The secret is out. Over the past several years, people have been flocking to Portland to get a taste of one of the country’s hottest culinary scenes. Whether you’re searching out the best pizza, fried chicken or ramen you’ve ever tasted, want to sate your sweet tooth, or are looking for fine-dining restaurants with artful Pacific Northwest fare, here are the 15 can’t-miss restaurants in PDX
Portland is a serious pizza city. You can get top-notch pies at Ken’s Artisan, Nostrana, Pizza Jerk and Lovely's Fifty Fifty — just to name a few. But for the best slice in the Rose City, head to Apizza Scholls on SE Hawthorne. There’s often a wait, and they sometimes run out of dough at the end of the night. But this “Neo-Neapolitan” style pie is well worth it. A thin, crunchy-tender crust, tangy sauce, high-quality cheeses and minimal toppings combine to make one perfectly balanced pizza. Order a classic Margherita along with a sausage and Mama Lil's peppers, or the Amatriciana with house-cured bacon and red onions.
Best Global BBQ: Pok Pok
Andy Ricker put Portland on the culinary map when he opened Pok Pok in 2006. The chef’s obsession with Thai and Southeast Asian cuisines was born from a backpacking trip in the 80s, and when he settled in Oregon, Ricker made it his mission to show Americans that there’s more to Thai food than just pad Thai. Today there are four locations in PDX, but first-timers should head straight to the original, a house on SE Division. It’s just got a good soul. If there’s a wait, cross the street to the Ricker-owned Whiskey Soda Lounge to get a head start on his legendary sweet-tangy-spicy wings and refreshing vinegar cocktails.
Best Comfort Food: Nong’s Khao Man Gai
If you had to pick the most quintessential Portland dish, it would probably be Nong Poonsukwattana’s khao man gai, a shining example of the “do just one thing right” school of cooking. The Bangkok-born chef came to the U.S. with only 2 suitcases and $70 in her pocket. And when she launched a food cart, there was just one thing on the menu: the oh-so-tender Thai chicken and rice dish that’s served with a fragrant broth of fresh herbs, ginger and garlic. Portlanders started lining up around the block and haven’t stopped since. Decades later, Nong’s retired the truck and moved to two brick-and-mortar restaurants, but her iconic comfort food dish hasn’t changed.
Bonnie Morales’ Kachka is considered one of the best Russian restaurants in the country. So the fact that you can get her famous dumplings for a discount at happy hour is a joyous thing indeed. Order the dumplings filled with pork, beef, veal and onions, or with farmer’s cheese and scallion. Or better yet, both. Wash them down with H.H.-priced beers, Moscow Mules, wines from Croatia and Macedonia, or pints served with shots of infused vodka (try the horseradish), all from $4-7. Best yet: Kachka’s happy hour is available from 4-6 p.m. every day, including weekends.
You don’t even need to look for the street number at this Americana food Mecca. Just keep an eye out for the crowds of people cheerfully sipping mugs of coffee while patiently waiting for their table. Yes, the fried chicken is that good at Screen Door. Classic buttermilk-fried chicken comes piled high on a sweet potato waffle, with a steak knife jauntily piercing the stack. Bite through the shatteringly crispy coating to the juicy interior, and try to recall if you’ve ever had better fried chicken, even in the south.
Best Fine Dining: Beast
Refined but not stuffy: that’s the vibe at Naomi Pomeroy’s intimate fine-dining institution. Get one or two plates into the 6-course tasting menu — which the chef changes every two weeks to showcase the freshest PNW bounty — and you’ll see why she’s racked up so many accolades. (Pomeroy was a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest, and appeared on Top Chef Masters.) She pulls out all the stops with every beautifully composed, sophisticated, and — above all — exceedingly delicious dish.
Portland is known for one particular doughnut shop, where the dough is bedazzled with bracingly-sweet sprinkles, sugar cereals and candies. Forget it. Locals know the best tasting fried dough is at Pip’s on NE Fremont. The made-to-order minis come out of the kitchen piping hot and are immediately drizzled with one of three topping options like honey & sea salt, cinnamon sugar, Nutella or seasonal fruit jams. Order more than you think you’ll want — they’ll disappear fast — along with one of Pip’s many flavors of warming chai.
