork both roasted and barbecued and succulent chunks of duck. You know the duck is succulent because they’re hanging right there as you walk in the front door. MS.


Chinese Delicacy

6411 SE 82nd Ave., 775-2598. Lunch and dinner daily. 

You don’t go to Chinese Delicacy for the fine atmosphere or to simply stare at the tank of live crabs by the front door. No, you go for the kind of Chinese comfort food that will get you through the last half of your grueling workday. The restaurant’s lunch special fits the bill nicely, offering up a peppery egg flower soup with tiny shrimp alongside meat or seafood done up sweet, savory or spicy ($4.95-$5.75). At dinner, ignore the usual Chinese-American fare and order this: kim chi, shrimp dumplings, salt-and-pepper pork ribs, black bean noodle soup. RH.


EC Kitchen

6335 SE 82nd Ave., 788-6306, eckitchenllc.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

The sign outside this newly refurbished house on Southeast 82nd Avenue, about a mile north of the dividing line between civilization and Clackamas County, promises “Chinese Traditional Delights.” It does not disappoint. EC Kitchen is, to the best of our knowledge, the only outfit in Oregon producing Chinese and Taiwanese dried sausages. Imported brands of these sweet, salty and characteristically knobby pork logs are commonly available at East Asian markets and used in fried-rice entrees around town, but EC Kitchen’s are better: a chewy, fresh-tasting sausage that’s like an explosion of sunshine on a gray winter evening. EC sells them packaged or prepared in a small handful of combinations with rice or noodles. Get the noodles ($7.49)—they’re like state-fair yakisoba in the best possible way. Throw in a pair of tea eggs, hard-boiled and steeped in tea and spices until they turn sweet and brown ($1.50), and you’re set. BW.


Frank’s Noodle House

822 NE Broadway, 288-1007, franksnoodlehouse.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

With all the rapturous hype over Frank and his noodles, the fact is often obscured that this is, first and foremost, a traditional Chinese-American restaurant of the old-school variety—neon-orange dipping sauces; General Tso’s; fabric roses with plastic dewdrops; the odd grammatical foible (“the best handmade noodles in the town,” proclaims the to-go menu). But, oh, those noodles. They’re thinner and chewier than udon, but thicker and more substantial than what you’d normally find in chow mein; you will spend way too much time ensuring you’ve uncovered every last irregularly shaped noodlet hidden among the cabbage. Not craving carbs? The Korean BBQ section of the menu harbors some winners as well—try the subtly sweet marinated beef short ribs, sizzling loudly enough to disrupt the entire dining room, brought to your table on a cast-iron trivet in the shape of a jaunty cow. Don’t ask; just eat. KM.


Noodle House

Southwest 9th Avenue and Washington Street, 998-1019. Lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday.

You’d be forgiven for overlooking Noodle House. With the overwhelming array of eats served at the ever-expanding roster of carts parked at this downtown pod, sometimes it’s just easier to grab some time-tested Sawasdee or Nong’s grub and retreat. But you’re a sucker if you miss out on Leung Kwun Hung’s noodles, which live on the less-trafficked north side of the lot. The new cart owner was a chef at Beaverton’s Duh Kuh Bee, and he has brought hand-pulled noodles to the downtown crowd—hearty, super-fresh strands as big in circumference as the chopsticks you’ll use to shovel them into your mouth. The noodle maestro and his gregarious wife give the goods a quick stir fry with big handfuls of tender baby squid, shrimp, and calamari rings, along with some basil and spicy chili sauce ($7.50). There’s some cabbage and onion in there too for crunch, but that’s it. That’s all you need. KC.


Ocean City

3016 SE 82nd Ave., 771-2299, oceancityportland.com. Dim sum and dinner daily.

Ocean City was well-named: When you’re dining in the enormous, chandeliered and carpeted dining room, you really do feel like you’re on a cruise ship. Dim sum, served daily from 9:30 am to 3 pm, is really what you want here. But if you come for dinner, the several hundred-item menu is a beauty to behold. Go for one of the steamy clay pot stews: the beef with enoki mushrooms; spicy seafood with scallops, shrimp, tofu and slivers of garlic; or the spicy eggplant and black cod. For dim sum, be sure to nab the cart with the shrimp-draped wide rice noodles that are cut with scissors tableside as well as the jalapeño topped with shrimp and black bean sauce—essentially an Asian jalapeño popper—the shrimp, corn and cilantro dumplings and the steamed pork buns. LC.


Pure Spice

2446 SE 87th Ave., 772-1808. Lunch and dinner daily.

Don’t be intimidated by Five Spice’s lengthy menu. Conscientious servers will cheerfully shepherd you through accordion folds of soups, noodles, clay pots and roast meats—without steering you toward white-people staples. Check the dry-erase board, too, for veggie-heavy daily specials. Pan-fried dumplings make a good starting point. The pert, supple-skinned envelopes of ground pork and Chinese chives inspire the same sort of desperate, rhythmic consumption as Cheez-Its. When a veritable cauldron of wonton soup arrived, our server carefully apportioned it between us, ensuring there would be no ill feelings about uneven wonton distribution. Our solicitous waitress was back to deftly debone a fried whole flounder. Crisp-skinned and tender-fleshed, the fish was mounded with chopped fresh jalapeño, cilantro and scallions. ES.


Shandong

3724 NE Broadway, 287-0331, shandongportland.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

The steady flow of patrons moving through this Hollywood eatery past 8 pm on a weekday is probably the best evidence that Shandong has successfully carved out a niche for itself reinterpreting classic Chinese restaurant dishes for Portland foodie sensibilities. The won ton soup ($5.50) features chewy dumplings and a lighter chicken broth than you’ll find at a standard greasy chopstick, while an unconventional ma po tofu ($9) is reminiscent of Korean soon doo boo jjigae (spicy tofu soup) with a good, slow heat to it. Spicy sesame beef ($10.50) is crisped up nicely over a sticky sweet sauce that is balanced perfectly with some steamed rice. BP.


Taste of Sichuan

16261 NW Cornell Road, Hillsboro. 629-7001, tasteofsichuan.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Good Chinese in Portland is hard to find—literally. Case in point: In Hillsboro, between the rug store and a self-serve pet wash, in a poorly marked building that looks to house mass market Italian, there is Taste of Sichuan. While the old American-Chinese standbys are present, don’t order them. Order instead from the “wild side” menu featuring bean jellies and jellyfish, frog legs and a bone-in rabbit appetizer ($8.95) with searing chili oil and lemony Sichuan hua jiao (flower pepper) that will numb and buzz your entire face as if someone has shocked it with electrodes or smeared cocaine across it. Order especially, though, a rich pork belly dish with bright bell peppers ($9.95), and don’t miss the unusually savory hot-and-sour soup ($1.50). MK.

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Crepes


Le Happy

1011 NW 16th Ave., 226-1258, lehappy.com. Dinner and late-night Monday-Saturday.

A bright yellow building nuzzled snugly under a freeway overpass, Le Happy is filled with old jazz music and soft red light. It feels like it belongs in a larger, grittier city—Oakland or Detroit, if not Paris or San Francisco—an impression that carries through the essentially single-dish menu. The crepes are great: perfectly baked squares of dark buckwheat flour folded around rich fillings. That’s important, as aside from a few salads and a single steak plate, crepes are the only offering. If you’re going for a meal, the Ma Provence ($8) is an especially satisfying blend of roasted chicken, thyme, garlic, tomato, green onion, Gruyère and goat cheese. When it comes to desert, it’s impossible to go wrong, though the chocolate seems extra sweet here, especially when paired with peanut butter and Nutella in the PBNC ($8). MC.

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Cuban


El Cubo de Cuba

Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street; Southwest 5th Avenue and Oak Street. Lunch Monday-Friday. 

In a sea of burrito and Thai carts downtown, the flavorful pulled pork and spiced black beans kissed with lime juice at El Cubo de Cuba stand out. The small menu consists of traditional Cuban sandwiches with tender, tangy mojo-marinated pork ($7.50) and gluten-free Cuban bento boxes. In each of the Cubo boxes ($5-$8.50 depending on meat selection), a moat of white or brown rice separates the flood of soupy black beans from your choice of sides: tostones (crisp green plantain chips), maduros (fried ripe plantains), or—for those corrupted by capitalism—sweet-potato tots. The mushy-sweet maduros are best, coated with a spray of lime and scooped up with a mouthful of beans and rice. ¡Viva Cuba! MHW.

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Ethiopian


Emame’s Ethiopian Cuisine

Southwest 9th Avenue and Washington Street. Lunch daily.

There are three big reasons to choose Emame’s over the 40-some carts at downtown’s 9th and Alder pod. For starters, $6 will literally buy you enough food to feed two people: two scrolls of spongy, tangy injera bread, a metric shit-ton of lentils, chicken or beef and a side of salad or cabbage. (Get the cabbage; slippery with olive oil and tomatoes, it really takes the heat off some of the fierier dishes.) That’s a crazy calorie-per-dollar ratio. Second, the food is already made and sitting in warming trays, so your lunch will be up in under a minute, before your friends have even ordered their pad Thai. Third? It’s freaking delicious. RB.


Enat Kitchen

300 N Killingsworth St., 285-4867. Lunch and dinner daily.

Ethiopian restaurants often seem interchangeable—same dishes, similar decor, same distinct serving style. There is a hierarchy, though, and Enat is at the top of the heap. This humble spot caters to the immigrant community with the requisite African decor up front, while booths and a television provide the real atmosphere. Enat puts warm, rich flavors on big, juicy cuts of chicken and beef ($12.95 for the sampler). If you’re going with one meat dish, make it the alicha wot ($9.95), an incredible curried beef. The salad is delightfully fresh with loud citrus, and the vegetarian sampler ($9.95) comes with masir key wot (lentils) and gomen (collard greens) that kept just the right amount of crispness, even after stewing. And, yes, injera varies about as much as loaves of Italian bread, but the spongy teff at Enat has the perfect tang of sourness. MC.


Queen of Sheba

2413 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 287-6302, queenofsheba.biz. Dinner nightly, lunch Thursday-Saturday.

This grand dame of Ethiopian cuisine has been preaching the injera gospel for more then 15 years and shows no signs of slowing down. You and a partner can take the grand tour of all 10 of the vegetarian options on the menu with the “house vegetarian sample” for two ($23) or stay focused on just a few items by getting the two-item combo ($8.50). Try balancing the mellow vegetal earthiness of atakilt alicha (vegetable stew) with the hearty tsebhi kinttishara, a savory mushroom stew that will appease even the meatiest of appetites, or a fiery shimbra assa chickpea stew with its assertive berebere sauce. BP.

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Filipino


Tambayan

6014 SE Foster Road, 777-4217, tambayancuisine.com. Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday.

Do they eat vegetables in the Philippines? You wouldn’t know it from the menu at this recently remodeled Foster-Powell cafe. Actually, I take that back—there were definitely some vegetables inside the excellent crisp spring rolls ($3.99 for three) that I unwisely ordered to start my lunch. I say unwisely because the longsilog combo ($6.99) of four bright-red, sweet Filipino sausages served with a fried egg and a heap of garlicky fried rice is the sort of portion designed to fuel hardworking manual laborers. I am not a member of that company, I’m afraid, so I didn’t eat again that day. Better to go with friends and share some plates of lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly, $7.99) and squid adobo ($6.99). BW.

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Fried Stuff


Fire on the Mountain

3443 NE 57th Ave., 894-8973; 1706 E Burnside St., 230-9464; 4225 N Interstate Ave., 280-9464, portlandwings.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

The new Fremont location of our beloved wing dealer is something of a departure—larger, with its own adjacent brewery and wide wooden booths, like one of those steakhouses where you can shell peanuts on the floor. But classy. It feels halfway between two Portlandia sketches: the place where your chicken has a name and the place where you can pour Jack Daniel’s on your meal. (Here, you actually can “Cajunize” any item for 50 cents.) The chicken is still free range, but the menu is all ’roided up to include garlic knots ($4.50) you can dip in the city’s best queso, a flock of burgers, and pizzas with the signature wing sauces. Dr. Coznell’s Spicy Peanut Pie ($15 for a 12-inch, $23 for an 18-inch pie) is a promising lab experiment but—call me a traditionalist—I still prefer my peanut sauce on wings. That option remains on the Fremont menu. Everything imaginable is on this menu. AM.


Fryer Tuck

6712 SW Capitol Highway, 246-7737, fryertuckchicken.com. Lunch, dinner and late-night daily.

Portland’s lost chicken Xanadu is a fortress deep in the West Hills. A bar called the Cider Mill is also the final remnant of a defunct regional chain reportedly famed for its fried birds ($6.95 for two pieces, with jojos called “Little John Spuds” and a dip that appears to be a dill cream cheese). This is a model that ought to be copied: Who wouldn’t want to booze at, say, the last Kenny Rogers Roasters? Anyway, it’s good chicken, though I don’t know that I’d travel for it. On a recent $1 Taco Tuesday it could be enjoyed amid a passel of loud and easily confused old barflies listing their favorite Vegas acts. Naturally, they preferred the warhorses. “Bette Midler is fantastic,” one woman said. “Bette Midler broke her leg and went around in a mermaid suit in a wheelchair for two hours.” AM.


