Where to Eat Cheap Downtown

Cheap pizza at an expensive hotel, Japanese curry and a Portland food cart classic.

(Christine Dong)

Burgers: Bless Your Heart

126 SW 2nd Ave., 503-719-4221, byhpdx.com. 11 am-9 pm daily.

(Thomas Teal)

Any number of aromas wafting through the gastronomically diverse Pine Street Market can easily turn your head, perhaps rendering a burger one of the less exciting options. But Bless Your Heart's stacked creations are anything but dull. For years, John Gorham's ever-growing restaurant empire has been serving knockout bistro burgers, but this food hall joint veers diner-style, and it's damn near perfect thanks to a mastery of three critical components. First, the patty with a well-seared crust, its crags concealing a juicy center. That's hugged by a pillowy, slightly sweet Martin's potato roll. And finally, the toppings, which aren't an afterthought—from the thick, rich Duke's mayo to tangy housemade pickles. Though the Carolina burger slathered in chili and slaw is the signature menu item, the LL Cool J ($8.95) comes bedecked with all the classics, plus hefty slabs of bacon and a mound of guac so generous it puts most nacho platters to shame. ANDI PREWITT.

Pizza: Chiosco Pizza Window

1355 SW 2nd Ave., 503-306-4800. 11 am-7 pm Monday-Friday.

One of the swankiest hotels in town happens to offer substantial slices of pizza for a steal. Though you won't get the sky-high views of the Willamette River and West Hills at Chiosco like you can at the Porter's 16th-story bar, the ground-floor shop does not saddle you with a $16 price tag for a cocktail as they do upstairs. Chiosco, "kiosk" in English, is exactly that—a walk-up window where office workers and other passers-by can grab and go. While other pie makers around Portland are obsessed with Neapolitan-this or Detroit-that, here they bake in the less-buzzed-about Romano style, marked by its rectangular shape and dough that undergoes a four-day, cool-temperature fermentation, resulting in a heartier, chewier crust. On top of that firm foundation you'll find an abundance of ingredients that celebrate the state's natural bounty—from hazelnut pesto to blue cheese—and all slices fall into one of two price columns: $5 or $7. Not on a hurried lunch break? Take your slice to the plush couch in the Porter's sleek lobby and take pleasure in the fact that you bought a beer for $5 at the window while everyone around you paid three bucks more. ANDI PREWITT.

Burritos: Santeria

703 SW Ankeny St., 503-956-7624. 4 pm-midnight Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 4 pm-2 am Monday and Thursday-Saturday.

Sharing a restroom with Portland's oldest strip club is just one of Santeria's many charms. It's a time machine back to delightfully sketchy 1990s Portland, complete with Christmas lights, openly bickering employees and a front door that doesn't quite close all the way. Its signature plates lean toward more traditional Mexican fare—chicken tinga, flautas, a flight of pork tacos called "When Pigs Fly"—but the ground beef burrito also comes correct: orange-greasy hamburger, beans, rice, cheese, pico, iceberg and guacamole in a grilled tortilla. The selection of salsas range from a fruity verde to a metallic, punishing habanero. Go in for happy hour (4-6 pm) on a weekday, and drinks come out fast ($4 wells up to $7 margaritas). Be warned: Even the spicy marg is dangerously sessionable. HEATHER ARNDT ANDERSON

Chinese: Duck House

1968 SW 5th Ave., 971-801-8888, duckhousepdx.com. 11am-2:45 pm and 4-9:30 pm Wednesday-Sunday, 11 am-2:45 pm and 4-8:30 pm Monday.

When it opened in fall 2016, Szechuan restaurant Duck House's mammoth, overwhelming menu hid a secret—it made the best xiao long bao ($12) in town. The soup dumpling game has changed since then, with XLB leveling up and Din Tai Fung bringing people out to the 'burbs, but Duck House's dumplings are still reliably good, offering tender pockets of rich pork broth encased in a light wrapper. Even better are the wontons with chili oil ($10.95), slithery and light and hitting just the right notes between sweet and spicy. Duck House does have a long list of lunch specials and the usual Chinese-American favorites—plus, as the name implies, a killer order-ahead Peking duck meal—but the main draw is everything located in the "dim sum and buns" section. Come with a large group, order everything, and save time for a nap afterward. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

Chicken: Nong’s Khao Man Gai

417 SW 13th Ave., 503-208-2402, khaomangai.com. 10 am-9 pm daily. Second location at 609 SE Ankeny St., Suite C.

(Emily Joan Greene)

If you've never been to Nong's, be sure to read the napkin holder. On it, you'll find illustrated step-by-step directions how to eat the trademark chicken and rice dish ($11). While that may sound like somebody's trying to micromanage your dining experience, the instructions are there to optimize your meal. Start by dousing the mound of glistening poached poultry with the accompanying sauce. That liquid is the game changer that put the original cart on the map and keeps two brick-and-mortar locations—including this cheery, year-old downtown dining room adorned in red paper lanterns—constantly humming with customers. The hand-peeled ginger hits you first with its mouth-warming bite before giving way to a slight sweetness, though the heat gently bursts again thanks to a dose of Thai chilies. After that complex bite, the napkin holder says to scoop a few spoonfuls of incredibly pure chicken broth into your mouth—it'll catch you off guard if you're used to soup of the salty, canned-noodle variety. And before you return to that sauce-coated chicken, eat one of the cucumber coins to refresh your palate. Then repeat. You'll quickly adopt the ritual and won't want it to end. ANDI PREWITT.

Wildcard (Japanese Curry): Kalé

50 SW Pine St., 503-206-4114, kalepdx.com. 11 am-8 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-9 pm Friday-Saturday.

(Christine Dong)

You can keep your vast menus, your sprawling hide-bound dining tomes, your infinitely paginated Cheesecake Factory bills of fare. Give me instead a restaurant that does exactly one thing, with minimal variation, and strives to do it within an inch of perfection. Kalé is a Japanese-owned expression of that country's favorite lunch dish, curry over rice. It offers three kinds ($8.45-$9.25), all served with rice, bright red fukujinzuke pickles and an oversized metal spoon with which to eat it all, as is the style in Japan. The core options include a classic beef curry (bass note, deeply satisfying), veggie curry (a bit lighter, with a hint of vegetal sweetness) or chicken, with heaps of acid amid the curry umami and a creeping, spicy tingle. The dish morphs into something transcendent when covered in cheese, or "Doria" style, available dine-in only for an extra $2. It somehow traps the depth of flavor, and simultaneously amplifies it while morphing the texture into something greater than the sum of its parts. Cheese makes it taste good, is what I'm trying to say. JORDAN MICHELMAN.

Bonus: Mi Mero Mole

32 NW 5th Ave., 971-266-8575, mmmtacospdx.com. 7:30 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 7:30 am-10 pm Friday, noon-10 pm Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday.

Mi Mero Mole is the place to go for one of Portland's most improbably inexpensive soporifics: a 12-ounce beer (get Negra Modelo), a steely shot of Pueblo Viejo blanco tequila and a massive burrito, all for $10. MMM forgoes the usual rice and bean burrito fillers for luxuriantly stewlike guisados (think spicy pot roast) and a sometimes disturbing amount of cheese, each bite as good the best bite of most other burritos.

Where to eat cheap: Central Eastside | Northwest Portland | Outer Northeast Inner Southeast | Inner Northeast | Lower Southeast | Downtown | North Portland | Southwest Portland Portland Suburbs |  Deep Southeast

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