Whether you’re new to Portland or are considering relocating, you’re likely already aware that Portland is a bit of a food town. As you consider your own potential Portland gastronomic experiences, you’ve probably come across a few standard recommendations when chatting with locals or on various online sites. Names like Voodoo Donuts, Doug Fir, Pok-Pok, Jake’s, Southpark, ToroBravo and Langbaan have likely popped up multiple times. While these have earned the recommendation and recognition, there’s definitely more to explore outside the core downtown area or trendy spots such as the Pearl District or Nob Hill (NW 23rd). As a new culinary adventurer in Portland, you have the chance to discover the many pockets of the city where food pioneers have setup shop. It’s a tasty task, if you choose to accept the mission!

The beauty of Portland proper is that most neighborhoods are pretty accessible via mass transit, bike, foot or car, so you don’t have to mount a massive expedition to get there. Depending on the neighborhood you choose to plant your Portland roots, you may have some top choices right around the corner. Outlying areas of the Portland-metro area may take a bit of effort to get to (just don’t attempt it during heavy commute times!), but you’ll likely come across some great options east and west of the city, as well.

We’re providing a snapshot of some of these lesser-known “hidden gems” that litter various neighborhoods on both sides of the river. We’re leaving food carts out of the mix this time. Portland’s food cart culture deserves its own attention and, quite frankly, there are just too many of them! Our selections are random and, again, are just a sampling of what’s out there. They may be new. They may have once been a Portland standard, but fell off the radar. Some are fun and quirky. Some may even be local chains. Some may be chosen for the experience as much as the food & drink. Some may not be to your own personal tastes. That’s the beauty of Portland’s food scene – there’s something for everyone. You just need to get out there and find your favorites!

{Listed in no particular order of preference}

Sapphire Hotel

5008 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97215  

The Sapphire Hotel had a somewhat salacious start back in the 1900s when sailors and travelers would stay for a week, a night or just an hour to visit with the resident ladies of the night. Musicians and gypsies were also known to stay at the bawdy brothel. It has since transformed into a truly unique place to gather, with original drinks and fresh, vibrant food ranging from small plates to full entrees. Their impressive happy hour is a good time to go and experience what the Sapphire Hotel has to offer. Ladies of the night are no longer part of the service, but their catalog of liquors won’t disappoint. Their online menu also offers a glossary of some of the more obscure liquors and ingredients so you can educate yourself before you arrive.

Blackheart PDX

2411 SE Belmont St. Portland, OR 97214

Cool & eclectic and a bit of punk in Portland, Blackheart PDX’s funky interior leads into an equally funky menu. Known primarily for their brunch selections, there are additional menu items available after 4PM. Start off with an Agent Orange or Crimson + Clover from their drink menu. Their food selections come with a decidedly Southern-twist, with plenty of meaty options to satisfy any carnivore. But, they also have vegetarian and vegan options, so everyone can tag along and be completely satisfied. The staff is fun and engaging, if a bit irreverent. They have outdoor seating for the warmer months, which comes in handy as the interior is a bit on the small side. Advice: Go early, especially on the weekends. Be prepared for a bit of a wait and the attentive staff will let you know if you shouldn’t linger. Maybe to alleviate the overcrowding, Blackheart PDX recently became one of the many to offer online ordering. Still if you want to get your punk on, definitely take the time to eat at the restaurant.

Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB)

Multiple locations around Portland

Yes, HUB is yet another Northwest brewpub, but it’s so quintessentially Portland! They’re environmentally conscious and very involved in their community. The good news is that they also produce some great beer and have a food menu that goes above and beyond your typical pub grub. Prices are fairly reasonable. They have a kid-friendly setup if the little ones need to tag along. Their happy hour includes everything from pretzel sticks to kale chips. Hard liquor is available for the non-beer drinkers, with plenty of non-alcoholic options as well. Their location on SE Powell has plenty of restaurant and bar seating, with the full menu available in both. You can also grab a growler before you head out. HUB is a great go-to for an evening meet-up, or even a business lunch. Staff members are friendly and are happy to make beer recommendations if you’re open to trying something new.

Limelight

6708 SE Milwaukie Ave. Portland, OR 97202

Limelight is so old school they don’t even have an official website. They do, however, have great drinks and the food is pretty fabulous and fancy for such a fair price. Outdoor seating is fun the summer as you can watch the hustle and bustle of the Westmoreland area. Some may consider the bar side, with its pool tables and TVs, a bit of a dive, but that’s really part of its charm. The restaurant side has your more traditional tables and booths. Wherever you land at the Limelight, don’t expect anything upscale other than some of the food choices. While others are seeking out trendier and more expensive options in Sellwood, sneak into the Limelight!

