Portland has earned its reputation as one of the country’s culinary darlings. For years it’s been luring people from near and far with its delicious mix of scrappy food carts, award-winning fine dining restaurants, and endless choices in between. But with so much good food on offer, it can be a tough task to narrow those options down. So we’ve rounded up the top ten dishes you shouldn’t leave PDX without trying.
Portland boasts so much top-notch fried chicken, you’d swear you were in the south. Screen Door, Pine State Biscuits, and Reel M Inn are longtime favorites, but relative newcomers like Yonder, Hat Yai, Han Oak, and Basilisk are worthy destinations for worshipping at the fried chicken altar.
If you’re driving around the City of Roses on a hot summer day and see a line stretching along Division, Alberta, or NW 23rd Street, chances are it’s a line for Salt & Straw. The scoop shops are famous for creative sweet-savory ice cream combinations like Goat Cheese with Marionberries & Habanero, and Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper (they’ve also got plenty of tasty options for less adventurous palates and those with dietary restrictions). Other standouts for frozen treats are Fifty Licks for similarly inventive ice creams, Whiz Bang Bar for modern soft serve, Pinolo for Italian gelato, Ruby Jewel for ice cream sandwiches, and Eb & Bean for Thai-style rolled ice cream with lots of options for toppings.
Pok Pok's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings
If you came to Portland and could only eat one dish…well, then…that would be really sad. But it would have to be the dish that single-handedly landed the city on the country’s culinary map: the wings at Pok Pok. Not only did these seriously crave-worthy wings earn Asian BBQ master Andy Ricker the eternal love and devotion of Portland locals and create a national frenzy, they helped nab the chef a James Beard Foundation Award to boot. Order the spicy-sticky-sweet Vietnamese fried chicken on-a-bone at Pok Pok’s original location on Southeast Division, its two other locations, or at its sister bar, Whiskey Soda Lounge.
Out of all of the city’s fried dough, which is the most famous? That would be a tie between Voodoo Doughnut’s ever-popular Maple Bacon Bar, or their signature Voodoo Doll, a crude, screaming stick figure with a mini pretzel sticking out of its raspberry jam innards. But locals tend to get their dough fix at one of several Blue Star Donut locations, which turns out excellent cake and yeast doughnuts with colorful and creative glazes made with fresh fruit and herbs. Or they go to Pip’s Original Doughnuts on Northeast Fremont, where they fry up simple, perfect doughnut holes to order, dress them with a few simple topping choices like honey and sea salt, and serve them alongside some seriously good chai.
Ask a group of locals who makes the best pizza in town, and you’re bound to cause an uproar. Apizza Scholls and Ken’s Artisan Pizza are usually the first nominees to be mentioned. One bite of their pies, and you’ll agree they’ve earned their spots at the top of the food chain. But there are several other places in town that have gotten national praise for their fantastic ‘zas, including Nostrana, Oven and Shaker, Pizza Jerk, and Lovely’s Fifty Fifty.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
Nong Poonsukwattana has one of those success stories that’s sure to make you smile. She left Bangkok in 2003 with two suitcases and $70 and opened Nong’s Khao Man Gai food cart in her new hometown of Portland. She served just one thing: a perfected version of the humble dish that’s ubiquitous in Thailand, comprised of tender chicken, expertly seasoned rice, and a highly addictive sauce made with fermented soy beans, garlic, vinegar, ginger, and Thai chilies. Nong recently retired her cart, but now has two brick-and-mortar restaurants on the east and west sides of town.
Maybe it’s the rainy, grey winters, but Portlanders love the comfort and warmth of a dumpling. And honestly…who needs an excuse to eat plump and pillowy packages of dough stuffed with deliciousness? For Siberian Pelmeni stuffed with beef, pork, veal and onions, visit Kachka, or its sister restaurant, Kachinka. Want to tuck into some piping-hot soup dumplings? Head to XLB or Shandong. Han Oak’s pretty parcels stuffed with pork and chives (or pork and kimchi) are instant happiness. Or get fancy with Canard’s foie gras dumplings with strawberry, mole, and Marcona almond.
Coquine’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Come to Coquine for breakfast (the ricotta toast with seasonal fruit), mid-day (the Lunch for Two deal, which comes with a half-bottle of wine), or dinner (a la carte pastas or four- and seven-course tasting menus). But no matter what meal you’re there for, don’t leave without snagging one (or one dozen) of their signature chocolate chip cookies. They might just be the best you’ve ever tried.
Food Cart Finds
Portland is famous for its restaurants on wheels. And there are hundreds of them, specializing in everything from vegan to Viking food. You’ll spot food cart “pods” all over the city: walk around and check out the menus before deciding what to order. There’s a cart for every whim and craving, but a perennial favorite is Kim Jong Grillin, which marries Korean street food classics with Southern BBQ techniques. Start with the pulled pork and cucumber steamed buns, take a breath, and then move on to the bibimbap topped with spare ribs, brisket, or oyster mushrooms.
Pacific Northwest Fish and Shellfish
If you leave Portland without enjoying the abundance of fish and shellfish that only swims in the northern Pacific, were you really even here? For Dungeness crab just plucked out of our icy waters, head downtown to Jake's Famous Crawfish, a Portland institution for over 125 years. Craving something on the half-shell? Visit Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, which has also been going strong for over a century. Never heard of geoduck? (Psst…it’s pronounced “gooey-duck.”) Taste the giant West Coast clam in a refined crudo with seasonal ingredients —think green strawberry relish, grilled shiitake, and strawberry dashi in summer — at the James Beard Award-winning bistro Le Pigeon. Or, try nearly every fish in the sea at Nimblefish’s sushi counter.