The Frying Scotsman

Southwest 9th Avenue and Alder Street, 706-3841, thefryingscotsmanpdx.com. Lunch Monday-Saturday.

With his rail-thin frame, his Groundskeeper Willie brogue and his menu featuring “mushy peas” ($3), James King affects a Calvinist austerity. Indeed, we are sinners in the hands of his angry cod—but only because the batter on his five varieties of fish is so paralyzingly awesome. It’s a thick, golden crisp redolent of county-fair elephant ears, perfect with vinegar or tartar (either are available at his camper-turned-chippy). I’m of the opinion his fryer best complements a traditional Scottish filet like haddock ($8-$9) better than a muscular game fish like mahi-mahi ($8-$9), but, whatever you select, prepare to be enfeebled for several hours after. Not tonight, dear, I had a haddock. AM.


Happy Sparrow

3001 SE Belmont St., 445-0231, happysparrowcafe.com. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday.

Yes, they put a bird on it. But don’t dismiss this cheerful, welcoming cafe—it’s no Portlandia cliché. Happy Sparrow specializes in kolaches, a pastry with a Czech-Texan pedigree ($2-$2.75 each). Firmer than a doughnut but airier than a bagel, these yeasty buns are filled with savory or sweet ingredients—kicky jalapeños and Tillamook cheddar, for example, or a Nutella-banana combo. A vegan kolache, packed with vegetables bathed in plum sauce, recalls Chinese steamed buns, and an open-faced variant with strawberry preserves and cream cheese puts the standard Danish to shame. These delightful dough balls are best fresh and they frequently sell out, so get here early. RJ.


Pine State Biscuits

3640 SE Belmont St., 236-3346; 2204 NE Alberta St., 477-6605, pinestatebiscuits.com. Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner and late-night Fridays-Saturdays on Alberta only.

Fried chicken for breakfast? Yes’m, much obliged. “Pine State” refers to North Carolina, where the owners hail from, and the two locations of this breakfast spot fly the metaphorical rebel flag proudly. Paula Deen would love Pine State’s namesake offering—buttery beauties with a satisfying saltiness, made fresh from dough you watch the cooks roll and brown. Get yours topped with fried chicken rather than pulled pork, which is nearly pickled in vinegar, and whatever else strikes your fancy. Decadent? Yes, but worth it. The McIsley ($6), fried chicken covered in pickles, mustard and honey, will have Chick-fil-A lovers whistling Dixie. Sandwiches aren’t huge and Saturday lines are obscene, which is probably for the best given how poor Paula is faring. MC.

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Greek


Dorio

1037 NW 23rd Ave., No. 200, 219-0633, dorionw.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

The moment you walk through the door of this Northwest 23rd Avenue lunch and dinner spot, Dorio waves a bunch of red flags in your face. A large TV dominates the bar. The music manages to be simultaneously dull and obnoxious. But once you start talking to the staff, which is friendly, and order some food, which is tasty, you start to realize that Dorio’s outward tackiness is merely part of what makes it an authentic Greek family restaurant. There is no nü-Portland pretense, just a well-prepared selection of traditional (and obligatory) Greek dishes made with fresh local and high-quality imported ingredients. Plates are small, so order at least two for yourself, if you’re hungry, and several if you’re with company. Don’t miss the spiced meatballs (keftéthes) and the lamb souvlaki ($11 for a platter with two skewers, olives, feta and all the usual suspects). Do not leave without drinking some ouzo. Have them serve it properly, with one part water over ice, and enjoy the cloudy white anise buzz. CP.


Mad Greek Deli

1740 E Burnside St., 232-0274; 18450 NW West Union Road, 645-1650, madgreekdeli.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Taking over the now-defunct Foti’s Deli, the Mad Greek’s eastside branch continues to serve up the Greek classics that brought folks to the original Rock Creek location for decades. While there is nothing groundbreaking in the Mad Greek’s fare, few things are as satisfying as a messy, soak-through-the-paper gyro ($5.75), the well seasoned meat swimming in tzatziki and onions. The Greek fries are monstrous wedges of deep-fried delight, surprisingly greaseless and crusty ($2.60). If you have room, the spanakopita ($2.95) makes for a slightly less guilt-inducing pleasure, as there is enough spinach packed in with the feta amidst the phyllo to almost call it a salad. BP.

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Hawaiian


Lilikoi

1324 N Killingsworth St., 964-8434, lilikoiportland.blogspot.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. 

A bizarre cart/porch/house hybrid with an indoor seating area and outdoor grill, Lilikoi is the very definition of a family place, not only because it’s run by a young family, but because the Homs are so friendly, welcoming and accommodating that you feel like ohana. It doesn’t hurt that their Hawaiian comfort food is simple bliss, particularly the amazing kalua pork, which comes on sweet-bread sandwiches ($5) ranging from slaw-slopped traditional to cheesy Cuban, and in bountiful Asian-fusion noodle dishes like drunken noodles ($6 plain, $9 porked). There are also tasty variations on shoyu chicken, Spam and tofu, but it’s the pork that makes Lilikoi a destination. APK.

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Indian


Bombay Chaat House

Southwest 12th Avenue and Yamhill Street, 241-7944, bombaychaathouse.org. Lunch Monday-Saturday. Cash only.

This stalwart downtown food truck is best known for its $6, six-course lunch special—an offering that has become de rigueur at every Indian cart in Portland, though Bombay Chaat House’s is still the best and the biggest in town. But as the name might suggest, the underrated star of owner Avtar Kaur’s sizable menu is the chaat—the roadside snacks for which the cart’s titular city is most renowned. For a more authentic Indian street-food experience, order the pani puri ($4.50), crispy, little pastry shells which you stuff with mashed potato and a spicy mint sauce. There’s a whole technique to this; ask for instructions. For something more filling, try the dahi vada ($3), fried lentil balls served in yogurt and tamarind chutney, with a seriously spicy kick. It’s hard to resist the insane bargain of the lunch special—believe me, I know—but you won’t be sorry you did. RB.


Dwaraka Indian Cuisine

3962 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 230-1120, dwarakapdx.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Ah, the Indian buffet: Where even the most idealistic diners knowingly trade quality for quantity, forgoing princely Punjabi-style chicken tikka masala for access to a trough of lukewarm currylike fluid and a big pile of soft bread. Dwaraka’s damn good lunch buffet ($8.95) feels like cheating. The palak paneer has heavenly chunks of soft farmer’s cheese in a puree of bright spinach. The buttery chicken makhani will teach your synapses carefully choreographed Bollywood dance routines. The gleaming red tray of lemon-zinged tandoori chicken is every bit the equal of what waiters will bring you from the clay oven elsewhere. And there’s all the naan you want: warm, a little crisp, with a hint of smoke. Even Dwaraka’s version of the standby kheer rice pudding is superb, with taut rice in a cardamom-kissed milk bath. Be forewarned: You’re going to use more plates than you plan or desire. MC.


India Oven

3450 SE Belmont St., 872-9687, indiaovenportland.com. Dinner nightly, lunch Monday-Saturday.

Don’t let the sparse decor and watchful, turbaned proprietor intimidate you. India Oven is a very decent neighborhood Indian joint, even if the tables mostly seem empty. Locals know to order ahead and pick up steaming, crispy pillows of onion naan ($3), lamb or vegetable korma (lamb $15.95) and anything from the tandoor oven. If eating in, treat yourself to the paneer pakora appetizer ($6.95), oddly satisfying fried sticks of cheese served with spicy mint and tamarind dipping sauces. MHW.

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Italian


DiPrima Dolci

1936 N Killingsworth St., 283-5936, diprimadolci.com. Lunch and dinner daily. 

From its Sicilian-American owner to its intimidatingly named pastries (the sfogliatelle Napoletane look good, but I dare not speak their name), this neighborhood Italian eatery oozes authenticity like ricotta from cannoli. After trading primarily in unpronounceable but tasty pastries for a decade, DiPrima Dolci recently reinvented itself as a trattoria, but it brings to its new menu the same Italian-mama gusto. Although the strata of ragu and béchamel in the Bolognese lasagna ($8) are uninterestingly rich (Romney-esque, if you will), the housemade noodles that divide them are well-prepared. The polpette in marinara ($8.50) strike a better balance, the fresh, tangy sauce enlivening the succulent beef meatballs. JF.


Taste Unique

2134 SE Division St., 206-7059, tasteunique.com. Lunch Monday-Saturday, to-go meals 10 am-6:30 pm Monday-Saturday.

Largely a takeout joint, this curiously named Italian kitchen produces a huge variety of pasta, risotto and other traditional dishes for diners to pick up and cook at home. Feed the family with a tray of spinach or meat cannelloni ($15-$20), or snag a tub of sauce ($6-7) and some fresh fettuccine ($8/lb). During lunchtime, diners can slide into one of the dozen or so seats in this diminutive space and feast on a bowl of penne norcina (a creamy, Umbrian-style white sauce with house-made sausage and garlic) or a hefty wedge of zesty tomato lasagna (both $10). The béchamel-based vegetarian lasagna ($10), which layers zucchini and mushrooms with mozzarella, smoky provolone and Parmesan, makes for a creamy, comforting meal. Taste Unique also offers special dinners ($35) on occasional Tuesdays and Thursdays, with fixed menus featuring regional Italian specialties. RJ.

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Japanese


Du’s Grill

5365 SE Sandy Blvd., 284-1773, dusgrill.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday.

Don’t let the noontime line out the door fool you—Du’s Grill operates with assembly-line precision, and waiting on food is less painful than an oil change. The menu here is all of seven items deep, but most of those are really combination plates, narrowing the core choices down to three: teriyaki pork, beef or chicken. The chicken ($7.50 with rice and salad) is the cheapest and most popular, barbecued on an open flame and chopped mercilessly as you order. It’s a heaping pile of meat not meant for the faint of heart, though like the beef ($8.75), it’s surprisingly devoid of scary gristle, and free of “oils or MSG.” Nothing here is likely to blow your mind—and we don’t recommend going veggie, as the $7.25 tofu bowl is huge but watery and unthrilling—but Du’s is a step above the average teriyaki spot in both portion size and meat quality. Mostly it’s just fun to watch the small staff operate. CJ.


Kalé

900 SW Morrison St., 227-5253, kalepdx.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

This admirably focused establishment remains much the same as it was before the owners lost their lease in Goose Hollow in March 2011. There are still only three items on the menu, all of them brown: you can have your kalé, or Japanese curry, which is really more of a delicious sweet and spicy beef stew, with or without meat or, if you’re willing to wait a few minutes, baked into a casserole with cheese. The only difference between old Kalé and new Kalé is size; the restaurant has taken over the old Bush Gardens restaurant, a laughably enormous space under a parking garage, with room for over 100 slurping lunchers. This is good—once the word gets out, the place will be packed. BW.


Miho Izakaya

4057 N Interstate Ave., 719-6152, mihopdx.com. Dinner nightly. 

This undersung establishment models itself after Japan’s izakayas (small-plates bars, basically), and it shows in the menu: Bold and tasty but rarely complex, this is food for people who’ve been imbibing. So, first, grab a drink. The Half Birthday, which mixes shochu with ponzu drinking vinegar, is good. Then, skip entrees like the mediocre roast pork ramen noodle ($8) in favor of better things in small packages: the simple, well-seasoned wakame seaweed salad ($4) or totokki savory mochi ($4), which has a weirdly pleasing springiness and comes in a sweet, molasses-thick sauce. Both small plates’ big portions make them cheap eats indeed. JF


Yuki and Song

4240 NE 122nd Ave., 256-5555. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Tucked into deep Northeast, in a sector not known for delights more exotic than the ptomaine threat of Chang’s Mongolian Grill, Yuki and Song is an unassuming but more than serviceable Japanese restaurant with surprising freshness and variety and ridiculously friendly owners you’ll want to box up with the food. The voluminous lunch bentos ($7-$13) are the best way to go, with generous soup, rice, salad and tempura included. The katsu dishes—plummy Japanese barbecue sauce with breaded meat—are a bit like a TV dinner; favor instead the generous sushi box ($9.95) and Korean-style bulgogi ($8.50). MK.

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Korean


Jin Jin Deli

8220 SE Harrison St., 774-8899. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

This is where the Atkins diet goes to die. In this Spartan cafe of dull walls and shining tables, rice and noodles are king. The menu mixes nationalities the way Planter’s mixes nuts—teriyaki abuts kung pao, banh thit and kimchee—but stick mostly to the Korean and take due note of some of the city’s only kimchee fried rice ($6.50), with seaweed sheets and an over-medium egg on top. But especially, get the rice cakes ($5.50), a big trashy diner hash of shredded egg, fresh green onion, fried onion strings and rectangular cakes with a pleasing crispness that gives way to custard. It is a guilty craving, but one unsatisfied by anything else. MK.


