Nationally renowned among food enthusiasts, Portland's restaurant scene boasts such a large variety of eateries that choosing can daunt even the fearless. This list comprises 10 of Portland's best restaurants, each making the cut for that special something, be it atmosphere, happy hour menu, traditions, or creative flair. Let this guide help you savor the flavors of the Rose city.
Best Drinks: Vault Martini Bar
Located in Portland's Pearl district, Vault Martini bar has a modern yet relaxed ambiance with a notable Tsarist Russia decor influence. The dark, urban venue is equipped with a cozy fireplace and an 18-foot ice-glass bar. It is also within walking distance to many of Portland's best restaurants.
The themed drink and food menu is quirky with its own personality. Start with the vault's "Incidentals: When a little something is in order." These include various cheese dishes, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed dates with honey sauce, and steak skewers. Or, choose from the other funky food categories: Cooperatives, Three-squares or Decadents.
Above all, Vault Martini bar lives up to its name and serves the best martinis and mixed drinks in town. It is also one of the only places in Portland that discounts all drinks during happy hour. The innovative martini bar uses special ingredients like fresh fruits purees to create vibrant drinks like the Lemon Drop, Orange Drop, or Watermelon Drop. Or order from its "Seven Deadly Sins" drink list which includes the Original Sin, Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth and Wrath. The drink menu also offers a large variety of drops, savories, chocolate and coffee drinks, as well as mojitos and margaritas. Variety and innovation are woven into this local favorite, so shake it up and try Vault Martini bar, where they really shake things up.
- Hours: Monday through Wednesday: 4pm to 1am, Thursday through Saturday: 4pm to 2am, Sunday: 1pm to 10pm
- Location: 226 NW 12th Ave. (pearl district, northwest Portland, cross streets: 12th and Davis. Main entrance off of 12th Street)
- Phone: 503-224-4909
- Website: www.vault-martini.com
Best Chef: Higgins
Greg Higgins of Higgins Restaurant is easily one of the most renowned chefs of Northwest cuisine. Chef Higgins has drawn his inspiration from classic French bistros, combining Pacific Northwest ingredients with traditional French cooking techniques. The restaurant's décor includes ornate ceilings, wood floors, and a marble and granite countertop.
Chef Higgins seeks to make the preparation of food a community affair, maintaining an open kitchen that showcases the chefs and gives restaurant guests an opportunity to watch the action.
Chef Higgins uses rare ingredients like wild salmon and huckleberries, pairing it with some of the finest local wines. The authentic Northwest-specific cuisine is embedded with sophisticated flavors and presentation. The restaurant is also devoted to supporting sustainable farming techniques and uses only the highest-quality ingredients from local organic producers.
The famous chef has also collaborated on several cookbooks and appeared on television programs like Martha Stewart, 'What's Cooking' and 'Healthy Eating.'
- Hours: Monday through Friday: 11:30am to 12am, Saturday and Sunday: 4pm to 12am
- Location: 1239 SW Broadway, Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-222-9070
- Website: higgins.ypguides.net
Best History and After-Hours: Huber's
Huber's, established in 1879, was originally called the 'The Bureau Saloon' and located on the corner of First and Alder. Frank Huber took the restaurant's reigns in 1911, changed the name, and moved it to a new location. Its new home was and still is the historic Oregon Pioneer Building, which features a massive dome-shaped stained glass ceiling.
Huber's specializes in comfort food like its traditional turkey dinner. It also offers prime selections of Angus beef, fresh seafood, salads and pasta dishes. If you're looking for something to pick up on the run, try one of this restaurant's boxed lunches where you can choose from a large variety of sandwiches to be packed with bottled water, coleslaw and potato chips.
If time is pressed and you only have a minute, stop in to Huber's bar for its signature drink, Spanish coffee. First invented in 1970, this drink is sweet and spicy. A sugared rim glass houses a mixture of Bacardi 151, Bols Triple Sec, Kahlua, coffee and is topped with whipped cream and a hint of nutmeg. The flaming drink is so popular that Huber's has become the biggest user by an independent restaurant of Kahlua in the U.S. Drinking one of Huber's Spanish coffees is like drinking up a small taste of Portland's history.
