Who needs restaurants? I mean, I like eating out as much as the next guy, but the 300-percent markups on glass pours, hour-long waits and price gouging on cheap starters (necessary to make up for Portland’s stinginess) can be just too much to take. Why put myself through that when I could sit in some dark hole like, for example, Nob Hill’s Tanuki (page 34), downing cheap beer and stuffing myself to bursting? Janice Martin, Tanuki’s endlessly opinionated proprietor, goes to great lengths to ensure that no one mistakes her bar for a family-friendly restaurant. The music is loud, there’s usually some terrifying underground anime on the TV and the food is so intensely hot and salty that nondrinkers sometimes find it inedible. Try the tantan, a bowl of funky udon noodles in fiery peanut sauce; the shredded dried squid fried with mayonnaise; or the skewer of chewy, bloody-tasting duck hearts.
Tanuki is an extreme example, but Portland has no shortage of bars that can match the best food to be found at the city’s less booze-centric eateries. Branch (page 10) serves a pot of surprisingly warm pork rillettes that I have actually dreamed about, not to mention some excellent housemade sausage and one hell of a burger. Kir (page 18), a tiny wine bar, turns out big dishes of polenta and gnocchi befitting a much larger kitchen. The soups at Matchbox Lounge (page 23) will warm you up on the chilliest of January nights, and the mac and cheese at C-Bar (page 12) is the equal of even Savoy’s. The cheering crowds at Spirit of 77 (page 34) order cocktail ribs and fried baked potatoes by the bucket, but the pickles and roasted vegetable salad are so good that you’ll forget about the game.
Even as tony restaurants pump out traditional pub food in hopes of luring cash-strapped diners in for a few $12 cocktails, the bars still hold their own. Want a cheeseburger? Bar Bar (page 8) will sell you one made from Cascade Natural beef for $5.50. Want something more exotic? The Victory Bar (page 35) serves a venison patty with blue cheese and fried leeks. On the fried-food front, I’ve yet to find better fried chicken than the salt-soaked thighs at Reel M’ Inn (page 29) or finer wings than the giant plates of Ike’s Vietnamese fish-sauce wings at Whiskey Soda Lounge (page 31). The big, messy sandwiches at Bunk Bar (page 10) obviate the need to stand in line outside the proprietors’ insanely popular daytime shop, but they’re not the only game in town. I could happily live on the pulled-pork sandwich at Migration Brewing (page 23), with an occasional margarita to ward off scurvy. Even good pizza is not the exclusive domain of the restaurant: O’Malley’s (page 24) makes very respectable thin-crust pies in an environment more befitting tepid heaps of jalapeño poppers. Try bacon and caramelized onions; you’ll probably go into immediate cardiac arrest, but you’ll die happy.