So Kong Dong Tofu & BBQ

2850 SE 82nd Ave., No. 11, 808-9990. Lunch and dinner daily.

You hear your food before you see it. The hiss-spit-sizzle of broth and meat hitting hot stone and grill tops fills this Korean restaurand all day long. The soon tofu ($8.95) is the unexpected star of the menu. The slippery, custardy tofu is served in a super-hot stone bowl, bobbing in a rich, spicy beef-bone broth that takes the kitchen two days to boil up. You can order the soup with pork or beef, but the best rendition is packed with briny oysters, clams and big shrimp. It’s served with a raw egg, too. Crack it directly into the bowl, creating fluffy clumps of egg and a creamier broth as you stir it in. Order an SKD Combo, and you can pair that soon tofu with a respectable sizzling plate of pork, beef or chicken bulgogi ($12.95-$13.95 lunch, $13.95-$15.95 dinner). You will burn your tongue at least once as you eat this. And you will not care. KC.

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Mexican


Bora Bora

15803 SE Division St, 750-1253. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

There is no sign of cuisine from its Polynesian namesake, though you might feel like you’ve driven to Bora Bora to get to this dingy-looking Mexican-food truck. The voyage is worth it. The place could be called Ottawa Joe’s, so long as it still served its succulent chicken, cooked perfectly on a massive, fire-spewing grill. You can nab half a chicken plus rice and beans for $9.25, or you could enjoy the crisply singed, dripping fowl in tacos ($1.50), burritos ($4.75) or in any number of forms. The carnitas, cabeza and other standards are also solid, but this is purely for the birds. And when the grill man greets you with a piping-hot sample, the rest of the menu doesn’t stand a chance. APK.


Casa De Tamales

10605 SE Main St., Milwaukie, 654-4423, canbyasparagusfarm.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, brunch and lunch Sunday. 

Asked whether it’s asparagus that makes the rice at Canby Farms’ Casa De Tamales bright green, the owner will tell you it’s a secret. But it’s well known that the tamales ($6.50 a la carte, $9.95 with rice and beans) are burrito-sized wonders, with the tasty cornmeal housing chicken and pork and specials like tiger prawns. Asparagus factors into most items, including huge, deep-fried rods ($8), which remain crunchy inside and out. The staff is the definition of gregarious, while the décor—toys, puppets and dolls hanging haphazardly from the ceiling—gives the joint an oddball museum vibe. Who doesn’t want to inhale a mind-blowing tamale while a Steve Urkel doll watches from above? APK.


Casa del Sol

8202 SE Flavel St., 445-6245, casadelsolportland.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 

It’s hard to distinguish between most Mexican restaurants. For the most part, there’s a maximum level of quality the kitchen can either hit or miss. Casa del Sol hits that mark: the burritos ($4.50-$6.75) are huge; the fish tacos ($2), served on handmade tortillas, are divine. What really makes the place stand out are its accommodations for large groups. Gather up your friends, cram into the long tables, order some nachos ($6.25) and enjoy a Spanish-dubbed Jean Claude Van Damme movie on the TV. MS.


El Gallo

4804 SE Woodstock Blvd., 481-7537. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

The parking lot of a luxury furniture maker seems an odd place to get a taco, but there it is—El Gallo, a rooster-adorned trailer with a covered seating area and an evident affection for distressed type. Owner Jake Brown, who’s done time in the kitchens of Genoa and Meriwether’s, hails from Nevada, as does the most impressive offering: the Nevada Tostada is an 8-inch circle of fry bread beneath a hillock of beans, meat, cabbage, pickled onions, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and “citrus crema.” It’s as if someone deep-fried a really good torta. There’s no graceful way to eat the thing, so just dig in with your hands and keep shoveling until it’s all gone. If you’re in a less extravagant mood, El Gallo’s tacos are very good—Brown makes all the tortillas to order. BW.


King Burrito

2924 N Lombard St., 283-9757. Lunch and dinner daily.

King Burrito (“The Original” King Burrito, not to be confused with the taco truck on Mississippi Avenue) has all the ambiance of a roller-rink vending-machine room, complete with claw crane and temporary tattoo dispenser. Food-wise, frankly, there are better Mexican joints in town. But you get what you pay for, and at the King, for under five bucks, what you get instead of good feng shui or Soyrizo is simply unprofitable-seeming portions. The chile relleno burrito ($3.95) swaddles heaps of tomatoes and onions in a great soft blanket of a flour tortilla, and both it and the veggie ’dilla ($3.65) feature piquant green chili. JF.


La Jarochita

Southwest 5th Avenue and Oak Street, 421-9838. Breakfast, lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday.

This busy 5th Avenue cart pod staple serves hefty portions of great Mexican street grub, like ridiculously meaty burritos bursting with carne asada, chicken and al pastor (La Jarocho, $5.50) and polentalike chicken tamales wrapped, Veracruz-style, in banana leaves ($2 each, $5.99 combo plate). In the morning it’s all about eggy breakfast burritos ($4.99-$5.25) and at lunch there are huaraches, oblongs of dough griddled-to-order and topped with beans, meat, crema and all the fixings ($3). Park it at one of the counter stools in the covered space next to the cart and slather all your goods in a rainbow of creamy jalapeño, smoky red and hot green tomatillo house sauces. KC.


Mi Mero Mole

5026 SE Division St., 232-8226, mmmtacospdx.com. Dinner Tuesday-Friday, lunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday.

Somewhere between a trendy restaurant and a good old taqueria, Mi Mero Mole scratches a classy taco itch I didn’t know I had. Nick Zukin’s foray into south-of-the-border fare feels familiar (salsa station, intuitive menu, wood booths, open kitchen), but the food blasts away any expectations. One is almost forced to order tacos ($2.75-$3.75), not because the fat, perfectly grilled burritos ($4.50-$7.50) are bad, but because every topping is so good. From the slow-roasted, tender and almost malty pork to the rajas con crema, a milky spread that could almost pass for dessert, to more adventurous selections like cinnamon beef hearts and smoked beef tongue, eating here is a bit of an adventure, even when what’s on your plate tastes like comfort food. Between the excellent margaritas and sweet fried plantains ($4.50), I might eat here twice a day if the hours of operation weren’t so limited. CJ.


¿Por Qué No?

4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 954-3138; 3524 N Mississippi Ave., 467-4149, porquenotacos.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

¿Por Qué No? is a lot like the hip Austin joint where Jungle Julia celebrated her birthday in Death Proof. Except it’s much more crowded, with Saturday-evening lines at this consciously rattletrappy taqueria stretching half a block. Those gringos are waiting for unusually large street tacos stuffed with plump coils of calamari ($3.50) and hearty root vegetables ($3) along with more autentico standbys like crispy carnitas ($3) and barbacoa ($3) flavored with three types of chilies and topped with Oregon-made queso fresco. Hot, salty chips offer a chance to sample through the salsa bar before the real food comes—don’t miss the new and spicier red stuff that’s loaded with nutty seeds. The restaurant that translates as “Why not?” is also known for margaritas made with blanco tequila and fresh-squeezed citrus ($6, $9). You can get a drink while you wait in line, which is a good thing, as seat-holding is strictly prohibited by posted policy. Don’t cheat—you never know where the homicidal Stuntman Mike is lurking. MC.


Puerto Marquez

1721 SE 122nd Ave., 253-6842. Lunch and dinner daily.

Though it’s quite a hike from downtown, this friendly, vividly decorated Mexican restaurant in outer Southeast is worth the drive for the ceviche alone. It’s known for its seafood dishes; everything tastes fresh and none of it’s been cooked to death or over-spiced. For starters, try the ceviche de Sierra ($12.95), light and fresh and simply flavored with lime and cilantro. The empanada de camarones plate ($9.95) contains three warm pockets of spicy shrimp. It looks humble but tastes rich. Seafood haters will do fine with more common items like chimichangas, burritos or flautas (all $8.95). There’s a decent beer selection and a 25-item cocktail menu. BO.


Robo Taco

607 SE Morrison St., 232-3707. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday; lunch and dinner Sunday; late-night Thursday-Saturday. 

For two bucks a go, the al pastor tacos at this eastside industrial late-night counter are a transport flight to a Mexican beach town. Even in our ballyhooed cartopia, this is as close as you’ll get to one of the Puerto Vallarta alley vendors that shaves pork from an open-air pig roast and tops it with fresh slivers of pineapple. The patrons also evoke a kind of abbreviated spring break: They pile in from the nearby bars, wearing nice hats and smelling like cheap cigarettes. Other menu offerings, like a quesadilla with carne asada, are more pedestrian—a reminder that everyone will stumble to bed in a place not really dangerous or thrilling. AM.

Taqueria Lindo Michoacan

3360 SE Division St., 313-6864. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. Cash only.

The side of the truck says tortillas hechas a mano, which loosely translates as either “handmade tortillas” or “tortillas worth standing in the cold for.” Taqueria Lindo Michoacan, a solitary, podless taco truck stationed behind a junk shop on Southeast Division Street, sells burritos, tortas, quesadillas and enchiladas for $4 or tacos for $1.50. You pick the meat, Mexican-style, from a one-price list that includes asada, chorizo, carnitas, barbacoa, cabeza and lengua. It doesn’t matter what filling you pick. The fillings and salsas are good but the tortillas are what you’ll remember long after you’ve left Lindo’s dank covered eating area. MC.


Tienda Santa Cruz

8630 N Lombard St., 285-8222. Lunch and dinner daily.

I’m sure there are plenty of good places to eat in St. Johns, but I’m never going to discover them, because I can’t leave that lovely ’hood without loading up on tacos ($1) or burritos (mostly $4-$5) at Tienda Santa Cruz. The taquería, tucked in the back of a Mexican market/butcher shop/bakery, combines perfectly spiced and grilled meats (I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite, but leaning toward cubed steak or the smoky chorizo) with crispy fresh tortillas, and just nails it. Great hot sauces, Coke bottles and the mini salsa bar stacked with jalapeños, pickled onions and such all sweeten the deal—as do the delicious, freshly baked doughnuts. CJ.


Torta-Landia

4144 SE 60th Ave., 445-9966, tortalandia.com. Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Order a torta at this rancho-themed restaurant and you’ll get a sandwich that’s both familiar and oddly foreign. It’s as if a member of the Torta family—little María Jesus—had been sent off to boarding school for eight years and returned insisting everyone call her MJ. Not content with the passé squishiness of the bolillo, she opts instead for the classy chew of a “bolo roll” from Grand Central Bakery, and she rejects mayonnaise for “tequila-chili aioli.” Torta-Landia’s sandwiches are not the enormous, heart-stopping absurdities dished by La Catrina; like most products of culinary gentrification, they are a little smaller, a little healthier and, at $9 to $10 with one side, a little more expensive. But the sandwiches, overloaded with aioli, crema and avocado, are, for all their differences, quite good. The carne asada, dressed with cheese and peppers over big, tender hunks of seared cow, is downright delicious. BW.

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Middle Eastern


Habibi

1012 SW Morrison St., 274-0628; 211 SW Pine St., 459-4441, habibirestaurantpdx.com. Lunch and dinner Sunday-Thursday; lunch, dinner and late night Friday-Saturday.

These Lebanese sister-spots, dripping with weird chandeliers and smiles from the affable staff, are not exactly dining destinations. But for hungry downtowners, Habibi’s two locations are excellent daily pit stops, where the char-edged chicken kebabs ($12.95) are garlicky, the ground-beef kafta juicy ($12.95) and the baba ghannouj smoky ($10.95, in the excellent veggie mezza platter). Habibi makes a good plate of mushroom spaghetti with garlic bread, too ($10.50). Strongly flavored with tomato paste and herbs, it tastes exactly like spaghetti from a grade-school cafeteria—in a good way. KC.


Hush Hush Cafe

433 SW 4th Ave., 274-1888, hushhushcafe.com. Lunch Monday-Friday.

This Middle Eastern downtown lunch spot is more conspicuous than its name suggests. First, it deserves mention that on one recent visit, our counter orders were served before we had sat down. (Maybe the cook was just really on his game that day, but still.) The dishes gave no indication of having been rushed, either: Hush Hush’s distinctively dense pita enclosed bitter falafel and a healthy serving of fresh lettuce, tomatoes and pickles in the falafel sandwich ($6), while the veggie combo mezza ($7.99) offered excellent lemon- and mint-redolent tabbouleh. The lentil soup ($3.50) is yummy, too—brothier than most lentils and dashed with sundry spices. JF.


Nicholas

318 SE Grand Ave., 235-5123; 3223 NE Broadway, 445-4700; 323 N Main Ave., Gresham, 666-3333, nicholasrestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Getting a table at either the Broadway or Grand location is a trial that builds an appetite. But be not discouraged: It’s an open secret that tonight’s meal at Nicholas is also tomorrow night’s meal from Nicholas. The portions are large enough to make leftovers inevitable (especially after a free pita arrives at your table puffing steam) and the cooking so rich that the doggie bag may not make it to the fridge. It’s a place to stick with Lebanese standbys—baba ghanoush ($5.25), chicken kebabs ($9.25)—because no one else in Portland does the standbys so well. You’re suspicious: It’s a common cheat for writers to only cite two dishes because they only visited the place once. But I have been to Nicholas countless times. The problem is that I can’t stop ordering the baba ghanoush and chicken kebabs. AM.