- Hours: Lunch: Monday through Saturday: 11:30am to 4pm; Dinner: Sunday through Thursday: 4pm to 10pm, Friday and Saturday: 4pm to 11pm; Bar open for cocktails: Monday through Thursday: open until 12am, Friday and Saturday: open until 1am
- Location: 411 SW 3rd Ave., Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-228-5686
- Metro: Oak/SW 1st Ave MAX Station
- Website: www.hubers.com
Best Restaurant with a View: Chart-house
Chart-house in Portland may be one of 27 spread throughout the United States, but this is no ordinary chain restaurant! Located on the historic Terwilliger Blvd., the Chart-house showcases views of the Willamette River, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams with its floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows. The monstrous windows make guests feels as though they're dining outdoors.
Chart-house is an old standard but serves creative cuisine, specific to each of its locations, with an exotic twist. Between the cuisine and the setting, the Chart-house exudes an authentic Northwest feeling. Juicy steaks and fresh seafood may tempt you to lick your plate, but make sure to leave room for dessert and splurge on the Mud Pie or Hot Chocolate Lava Cake. They are sheer ecstasy.
- Hours: Lunch: Monday through Friday: 11:30am to 2pm; Dinner: Monday through Thursday: 5pm to 9:30pm, Friday and Saturday: 5pm to 10pm, Sunday: 5pm to 9pm
- Location: 5700 SW Terwilliger, Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-246-6963
- Website: www.chart-house.com
Best Happy Hour: Portland City Grill
Portland City Grill ranks high among many Portlanders' favorite happy hour spots in the city, offering far more than your standard fair of spinach dip and wings.While this elegant happy hour doesn't include any drink specials, the food makes it a great deal and a must try, with a menu that features gourmet selections like blackened tuna, chicken satay and soba noodle salad.
In addition to a hard-to-pass-up happy hour, the restaurant is the tallest building in Portland and provides guests with breathtaking views. Come nightfall, watch the lights illuminate the metro area. The view alone makes Portland City Grill a great place for out-of-towners who are getting their first taste of the rose city.
Dinner can be pricey here, so if you don't want to splurge for dinner, Portland City Grill's happy hour is an excellent way to sample its flavors and feel. Try and get a table by the window for a front row seat to experience Portland's views.
- Hours: Brunch: Sunday: 10am to 2pm; Lunch: Monday through Friday: 11am to 4pm; Dinner: Monday through Thursday: 4pm to 12am, Friday and Saturday: 4pm to 1am, Sunday: 4pm to 11pm
- Happy Hour: Monday through Friday: 4:30pm to 6:30pm & 10pm to 12am, Saturday: 4:30pm to 6:30pm & 10pm to 1am, Sunday: 4pm
- Location: 111 Southwest Fifth Ave., Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-450-0030
- Website: www.portlandcitygrill.com
Best Ethnic Food: Pambiche
Boy does Pambiche have personality! This vibrant Cuban restaurant serves up Cuban cuisine handed down from generations of family recipes. Located in a funky Victorian building on Portland's East 38th Avenue, Pambiche is charming, quaint, warm, and was named Willamette Week's 'Restaurant of the Year 2002.'
At Pambiche, you truly get a taste of the Caribbean. The restaurant offers a variety of traditional Cuban comfort foods in bigger- than-life portions at reasonable prices. Accompany your meal with a tropical mixed drink or Caribbean beer.
While there is a lovely outdoor dining area, consider sitting inside so you don't miss out on Pambiche's bright, happy Cuban ambiance. Pambiche is always crowded and doesn't take reservations, so arrive early and then let this ethic restaurant wow you with its charm!
- Hours: Sunday through Thursday: 7am to 10pm, Friday: 7am to 12am; Breakfast: 7am to 11am on weekdays, Saturday & Sunday: 7am to 2pm; Lunch: 11am to 5pm on wekdays, Saturday & Sunday: 2pm to 5pm; Dinner: 5pm to close nightly
- Location: 2811 NE Glisan, Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-233-0511
- Website: www.pambiche.com
Best Taste of Italy: Piazza Italia
'This is the best Italian food that I've had outside of my mother's table,' according to Piazza Italia fan Renata Pagliaro.
