What's better than burgers and beer?
Our annual Beer Guide dropped this week—look for it at the places below or at your favorite beer bar—and so we decided to give brewpubs their own quarter of the contest. Every spot included in the beerpub bracket makes its own beer.
Taster Martin Cizmar ordered everything medium ("medium medium, exactly medium") and ordered the burger named for the pub or the basic burger. Failing that, he requested the most popular.
Arguably, this is the weakest regional in the competition since Portland breweries famously lag a little behind its other eateries, and none is especially famous for its burger. Still, don't sleep on the handful of elites, especially when they can alley-oop to a nice, juicy IPA.
1. Fat Head's
131 NW 13th Ave., 503-820-7721, fatheadsportland.com. 11:30 am-11 pm Monday-Thursday, 11:30 am-midnight Friday-Saturday, 11:30 am-10 pm Sunday.
Scouting report: A big ol' bacon cheeseburger from a spot that made its bones with food.
Much like the basketball Madness of the month, our selection committee is partial to pedigree. No matter the records, St. Bonaventure gets seeded below Kentucky. And when you have the word "Ohio," associated with your burger, you walk onto the court with respect—Ohioans invented the hamburger, after all.
Unlike every other spot on this list, Fat Head's actually started as a restaurant without plans to make its own beer. The first location was in Pittsburgh, where it sold football-sized sandwiches to the yinzers watching Stillers games.
When Fat Head's expanded to suburban Cleveland, it started making its own beer, and has gone on to win bushels of medals. Its garishly adorned brewpub in the Pearl is the only Western outpost. The beer is great. Last year, when we blind-tasted every IPA made within Portland city limits, it not only took first place, but second as well.
Everything here is supersized—hugely hoppy IPAs, wings smoked before they're fried, and a basic burger ($13.50 with house potato chips) that comes with cheese and bacon on top of 7 ounces of beef. That burger is one of the more restrained offerings, at least compared to one topped with kimchi and a sunny-side-up egg and another topped with pulled-pork chili.
The burger has a very classic feel, with a half-melted slice of American cheese, a big flop of romaine lettuce and a splash of mayo. Unfortunately, on our most recent visit the "medium medium" was way overdone, without a speck of pink. Such mistakes can be overcome in the early rounds, but may doom Fat Head's once the competition gets stiffer.
820 NE Dekum St., 503-719-6475, breakside.com. 11:30 am-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: A half-pound of charred Idaho kobe with Oregon blue cheese.
The Portland beer scene is getting more competitive. The growth of the craft-beer market segment has slowed, while more breweries continue to open—our 2017 Beer Guide covers nearly twice as many spots as we had in the original, 2013 edition.
How to weather this? According to brewmaster Ben Edmunds, part of its strategy involves a focus on its pubs. (A new one opens in Slabtown on March 6.)
A burger is key to the success of any brewpub, and Breakside's is performing like an MVP.
It's $16 with waffle fries, but it's a hulking half-pound of Kobe-style beef from Boise's Snake River Farms that has a beautiful char on the outside. The server didn't ask how we wanted it, and instead brought it out with a perfect pink center. The patty is lathered up with Rogue Smokey Blue cheese.
If we want to nitpick, there are a few subtle problems: The bun could be fresher, the pickles are not quite bright enough, and the stewy caramelized onions get a little lost. But none of these really seems to matter much when it's sitting next to a pint of Breakside IPA.
701 E Burnside St., 503-946-8151, burnsidebrewco.com. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Tuesday, 11 am-11 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: Fry sauce, housemade pickles and a patty that's beautifully caramelized.
Ask people in the beer scene, and they'll argue this might be the best burger in the whole city—though that opinion may date to when it was still seared in duck fat. This 7-year-old pub just east of the Burnside Bridge is known for a top-tier kitchen, which serves everything from chilaquiles to croque madame.
The burger ($13 with fries, soup or salad) has lots of salty-sweet char, almost as if trail mix had been pulverized into micro-fine dust and caramelized onto the outside. The patty sits like a king atop a throne of shaved lettuce. It also has a great pop of milky fry sauce that contrasts with a pop of pickle. If there's any Achilles heel, it's the bun, which is a little too stiff and dry.
304 SE 2nd Ave., 503-718-2337, wayfinder.beer. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11 am-midnight Thursday-Saturday.
Scouting report: The pitmaster of Podnah's Pit does it diner-style.
Wayfinder isn't technically a brewpub—yet. Six months after it cracked its doors, it still hasn't brewed any of its own beer. We put it in the bracket anyway because the menu was designed by Rodney Muirhead, who grew his cart into one of the better barbecue restaurants in town, Podnah's Pit.