The Richmond Bar

3203 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202

The Richmond Bar is another example of creative drinks and innovative food coming together in one location. The ingredients make all the difference. Poutine and hand pies are two featured items, but you can also have a beet salad or lamb meatball sub. If you’re a night owl, they have a pretty robust late night menu with more than just leftover fries and a bowl of peanuts. Mac and cheese or cheese & toast (warm brie on toast with rhubarb marmalade & citrus salad for only $6!) are just a few items to pick from. And the drinks – the names are just as creative as the mixology. Try the Femme Fatale Margarita (tequila, blackberry, creme de violette, triple sec, lime juice) or the Beet Down (gin, beet juice, lime juice, simple). They also have 10 rotating beer taps and a wine selection.

Flipside Bar & Carts

9320 SE Woodstock Blvd Portland, OR  97226

This is kind of the best of both worlds when it comes to the full Portland dining experience. You have a permanent indoor bar that features specialty drinks, beer, sake and local wines, along with a selection of food carts operating on the premises. If your group can’t decide what they want for dinner, Flipside gives you options. Grab your drink inside and then step out to get your food. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. A list of the current food carts is available on their website.

Tin Shed Garden Café

1438 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211

The Tin Shed Garden Café falls on the more spiritual side of Portland eats – think of a real world “Portlandia” restaurant. They compost leftovers. Their beef, chicken and eggs are all free-range (we’re not sure if they all have names or if their lineage can be traced back to a specific farm). They’re also dog-friendly. Of course, this level of commitment leads to some delicious dishes. Their brunch menu was designed to tempt your taste buds. In the mood for something healthy, try the Tim Curry (roasted sweet potato, seasonal greens, broccoli, mushroom, onion, roasted garlic, and organic tofu in a yellow curry sauce topped with avocado, raisins, and peanuts). If it’s your cheat day, go for the Everything Naughty (house-made buttermilk biscuit covered with applewood smoked bacon gravy or rosemary-mushroom gravy, potato cake with sour cream and green onion, scrambled eggs, and your choice of meat: bacon, pork sausage, veggie sausage, or vegan sausage). Lunch is just as impressive with salads and sandwiches. Dogs won’t feel left out - there are menu items for them, as well!

Jim & Patty’s Coffee People

4951 NE Fremont St, Portland 97213

The owners of Jim & Patty’s – oddly enough named Jim & Patty Roberts – have a long and illustrious history in Oregon’s coffee history. Before Starbucks made their entry into the market, Jim & Patty brought their chain of Coffee People shops to Portland, which grew to 25 locations around the country. They’re also responsible for opening one of the first espresso drive-thrus in the nation – Motor Moka. Alas, the battle with corporate giant Starbucks came to an abrupt conclusion with Starbucks purchasing Coffee People (Jim & Patty divested interest in 1998) and closing all retail outlets. A few years later, Jim & Patty opened their first Jim & Patty’s location. The one on Fremont offers the same brews that Coffee People fans remember, as well as unique coffee and tea drinks and an impressive selection of sweet and savory treats to tempt you. Or, get a bag of beans to take home to brew your own. Be prepared for larger crowds on the weekends, but it’s definitely worth the wait. They also have locations in Beaverton, NW Portland and Happy Valley.

Marrakesh

1201 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209

Rich spices and an exotic environment greet patrons of Marrakesh. It’s a slice of Morocco in NW Portland that’s a visual experience as much as one for your taste buds. The prix fixe menu offers several meat and vegetarian entrée selections, with soup, salad, dessert and mint tea included. You can also go whole hog – errr, lamb – with the Mechoui menu option. Mechoui is a whole lamb cooked over a charcoal fire. That is available for eight persons or more with a three day notice. Marrakesh has been a fixture in Portland for 30 years and you should experience it at least once!


There are so many other savory and sweet spots in Portland and the surrounding area that we’ll likely be revisiting this topic. If you’re ready to start your culinary adventure but want to save some money while you explore, look at discount apps/sites like Groupon or Portland Perks. You can also purchase an area Entertainment Book that has a lot of half-off restaurants, attractions and services. Look for schools or non-profits that are selling them as a fundraiser or go online.

Bon Appétit!

header photo (c) thesapphirehotel.com