Wolf and Bear’s

3925 N Mississippi Ave., eatwolfandbears.com. Lunch and dinner daily. 

The best falafel in Portland; it’s a ballsy (geddit?) proclamation, but I’m going to make it about this Israeli vegetarian food cart. Unlike the dry, deep-fried nuggets from most Middle Eastern eateries, Wolf and Bear’s falafel are big, thick, herby patties, made with sprouted chickpeas, grilled fresh for every order and served in a warm, slightly charred pita wrap with vegetables, hummus and a plenty of creamy tahini ($6.50). There are several other pitas, including the sabich ($6.50), which has hard-boiled egg and some zippy mango pickles, and the out to lunch ($7), which features a really nice labneh yogurt. But for my money, the falafel is the standout. One note: this cart has been a fixture at Southeast 20th Avenue and Morrison Street for several years, but has now migrated north for winter to Mississippi Avenue, where there is indoor seating. The plan is to operate both locations once the weather warms up. RB.


Ya Hala

8005 SE Stark St., 256-4484, yahalarestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

This Montavilla restaurant is a much-loved neighborhood staple, but Ya Hala pulls in crowds from all over the city for its superior Middle Eastern food and festive atmosphere. The mezza menu is extensive, and while most of its dishes won’t be new territory for anyone familiar with Lebanese cuisine, the bright, fresh flavors breathe new life into some old standards. The veggie mezza assortment features a nigh-perfect hummus, falafels that pop with fresh herbs and a tabouli that is memorable enough I’m actually using 18 units of my limited word count on it here. The complimentary pita is perfectly serviceable, but it’s worth coughing up $4.95 for some sfeeha, pizza-like rounds of flaky, lightly charred dough, topped with meat, cheese or kishek, a tangy paste made from yogurt and tomatoes that is killer with mint leaves. RB.

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Peruvian


Las Primas

3971 N Williams Ave., 206-5790, lasprimaskitchen.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

Las Primas Peruvian Kitchen is a fine addition to North Williams Avenue’s restaurant row. The counter-service spot was opened late in 2011 by cousins Catalina Acuña, a Lima-bred chef, and Oregon native Sadie Morrison, with the intent of bringing simple, flavorful Peruvian street food and sandwiches to Portland. Las Primas (Spanish for “the cousins”) succeeds on just about every level. Start with an appetizer or “snack” of tequenos ($5), lightly fried won tons filled with queso fresco and accompanied by a tasty avocado-lime sauce, or the empanada ($3.50) filled with imported Peruvian corn and queso fresco and dusted with powdered sugar. The large-kerneled Peruvian corn shows up again in the delicia salad ($8), which is large enough for two to share, and comes with lettuce, tomato, avocado and a delicious yogurt-based salsa blanca. The best of the sandwiches are the butifarra ($8.50), with sliced Carlton Farms pork, crema de ají, lettuce and salsa criolla; and the polla a la brasa ($8.50), with spicy Draper Valley chicken and crema de rocoto. RF.


Pollos a la Brasa El Inka

48 NE Division St., Gresham, 491-0323, elinkarestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

The long trek out to this tiny Peruvian restaurant is worth it, especially if you arrive later in the day when they are pulling the intensely flavored marinated chicken out of the wood-fired rotisserie oven that dominates the room. Moist with a hint of smokiness, the chicken elevates anything else it is served with. A prime candidate for this honor would be El Inka’s simple but oh-so-good tacu-tacu, creamy tender pintos over white rice. BP.

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Pizza


Al Forno Ferruzza

2738 NE Alberta St., 253-6766, alfornoferruzza.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

It’s no secret that super-hot ovens are the secret to great pizza. Al Forno Ferruzza’s 800-degree stone hearth isn’t blazing its way to any heat records—Via Tribunali’s oven runs at 1,200 downtown—but it seems to do the job quite well, perfectly crisping the restaurant’s pies and giving them a touch of black trim. The toppings at this airy Alberta Street pizzeria include sharp caper berries, gooey sheep’s-milk feta and spicy handmade sausage. The basic Margherita is delicious but the capricozza pie, topped with sausage and capers, takes things to the next level. The medium ($14) is enough for two to share, especially with the generous small house salad ($7) topped with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, seeds, raisins and feta cheese and a sweet maple vinaigrette. Al Forno is also a nice place to linger, even when your pie is fast out of the oven. MC.


Dove Vivi

2727 NE Glisan St., 239-4444., dovevivipizza.com. Dinner nightly.

Pizza purists may tut-tut the unorthodox cornmeal crusts at Dove Vive, but that kind of snobbery will just leave you hungry while waiting an hour-plus to get into Apizza Scholls or Ken’s, while more open-minded diners are already chowing down on these nontraditional pies. And “pie” is the right word—the dense, rustic bases at this cozy neighborhood eatery are more like biting into a savory galette than their thin-crust cousins. And I do mean “dense”—you’d be happily sated with just a slice ($4.25) and a salad ($3.75-$7.50) shared with a friend, while a half a 12-inch pie ($11.50) will stuff you silly. Toppings also tend toward the less conventional: A standout on the regular menu comes with sweet corn, smoked mozzarella and balsamic-marinated red onions, while the constantly rotating specials menu boasts, among others, grape and brie, fig-pancetta and corned beef. RB.


Escape from New York Pizza

622 NW 23rd Ave., 227-5423, efnypizza.net. Lunch and dinner daily. Cash only.

Go to Escape From New York’s Geocities-era website and you’ll find Garry’s Grumblog, where one of owner Phil Geffner’s loyal employees complains about customers. This is an unusual business practice, even in service-averse Portland. When you’ve been making some of the best pizza in town for nearly 30 years, though, you can pretty much say whatever the fuck you want. It’s worth noting that Escape’s name refers to a 1981 John Carpenter flick unknown to the skateboard-toting kids who buy Escape’s $3.50 pepperoni slices. Geffner won’t have to incredulously explain the reference to youngsters because he won’t hire them, having publicly stated that “a 16-year-old can’t make good pizza.” He’s earned the right to make such proclamations. Escape’s formula seems simple enough for a high-schooler, though: Use good flour, whole-milk mozzarella and sauce that has some kick, toss the pie, bake in an old metal oven, cut your slices big, put them on paper plates and take the cash. MC.


Lonesome’s Pizza

523 NE 19th Ave., 234-0114; westside delivery, 274-9570; lonesomespizza.com. Delivery or pick-up 5 pm-3 am Sunday-Wednesday, 5 pm-4 am Thursday-Saturday.

Lonesome’s menu is hilarious; pizzas are named after great fights that never happened (Erik Estrada vs. a Komodo dragon). Also, the pizza boxes are bedazzled. The larges (17-inch) come with art or music inside. The smaller pies (10-inch) are decorated with various silly and/or brilliant pictures and mini-manifestos. “We come up with these ideas while drinking,” the online menu acknowledges. For late-night entertainment value alone, Lonesome’s is ace. But it helps that the pizzas are delicious. They’re thin-crust, with marinara, white sauce or the mysterious “Ethiopian” spiced tomato sauce. Toppings are generous and high-grade. If you live outside the delivery zone, you can pick up your pizza at the Lonesome’s kitchen, which is appropriately hidden between a bakery and a motorcycle workshop. There’s no dine-in space, just a door to the kitchen, so waiting can be awkward, but the ETA you’ll get when you order is pretty accurate. BO.


Pizza Contadino

8218 N Lombard St., 935-4375, pizzacontadino.blogspot.com. Dinner Wednesday-Sunday. Cash only.

Once and future St. Johns food cart Pizza Contadino moved from its former pod location inside the slender, candlelit bar the Fixin’ To in January, and then to the parking lot in March. Aside from selling slices, however, nothing has changed: Its pies—available in 16- and 9-inch sizes—are still among the best in the ’hood, with crispy sourdough crusts and a selection of toppings including thick-cut pepperoni, kale and squash. MS.


Pizza Depokos

2730 N Killingsworth St,. 247-7499, pizzadepokos.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

Located in the gutted service station at the center of the Refuel North Station cart pod, Pizza Depokos—under new ownership as of July 2011—has a simple stated goal: to be the best pizza in North Portland. One bite of the wood-fired pies is evidence that it’s inching closer daily. Perfectly chewy with a nice char, the pies ($10 small, $18 large, with $1-$2 toppings) pop out in less than five minutes and come slathered with a chunky/sweet Chicago-style sauce. Pies like the Sausage y Fromage ($14-$26) are perfectly weighted by fennel sausage and hot peppers. As an added bonus, the fiery oven provides a cabinlike heat in the winter, making the $2 tall boys extra satisfying with a quick à la carte slice ($3 and up). APK.


Saint Pizza Lounge

3813 SE Gladstone St., 775-1537, gladstonepizza.com. Dinner nightly.

With spray-painted murals of saints and devotional candles on the tables, this expansion of Gladstone Street Pizza strikes a retro-Catholic chord. But it’s the divine thin-crust pies ($11-$28) that merit true veneration. The kitchen proofs the dough for 24 hours, resulting in a chewy, springy, crisp crust, a perfect base for the zesty tomato sauce and the fresh, well-chosen toppings. Order a pre-designed pie, perhaps the bayou-influenced Down South (Otto’s andouille sausage, green peppers and sweet onion, $25), or build your own (toppings start at $1.75). And with a full bar (cocktails run $4-$7), plus four taps and several wine options, be sure to honor those saints with some holy libations. RJ.


Sizzle Pie

926 W Burnside St., 624 E Burnside St., 234-7437, sizzlepie.com. Lunch, dinner and late-night daily.

With no indigenous pizza style to call our own, Portland’s pizza scene is defined by its torchbearers—the fancy-pants pies of Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Apizza Scholls. Sizzle Pie does not belong in this elite class, but it is a great place to guzzle beer and polish off a few good slices at 2 am. The full-sized pie menu offers a boggling array of choices, as well as a create-your-own pizza option. There are the classics like Margherita (“Queen”), pepperoni (“Ace of Spades”) and Hawaiian (“6 Inches of Kevin Bacon”), in addition to schmancy toppings like breaded eggplant, artichoke hearts and martini olives. But this isn’t really where you want to go for a whole pie, and the counter features eight different thin-crust pies ($3 to $3.75 per slice, or $6 with a side salad), which are revived in the pizza oven before being slapped, hot and saucy, onto metal trays. RB.


Wy’east Pizza

3131 SE 50th Ave., 701-5149, wyeastpizza.com. Dinner Thursday-Sunday.

You have to be damn good to invent your own pizza protocol. Wy’east, a decrepit 1974 camper on Southeast 50th Avenue, is not particularly convenient, but it is especially awesome. The cart—run by “Squish” and “Red”—bakes pies one 10-minute interval at a time. The ordering period for a meaty and sweetly peppered Hot Marmot ($16) begins at 4 pm, and orders are lined up from there. Call at 5:30 and you might not be queued for pickup until 7:10. It’s well worth the hoop-jumping, as these pies have amazing garlic-heavy crusts kissed with char and topped with goops of slightly tart mozzarella. Besides, all pizza-related hassle is relative, right? Compared Apizza Scholls, Wy’east looks quite expedient. MC.

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Polish


Grandpa’s Cafe

3832 N Interstate Ave., 287-4077, portlandpolonia.org. Dinner Friday, brunch Sunday. 

Grandpa’s Cafe, tucked demurely away at the backside of a Polish community center on North Interstate Avenue, opens only for Friday dinners and Sunday brunch. After swinging past the sign and down a back stair into a nigh on unmarked door, you enter a downright domestic interior of hearth and paneled wood, with about 10 low tables and a little four-stool bar in the back that serves Polish beers exclusively. The pierogi ($6) are beautiful—I prefer the kraut and mushroom ones—as are the golabki ($6, stuffed with pork, rice and onion) and the wonderful potato pancakes ($5, served only on Fridays). Less preferred are the traditional Polish hardtack rye slabs that come with each meal. I politely buttered them, then left them alone. The menu is all rustic, family-style fare, served at prices that make it possible to sample the entire small menu for about $20. MK.


Mira’s Ladle

4031 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 858-7097, mirasladle.com. Lunch and early dinner Wednesday-Sunday.

“People think Polish food is heavy,” says Mira Kowalska with a little smile. “But it’s healthy.” Well, at least it is the way this Southern Poland native cooks it. She boils up big batches of slightly spicy, pepper-and-bean-packed, vegan, gluten-free leczo chili ($4-$10) so hearty that adding meat would be superfluous. An out-of-work architect, Kowalska actually designed the adorable, red-trimmed wood cart herself, and for the past several months she’s been filling Hawthorne-area stomachs with very good Polish soups, hot dogs with kraut ($3.50), and potato pancakes ($5). Although Mira’s potato cakes are tasty, her zucchini cakes ($6) are even better: pale green discs spotted with crunchy griddle marks that sploosh in your mouth. Dunk them in sour cream and applesauce for a zingy hot/cold contrast. KC.