Rodney does have a way with dead cows. The house diner burger is a thick half-pound patty cooked on a griddle. Wayfinder doesn't get too cute—it's a simple slab of juicy beef topped with just the right proportions of lettuce, pickles and onion. You have your choice of cheese, and I picked bue.
But the burger's best feature is actually the wonderful bun, which is soft and buttery. Sadly, the patty itself was a little overdone and that blue cheese made it way too salty.
825 N Cook St., 503-265-8002, eclipticbrewing.com. 11 am-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 11 am-9 pm Sunday.
Scouting report: Culinary ambition manifests as a potato bun and pancetta.
Ecliptic owner John Harris is a veteran of the local beer scene, having developed classic recipes while at Deschutes, Full Sail and McMenamins.
When he finally got his own spot off Mississippi Avenue, he had big ambitions for the food, telling both WW and The Oregonian that he hoped to be counted among the 100 best restaurants in town.
It's been a slower climb than expected, but the beer is racking up medals, and the kitchen has rounded into form.
The monster house burger ($14 with fries) is served on a plump potato roll that crushes pleasantly in the fist. It's topped with a lot of aggressive ingredients—pancetta, red onions, melted Gruyere, and Russian dressing—which are applied gently, bringing it into perfect alignment.
Your server doesn't ask how you want the burger done, and mine came out medium-well, a little overcooked for my taste. It's also arguably a little salty thanks to the pancetta and Gruyere. But it's a damned good burger.
2944 SE Powell Blvd., 503-232-4677, hopworksbeer.com. 11 am-11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: A backyard burger befitting an ice-cold lager.
For a bike-themed organic brewery, Hopworks has a thick streak of the traditional. Its flagship beer is a lager, and the burger to pair it with is what you'd expect to find at a backyard barbecue.
The Brewer's Burger is a regular patty on a regular bun with mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion. You have to upgrade if you want cheese, but there's a sauce included, so I got barbecue, which was on the sweet side. The burger had a little pink, and the toppings included a lot of onion and mayo.
7. 10 Barrel
1411 NW Flanders St., 503-224-1700, 10barrel.com. 11 am-11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: Corporate ownership hits the food harder than the beer.
This Bend-born brewery was sold to Anheuser-Busch back in 2014. People who criticize the corporate suds are misguided: Whitney Burnside, the brewer at the pub in the Pearl, is one of the most creative and talented people in local beer.
However, you're fine bashing the burger ($12 with fries or chips) as being a little too Applebee's-y. It's shaped like a patty-cutter and came slightly overdone. It needs more salt and a new bun—this one was dense enough to pass for day-old.
210 NW 11th Ave., 503-296-4906, deschutesbrewery.com. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11 am-11 pm Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: Really knows how to cook a piece of beef.
Why do I order my burgers "medium medium"? Because there's no window for error—it's easy to get away with a blood-drenched medium-rare or a dried-out medium-well, but we all intrinsically understand what a perfect pink medium looks like.
The burger at the Deschutes brewpub in the Pearl ($13 with fries) was the only burger I tried during this project that hit the Platonic ideal, the Double R Ranch beef squirting a light pink juice when squeezed hard.
Unfortunately, it was on a bun that was a little stale and topped with Tillamook cheddar that barely read as cheddar. I also didn't get much flavor from the housemade pickles.
9. Kennedy School (McMenamins)
5736 NE 33rd Ave., 503-249-3983, mcmenamins.com. 7 am-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 7 am-1 am Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: A brioche bun and a little grill time.
Confession: I've been writing about food in this town for going on six years, and until now, I'd never had a burger at McMenamins.
Well, the one at Kennedy School's Courtyard Restaurant ($11.75 with fries or tots) is very nice. It uses Country Natural beef, the brand I tend to prefer, and comes with beautiful grill marks that leave little lines of tangy smoke. It goes onto a really nice brioche bun, with shredded lettuce, pickles and sauce. My only complaint was that it was a tad overcooked.
1620 NW 23rd Ave., 503-894-9374, lompocbrewing.com. 11 am-1 am Monday-Thursday, 11 am-2 am Friday-Saturday, 11 am-midnight Sunday.
Scouting report: Great with mustard, a forgotten play in Portland.
I'm a mustard guy—my favorite burgers, ever, are crisp-edged patties griddled on a flat-top that are adorned simply with mustard, pickles and onions. But Portland is not a mustard town, at least when it comes to burgers.
