Welcome to Diner 2013—not a guide to the Portland area’s best restaurants, or even to the best Oregonian-operated diners, but a seven-part series where we ate at seven Portland diners we hadn't been to in a while. Over the next week, we hit standbys where you can get eggs and coffee at a counter early or late in the day. Diner 2013: It's the best name for a series about Portland diners published in 2013.
Nite Hawk Café & Lounge
6423 N Interstate Ave., 285-7177, nitehawk.net
Neighborhood: Arbor Lodge, a tiny sliver of a ‘hood running along the Interstate Avenue MAX tracks, which counts among its few landmarks a new wood-paneled coffee shop, an adult video store described by the Mercury in 2005 as having “the fattest glory holes in town,” and the diner’s awesome, neon-accented sign, which is supposed to be in the shape of a glowering hawk but looks more like an art-deco silhouette of the Muppets’ Sam Eagle.
Vibe: Pure roadside rest stop, right down to the brown vinyl booths and chicken-fried chicken, harking back to the days when Portland was just the place where you got lunch on the way to Seattle. Apparently, when the diner first opened in 1931, you could get your car serviced there and have an apple pie while you waited. The bar side is twice as big as the café side and nearly as nondescript. According to the history printed on the menus, the current owners renovated in 1980, though the place looks like it was preserved in amber and bacon fat in the early ‘50s.
: Really, you have to ask? Red-blooded American comfort food, up and down the menu. Avoid the spaghetti and seafood (again, you shouldn’t have to be told that) and go straight for the good stuff: big-ass chicken tenders with a vat of ranch dressing, and an open-faced roast beef sandwich so smothered in gravy you imagine they must’ve drowned the cow in it, too. Everything tastes vaguely of cigarettes, despite the sign on the door continuing to remind patrons that the diner side is non-smoking, five years after the smoking ban. That’s the way it’s supposed to taste, though. Breakfast is served all day, ‘natch.