How to Eat Like a Local When You Live in Portland, OR

Sue Campbell
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Northwest bounty: it’s a phrase coined to try to capture the glories of Northwest cuisine. And in Portland, we take our ample good food fortune very seriously.

Food truck life

Portland is packed with wonderful places to eat. In fact, we’ve even crammed old parking lots full of food carts and dressed them up with tents, string lights, and fire pits to create a warm ambiance not normally associated with food truck scenes in other cities.

The most popular food cart “pods” are located in city core where office workers can pop over during their lunch break and stuff themselves full of culinary delights like wood-fired chicken and crispy potatoes with aji sauce from Chicken and Guns, fabulous hand-pressed to order tortillas from downtown’s Tight Taco, and amazing Korean bibim boxes at Kim Jong Grillin’.

Peak asian cuisine

Speaking of Asian food, Portland’s place on the Pacific rim means we host vibrant immigrant communities from countries including Korea, Japan and Thailand. That means we have a vast array of spectacular Asian cuisine to choose from. In fact, we’re currently in the middle of a “ramen boom.” Some locals make it a point to visit every ramen place in town and hotly debate the merits of each. You should start at Noraneko in Southeast and explore from there.

Of course, sushi is a mainstay. Portland’s Nodoguro is earning a reputation as one of the best sushi restaurants in the country. And, if you can get in (there’s a pretty lengthy waiting list for reservations), you don’t even need to worry about deciding what to order. It’s omakase style, which means you get what the chef thinks you should have.

Not a red herring

There’s also a big eastern European influence on Portland cuisine, with the undisputed heavyweight champion being Kachka, whose most iconic dish is dubbed “Herring under a fur coat.” It’s a beautiful terrine layered with potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, mayo, eggs, and, you guessed it, herring.

Farm-to-table everywhere you go

And, of course, Portland is known for its fervent devotion to local ingredients. Farm-to-table is more the rule than the exception here. Even our fast food places use local ingredients.

If you want to bring the farm to your own table, check out one of nearly fifty farmers markets. The nonprofit Portland Farmers Market operates seven of them, and keeps a handy list of all the others in the metro area. Practically every neighborhood has its own, and several operate year round. Stock up on stand-out local crops like hazelnuts, berries, goat cheese and wine.

Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free friendly

One important thing to know about eating like a local in here: if you’re dining out with a group of friends, there’s going to be a wide range of food restrictions among the diners.

Fear not, Portland has you covered. Whether you’re looking for gluten-free, paleo or vegan, your needs will be met—deliciously. I once was part of a party of diners that included two vegetarians, two folks who were gluten free, two picky kids, and one person who could only eat soft foods due to recent dental work. We all loved our meals at Milwaukie Cafe and Bottle Shop.

Portland is a true food paradise for vegetarians and vegans. Not only does every restaurant have plenty of vegetarian options, there are exclusively vegetarian places everywhere you turn. Current local favorites include Farm Spirit (make a reservation for this par excellence farm-to-table experience) and Harlow, (drop-in, but there’s probably a line).

Bargain bites abound

Of course, like many West Coast cities, housing prices are rising in Portland. If you’re spending all your money on rent, we’ve got you covered in the cheap eats category, too. And without sacrificing flavor. Hit the Eisenhower Bagelhouse in the morning for a $4.75 breakfast sandwich. For lunch, head over to Life of Pie for a $5 personal pizza during their generous happy hour from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (That’s seven hours of happy, people!) Finally, choose dinner from a series of small plate offerings at just $2-$3 bucks a pop at Lúc Lác Vietnamese Kitchen. Try the steak rolls and papaya salad.

Doughnut forget dessert

Lest we forget dessert, you may have heard Portland has a reputation for doughnuts. Insider tip: the locals don’t go to Voodoo. Instead, we grab a delectable gluten free doughnut at Back to Eden Cafe (no, really, they’re amazing), or an artisanal vegan doughnut at Doe Donuts. Because guess what? It’s all made from scratch and heavy on the Northwest bounty.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 20, 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Sue Campbell

Sue Campbell is a Portland-based freelance writer.
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