If you find yourself in the middle of Portland, the best broasted chicken in town can be found at Reel M Inn, a small video poker dive amid the fancy restaurants of Southeast Division Street. On a weeknight, you might run into the brewer from Breakside slathering jojos in hot sauce next to a well-known art critic.
East of I-205, the best broasted chicken comes from a strip-mall video poker dive at Washington Street and 105th Avenue called Sadie Mae's.
It's the same chicken—the two spots have the same owner, supplier and recipe. But very few of the customers are the same—at Sadie Mae's on a recent Friday night, blacks, Asians, whites and Latinos showed up in nearly equal numbers. The clientele is far less diverse on Division Street.
"There are some people who go to both places, but not many," said our bartender, who's worked both spots. "But the way things are going, this is the new that."
Statistics back him up.
People are moving to Portland faster than we can build new apartments, and rents are rising faster here than anywhere else in the country, according to a September study. An economist told The New York Times this month that Portland shouldn't expect that to stop anytime soon.
When the rent gets 2 damn high, people go out to what the kids call "The Numbers." The long-maligned 80ish blocks between I-205 and Gresham are home to many, many strip malls, but the area may also be beginning its own renaissance—think of it as our Oakland. Believe it or not, the area already claims 21 percent of the city's population—only 7,000 fewer than live west of the Willamette River. Home sale prices are now rising faster there than in Portland as a whole.
It's easy to forget that much of what we now call East Portland wasn't even part of the city until the 1980s, when the city began to annex the many neighborhoods between I-205 and Gresham. This came as a disappointment for many in the area. Resentment lingers, and two East Portlanders tried to organize a secession effort in 2014, citing broken promises and neglect by the rest of the city.
And that's all true—East Portland remains underserved by City Hall and by Portland media. We're certainly guilty of some level of neglect in our week-to-week coverage. Sure, we'll hop by our favorite taqueria or our annual Cheap Eats issue, or hit the rail at Pitiful Princess for our Strip Club Guide, but until this issue we hadn't been to the cool hookah nightclub on Powell or the far Northeast location of West Burnside's most notoriously drunken dive bar.
We found the remnants of the area's once-rollicking country scene, a butte that rivals Mount Tabor in its beauty, not to mention Mexican and Russian eateries and old-time corn-dog joints that rival any in town.
East Portland is the future. It's younger, it's more diverse, and it's about to become a lot more central to what we talk about when we talk about Portland. Here's your primer.