We Portlanders aren't afraid to put our money where our mouths are, knowing that fine food is one of the greatest joys of life, and that what we eat affects our health, too. Sadly, though, sometimes we're forced to choose other priorities over line-caught salmon—like, say, rent. But if you know how to play it, you can still partake of Portland's culinary cornucopia without dropping a cent.
Cancel your lunch reservations and head to the Seven Corners New Seasons (1954 SE Division St., 445-2888, 8 am-10 pm daily). The "friendliest store in town" is also the sample-happiest, offering generous portions of themed fresh-cooked treats, like lentil dahl and coconut rice pudding, that can easily be combined to make a meal. They do this every day, but weekends are especially bountiful: On a recent Sunday we found a banquet of exotic fruits, from cherimoya to grilled pineapple. There's always coffee, too. And don't forget to hit the bakery for a morsel of focaccia or cornbread.
Another good bet is Whole Foods downtown (1210 NW Couch St., 774-7711, 8 am-10 pm daily), which seems to encourage snacking with self-serve sampling at the hot-food bar and goodies planted like Easter eggs throughout the store: mini slices of pizza at the pizza oven, baskets of artisanal cookies in the bakery section, glistening slices of fresh fruit in produce. We won't mention the fabulous bulk candy selection, because everyone knows you should never help yourself to the bins without paying.
For a sweet treat, search out bakeries and cafes with high budgets and low traffic flow, where baristas can afford to spend time stocking sample trays. The folks at Three Lions Bakery (1323 NW 23rd Ave., 224-9506, 7 am-3:30 pm daily), in particular, seem to have more time and cake than they know what to do with. Plus, the lemon white-chocolate-chip cookies are the perfect size to satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping your wallet—not you—fat.
If hunger strikes at the mall, stroll through the food court at either Lloyd Center or Pioneer Place, where employees hold out glistening bites of barbecue/teriyaki/sweet 'n' sour/ethnic-flavor-du-jour chicken on little toothpicks, like expectant debutantes whispering, "Pick me!" Grab a handful of cookie chunks from Paradise Bakery and call it lunch. If you're really hungry, do another lap. Just pretend you're at a cocktail party.
And, hey, if all this generosity inspires you to give, drop by Legacy Good Sam (1015 NW 22nd Ave., 413-7711) to donate a pint of blood and receive a free cookie and glass of juice.
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Introduction: Cheap Eats 2007.
The Perfect Portland Takeout Place: Build your own four-star meal.
Hot Chefs, Cheap Eats: Where the pros eat cheap.
Breakfast and Brunch: Five faves with estimated wait times.
Pizza Places: The holy 'za on your terms.
Square Deals: Dirt cheap eats.
Free Eats: Partake of Portland's culinary cornucopia without dropping a cent.
Restaurant Listings: From A to M
Restaurant Listings: From N to Z