5 Spots for Amazing Food in Portland
Updated: Jun 28
If you’re from Portland or if you’ve ever visited, you’ll know that we are known for two main things in the past 2 years-no it’s not the rain, it’s our bold individuality and food. Paired together these two make a beautiful match. Portland has really come up in the food world, with chefs from all around the globe moving here to start their next big thing--we will definitely see a shift in this in the coming months, and have unfortunately already started to lose some of the city's favorites. This list is not nearly an exhaustive list, merely a list of 5 delicious and amazing restaurants you should try on your next visit and if you live here and have not tried these restaurants, I hope this guides you to some new favorites. It's a difficult time for restaurants right now but you can show support by buying a gift card or getting to-go orders to show them some love.
Illustration by Vic de Aranzeta
This Basque restaurant focuses on pintxos, or small plates. While not traditional in setting or in dishes, Urdaneta brings in the unique bold flavors of the Basque Country in a refined delicate manner. Their food and cocktails speak to both Western Basque-American sheepherding tradition and contemporary Basque culture. One of my favorite things about entering this tiny gem on Alberta Street is the open kitchen, I love to watch the chefs work their magic in the kitchen--it is quite the sight as they command the jamon iberico and gracefully top a crisp yet tender slice of baguette with a quails egg without breaking the yolk.
Urdaneta's menu is seasonal and constantly rotating, so you won’t ever get bored-if you have a favorite they usually do keep a few ‘staples’ on their menu that they make all year round but with varying ingredients. This is a great place to pop into on one of their slower nights to miss a crowd, though now with Covid-19 they have limited to-go menus. If you see their Basque cheesecake listed is not to be missed, pair that with a Kalimotxo or Picon Punch and you’re set for the evening. If you’re looking for a romantic evening Urdaneta does fit the bill, but only if you’re okay with ‘family style’ dining. Tables are small but the seating is one long bench so you will overhear conversations and get to know your dining neighbors for the evening. While the dishes are small and higher priced than a true Basque pintxo bar, this is one place you won’t feel bad splurging on. The passion can be seen and tasted.
Oh, and if they have the asparagus with ash sauce-order 2 so you can eat them both!
2. Off the Griddle
Off the Griddle is a hugely popular brunch spot in Portland, and we all know how Portland loves its brunch. If you're trying to avoid the crowds an early dinner is best as the brunch crowd typically stays through the normal lunch hour. Right now they have a limited menu and shortened hours after some months of being closed and are dine-out for the time. After not being able to enjoy their epic vegan chorizo burrito for 2 months they at last reopened a few weeks ago and I could enjoy my ritual breakfast burrito with a biscuit and their perfect homemade strawberry jam.
The food is plentiful and you will be full for the day, and maybe even into the next day depending on what you order. Their homemade vegan sausage and cheezes are unlike any other I have had in a plant based restaurant, the flavor is other worldly and the cheeze actually melts, you heard it right, the cheeze melts! Their sausages have a unique combination of spices, but one of the most noticeable is the fennel which gives it its characteristic flavor similar to meat but not so like meat that an ethical vegan would be disgusted. If you haven't tried Off the Griddle, do it now!
3. Farm Spirit
Farm Spirit is a high end vegan set menu restaurant for those looking for avant-garde New American plant based dishes. Owner of Fermenter and Farm Spirit, Aaron Adams, a former Portland hardcore kid, decided to fill the void of high end excellent quality vegan food in 2015. Farm Spirit is a great place for the sustainably minded Portlander, they are hyper vigilant about sourcing locally, sustainably and ethically. They started out doing smaller dishes, but quickly moved into larger portions as they realized sometimes you just want a big delicious meal. If you’re an ethical vegan, on a plant based diet for health reasons, or just interested in trying some high quality, inventive, rustic inspired vegan food-this is a place you must try. Check on their website for updated menus and current pricing particularly during Covid-19.
4. Scottie’s Pizza Parlor
Pizza, it has to happen-pizza has to be on this list. While pizza is not something that Portland is exclusively known for like say, New York, it is something that we have a lot of and are very good at. Portland definitely has its funky slices and odd toppings, but in each neighborhood there is a delicious pizza spot hiding out. Scottie’s Pizza Parlor is one of those places. Nestled at the beginning of Division Street, Scottie’s is tiny, only 5 butts at a time tiny, no seating, grab your paper plate or napkin and eat on the go tiny. If you want an East coast experience and East coast style pizza, Scottie’s is one of the best in town.
Originally Scottie, the owner and pizza chef, was born in Brooklyn and spent some of his adult years in Connecticut, so he knows good pizza. They have slices and whole pies-both with crispy foldable crust with slight charring on the bottom and the right amount of cheese to sauce ratio- Oh and the sauce is delicious, not too acidic, not too sweet. One reason I love this place, and you should too, is they have a “Pay it Forward” system that ensures no one leaves hungry- you can buy an extra slice and they will post a paper on their bulletin board for someone in need to use so they can get a hot slice of pizza. They also donate pizzas to Liberation Literacy and Sisters of the Road, two local organizations that are important to Portland’s community wellbeing. Next time you want a slice, head to Division and grab some Scottie’s-your stomach will feel amazing and so will your heart.
5. Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen
Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen is not your ordinary restaurant; it is one of Portland’s many delicious food carts. I like to say he’s my favorite Uncle. What used to be a food cart located in the St. Johns neighborhood that served meat and vegetarian dishes, transformed into an all vegan cart in Sellwood. After the owner went vegetarian for ethical reasons, he shifted his menu to reflect his beliefs, and he does not disappoint. This is possibly the best Chinese food in Portland, vegetarian or not. I would travel miles to have their delicious Hong Kong Style Pan Fried Noodles (thankfully I live down the street and can walk to this place anytime).
Uncle Tsang's is a hidden gem in Sellwood’s Piknik Park on what I consider a typical Portland street block nearby the Riverside Corral strip club, Green Oasis Marijuana shop, and the New Seasons. Uncle Tsang’s veganizes things that I have never dreamed of using local ingredients and all for under $10 a dish, if you have the willpower you can have enough food for 2 days, usually I eat it all in one sitting. This is the perfect food for your Mad Men marathon when you’re feeling jealous about their New York Chinese food. I suggest heading to Uncle Tsang’s on a weekend or weeknight before 6pm as they sometimes close early, they take a little bit to get your meal together but while you wait you can grab a beer at the vegan beer cart next door!