If you want to know a good, cheap place to grub, ask the people who spend 12 or 14 hours a day stuck in a kitchen. When you're clockin' that many hours at a stovetop, you have little patience for anything but the most high-quality, low-cost feasts during your meager off hours. For nearly a decade, WW has been trackin' down some of the most gifted chefs and restaurant owners in Portland to find out exactly how they fill their bellies on a budget. This year? It's all about sloppy sandwiches, dim sum and crackly, fatty chicken skin (it's only a buck!).
[Jenn Louis says:] We're not fancy people—I wear Dickies every day when I'm not at work. Sunday is the day where we get to sleep in. We go to
in Chinatown. We're creatures of habit; we get the same thing all the time. There are these great bowls of soup—it's like $5 for a huge bowl. David likes noodles—I don't—so he gets thin-egg-noodle ramen and Chinese dumplings with mushrooms, shrimp and pork. It's awesome. I get soup with dumplings and bok choy. They have this really great chile condiment, too. I'm like, "Let's split a bowl," and David says, "No, I need my own." And then we each only end up eating half anyway.
Also, there's a little cart downtown called the Swamp Shack (Southwest 5th Avenue and Stark Street, 225-281-4675), run by Trey [Corkern]. He's from New Orleans and a super lovely guy. The food's fantastic. I'm into everything there. David loves the crawfish pie ($3) and the jambalaya ($6). And the red beans and rice. We're big Ristretto Roasters (3808 N Williams Ave., 288-8667) junkies, too. I'm not even a coffee-shop gal, but I like going in for a coffee and [Grand Central] toast with jam (rotating flavors like peach raspberry, apple butter and cherry, $2.50). Everyone loves their toast. It's like a non-alcoholic daytime bar. Oh, and we love Helvetia Tavern (10275 NW Helvetia Road, Hillsboro, 647-5286). Great food, great guy [owner Michael Lampros], love the burgers ($4.25-$8.25). Just love sitting out on the back porch in the summer. I just get a simple cheeseburger. I love burgers, I love meat. I couldn't care less about the bun. I just want the meat.
Things I'm obsessed with? I like picking up the meatball hero ($8) at
—I gotta get it every time. It's sloppy, that's the appeal. I don't go
cheap. I've turned [my wife] into a food snob. Being in the food business and knowing how much food costs…if somebody is selling a bowl of lamb for $5, you wonder where it comes from. I like
—they have awesome food
beer. I get the burger with blue cheese and Cajun fries ($9.50). I just discovered
I've had their lasagna and pasta dishes ($8). I like the authenticity of the pasta. And they've got great takeout stuff—frozen dishes you can cook at home ($15-$20, take-and-bake lasagna for three to four people). I usually cook Indian at home, but I really like
I know they are all about the tandoor, but their curries are amazing ($9 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet). [For home ingredients] I go to
if I need anything Asian. I can find anything weird out there.
I tend to eat at places we're working on. I branch out less than I like to. But I do have some favorites.
has this garlic-and-pork pâté sandwich...most people get the banh mi, but I love this one. It's $2.25 and it's a big sandwich! Only $2.25—it's really,
good. I'm sure lots of people say
—that steamed chicken ($6), it's fantastic. And you can add liver and double the chicken...that's $10. But everybody should be buying the chicken skin, too—it's a buck! You gotta ask her for it. She fries the chicken skin around 11 am and it's great, it has a lot of texture and flavor, like cracklins.
gets addicted to it.
I'm kind of ashamed to admit it: Recently I had friends in from out of town and we went to Montage (301 SE Morrison St., 234-1324). I mean, the service isn't good; the kitchen looks like it's openly violating health codes. But the mac and cheese is good. It's good in the same way sour-cream-and-onion Pringles are good. We had the rock-shrimp mac and cheese. I took a bite and thought, "Oh shit, this is really good." I felt guilty for being a food dick. They've got a good formula—it tastes like garlic, Velveeta and heavy cream. It could win a white trash award.