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Sandwiches


Best Baguette

8303 SE Powell Blvd., 788-3098; 3635 SW Hall Blvd., 626-2288, thebestbaguette.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Yes, lots of places sell Vietnamese sandwiches like Best Baguette’s grilled pork ($3.25) and meatball ($2.95) topped with mayo, pickled carrots, daikon and generous piles of cilantro and sliced jalapeno. Finding those things on bread baked fresh hourly at bargain prices is tougher. With a drive-through window? Best Baguette stands alone. Though getting out of your car is almost beside the point, venturing inside offers a peek at the well-stocked pastry case honoring the French name, a special soup of the day (prices vary) that’s available from opening until they run out and access to all the Sriracha you want. Oh, and tacos, which you shouldn’t order. Don’t pass on the fruit bubble teas ($3.85), which, at Best Baguette, don’t seem to include any actual tea but do provide loads of fruit, mung bean and taro flavor along with mammoth tapioca balls that push the limits of slurpability. MC.


Binh Minh Sandwiches

7821 SE Powell Blvd., 777-2245; 6812 NE Broadway, 257-3868. Lunch daily. Cash only; cards accepted for orders of $10 and up.

The sandwich Calvin Trillin has called “really the only good argument for colonialism” is also one of the few defensible reasons to journey down Powell Boulevard. (The other, of course, is all-you-can-eat spaghetti Sunday through Tuesday nights at DeNicola’s.) The crispy French-baguette torpedoes are lined with two Vietnamese hams and pâté on the house special banh mi Binh Minh ($2.50); the banh mi xa xiu substitutes a smokier barbecued pork at the same price. The lunch counter is a useful gateway into less familiar Vietnamese snacks: Try the bánh bôt loc tran ($3), translucent tapioca-starch dumplings from Hue with a mouthfeel like—for lack of a better comparison—munching on a jellyfish that swallowed a pork factory. AM.


Breken Kitchen

1800 NW 16th Ave., .841-6359, brekenkitchen.com. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday.

This relaxed, stylish, brick-walled cafe in the Triangle Building, tucked away in an industrial corner of Slabtown, serves a brief menu of pastries, salads ($8.95) and sandwiches, but you’ll want to start by looking at the daily specials scribbled on the back-wall chalkboard. Recently a block of steaming portobello lasagna with green salad ($8.95) was the ultimate comfort food on a cold, gray day. There are also a range of daily soups ($3.50 cup, $5.50 bowl), such as red pepper and goat cheese or vegan lentil-cauliflower curry. Coffee is by Ristretto. BO.


Bunk Sandwiches

211 SW 6th Ave., 972-8100; 621 SE Morrison St., 477-9515, bunksandwiches.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

Tommy Habetz and Nick Wood’s new bus mall location stretches the definition of “open kitchen” by being essentially nothing but a kitchen. Its cramped dimensions and steel counters suggest one of Portland’s ostentatiously minimal coffee shops—fitting, since the line cooks here are to Subway “sandwich artists” what a barista is to a Starbucks slinger. For eat-as-you-walk meals, these are messy handfuls: a chicken salad ($9) spilling bacon and avocado; a roast beef ($9) teeming with caramelized onions and sharp-white-cheddar crumbles; and a pork-belly cubano ($9) that Castro would ban for its Western decadence. These sandwiches are full of surprises. You should be sitting down, when that’s possible. AM.


Cathedral Park Kitchen

6635 N Baltimore Ave., 946-8426, cathedralparkkitchen.com. Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch Sunday.

St. Johns is Portland’s undiscovered country. That makes Cathedral Park Kitchen a twice-hidden gem: The cafe, located on the outskirts of the park underneath the neighborhood’s emerald bridge, is further concealed on the top floor of an anonymous office building. It’s worth seeking out, particularly for the selection of savory sandwiches, including a chicken pesto melt ($8) and portobello mushroom Philly ($8). Most mouthwatering: the creole pork ($8), a pile of pulled pork rubbed with Cajun spices and topped with slaw, sauteed onions and green apples. MS.


Eastmoreland Market & Kitchen

3616 SE Knapp St., 771-1186, eastmorelandmarket.com. Lunch Monday-Saturday.

As a student at Duniway Elementary, I often made the short walk to this Southeast Knapp Street “little store” for an after-school ice cream bar. It was a somewhat dingy affair, more 7-Eleven than New Seasons. But no longer—since 2008, Eastmoreland Market has provided residents of this Southeast neighborhood with select Spanish and Italian imports, as well as a deli that produces some mighty fine sandwiches. The spicy Cubano ($9) unites roasted pork, several types of peppers, pickles and zingy mustard on chewy ciabatta. Another good bet is the comforting smoked turkey and goat cheese ($8.50), which features seasonal chutney (apple in winter, apricot in summer), mixed greens and caramelized onions. Despite its upscale fare, the spot remains unassuming and inviting—and though the freezer now holds Häagen-Dazs and pricey gelato, I still spied some Klondike bars in the back. RJ.


Geraldi’s Italian Eating Place

518 SW 4th Ave., 224-1865; 10000 SW Canyon Road, 297-2590, geraldispdx.com. Lunch daily.

Geraldi’s downtown location has the faded look and familial atmosphere of an East Coast Italian joint that’s survived in the same neighborhood for generations. It’s got the taste, too. Avoid the pasta dishes and go straight for the sandwiches: a classic New York meatball hero; a Geraldi’s torpedo, Italian beef cooked with bell peppers, onions and pepperoni; or the Spicy Geraldi, which comes fully loaded with ham, pepperoni and salami ($8.25-$9.25). Two hands (and likely a to-go box) required. MS.


Grant’s Philly Cheese Steaks

15350 NE Sandy Blvd., 252-8012. Lunch Monday-Friday. 

Way, way out in Northeast Portland, in a small roadside kitchen, await Portland’s best cheesesteaks. Grant’s doesn’t do anything fancy; it just delivers perfection. Each sandwich ($6-$10.50) has a different name, but the only variation is the choice of cheese—you can even swap in Kraft Cheez Whiz, if you like. Otherwise, it’s all thin-sliced steak, grilled onions and sweet peppers, pouring out of a grease-soaked roll. Save room, if possible, for one or two or 13 chocolate-covered Tastykakes ($2 each), imported directly from Philadelphia. MS.


The Hazel Room

3279 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 756-7125, thehazelroom.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday, brunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday. 

The prim furnishings at this new “tea lounge” match the dainty soup-salad-sandwich fare; even the Hazel Room’s water is subtly imbued with aromatics like cranberry and blood orange. This understatement is carried a bit too far in the faintly flavored three-mustard egg salad sandwich ($6), but the soups are bolder: The coconut curry, spinach and squash soup ($4 cup, $7 bowl) is nicely spicy and split-pea-thick; the kale and white bean soup ($4 cup, $7 bowl) comes creatively garnished with pumpkin seeds and shares the consistency and comforting quality of chicken-noodle. JF.

J Cafe

533 NE Holladay St., Suite 101, 230-9599, jcafepdx.com. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday.

A tiny pie wedge of a cafe shoehorned between the Convention Center and Lloyd Center, J Cafe is all about great panini—and that’s about it. Turkey and cheddar with sweet peppers and pesto, roast beef and red onions, or salami with basil and tomatoes—they all get squished between two slabs of toasty, buttered ciabatta. And they all come with a big green salad dressed with a good soy ginger dressing and Kettle Chips on the side ($7.25-$7.95). You’ll never have to resort to lunching at Stanford’s again. KC.


Ken’s Artisan Bakery

338 NW 21st Ave., 248-2202. kensartisan.com. Breakfast and lunch daily. 

Lunch at Ken’s can lead to moments of deep psychological introspection: Is the appeal of their ever-revolving menu of sandwiches here the bread or what goes on it? Halfway through your croque monsieur ($8), you’ll stop caring. The ham can be subbed for portobello mushrooms, and either would be a perfect foil for the béchamel, Gruyère and thyme atop that lovely boule. For the carb-conscious (and what are you doing in a bakery?), Ken’s offers gorgeous seasonal salads and soups as well. BP.


Kenny & Zuke’s SandwichWorks

2376 NW Thurman St., 954-1737, kzsandwichworks.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Going with one of the Kenny & Zuke’s standards like, say, the fist-sized Reuben sliders, is a no-brainer, but the deli’s facility with all things sandwiched should inspire you to try out a chalkboard special. A recent grilled sopressata and mozzarella ($8.95) contrivance, for instance, screamed for a permanent place on the regular menu, the spice of the salumi buoyed and balanced by the creamy melted cheese. Do take advantage of the happy hour to snag two or three of cheeseburger sliders at a nice discount ($2.50). BP.


Lardo

4262 SE Belmont St., lardopdx.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

This slate-blue house on wheels isn’t just a pretty face—Lardo slings the best sandwiches to be found in the sandwich-heavy Good Food Here pod. First-timers should order the messy porchetta on ciabatta with caper aioli and gremolata and the Parmesan-dusted fries (cooked in lard, naturally). From there, move on up to the “double” burger, which comes with two patties, a mess of cheddar, a generous slice of cured pork belly and a bonus pickle. BW.


Las Primas

3971 N Williams Ave., 206-5790, lasprimaskitchen.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

Las Primas Peruvian Kitchen is a fine addition to North Williams Avenue’s restaurant row. The counter-service spot was opened late in 2011 by cousins Catalina Acuña, a Lima-bred chef, and Oregon native Sadie Morrison, with the intent of bringing simple, flavorful Peruvian street food and sandwiches to Portland. Las Primas (Spanish for “the cousins”) succeeds on just about every level. Start with an appetizer or “snack” of tequenos ($5), lightly fried won tons filled with queso fresco and accompanied by a tasty avocado-lime sauce, or the empanada ($3.50) filled with imported Peruvian corn and queso fresco and dusted with powdered sugar. The large-kerneled Peruvian corn shows up again in the delicia salad ($8), which is large enough for two to share, and comes with lettuce, tomato, avocado and a delicious yogurt-based salsa blanca. The best of the sandwiches are the butifarra ($8.50), with sliced Carlton Farms pork, crema de ají, lettuce and salsa criolla; and the polla a la brasa ($8.50), with spicy Draper Valley chicken and crema de rocoto. RF.


Laurelhurst Cafe

4611 E Burnside St., 548-6320, laurelhurstcafe.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

This place gets all the details right, offering food that looks as good as it tastes, stellar service, modest prices and a laid-back atmosphere. The turkey sandwich is enlivened by cranberry-olive relish ($8.50), but it’s like a background singer to the panini, which are strut-across-the stage, ear-shattering rock stars. One bite of the Pig ’n Fig grilled sandwich ($8.50) transports you to a picnic blanket in the wine country. It combines fennel salami, Gorgonzola and figs cooked down with chardonnay and honey. And the gooey mozzarella, arugula and sun-dried tomato pesto on toasty Fleur de Lis bread—a new take on a caprese sandwich ($7.50)—might make you lift up a lighter. DC.


Lela’s Bistro

1524 NW 23rd Ave., 719-4744, lelasbistro.com. Lunch and early dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Sunday.

Colonialism had some delectable results. Case in point: banh mi, the Vietnamese baguette sandwich. At Lela’s Bistro, the traditional sub sees some unconventional variations, including baguettes topped with pork belly, ginger-garlic portobello mushrooms, or Korean-style bulgogi beef with kimchee. A pork meatball sandwich ($5.99) is piquant and slightly sweet, with fiery jalapeños balanced by tangy pickled carrots and lemony cilantro. The Binh Minh Bakery baguettes (made by the parents of co-owner Laura Le) are crisp and airy, allowing the garlicky aioli to burrow into the bread without making it soggy. On a balmy day, settle into a rocking chair on the porch of this Nob Hill Victorian and order up a lychee martini ($7) or a housemade tamarind soda ($2.75). RJ.


Lovejoy Bakers

939 NW 10th Ave., 208-3113, lovejoybakers.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

In Portland, we are comforted by upscale inconvenience. At the industrial-posh Lovejoy Bakers, tables are pocketed tightly amid flour pallets and baking trays, or bracketed around a bustling, full-service bakery; service is diffident and outlets are painfully scarce. The message is clear: Bread, here, is their reason for being, and you should consider your proximity to its Platonic form a privilege. Well, it is. The sandwiches’ bread comes fresh, warm, and dusted with flour—and in the European tradition, its rich grain is the basis for flavor rather than a mere backboard for the ingredients. You’re best, then, with strong fillings that can keep up with the bread—as in the complexly spicy, harissa-drenched lamb meatball ($8), say, or the jam-packed Cubano ($8.25). MK.