You won't find nouvelle, modern Italian cuisine at this hole in the wall, but rather authentic, hearty Italian, or what is called 'peasant food.' Owned by an Italian family, this traditional restaurant and deli has a devout following and attracts new business daily due to rapidly spreading word of mouth. Because of its growing popularity, expect a line on the weekends and arrive early.
Piazza Italia has become a neighborhood fixture in the heart of Portland's cutting edge Pearl District and even delivers take-out. The food is served in a simple style with the best ingredients. Choose from a variety of salads, breads, pastas and pizzas. Don't forget to try the gelato for dessert!
- Hours: Monday through Saturday: 12pm to 10pm, Sunday: 12pm to 8pm
- Location: 1129 NW Johnson St., Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-478-0619
- Website: www.piazzaportland.com
Best Organic Food: Urban Farmer
Urban Farmer is part of the modern culinary movement serving regional cuisine and employing the 'farm to table' ideology Portland is so well known for. The restaurant gathers the highest quality ingredients from local, organic sources and prepares them in a simple yet innovative fashion.
Urban Farmer's setting is ultra cool. Located in the lobby of the Nines Hotel, its sophisticated décor combines a modern aesthetic with the feel of a restored country farmhouse.
Come spring, you might head to the local farmers markets to buy ingredients for a healthy, organic, home-cooked meal. But when you don't feel like going to all the trouble, yet don't want to sacrifice quality or freshness, try Urban Farmer. It's elegant organic. Although you're eating in the lobby, you feel as though you're outside. The unique ambiance and earthy food make Urban Farmer a culinary gem sure to stimulate your senses.
- Hours: Breakfast: 6am to 11am daily; Lunch: 11am to 4pm daily; Happy hour: Monday through Friday: 4pm to 6pm; Dinner: Sunday through Thursday: 4pm to 11pm, Friday and Saturday: 4pm to 12am, Lounge menu: 3pm to close daily
- Location: 525 SW Morrison St., Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-222-4900
- Website: www.urbanfarmerrestaurant.com
Best Seafood: Jake's Famous Crawfish
Among the nation's creme de la creme of seafood restaurants, Jake's Famous Crawfish has been a favorite in Portland's restaurant scene since it first opened in1892. It offers more than 30 varieties of fish and seafood, and the menu changes daily to accommodate the highest quality freshest catch and cuts of meat.
Jake's unique menu is characterized above all by its wide variety of dishes with a Pacific-Northwest flair. Try local delicacies like the Oregon Dungeness crab, Chinook salmon or Pacific Northwest oysters. If you're looking for a cheap, quick bite, stop by this seafood haven for delicious early evening/late night happy hour selections.
Its antique bar, old city atmosphere, and longstanding history make this restaurant one of the best Portland has to offer. But the deciding factor is simple: when you want good fish, go to Jake's Famous Crawfish. Period.
- Hours: Monday through Thursday: 11:30am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday: 11:30am to 12am, Sunday: 3pm to 10pm
- Location: 401 SW 12th Ave. SW Stark (cross street), Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-226-1419
- Website: www.mccormickandschmicks.com
Best Steakhouse: El Gaucho
With its dim lighting, white tablecloths and theater-like ambiance, this old-school steakhouse is the epitome of elegance. An exposed charcoal grill is the focal point of the restaurant, and chefs incorporate it into a nightly spectacle performed for guests who have come to enjoy El Gaucho's one of a kind dining experience. Latin sounds fill the air. Service is impeccable. Prime Argentinean steaks are available for order.
Delight in tableside preparations of favorites like Caesar Salad, Bananas Foster flambé, flaming swords, and Chateaubriand. At this beloved eatery, no detail is overlooked. From the service, to the atmosphere, to the fruit and nut array served at the end of your meal, El Gaucho is more than a restaurant-it's an experience.
The original El Gaucho opened in Seattle in 1953. After becoming a staple there, El Gaucho opened three more restaurants, two in Washington and one in Portland on March 17, 2000.
- Hours: Monday through Thursday: 5pm to 12am, Friday and Saturday: 5pm to 1am, Sunday: 5pm to 11pm
- Location: 319 SW Broadway, Portland, OR
- Phone: 503-227-8794
- Website: www.elgaucho.com