FULL MEAL DEAL: Metrovino's Gregory Denton says he always adds a fried egg to his fave Fuller's lunch: ham and turkey on housemade white bread. IMAGE: Darryl James
I'm a big sandwich fan. I really like to go to
—it's a diner in the Pearl District. I get the turkey and ham sandwich ($6.25) and get a fried over-medium egg ($1 extra) put in it. They make their own bread there, and I get the white bread—not toasted or grilled or griddled. It's so simple and it reminds me of the sandwiches I'd eat when I was growing up. I get a side of their hashbrowns ($3) too. They are super hot and crispy. Also, it's always quick service—really efficient.
On days off, I like to go to Nicholas (318 SE Grand Ave., 235-5123). You can get a mezza platter for one ($8.75) and it feeds two people. Get the chicken kebabs ($9) and they give you a huge thing of rice with it. And there's no alcohol, so it's always cheaper. [Laughs.] Lots of places are cheap until you start drinking.
On Sundays, I go to Wong's King (8733 SE Division St., 788-8883. Dim sum 10 am-3 pm Monday-Friday, 9:30 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday) for dim sum. It's a hangover cure, in my opinion. You just load up—you always think it's gonna be $80 and it's like $35 total for everybody. The [dim sum cart] ladies don't have time for questions or answers, it's business. Just go, "I'll take that, and that!" until you're full. The Shanghai soup dumplings ($4.50) are so good. And the short ribs ($3.50)—they add a lot of black pepper and braise the heck out of them. I swear they taste like foie gras. And lunch? Red Onion (1123 NW 23rd Ave., 208-2634). Their lunch specials are $7.50-$10 and it's a mountain of food. I love the fact they have that traditional-Thai-dish menu that says "no sendbacks" on it. They had this fried snapper with pepper oil and green peppercorns ($14) that was so good—crispy, spicy and with a little bit of sweetness. They also have angel wings ($7)—they stuff chicken wings with pork. So good. Also, everything comes out rippin' hot. I really appreciate that.
Contrary to popular belief, there is great grub on the west side. One of our favorites is the lunch buffet at
It's $7.95 for all you can eat. Normally I'm not into buffets, but Indian food holds well in a steam table so the quality is excellent. I'm a vegetarian, so there are always great choices for me.
Another not-well-known place in Beaverton is Ava Roasteria (4655 SW Hall Blvd., Beaverton, 641-7270). I don't know what they do to their coffee, but it is out of this world and the building is amazing. They must have spent a fortune on their waterfalls and river that surrounds the building. They have an outdoor fire pit so you can sit outside earlier in the year. It's right next to the market site.
Lastly, there is a bento place in a nondescript strip mall on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway called Tokyo Grill (6551 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, 595-3260). Everyone around here loves it. For $5.95 you get a "mountain" of chicken. Apparently bang for the buck is the attraction. I think my son lives on it when he isn't eating at my house.
Jeez. I like the
If I see the truck and am hungry, I'll go. (Sorry, I don't have enough time to follow the truck around.) I like the pork-belly taco ($2)—it's good. And I'm kind of a sucker for the ceviche ($7.50) at
They have Taco Tuesdays (50 cents off regular taco price), and that's my day off, so I always get a fish taco and a special taco (last time it was beef tongue), and I always get the
something spicy. By my house I get a slice with my kid and my girl at
I get some sort of vegetarian slice ($3.50) so we can share. I'm usually one of the guys who doesn't eat crust on pizza, but their crust is perfect: crunchy and not doughy, and still has flavor on the edges. We also go to
and get the spicy squid salad ($9.50)—that's a craver I pick up and bring home.
BAR BACK: Pastry chef Kristen Murray sips a glass of red at Kir Wine Bar. IMAGE: Darryl James
My favorite inexpensive food and wine? I adore
I always get the brandade and mussels (around $10). And I've been going to a new place on North Mississippi called
—they have really delicious noodles. I get the prawns with rice noodles ($9) and this great Tom Yum cocktail ($8) with kaffir lime and chiles. Does
gravlax BLT ($9.50, "Broder Club") count? I love that it's got the avocado, bacon, tomatoes
gravlax. And I really like the housemade pastas ($10-$15) at
I feel like a lot of people don't know about that place. Plus, their bresaola ($10) is really yummy—it's got lots of arugula. Dessert? Well, the best dessert cart is the
I love what [owner Kir Jensen] does there. And the flight of the drinking chocolates at
—it's $2 [per shot] for an amazing tasting that will set you off for a bit, much better than coffee. I'm getting hungry just thinking of all this....