Meat Cheese Bread

1406 SE Stark St., 234-1700, meatcheesebread.com. Breakfast, lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday.

There would be far fewer incidences of workplace violence if everyone started their mornings with a breakfast burrito ($5, $6 with bacon) from this tiny sandwich shop. Owner John Stewart and crew roll up fluffy scrambled eggs, bacon, crunchy-soft hash browns, cheddar and a mellow-green chili sauce in a flour tortilla and then plop it on the grill to get a bit crunchy—a simple preparation that’s impossible to replicate at home (I’ve tried). Lunch has its own charms: grilled green beans squished up with vinegary bacon relish and soft-boiled eggs on baguette or a no-nonsense turkey on sourdough piled inches high with bacon, Havarti and crisp lettuce (both $8). Don’t overlook the rest of the excellent desserts, especially the warm blueberry bread pudding ($3.50), an eggy, moist flavor bomb that gets crisped on the grill before it heads to your mouth. KC.


Melt

716 NW 21st Ave., 295-4944, meltportland.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday, brunch and dinner Saturday, brunch Sunday.

The tweeness of this Alphabet District cafe belies its hearty fare. Ornate glass light fixtures, pastel abstracts and an old dresser painted in earthy greens suggest it’s all arugula salads and dainty pear tarts. Then they bring you a big ol’ waffle sopped in brown gravy and topped with fried chicken and a pepper jack cheese ($9.95) along with a baby pitcher of maple syrup. The house burger ($8.50) has blue cheese-horseradish sauce and bacon. A giant list of happy-hour deals, which include a half pound of wings for $6, a soft pretzel with spicy blackberry mustard dip for $3 and a wedge salad topped with blue cheese dressing and bacon crumbles for $4.50, is a big draw. Pair any with a pineapple cosmo ($5.50) or ruby martini ($5) to keep it cute. MC.


Nuvrei Patisserie & Cafe

404 NW 10th Ave., 972-1700, nuvrei.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

For nearly a decade, Marius Pop has been baking up some of the city’s best sweets in his basement commercial kitchen, including terrific crisp-yet-chewy cookies ($2) and rummy, caramel-crusted French cannelé ($2). Last fall, he finally opened a full-service cafe upstairs, a chunk of Paris in the Pearl with yellow metal chairs and a T-Rex soundtrack. There are few places better to spend a lazy Sunday, devouring oozy ham-, béchamel- and Dijon-stuffed pretzel croissants, never-too-sweet berry muffins and flavor-packed quiches with Coava coffee. (Nab a brat sausage on mauricette bread, $9.50, while you’re at it.) Do not leave the premises without a rainbow of Nuvrei’s intensely flavored macarons ($2). From tart pink framboise to celadon-hued pistachio crème, they’re among the few things in life that taste as good as they look. KC.


The People’s Sandwich of Portland

53 NW 1st Ave., 222-0525, sandwichofportland.com. Lunch daily. 

You’d think a sandwich spot with a Soviet theme would, like, serve goulash hoagies and make customers wait weeks for bread, but the faux totalitarianism of the People’s Sandwich ends at the item names, e.g. the veggie-heavy Portlandia Über Alles ($8) and the Hammer and Pickle Cuban ($8). The restaurant does control the means of production, making its own potato chips and condiments. But really, though, don’t go for the concept; go for the Argento Arrabiata ($8), as good an Italian sub as you’ll find anywhere in the city. MS.


Sandwich Island

827 SW 2nd Ave., 330-5002. Lunch Monday-Friday. 

Although the menu includes all the usual deli suspects, your best bet at this small lunch counter—located inside a downtown food court—is the super-slow-roasted, Hawaiian-style kalua pork. You can get it three ways: on the quarter-pound Little Piggy ($4.50); the half-pound Hog Daddy ($6.50); or over rice ($6.50). If pig ain’t your thing, the colorful Hokulani bowl ($6.50) mixes teriyaki-soaked chicken with white rice, fruit chunks and slivered almonds. If your taste is limited strictly to the contiguous United States, Cincinnati chili is available in a bowl ($6-$7) or on a Coney Island hot dog ($4). MS.


Shut Up and Eat

4926 SE Division St., 577-5604, shutupandeatpdx.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

Yeah, Shut Up And Eat has great sandwiches. We’ll discuss them, but let’s first pause to appreciate the cart’s potato chips. Freshly fried and artfully varied in texture between crisp and soft, a whole tater of flavor is packed into every near-translucent sliver. They’re as good as potato chips get, and when you buy a sandwich, you can get a bag of them for a buck. So get a sandwich, too. The Broad St. Bomber cheesesteak ($8.50) has a half pound of chipped local top round steak with fried onions, peppers, cheddar and provolone. With top-shelf ingredients on a fresh-baked bun, even the most die-hard Philbilly should concede this sandwich’s superiority to the ’steaks back East. The roast pork butt sandwich ($8.50) with roasted red bells, kale, broccoli rabe and a trio of cheeses is also good bet. They’re big enough to split—if you get two bags of chips. MC.


Steakadelphia

5835 SE Powell Blvd., 788-7141, steakadelphia.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

A cheesesteak emporium that vanished in 2008 and returned two years later in the opposite corner of the city, like a mischievous leprechaun with a pot of beef. Emphasis is on the word “steak,” you’ll notice, and not so much on the word “cheese”: Though goo possibilities range from cheddar to provolone to that illustrious radionuclide Cheez Whiz, you should order double cheese if you want it to really glue the meat shavings together. But the singular draw of a supreme sandwich ($6.50-$11) is its secret sauce, something not entirely unlike the fry sauce most fast-food restaurants attempted and discarded a year back, but with more zest and zeal. AM.


Torta-Landia

4144 SE 60th Ave., 445-9966, tortalandia.com. Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Order a torta at this rancho-themed restaurant and you’ll get a sandwich that’s both familiar and oddly foreign. It’s as if a member of the Torta family—little María Jesus—had been sent off to boarding school for eight years and returned insisting everyone call her MJ. Not content with the passé squishiness of the bolillo, she opts instead for the classy chew of a “bolo roll” from Grand Central Bakery, and she rejects mayonnaise for “tequila-chili aioli.” Torta-Landia’s sandwiches are not the enormous, heart-stopping absurdities dished by La Catrina; like most products of culinary gentrification, they are a little smaller, a little healthier and, at $9 to $10 with one side, a little more expensive. But the sandwiches, overloaded with aioli, crema and avocado, are, for all their differences, quite good. The carne asada, dressed with cheese and peppers over big, tender hunks of seared cow, is downright delicious. BW.


Yolk

4804 SE Woodstock Blvd., 568-0787. Breakfast and lunch Wednesday-Sunday.

Toast restaurant owner Donald Kotler’s bright-yellow new food cart, Yolk, debuted in September in the parking lot of the Joinery furniture workshop, alongside excellent established cart El Gallo. It’s stiff competition, but Yolk is up to the challenge with a lineup of over-the-top breakfast sandwiches like the Brother, a small loaf of Little T pretzel bread stuffed with wilted arugula, maple-glazed pork belly and two fried eggs ($8). It’s like a good bowl of ramen in sandwich form. Even better is the Glendale, a messy slop of onions, peppers, ground sausage, scrambled eggs and sharp cheese fried up and served in a baguette ($7)—essentially a sausage pizza for breakfast, without the embarrassment of calling Round Table at 10 am. BW.

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Scandinavian


Cafe Hibiscus

4950 NE 14th Ave., 477-9224, martinsswissdressing.com. Lunch Wednesday-Saturday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday. 

Walking into Cafe Hibiscus, you’re struck by a bout of cultural dissonance: It’s a Scandinavian diner decorated like a surf-side burger joint. Don’t worry, it’s not some kind of corny new Alps-meets-aloha fusion restaurant, only a reflection of the owner’s dual Swiss-Hawaiian roots. Its menu is strictly European, offering bratwurst ($9.50), gravlax (cured salmon on rye, $9) and wienerschitznel, served by itself ($10) or in a sandwich ($8.75). Best of all, however, might be the salads ($5-$8.75), which come tossed with the cafe’s creamy house-made dressing. MS.

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Salvadoran


Pupuseria El Buen Gusto

7732 SE 82nd Ave., 477-4402, pupuseriapdx.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Quesadillas are good; pupusas are great. El Buen Gusto does Central American food from Mexico on south, but Salvadoran pupusas are on the marquee for good reason. Like their Mexican cousins, these hearty pockets of cornmeal dough are stuffed with cheese and meat. El Buen Gusto’s basic pupusa of soft but sharp white cheese ($3) comes with a cup of flavorful tomato sauce and a slaw of lightly fermented cabbage and peppers. Fantastic in its own right, and things get even better when you add chicken ($3.50), shrimp ($4) or ground pork ($3). The pan-American offerings aren’t just taking up space. El Buen Gusto’s breakfast menu includes a machaca de res plate with shredded beef and scrambled eggs ($7) that’d impress many Mexicans. You’ll also find Guatemalan creamy chicken, Honduran fried chicken with bananas and tacos, burritos, enchiladas and huevos rancheros. Pero no quesadillas. You won’t miss them. MC.


Sabor Salvadoreño

3460 SW 185th Ave., 356-2376. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Getting your hungry bones to Sabor Salvadoreño requires a trek—it’s situated on a particularly busy intersection in Aloha—but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. The familial air of the restaurant and the signature pupusas, puffy handmade tortillas stuffed with cheese or meat ($2 each), will put you right at ease. Just be careful not to nod off driving home after stuffing yourself on heaping portions of fried cassava root ($9) or a pan relleno con pollo, a French roll overflowing with chicken, vegetables and a spicy salsa ($4). RH.

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Southern


Mom Harris’ Soul Food

839 N Lombard St., 477-7164, momharrissoulfood.com. Lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday. Cash only.

On the day the New Orleans Saints got bounced from the NFL playoffs, this tiny North Portland hole in the wall sold out of its gumbo and fried chicken. That’s got to mean something. Obviously, folks who know authentic Cajun cooking know where to find it, and that’s what Mom Harris’ provides: blackened catfish sandwiches ($9.99); thick, smoky red beans and rice plates ($3.99); and heaping helpings of shrimp-rich jambalaya—all with no frills attached. MS.


Po’Shines Cafe De La Soul

8139 N Denver Ave., 978-9000, poshines.com. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

A real church supper in Kenton—thank your personal Jesus it’s expanded to five nights a week—Po’Shines is shacked up with the Celebration Tabernacle next door, and sends its proceeds to at-risk-youth program Teach Me to Fish. Whatever trawl the kids catch in a lifetime, I hope they tithe a few to the restaurant. Nobody else in town is making catfish ($8.95) like this—or any other soul food, for that matter. The huge chicken wings ($5.95 for six, or two thrown in with a basket), which have the nostalgic smack of Shake ’n Bake, deserve to be included in the “city’s best fried chicken” conversation, and they aren’t even close to the finest thing here. I can’t decide if that honor goes to the hush puppies ($2.95 for six) or the jerk-seasoned red beans and rice ($3.50). They say the devil gets all the good music; apparently God has dibs on the best food. AM.

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Sweets


Cool Moon Ice Cream

1105 NW Johnson St., 224-2021, coolmoonicecream.com. Noon-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, noon-11 pm Friday-Saturday.

With its prime location across the street from Jamison Square’s kid-friendly water feature, Cool Moon could sell Dippin’ Dots and still make bank. Thankfully, owner Eva Bernhard put the effort into creating a dazzling array of flavors. Adventurous palates can dive into a tangy blend of chocolate, cayenne pepper and cinnamon, or grab a double scoop ($5) of kulfi, a sweet combination of cardamom, pistachio and rosewater. The less daring should still rush to dodge that unnecessary boomerang-shaped bar in the middle of the room to get a coneful of tastebud-bursting vanilla or chocolate. RH.


Happy Sparrow

3001 SE Belmont St., 445-0231, happysparrowcafe.com. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday.

Yes, they put a bird on it. But don’t dismiss this cheerful, welcoming cafe—it’s no Portlandia cliché. Happy Sparrow specializes in kolaches, a pastry with a Czech-Texan pedigree ($2-$2.75 each). Firmer than a doughnut but airier than a bagel, these yeasty buns are filled with savory or sweet ingredients—kicky jalapeños and Tillamook cheddar, for example, or a Nutella-banana combo. A vegan kolache, packed with vegetables bathed in plum sauce, recalls Chinese steamed buns, and an open-faced variant with strawberry preserves and cream cheese puts the standard Danish to shame. These delightful dough balls are best fresh and they frequently sell out, so get here early. RJ.


Nuvrei Patisserie & Cafe

404 NW 10th Ave., 972-1700, nuvrei.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

For nearly a decade, Marius Pop has been baking up some of the city’s best sweets in his basement commercial kitchen, including terrific crisp-yet-chewy cookies ($2) and rummy, caramel-crusted French cannelé ($2). Last fall, he finally opened a full-service cafe upstairs, a chunk of Paris in the Pearl with yellow metal chairs and a T-Rex soundtrack. There are few places better to spend a lazy Sunday, devouring oozy ham-, béchamel- and Dijon-stuffed pretzel croissants, never-too-sweet berry muffins and flavor-packed quiches with Coava coffee. (Nab a brat sausage on mauricette bread, $9.50, while you’re at it.) Do not leave the premises without a rainbow of Nuvrei’s intensely flavored macarons ($2). From tart pink framboise to celadon-hued pistachio crème, they’re among the few things in life that taste as good as they look. KC.


