Brunch is for suckers. The obvious appeal of waiting in line to consume a few dollars' worth of ingredients is that it's seemingly a judgment-free zone where drinking before noon is acceptable, but I'm here to tell you, my friends, that a better way exists.
Historically the province of drifters, freaks and boozy third-shifters, the dive-bar breakfast is like a safe haven for those looking to put down some eggs, toast, greasy potatoes and a pint of macro-brewed swill for about what one makes working an hour of unskilled labor. If you prefer the clatter of video lottery and bad classic rock over the din of screaming babies and hungover bros bragging about the previous evening's escapades, a scumbag's life may be for you. And that life begins at 7 in the morning, at your local dive bar.
717 NW 16th Ave., 503-224-0160. Open at 7 am.
Beloved by bikers, Blazers fans, construction workers and bougie Alphabet District dwellers alike, this Slabtown sports dive deserves kudos for the trough of complimentary popcorn, a Big Buck Hunter machine, and cleanish restrooms with doors that actually work. But the real draw is the perfectly portioned, expertly seasoned breakfast special—$6 for eggs, country potatoes, toast and a choice of side meat, served up in the morning with a $1.75 PBR.
The potatoes were crispy and dusted generously with garlic salt, while the sausage links boasted a snappy exterior, melt-in-your-mouth interior and just the right touch of maple flavor. The eggs were firm and resilient under a generous blob of Cholula, and the wheat toast remained crispy in spite of the generous amount of butter applied between slices. You've probably spent an hour in line for brunch that's half as good and twice the price.
2. Marathon Taverna
1735 W Burnside St., 503-224-1341. Open at 7 am.
Greek dive Marathon's famously cheap breakfast special is no secret to the perpetually broke and hungover, but the early-morning scene on West Burnside Street serves as an active deterrent for folks who'd rather pay a few more dollars to avoid getting coughed on by a guy with a shopping cart and a pirate hat. That's a shame—you couldn't cook decent eggs and bacon this quickly in your kitchen even if you devoted your life to it. And at $3 for eggs, toast and bacon or sausage, you also couldn't do it much cheaper.
3. The Trap
3805 SE 52nd Ave., 503-777-6009. Open at 7 am.
At 9 am on a weekday, there was not a single seat available at at this dubiously named FoPo bar. A pair of very drunk men with several empty pint glasses lined with reddish residue made room for me, then proceeded to offer me Fireball three times in the span of 10 minutes because they "liked my hat." "Fifty-five?!" one of them exclaimed when Sammy Hagar's hit blared from the stereo. "Shit, I'm not allowed to drive at all!" Show up for a perfectly average $5 egg-hashbrown-toast-bacon breakfast, and stay for the day drinking until you're middle-aged and confused.
BEST FOOD QUALITY:
15 SE 28th Ave., 503-231-1093. Open at 8 am.
Aside from the cult of day drinkers who frequently take advantage of Holman's $5 whiskey-and-Rainier special, it's a stretch to call this historic Kerns establishment a proper dive. The quick-start special is a whopping $7.95 for two eggs, bacon and hash browns or potatoes O'Brien—definitely the most expensive of the lot—but the quality is thankfully commensurate with the price tag, and the Rainier tallboys are a cool $2.50. The bacon is rightfully celebrated with a peppery finish and a lively snap, and the eggs are probably the closest any place with a video-lottery room and a jukebox full of Foreigner will ever get to what's offered at Tasty n Sons. It ain't cheap, but it sure is is worth it.
5. Tik Tok
3330 SE 82nd Ave., 503-775-9564; 11215 SE Division St., 503-257-6149. Open 24 hours; alcohol sales begin at 7 am.
Tik Tok is less dive bar and more dirtbag Denny's, except people actually drink here until 2:30 am, and could plausibly continue at 7 am when they're done napping in their car. In Tik Tok's $5.95 meal that also includes two eggs and a biscuit or toast, the potatoes O'Brien were the best we had by a wide margin. This may be due in part to the kitchen never actually closing, which makes for an infinite amount of flat-top grease to passively season the spuds.
6. My Father's Place
523 SE Grand Ave., 503-235-5494. Open at 6 am; alcohol sales begin at 7 am.
Just $5.75 for two eggs; hash browns or O'Briens; and a choice of a biscuit, toast or pancakes. Just $2.50 for a pint of PBR or a tallboy of PBR, Hamm's, Olympia or Rainier. This legendary inner-eastside diner is Old Portland's platonic idea of pre-noon power drinking, and the scene is straight out of Serpico, with surly old-schoolers occupying both sides of the bar at the oddest hours. But the $5.75 breakfast special is OK at best. The option to sub in a pancake alongside eggs and O'Briens is respectable, but the flavor was lacking once the sizzle of onion took a backseat to the grease that coated the rest of the meal.
8635 N Lombard St., 503-286-3854. Open at 7 am.
With its ever-present klatch of chain-smokers lazing near the doorway, Slim's scores high on scumbag sabermetrics—but the food was pretty forgettable. The generous heap of country gravy slathered on the hash browns in the $6.25 special is a nice touch, but the lone egg draped over the sausage links was sad and weird. As much as we love country gravy, it feels like cheating. It's also the only salvageable component of Slim's breakfast.
8. The Cheerful Tortoise
1939 SW 6th Ave., 503-224-3377. Open at 7 am.
Our news editor campaigned for this PSU bar's inclusion on account of an alleged $4 breakfast special, but the price went up by a dollar because God hates us. Upgrading to the $5.79 "Viking Platter"—which included a choice of meat with eggs, toast and hash browns—seemed like a no-brainer. But while the ham was pretty good, fighting 20-year-olds for parking to eat breakfast and drink alone doesn't really compute.
9. Nite Hawk Cafe & Lounge
6432 N Interstate Ave., 503-285-7177. Open at 6 am; alcohol sales begin at 7 am.
Don't be fooled by the stylish sign the city bought the Nite Hawk after it tore up North Interstate Avenue to build the MAX line out front—this NoPo roadhouse feels more like the kind of place Clackistanis decked out in Realtree and Ducks gear would flock to on a Friday night than a hip diner within spitting distance of a New Seasons. Two dollars and 25 cents for a 12-ouncer of PBR is highway robbery, and the kale garnish included with our pancakes on the $7.50 special was beyond wrong.
10. Joe's Cellar
1332 NW 21st Ave., 503-223-8825. Open at 7 am.
No amount of cheap eggs and ham steaks covered in flat-top ashes can overcome the lingering pee smell and disorienting windowlessness that makes Joe's what it is. Not to mention, the sad $7.50 breakfast of eggs, toast, hash browns and bacon wasn't even cheap. The food is best ignored unless you show up before 10 and opt for the $3 "working man" special of biscuits and gravy with a coffee.