Well, Lompoc Tavern is the exception, serving up a burger with a nice splatter of yellow and even giving you a squeeze bottle on the side in case you want more.
My burger came upside down, with the toppings on the bottom, and with the huge patty showing the type of smooth edges that suggests some sort of mechanized process. It was way overdone, but I loved the flavor anyway.
11. Great Notion
2204 NE Alberta St., No. 101, 503-548-4491, greatnotionpdx.com. Noon-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, noon-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: Sometimes it play likes Allen Iverson. Other times it also plays like Allen Iverson.
Great Notion's notions tend to be a little crazy. The year-old Alberta Street brewpub is known for wild-fruit sours and the hazy, citrus-drenched IPAs that took the city by storm. One of these, Juice Jr., is named the state's Beer of the Year in our annual Beer Guide, which is on newsstands now.
That spirit extends to the food, especially the Great American Cheeseburger ($12 with waffle fries or salad), which comes standard with pepper bacon, organic American cheese, house ketchup and crispy fried onions.
The Cascade Natural beef was nice and pink, and the bacon was a nice treat on a $12 burger. The big problem was the fried onions, which were way overdone and too chunky, overwhelming everything else inside the bun.
832 N Beech St., 503-703-4516, stormbreakerbrewing.com. 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Monday, 11 am-11 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11 am-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Scouting report: Sometimes, you outsmart yourself.
On paper, this burger from a homey Mississippi patio bar looks like it could be a bracket buster. StormBreaker's most popular offering is the Jucy Lucy ($12 with chips), an invention of the heavily cheesed upper Midwest in which the patty is actually stuffed with fontina to keep it extra moist. For decadence's sake, it's then topped with bacon jam, lettuce, tomato and herbed aioli.
Unfortunately, that bacon jam is a super-sweet concoction that smells like onions covered in burnt sugar, undoing everything going right around it—call it the Steph Curry perimeter defense of Portland burgers.
2828 NE Glisan St., 503-206-5221, migrationbrewing.com. 11 am-midnight Monday-Saturday, 11 am-10 pm Sunday.
Scouting report: Zucchini is the new cucumber.
Migration is about as sportsy as Portland brewpubs get. The next time you're going out to watch a Blazer game, it's highly recommended. The classic burger ($10 with fries) is on super-squishy sesame seed bun that just barely survived intact to the end of the patty. The patty itself is very thin, but still maintained a little pink. There's no cheese, but it was lathered up in a house sauce that juxtaposed nicely with the zucchini pickles.
14. Ex Novo
326 N Flint Ave., 503-894-8251, exnovobrew.com. 3-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 3-11 pm Friday, 11 am-11 pm Saturday, 11 am-10 pm Sunday.
Scouting report: House-ground chuck gets swarmed with pickles and bacon jam.
"Pink or no pink?" the waitress asks. Having just eaten 15 other burgers in quick succession, I took notice of this oddity. "It's the limitations of the kitchen," she says.
I ordered pink, but it wasn't.
Ex Novo's Brewburger ($14 with fries or salad) is an ambitious effort, starting with house-ground beef that's topped with bacon beer jam, smoked Gouda and cardboard-thick slices of pickle.
Those pickles really dominated, giving the whole thing a sourness that combined with the salty Gouda to make a burger that tasted a little like a gose.
6440 SW Capitol Highway, 503-402-1999, sasquatchbrewery.com. 3-10 pm Monday-Thursday, noon-11 pm Friday-Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday.
Scouting report: It's small but mighty, thanks to grass-fed beef.
The name conjures images of the big and hairy, but the grass-fed burger ($11.50) at this busy Hillsdale brewpub shows admirable restraint. It's rather petite by the standards to which I'd become accustomed—a one-hander with an aggressive sauce.
The server didn't inquire about doneness, and instead served it medium-well. The beef was very good, though, and the burger really would have benefited from a little more pink.
16. Rogue Eastside Pilot Pub
928 SE 9th Ave., 503-517-0660, rogue.com. 11 am-11 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11 am-1 am Thursday-Saturday.
Scouting report: When you've got Kobe, you've got a chance.
Rogue defeated Portland Brewing in the play-in round matchup of regional brands with Portland spots.
Rogue's burger is a half-pounder ($13 with chips, fries or tots) made with Kobe-style beef, and has a pleasant gameyness. With typical Rogueishness, the pub calls it the "World's Greatest Burger." (It is not.) It's served on a Pearl Bakery bun, which was dried out by the time we got it just before close, and it's said to have "wasabi mayo" but that didn't read for me.