This unassuming spot in the quiet Mount Tabor neighborhood is the best of both worlds: it’s an ambitious restaurant that still manages to feel like a low-key, friendly, neighborhood spot. In the morning, come for coffee, top-notch pastries, and sourdough toast slathered with ricotta in-season fruit like peaches or blackberries. For lunch, tuck into a chicken pot pie with butternut squash cream and a barley-thyme crust, or a plate of quince-glazed pork ribs. For dinner, take things up a notch with the hyper-seasonal 4- or 7-course tasting menus. Whatever time of day, don’t leave without Coquine’s famous chocolate chip cookies.
Portlandites are grateful this Tokyo-based ramen chain picked their city for its first international outpost. (Turns out that much like the company’s namesake Afuri mountain, nearby Mount Hood creates the ideal type of spring water required to make the best ramen.) Slurp away at tender noodles swimming in one of two citrusy yuzu-based broths, or mix things up with chicken & clam, or the vegan-friendly hazelnut. Also not to be missed: skewers of chicken thigh and yam, chashu pork with potatoes and uni butter, or carrot with chili, scallion and Oregon pinot noir yakitori tare.
Aaron Adams uses only plants — no animal products whatsoever — to craft high-end “horticultural cuisine” at Farm Spirit. Nearly everything on the menu comes from farms less than 100 miles away, and this produce gets the full fancy chef treatment usually given only to meat. Think root vegetables that are cooked sous vide and then pan-seared, or squash transformed into vegan “pastrami.” Alongside your tasting menu, sip Pacific Northwest wines paired with each course, or go for the “temperance pairings” option of juices, kombuchas and other non-alcoholic drinks.
Sushi purists, rejoice! You won’t find cream cheese, jalapenos or spicy mayonnaise masking the flavor of the fish at this refined sushi temple. Chef Cody Auger showcases impeccably fresh fish and seafood with zero distractions. Scan the menu for go-to sushi and sashimi favorites like tako (octopus) maguro (bigeye tuna), and hotate (scallop), and order hand rolls stuffed with amberjack, green onion, cucumber and yuzu, or bigeye tuna, red crab and shiso. And be sure to look for seasonal offerings like Penshell clam or local Oregon Dungeness crab.
Best Brunch: Olympia Provisions
In Stumptown, there’s some serious competition for the title of best brunch, but no place delivers on the perfect combo of hearty, hangover-slaying food, killer cocktails, and good weekend vibes quite like O.P., a Portland brunch O.G. that’s still going strong. Olympia Provisions is salumist Elias Cairo’s love letter to cured meats, so you’ll find lots of shareable charcuterie boards on the menu along with kielbasa, smoked trout, flapjacks, and a knockout eggs Benny. Sriracha-spiked Bloody Marys get garnished with a generous skewer of house-made salami and pickled veggies.
Savory French- and Nordic-inspired dishes like polenta clafoutis with poached egg, Norwegian meatballs with quince, and lefse with citrus-cured gravlax are reason enough to pay a visit to Maurice. But they’re just the prelude to dessert at this charming, self-described “modern pastry luncheonette.” On offer: composed desserts like Black Pepper Cheesecake topped with husk cherries, and airy Lemon Souffle Pudding Cake. Or small-but-decadent bites like cookies, meringues, brioche, tea cakes, truffles and macarons.
When it comes to Italian food, it’s rare for the salads to be just as crave-worthy as the pastas. But that’s just what you’ll find at Ava Gene’s, Joshua McFadden’s Roman-inspired spot on the trendiest stretch of SE Division. After all, the chef is the co-author of the uber-popular cookbook "Six Season: A New Way with Vegetables." His hyper-seasonal veggie dishes are layered with herbs, cheeses, nuts and fruits. And many pastas include seasonal ingredients too: in winter, you might find agnolotti with kabocha squash, brown butter and sage on the menu, or linguine with clams, chiles and Meyer lemon.
Think of this downtown market in the historic Carriage & Baggage building as a Portland sampler platter of local favorites. So whether you’re an indecisive eater or you and your traveling companions have different tastes or food allergies, you’ll all have plenty of delicious options here. Order bibimbap with galbi short ribs at Kim Jong Smokehouse, tapas and Spanish-style rotisserie chicken at Pollo Bravo, all-American cheeseburgers at Bless Your Heart Burgers, fresh-pressed organic juices at Kure, or snag a slice at Checkerboard Pizza. Whatever you (eventually!) decide on, be sure to top it off with a creative soft-serve cone or sundae at Salt & Straw’s Wiz Bang Bar.