Pix Pâtisserie

3402 SE Division St., 232-4407, 3901 N Williams Ave., pixpatisserie.com. Lunch, dinner and late-night daily.

While Pix does offer some savory items (sandwiches, charcuterie, cheese plates), the draw here will always be Cheryl Wakerhauser’s exquisite desserts. You don’t have to get the Amélie ($7) every time you come here, but seriously, orange-vanilla creme brulee? Crispy praline? Definitely bring a date, not only so you can share something from Pix’s extensive list of wines and liqueurs but also to free someone up to order something else, like the moscato-infused Aphrodite with two types of mousse, flourless chocolate cake and a super-boozy cherry in the center. BP.


Ruby Jewel Scoops

3713 N Mississippi Ave., 805-8369, rubyjewel.net. Lunch and dinner daily.

Ice cream sandwich purveyor Ruby Jewel produces some of the dreamiest frozen goods in the city, and this pastel-walled parlor offers a robust selection of flavors both classic (vanilla, chocolate peanut butter, espresso) and unusual (yes, it really does taste like Thai iced tea). Build your own ice cream sandwich ($4), float ($5) or sundae (from $6), or keep it unadulterated. (Insider tip: you can split your single scoop and get two flavors for a paltry $3.) Staples include honey lavender (delicate and floral) and caramel with salted dark chocolate (subtle until the saline kick on the tongue). On any given day, ice cream lovers will also find seasonal creations—recent successes included Mexican chocolate with a strong cinnamon punch, an intense Oregon berry and a zingy triple ginger. RJ.


Salt & Straw

2035 NE Alberta St., 208-3867, saltandstraw.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Any ice-cream lover worth one’s salt should be familiar with this “farm-to-cone” shop in the Alberta district. Salt & Straw’s attraction is high-quality ice cream made with care and creativity that surpasses just about any other served in the city. Some of the flavors are a bit out there—Arbequina olive oil, Oregon black truffles, pear with blue cheese—but everything we’ve tried is executed with finesse, partly due to the ice cream’s low sweetness level. High marks go to the sea salt with caramel ribbon, a beatific blend of salty and sweet; the smooth Stumptown coffee with cacao nibs; and the sublimely complex lemon basil sorbet, which, alas, was about to come off the menu. It’s $3.75 for a single scoop, which can be split between two flavors; doubles are $5.75 and a kid’s scoop $2.75. The friendly staff is generous with samples. RF.


Woodlawn Coffee and Pastry

808 NE Dekum St., 954-2412, woodlawncoffee.com. Breakfast and lunch daily.

Primarily a cafe, this airy Dekum Triangle spot also offers a short but formidable breakfast menu. There’s a hearty, farm-style breakfast plate ($8) with a poached egg, greens, bacon, a hunk of cheese, fruit and a toasted, buttery brioche; granola with yogurt and fruit ($5.50); and oatmeal with peach preserves, creme fraiche and toasted pecans ($5.25). For those seeking a smaller accompaniment for their cup of Stumptown, Woodlawn bakes a variety of pies, cakes, cookies and scones, both sweet and savory (try the jalapeño-cheddar version, $2.50). A cream cheese-blackberry brioche ($4) gets particularly high marks for its balance of tangy and sweet flavors and its stretchy, pillowy pastry. RJ.

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Thai

Chiang Mai

3145 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 234-6192, chiangmaipdx.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

The Italian Joint, Hawthorne Boulevard’s purveyor of pallid pasta, is gone, to no one’s great regret, and its void of nostalgic vagueness has been filled by a welcome specificity. Chiang Mai, the pleasant restaurant that took over the tiny corner space, pointedly could not be called “The Thai Joint.” It is named for the largest city in Northern Thailand, and its menu avoids the generic in favor of regional dishes and contemporary favorites. Try miang kam ($8), the Thai equivalent of the toppings bar at Cold Stone Creamery, with little piles of ginger, coconut, dried shrimp and minced chilies, shallots and limes to wrap up with betel leaves into bright little spliffs of spice. Sai oua ($12), a Northern Thai sausage made with lemongrass, galangal root, kaffir leaf and really hot chilies comes sliced with an order of sticky rice to soothe the burn. You’ll still need a beer with it, and Chiang Mai, bless it, has Ninkasi on tap. BW.


Manao

7202 SE Milwaukie Ave., 236-0008, manaopdx.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Pok Pok has fish-sauce wings; Manao has pig knuckles. That’s not to say that Chef Ekkachai “Chew” Sakkayasukkalawong’s quiet Thai spot in Sellwood will grow to inspire the same legion of acolytes. It won’t. But Southeast Portlanders should be proud to have the former Pok Pok cook’s interesting roster of Northern and Southern Thai dishes like kaa muu tod ($11), a Northern Thai recipe that slowly stews a porker’s knuckle in a heady spice-spiked broth, then dunks the whole thing in a deep-fat fryer, in the neighborhood. Chew’s knuckle is a three-layer dynamo of crispy skin and tender meat separated by a half-inch of gelatinous fat so sticky your fingers will adhere to your lips as you try to lick them clean. Tear a chunk of pork off the bone and squash it up with the tart mustard greens, pickled eggs and jasmine rice that come with the pig; then spoon some porky five-spice jus all over it. And top that off with the housemade sour, yellow chili sauce that also comes with the dish: a thin, hot, vinegary relish that amps up every flavor. KC.


Nong’s Khao Man Gai

SW 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 971-255-3480 ; 411 SW College Ave., 432-3286, khaomangai.com. Lunch Monday-Friday. 

“Is that Khao Man Gai?” This is the barista at the nearby Ace Stumptown, pointing to an unmarked plastic bag I’ve placed on the counter. “Yeah, we all end up there at least once a week.” He looks longingly again at the bag. Nong Poonsukwattana’s Khao Man Gai has long been a heavily favored one-dish wonder at the 10th and Alder pod, serving up the eponymous tender chicken and sticky rice with a grotesquely addictive garlic-ginger-soybean sauce ($6.50) and a tart, watery cabbage soup. What’s new is a location near PSU with an expanded menu—in particular a pork version ($6.50) and a pack of tomato-whiskey-Sriracha fried wings ($6.50) that slide as gently as you like off their bones. Oh, and the sauce? She’s bottling it. Happy home life. MK.


Paa Dee

6 SE 28th Ave., 360-1453, paadeepdx.com. Brunch, lunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday; dinner Monday-Friday.

While the furnishings at this chic new Thai eatery and bar are achingly Stumptownian (communal wood tables, bare light bulbs trapped in wooden birdcages) the eats are all Southeast Asian comfort, from grilled squid skewers ($3) to ba mhee tom yum pitsanulok, a big bowl of sweet, limey broth packed with chewy egg noodles, peanuts and three kinds of pork—barbecue, ground and crunchy belly ($11). A collaboration between the Mee Sen and Kinara Thai Bistro crews, Paa Dee is another welcome salvo in the city’s war against snoozy Thai-American takeout. Sure, you could devour the lip-tingling spicy chicken wings ($6) at home in your sweatpants. But then you couldn’t swill a frothy Fernet and vanilla coke ($6), spiked with lemongrass-vanilla syrup and scented with orange, with them. KC.


Pad Thai Kitchen

2309 SE Belmont St., 232-8766. Lunch and dinner daily.

Inside Pad Thai Kitchen, one of Portland’s less flashy Thai establishments—and considering the strip-mall competition, this is saying something—there’s a vibe of thrift-shop spirituality well-suited to the neighborhood. It’s kind of like the greasy spoon of Portland Southeast Asian food, though Pad Thai Kitchen’s fare tastes lighter than that of most of its contemporaries. A “saucy spoon,” we’ll call it, because when you’ve dug to the bottom of a hearty plate of massaman curry ($8.50 and perhaps best with tofu), plenty of sauce lingers. The restaurant’s titular dish is better with chicken and served extra-spicy, which counters some slightly sour undertones; the pad kee mao is a bit more substantial. Those looking for greener fare are encouraged to try the wet, veggie-packed pad poi sean ($8.50). CJ.


Red Onion Thai Cuisine

1123 NW 23rd Ave., 208-2634, redonionportland.com. Lunch and dinner daily. 

Whatever the Thai translation of “breath of the wok” is, Chef Dang must have it bottled it up somewhere in the back of the Red Onion kitchen, prepped for easy deployment. The stir-fry dishes he produces all have that marvelous smoky sweet, barely charred finish in spades. The lunch menu is a killer deal, letting you pull down some nicely spicy pad kee mao—it doesn’t matter how mild they make it, the ground chilies in there will get your sweat on—or funky-sweet, preserved soybean-laden pad see ew for less than $8. BP.


Soi 9

1914 W Burnside St., 894-9153, soi9pdx.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, dinner Monday.

Lurking behind truly grim condo-and-dollar store frontage, an explosion of flowers. Plumerias are everywhere in Soi 9: in paintings and carvings, tiled out on the wall, floating in little table vases, and in my later Tetris-fueled dreams. The monomania is charming, as is the food—which is likewise characterized by an often touching sweetness. Stop by for the happy-hour menu and the sweet cinnamony shock of the boat noodle soup for a mere $4.50 instead of the usual $9.50. The delicately fried calamari appetizer ($5.50), when dipped in its attending sweet sauce, tastes like fishy kettle corn—which is somehow a good thing. Otherwise? Order curries. They’re good. And a bit sweet. MK.


Tuk Tuk Thai

4239 NE Fremont St., 282-0456; 3226 N Lombard St., 719-7796, tuktukthairestaurant.com. Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Sunday-Friday. 

Thai restaurants are everywhere in this town, so it takes some effort to stand out. Tuk Tuk does so with its stir-fry; blessed are those who show up on the day when the lunch special is the mango stir-fry, which is as knee-buckling as it sounds. Looking for something unique? Try the pla dook pad ped, deep-fried catfish in chili sauce ($11.50), or the delightful king salmon curry ($13.50). MS.


Whiskey Soda Lounge

3131 SE Division St., 232-0102, whiskeysodalounge.com. Dinner nightly.

Whether you’re there to get your cocktail on with a few small Thai plates or just waiting out the purgatory that is the line for Pok Pok proper across the street (they’ll call over when your table is ready), Whiskey Soda Lounge has you covered. If you end up partaking of the Lounge’s killer som tam thawt (deep fried shredded papaya and veggie shoestrings in a fantastic fish sauce dressing, $9) the fish sauce chicken wings ($12.50) and a Som drinking vinegar ($4), you may not need a seat at the restaurant after all. BP.

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Vegan and Vegetarian


Blossoming Lotus

1713 NE 15th Ave., 228-0048, blpdx.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch and dinner Sunday.

Blossoming Lotus’ prices stretch our definition of “cheap,” but it’s all relative: Among fine-dining establishments, this vegan (and organic and frequently local and just generally high-principled) restaurant is a budget option, its elegant appointment and crisp service belying its mid-range cost. The citrus ginger stir fry ($13.50), with squash slivers and other veggies over rice, quinoa or noodles, is good; the barbecue tempeh plate ($13) is better. The tempeh is expertly prepared, without the weird processed texture it can have and with the nice nutty flavor it should—plus it’s slathered in thick whiskey-ginger barbecue sauce. On the other side of the plate is a small feat of vegan baking: crumbly—but not dry—cornbread, Dijon- and garlic-infused Earth Balance on the side. JF.


Bui Natural Tofu

520 NE 76th Ave., 254-6132, buitofu.com. Breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday, lunch Sunday.

This quaint little storefront to Bui’s tofu-making enterprise sells an eclectic selection of Vietnamese snacks: sweet and savory rice dishes, steamed rice cakes and desserts, all tightly plastic-wrapped to polystyrene plates for a quick getaway (this isn’t really a dine-in sort of place). But, of course, it’s all really about the tofu, which comes in several permeations, including fried in lemongrass, stuffed with pork and a stellar version studded with green onion. The latter also comes inside some really delicious salad rolls, packed with herbs and served with a better-than-average spicy peanut sauce. Pair them with a plastic tub of bi chay—noodles with shredded tofu and vegetables—or some sticky rice, and you should have plenty for a super-cheap lunch to go. RB.


Prasad

925 NW Davis St., 224-3993, prasadcuisine.com. Breakfast, lunch and early dinner daily.

The wooden benches and stools at Prasad have no backs; the Pearl neighborhood cafe promotes good posture, while it pumps you full of virtuous vegan and gluten-free fare (my dining companion called it guilt-free comfort food). If you’re sticking to the raw options, try the feisty tostada ($9.50), pumpkin seed-pesto crackers loaded with jalapeño cashew “cheese,” spinach, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes and hot sauce—it’s crunchy and creamy, nutty and chewy, and all kinds of good. For those craving something cooked, one of Prasad’s hearty bowls will satisfy. The dragon bowl ($9), heaped with red rice or quinoa, steamed kale, avocado and several varieties of seaweed, gets high marks for its umami flavors. Prasad also offers fresh parfaits ($6) and wraps ($8-$9) to go. RJ.


