Where to Eat Cheap in Inner Northeast

Georgian cheese bread, square pizza and holy-shit soul food.

(Christine Dong)

Hot Dogs: Roake’s

1760 NE Lombard Place, 503-289-3557, roakesthehotdogfolks.com. 10 am-6 pm Monday-Friday, 10:30 am-5 pm Saturday. second location at 18109 SE McLoughlin blvd.

Found on a side street along an industrial stretch of Northeast Columbia Boulevard—just look for the purple bikini barista trailer in the parking lot—this is the only other location of a Milwaukie fast-food institution that dates back to 1939. The vibe is both workingman's lunch counter and vacation burger joint, though the specialty is footlong hot dogs with "famous Coney Sauce" ($4.75)—Greek-accented chili à la Detroit and North Jersey. The sauce has a cayenne kick and barely a hint of meat, as it should. The Roaker Burger ($5.65) also comes topped with Coney Sauce, but the traditional deluxe—a standard flat-top patty bathed in special sauce—far eclipses the cheeseburger at a certain semi-virtuous local chain. JASON COHEN.

Pizza: Ranch Pizza

1760 NE Dekum St., 971-288-5187, ranchpdx.com. 11 am-2 pm and 5-10 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am-10 pm Saturday-Sunday. Second location inside Poison's Rainbow, 344 NE 28th Ave.

If too many cheap takeout family dinners in your youth came from Little Caesars and resulted in a grown-up suspicion of square-shaped pizza, we totally understand. But Ranch redeems pies with corners if you give it a chance. The thick Sicilian-/Detroit-style crust with its blackened crunchy sides and doughy middle can handle the substantial additions generously heaped on top. The Number Four ($23), for example, comes with a rich tomato sauce base, crispy balls of sausage, chilies and basil—but you'll be racing to bite your way to the center, where cooling mounds of creamy ricotta lie. This is a dipper's sanctuary where ranch lovers can bathe their slices without shame. And the dressing is divine and housemade with buttermilk, sour cream, green onion and dill. ANDI PREWITT.

Burritos: La Sirenita

2817 NE Alberta St., 503-335-8283. 10:30 am-10 pm Monday-Saturday, 9 am-5 pm Sunday.

With two Mexican restaurants, a tiny grocery, and a doughnut-ice cream shop, the strip of Alberta between 28th and 29th avenues has a striking Old Portland feel compared to other blocks. La Sirenita's $1.50 tacos (asada, pollo, carnitas) and $6.50 burritos can certainly feed nighttime drinkers, but at lunch, it's a restaurant for the neighborhood. The Friday crowd on the afternoon I visited included several construction workers getting a Lent special—fried whole fish. The taco price bumps up a whopping 25 cents (to $1.75) for good-and-spicy al pastor and smoky chicken tinga. The ham and egg burrito exceeds expectations—the sliced meat is griddled to almost baconlike crispiness, the potatoes are perfectly cooked, and the cheese and sour cream make for a perfect molten core. JASON COHEN.

Thai: Hat Yai

1605 NE Killingsworth St., 503-764-9701, hatyaipdx.com, 11:30 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday.

(Christine Dong)

Admiration and demand for Thai food in Portland have surged steadily for more than a decade, but really picked up speed in the past five years or so. In that window, chef Earl Ninsom opened prix fixe Langbaan, where seats are spoken for an astonishing six months out, as well as the more accessible Hat Yai. The fast-casual spot is an excellent reminder that the food in Thailand is regionally diverse—there's a big world out there beyond pad thai. The muu hong ($13) is a big bowl of fatty, creamy indulgence—melty morsels of pork belly peek out from under a fried egg with crispy, curled edges. When you break the yolk, a bed of jasmine rice is ready at the bottom to soak up the sunny liquid. And then there's that fried chicken. Order the crispy-skin leg quarter with tomato soup-colored curry and roti, a buttery fry bread that's a little puffier than a tortilla. It's an extremely affordable, transportive meal to Ninsom's summers in the southern metropolis of Hat Yai. ANDI PREWITT.

BBQ: Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen

3625 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-516-2078, facebook.com/KeesLoadedKitchen. Noon-5 pm Thursday-Saturday, 1-5 pm Sunday. Closes early when sold out.

(Christine Dong)

A "plate" at Kee's #Loaded Kitchen—WW's 2018 Cart of the Year—is a severe misnomer. Are you hungry? For $22, you get enough food for two lunches, plus the better part of dinner. What Kiauna "Kee" Nelson dishes out four times a week is essentially a homestyle tasting menu. On the day I visited, that included chicken strips fresh from the fryer and seasoned with lemon pepper "gold dust" and a massive slab of cheesy, beefy, gooey lasagna. Plus, a mesclun salad with hot sauce dressing, banana pudding with banana cake at the bottom, fresh-baked bread, and limeade. Check Facebook or Instagram (@keesloadedkitchen) to see what's cooking in advance. Seeing the food strain against its clamshell container is a true "holy shit" moment. And Kee's personality is as generous as her food. She teases one regular for not ordering a full plate and mock-shames another into adding salad. "I want to put a couple more strips in here," she said before handing me my container. That made it a dozen, and the lasagna fed three people. #Loaded indeed. JASON COHEN.

Wildcard (Georgian): Kargi Gogo

3039 NE Alberta St., 503-764-9552, kargigogo.com. 11 am-9 pm Wednesday-Sunday.

(Abby Gordon)

The most fun cheese bread in the world is Georgian acharuli khachapuri. Almost like fondue in a bread bowl, it's an open-faced bread boat filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg sunny-side up and a big slab of butter. Khachapuri cheese breads have been trending across America for several years, but they hit Portland back in 2013 via the Kargi Gogo food cart. Owners Sean Fredericks and McKinze Cook closed the cart three years ago, before returning in 2018 with a bright counter-service brick-and-mortar on Alberta. In total, Kargi Gogo makes five stuffed breads, and the three cheese-stuffed versions deserve all the attention. The imeruli khachapuri ($8) hides its sulguni cheese within a buttery bread pastry. A variant ($11) adds spinach and herbs to the mix and is slightly lighter, reminiscent of spanikopita. Rip off a piece of bread and drag it through the liquid cheese—the pillowy texture perfectly captured the incredibly creamy cheese, full of richness and tang. MATTIE JOHN BAMMAN.

Bonus: Akadi

3601 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-477-7138, akadipdx.com, Noon-10 pm daily.

(Christine Dong)

Akadi's dishes will take you to places you've probably never been before. Chef-owner Fatou Ouattara, who moved from the Ivory Coast to attend Portland State University, churns out around 40 vegetarian, seafood and meat dishes from countries throughout West Africa. The national dish of the Ivory Coast, attieke poisson braise ($13.95), has a sweet-tart sauce with a hint of mustard that just might make your eyes roll back into your head.

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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