The best restaurants in Portland, Oregon: Seven essential places to eat

Kylie McLaughlin
Alberta Street hot spot: Hat Yai's fried chicken wings.
Alberta Street hot spot: Hat Yai's fried chicken wings. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

What do you get when you combine 500 food trucks, one of the world's best food festivals, a slew of microbreweries, an obsession with coffee, and a killer restaurant line-up? A city that ranks among The Washington Post's top 10 food cities in the US.

Portland, Oregon, on the US west coast, attracts gastronomes from across the globe, peaking this year from September 14-17, when the Feast Portland festival fires up with more than 40 food and drink events throughout the city.

But there's a food festival held every month in the city of roses, so any time is a good time for food lovers to visit.

Tusk's hardworking bar staff.
Tusk's hardworking bar staff. Photo: Benji Wagner

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list – there's only so much you can eat on one trip – the following seven restaurants are our current favourites.

Tasty n Alder

Turning breakfast on its head, quite literally, with a tapas menu and full bar that operates first thing on a Monday morning, when, astoundingly, the place is packed to the rafters. This means a solid 40-minute wait before you are seated – at the bar, forget a table – where you can watch the hardest-working bartender in town toil over five kinds of bloody marys for thirsty brunchers.

The food is served "family style" with items such as lemon ricotta pancakes so light and fluffy they threaten to fly off your plate and frittata served in a cast-iron pan but the hit pick is bim bop bacon and eggs, a flavoursome Korean mash-up with crunchy rice, Asian vegetables and hoisin. Pair it with a bloody mary laced with Sriracha and ginger and surely you have a new breakfast of champions.

Nong Poonsukwattana, of Nong's Khao Man Gai.
Nong Poonsukwattana, of Nong's Khao Man Gai. Photo: Supplied

580 SW 12th Avenue, Portland, tastynalder.com

Coquine

"I have groups of Russian tourists coming in. I'm like, why are you here?" Portland chef Katy Millard says in disbelief at the success of her two-year-old destination restaurant. Based at the top of woodsy Mount Tabor, filled with hikers and bikers, Coquine has gained a following among visitors and locals alike, who come to experience refined farm-to-table dining that feels like home.

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The emphasis is on local produce, right down to the crockery supplied by Portland's own Pigeon Toe Ceramics, but perks include warm, friendly service, great cocktails and an excellent wine list courtesy of Millard's sommelier husband Ksandek Podbielski.

Don't leave Coquine without trying the sublime chocolate chip cookies. Salty, smoky and chewy, they may be the best you'll ever have. No exaggeration.

6839 SE Belmont Street, Portland, coquinepdx.com

Frittata at Tasty n Alder.
Frittata at Tasty n Alder. Photo: David Reamer

Pok Pok

Andy Ricker is the reluctantly famous chef behind the chain of Thai restaurants that have popped up throughout Portland and New York. A new branch in Portland's Pearl District may be slicker than the original SE Division site, kitted out like a Thai roadside restaurant, but the food on offer is still the same. That might mean a special of whole branzino (European bass) flown in fresh – not frozen – from Italy with fiddlehead ferns and green beans in a fiery tamarind broth. Khao soi, a Burmese-inspired coconut noodle soup, never disappoints; neither does fragrant, juicy Chiang Mai sausage with kaffir lime. The dessert of durian-flavoured coconut custard with sticky rice in a salty coconut sauce is a successful sweet-savoury blend. Cocktails here are also good.

1639 NW Marshall Street, Portland, pokpokpdx.com

Nong's Khao Man Gai

Famously moving from Bangkok with $70 in her pocket, Nong Poonsukwattana worked in Portland as a line chef at Pok Pok before setting up her own food cart "empire", which now extends to a bricks and mortar restaurant. And it all stems from sublime chicken and rice.

A dish at Tusk restaurant.
A dish at Tusk restaurant. Photo: A.J. Meeker

The restaurant takes all it can from Bangkok – old signage, Thai music, simple wooden benches adorned with fresh flowers, and jars of minced garlic and chilli paste. Watch all the behind-the-scenes action of the large open kitchen.

Choose between chicken – dark or light meat – with Nong's own special sauce – a kicking combination of ginger, soy, rice vinegar and garlic that is so widely adored you can buy it in take-home bottles.There's also an addictive peanut sauce – creamy and full of flavour.

The cocktails are not too sweet. Think tropical-flavoured spirits with kicks of citrus and herb. They're better than some you'll get at twice the price elsewhere in Portland and the perfect accompaniment to the spicy Thai food.

609 SE Ankeny Street, Portland, khaomangai.com

Hat Yai

In a small strip of shops running parallel to vibrant Alberta Street on Killingsworth is one of Portland's hottest new places. Hat Yai, named after a Thai city on the Malaysian border, is a casual no-bookings place, with half-a-dozen tables and a long bar with friendly staff.

It specialises in fried chicken wings served with Malaysian curry and roti. Although the thick massaman curry is tasty, the rich, vinegary sweet chilli sauce is even better, and when matched with crisply fried chicken wings, it's a match made in heaven. Cool the fire with local ginger cider or beer served in glass jars.

1605 NE Killingsworth Street, Portland, hatyaipdx.com

Tusk

Sit back, relax and let one of Portland's top chefs, Sam Smith, take you on a magic carpet ride. Tusk, on the city's hip Eastside, sends out some of the best Middle Eastern food going around. The "feed me" menu is generous – especially at the $50 price point – and includes fluffy pita with hazelnut hummus, vibrant salads with seeds and grains, apricots and dates, and dabs of soft cheese, accompanied by smoky chilli oil. Match with some of Oregon's renowned wines or superb cocktails. For dessert there is soft serve, doughnuts with butterscotch and tahini biscuits.

The space is bright, white, and buzzy, with artistically shaped cacti propped in corners and a huge photo of a young Keith Richards in a pool for those sitting at the bar to ponder.

2448 East Burnside Street, Portland, tuskpdx.com

Ox

Come for the meat, stay for the vegetables. Don't be fooled by the name, nor by the two men turning meat on a massive grill at Ox's entrance – this Argentinian restaurant does vegetables better than almost anyone. Here, the meat is a side to dishes such as maple-glazed carrots with truffle-salted pistachios or asparagus with pecan salsa macha, a decadent nut butter. Order a meaty main to share and many more plates of vegetables.

It's a low-lit pseudo-industrial place, with exposed red brick, green velvet benches and two bars at which to sit – the one around the grill, could be a cosy winter option.

2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, Portland, oxpdx.com

Kylie McLaughlin was a guest of Travel Portland.