Proper Eats

8638 N Lombard St., 445-2007, propereats.org, Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 

Tucked into the back half of a vegan mini-mart is St. Johns’ best-kept restaurant secret. There’s no meat on the menu, but it won’t be missed—Proper Eats serves up hearty, healthy vegan and vegetarian meals that showcase local produce. The simple cafe-style menu of salads, soup and sandwiches (not to mention breakfast served all day) gives little hint of the perfectly balanced flavors and huge portions to come. Try a tempeh Reuben ($7.50) with sauerkraut or any of the salads with the miso-ginger dressing ($4-$7.50). The most addictive thing in the joint may be the blue-corn nachos, piled high with black beans, quinoa, salsa, corn-pumpkin-seed relish, guacamole and vegan or Tillamook cheese ($8.50). The tofu-cilantro “sour cream” is worth the extra $1.25 even for non-vegans. MHW.

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Vietnamese


@Pho.com

7901 SE Powell Blvd., Suite K, 788-8877, atpho.com. Lunch and dinner Thursday-Tuesday.

You’d never know it from the ridiculous, tech-bubble name, but this tidy, little 82nd Avenue Vietnamese spot makes great real-world grub, from intense, cinnamony pho ($8-$8.95) to addictive deep-fried tofu pockets stuffed with spicy pork pâté that’s part of a combination plate ($10.25). The restaurant’s website boasts it’s “like visiting Vietnam without leaving your hometown” and, oddly enough, it kind of is—complete with a Muzak version of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” wafting through the speakers and the broken-English legend “With a lovely smile and healthy food” printed on the windows. You can eat your way through a good portion of the menu by ordering a special (vermicelli rice) noodle bowl ($8.95) or broken-rice platter ($10.75). The grilled pork is charred and juicy, and the kitchen’s sautéed lemongrass tofu ($9.75) is a springy, savory treat. KC.


Best Baguette

8303 SE Powell Blvd., 788-3098; 3635 SW Hall Blvd., 626-2288, thebestbaguette.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Yes, lots of places sell Vietnamese sandwiches like Best Baguette’s grilled pork ($3.25) and meatball ($2.95) topped with mayo, pickled carrots, daikon and generous piles of cilantro and sliced jalapeno. Finding those things on bread baked fresh hourly at bargain prices is tougher. With a drive-through window? Best Baguette stands alone. Though getting out of your car is almost beside the point, venturing inside offers a peek at the well-stocked pastry case honoring the French name, a special soup of the day (prices vary) that’s available from opening until they run out and access to all the Sriracha you want. Oh, and tacos, which you shouldn’t order. Don’t pass on the fruit bubble teas ($3.85), which, at Best Baguette, don’t seem to include any actual tea but do provide loads of fruit, mung bean and taro flavor along with mammoth tapioca balls that push the limits of slurpability. MC.


Binh Minh Sandwiches

7821 SE Powell Blvd., 777-2245; 6812 NE Broadway, 257-3868. Lunch daily. Cash only; cards accepted for orders of $10 and up.

The sandwich Calvin Trillin has called “really the only good argument for colonialism” is also one of the few defensible reasons to journey down Powell Boulevard. (The other, of course, is all-you-can-eat spaghetti Sunday through Tuesday nights at DeNicola’s.) The crispy French-baguette torpedoes are lined with two Vietnamese hams and pâté on the house special banh mi Binh Minh ($2.50); the banh mi xa xiu substitutes a smokier barbecued pork at the same price. The lunch counter is a useful gateway into less familiar Vietnamese snacks: Try the bánh bôt loc tran ($3), translucent tapioca-starch dumplings from Hue with a mouthfeel like—for lack of a better comparison—munching on a jellyfish that swallowed a pork factory. AM.


Bun Bo Hue

7002 SE 82nd Ave., 771-1141. Lunch and dinner daily.

Never mind that it’s as brightly lit as an east Saigon mental ward. Ambiance is overrated. Bun Bo Hue could be located in a sewage-treatment plant, so long as it kept making some of Portland’s tastiest, spiciest varieties of its namesake Vietnamese noodle soup ($7 for the signature, $1 extra for slices of rare beef) or the mellower chicken noodle hu tieu hoac mi ga ($7.50). Soups are served with massive piles of basil and sprouts, while non-soupy noodle dishes like the simple com suon pork chop rice plate ($7.25) are piled impossibly high. The ambivalence of the staff and sterile aesthetic may leave you cold; the bun bo Hue certainly won’t. APK.


Bun Bo Hue Minh

8560 SE Division St., 777-1917. Lunch and dinner daily.

Bun Bo Hue Minh’s shabby interior is all Formica and rayon. The charm is in the bowls, which are brimming with the fat rice-vermicelli noodles and herbal lemongrass flavors of the house’s signature dish, the specialty of Vietnam’s centrally located imperial capital. Don’t expect much service beyond the pot of hot tea that shows up when you sit down and the arrival of plates of bean sprouts, cilantro, banana blossom and other fixings. You shouldn’t need much. The menu offers a huge range of meaty broths and pliable noodles for around $7 each. Playing it safe with the mien ga, shredded dark and white chicken meat with glass noodles, won’t leave you envious of the more exotic offerings, which include congealed pork blood and all manner of offal. Salad rolls stuffed with fried pork skin ($4) are a must. MC.


Ha VL Bánh Mì Thit

2738 SE 82nd Ave., 772-0103. Lunch daily.

You have to keep your eyes peeled for Ha VL because it’s hidden away in the middle of the horseshoe of businesses off Southeast 82nd Avenue fronted by Wing Ming Herbs. The secret of this Vietnamese mom-and-pop noodle/sandwich shop’s success is the daily soup selection and the everyone-is-family feel. If you’re nice, chances are good that on your second visit you’ll be treated like a regular. There are always two daily rotating soups to choose from, including Thursday’s awesome snail noodle soup with thin slices of snail-pork-ginger-lemongrass loaf dunked in pork broth with rice noodles, fatty pork and fried tofu. It comes with a side of spicy ginger fish sauce and the usual fresh herbs, lettuce, cabbage and lime to add to your bowl as you please. There are always nine banh mi on the menu, which are good for dunking. LC.


Hanoi Kitchen

7925 NE Glisan St., 252-1300, hanoikitchen.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

This cheery, family-run cafe serves up the usual massive bowls of Vietnamese soup, but what you want to go for here are the steamed rice crepes. In the fully loaded banh cuon Hanoi ($7.50), the delicate, pillowy crepes are filled with spiced ground pork, shrimp, onions and mushrooms, and you almost want to crawl inside them. Salad rolls with shredded pork ($4) have a spicy, peppery zing. The chicken wings ($7.45) are sweet and crispy, though you can find better. But those crepes! BO.


Jade Teahouse

7912 SE 13th Ave., 477-8985, jadeportland.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

Down in Sellwood, this Southeast Asian “teahouse and pâtisserie” is so well-patronized and universally praised that it’s given rise to contrarians. The food isn’t even, like, that good, one neighborhood resident tells me—and then, in the same breath, allows that Jade’s Southeast Asian bistro burger ($10) is among the best in Portland. The succulent beef patty, piled with pickled onions on a housemade bun and served with truffle fries, is toothsome, but not especially Oriental. For that, you’ll want the steamed hum bao ($3), a globular dumpling that, Russian Doll-style, nestles egg within meatball within shell of smooth breading, or the subtly sweet glass noodles ($10). For a more-than-subtly sweet treat, grab a white chocolate and sea salt macaroon ($1.25) from the bakery case on your way out; it’s simultaneously dense and airy, salty and sweet—a yin-yang marvel. JF.


Lela’s Bistro

1524 NW 23rd Ave., 719-4744, lelasbistro.com. Lunch and early dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Sunday.

Colonialism had some delectable results. Case in point: banh mi, the Vietnamese baguette sandwich. At Lela’s Bistro, the traditional sub sees some unconventional variations, including baguettes topped with pork belly, ginger-garlic portobello mushrooms, or Korean-style bulgogi beef with kimchee. A pork meatball sandwich ($5.99) is piquant and slightly sweet, with fiery jalapeños balanced by tangy pickled carrots and lemony cilantro. The Binh Minh Bakery baguettes (made by the parents of co-owner Laura Le) are crisp and airy, allowing the garlicky aioli to burrow into the bread without making it soggy. On a balmy day, settle into a rocking chair on the porch of this Nob Hill Victorian and order up a lychee martini ($7) or a housemade tamarind soda ($2.75). RJ.

Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen

835 SW 2nd Ave., 222-0047, luclackitchen.com. Lunch, dinner and late-night Monday-Friday, dinner and late-night Saturday..

At Luc Lac, you don’t just eat the pho—you drink it. And it’s damn good. Adam Ho, co-owner and bar manager at the downtown restaurant, mixes bourbon, cranberry juice and a little pear cider with a syrup spiked with the Vietnamese beef noodle soup’s trademark spices, from ginger to star anise. That makes for a dangerously drinkable sweet and spicy cocktail called team dac biet ($8). Everything Luc Lac does involving beef is great: The delicate, aromatic beef noodle pho is packed with tender round steak and brisket ($6.50, more for tendon and tripe, if you must), and the little grilled la lot ($4), which wrap herby minced beef in peppery betel leaves, taste like rich, meaty Vietnamese dolmas. Don’t leave without trying the excellent bo tai chanh salad ($7), which “cooks” steak in citrus juice and tosses it with a tangle of herbs, onions, pineapple sauce and peanuts. KC.


Pho An

6236 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-2990, phoansandy.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

There’s no other restaurant in Portland, as far as we know, where older men in sky-blue polo shirts deliver your food on cafeteria trays. If this isn’t reason enough to visit Pho An, then go for the pho ngau pin, a noodle soup with bull penis. I have not tried it, but you probably should. The 20-plus pho noodle soups here are really good and slurp-worthy. Even if you don’t order one of the pho soups, most of the entrees, such as the spicy lemongrass chicken with pickled vegetables and broken rice, and the meat platter with ground beef wrapped in betel leaf, with grilled pork and shrimp paste-wrapped sugarcane, come with a small bowl of beef broth so you don’t feel left out. LC.


Pho Van

1919 SE 82nd Ave., 788-5244, and other locations, phovanrestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner daily.

Pho Van manages to put a gloss of sophistication on your average, rough-edged pho joint, but without sacrificing authenticity or affordability. The staples don’t disappoint. Sloshing, steaming bowls of pho pair rich, subtly spiced broth with lean brisket and al dente rice stick, classically garnished with basil, bean sprouts, jalapeño and lime chunks. And the honey-lemongrass pork vermicelli bowl is freshness itself, dressing delicate noodles, pickled carrot-daikon slaw, crisp fried onions, and charcoal-edged pork with spicy-sweet nuoc mam. Banana blossom salad is a collage of vivid textures and flavors: flash-fried blossom, julienned jicama, grapefruit and toasted sesame seeds. Braised duck soup proves heartier than pho, ideal for Portland’s drearier days, with shiitakes and bok choy that contribute earthy notes to the warming broth. ES.

Tan Tan Cafe

12675 SW Broadway, Beaverton, 641-2700. Lunch and dinner daily.

Tan Tan may look like a doughnut shop, right down to a glass cases with pastries inside, but that isn’t a jelly doughnut—it’s a bomb-ass steamed banh bao ($1.95) stuffed with a tiny hard-boiled egg and sausage. Some come with pâté. Regardless of filling, it’s the perfect appetizer for a ridiculously overstuffed banh mi sandwich, the best of which is the banh mi Tan Tan ($3.50), a hog’s nightmare loaded with ham, pork roll, head cheese, pâté and wonderful pickled veggies packed into a hot, flaky baguette. The pho Tan Tan dac biet ($7.25) is also nicely delicate, though underwhelming in comparison to the sandwiches. But with prices this cheap, the deli-style joint is perfect for culinary expectation. You never know what kind of wonders those steamed buns are packing. APK.

Yen Ha

6820 NE Sandy Blvd., 287-3698, yenhapdx.com. Lunch, dinner and late-night Monday and Wednesday-Sunday. Dinner only Tuesday.

It’s amazing how many locals have belted out a soused karaoke hit in Yen Ha’s divey-wonderful bar and yet never managed to stumble into the main dining room next door, where it serves a laundry list of Vietnamese eats amidst tropical plants and 3D reliefs of frolicking bronze horses. Branch out from the (admittedly tasty) salad rolls and be rewarded: The slightly sweet, creamy goat curry ($14.95), packed with peanuts, chilies and onions and served over vermicelli noodles, is pleasantly gamey and tastes good straight from the fridge the next day. There’s also a very spicy bun bo hue ($6.95) that lacks the funky feet smell that wafts from other bowls around town. Got a group? Order a cauldron of fragrant lemongrass broth and spend an hour tossing bits of seafood, meat and vegetables into the pot ($19.95-$29.95). And then go next door and get wasted. KC.

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