With so many types of meat stuffed between two slices of bread, indecision at Lardo is inevitable. We'll call it for you—go for the banh mi ($11). It's what owner-chef Rick Gencarelli wanted to make the first day he fired up the grill in his food cart before growing into a brick-and-mortar. Inspired by his love of Vietnamese street food, the sandwich is a spin on the classic with its pork-pickled vegetable essence. Don't forget Lardo's fries ($5-$10). Gencarelli uses Kennebec potatoes (the same kind as In-N-Out) soaked overnight, blanched, fried with herbs and then topped with Parm. JIM MCLAREN.
There's salvation to be found in this hole-in-the-wall pizzeria. The pies ($19-$29), baked quickly in a super-heated electric oven, will save your stomach from bland franchise pies since the speed and temperature help ingredients hang onto their flavors—earthy mushrooms, springy herbs and milky mozzarella. Pizzaiolos shape regionally sourced, naturally leavened wheat dough into 18-inch disks, making each slice as light as a cloud. You can also feed your soul through Scottie's Pay It Forward program that helps others eat even if they can't afford to. JIM MCLAREN.
New Mexican: La Panza Cafe
2425 SE 26th Ave., 503-236-5005, lapanzacafe.com. 11 am-3 pm and 5-9 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-9 pm Saturday-Sunday.
In Portland, it's easy to forget about the sun for half the year, but not inside La Panza. Hidden discreetly off Southeast Division Street behind a Plaid Pantry, the place is a starburst of color, warmth and the inviting aroma of baked chilies. The cuisine is New Mexican—a blend of Spanish, Native American and Mexican cooking styles. Staples include blue corn tortillas, red and green chilies, sopaipillas and posole. For $18, you can get a substantial serving of stacked enchiladas, filled with your choice of meat and smothered with red or green sauce, or both. Plopped down in the small restaurant, across from flaming grills and under myriad colorful flags and murals, you'll feel as if you're lying stomach-down on the sun-warmed sand of a much brighter place. ELISE HERRON.
Vietnamese: Short Round
3963 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-384-2564. Noon-midnight daily.
If you're a trendy young parent who just wants a simple spot to enjoy a banh mi and a beer while the game is on, Short Round is your place. The restaurant is larger than it appears at first glance, with a long line of unfinished plywood booths lining one wall and, along the other, a bar with four TV screens tuned to whatever sporting event happens to be on at the time. Food options are plenty, and include Vietnamese staples like clay pot-braised pork belly and vermicelli noodle bowls. While the décor strains desperately for hipness, the house banh mi ($9) knows not to fix what isn't broken. The sandwich—packed with a choice of meat, crispy carrot, daikon and cucumber, and a housemade sauce that tastes a little like a soy sauce-laden aioli—is a classic sweet and savory delight. Plus, it comes with a side of crispy sweet potato fries that you'll absolutely wish there were more of. ELISE HERRON.
Fried Chicken: Reel M Inn
2430 SE Division St., 503-231-3880. 10 am-2:30 am daily.
Bulldoze the Oregon Theater, demolish every other restaurant and bar on Division, but take away Reel M Inn and, goddamn it, we riot. In a part of town gone numb to development, the fried chicken at this tiny, graffiti-stained, incongruously nautical-themed dive is worth fighting for, at least until someone figures out the mad alchemy that's allowed this place, of all places, to broast the finest birds in the city. It's not like there's an undercover Michelin-star chef in the kitchen, or any kitchen at all—just a deep fryer jammed into a corner behind the bar and manned by whoever happens to be on can-cracking duty. No matter how long you watch that bubbling vat of oil—and if you're waiting on an order, you'll have plenty of time to do so—the secrets never quite reveal themselves. The menu provides some tidbits—the chicken is hand-breaded daily and never sees the inside of a freezer—but it still doesn't explain how Reem M Inn achieves that perfect crispiness-to-succulence ratio each and every time, or how it can keep selling a meal containing a breast, thigh, leg, wing and four big-ass jojos for $11.50. Really, it must just be the same Old Portland juju that's kept the joint standing while practically everything around it has been knocked down and replaced. If and when the wrecking ball tolls for Reel M Inn, expect a chain of regulars to form a human barricade around the exterior. They may take our bars, but they'll never take our chicken. MATTHEW SINGER.
Wildcard (Cuban): Palomar
When it opened last April, in the building on Division with a 70-foot geisha painted on the side, the daiquiri-focused Palomar was said to be inspired both by owner Ricky Gomez's Cuban heritage and his hometown of New Orleans. The three-page cocktail menu is borderline overwhelming. But Palomar is almost as much a restaurant as it is bar, with an additional two pages of sandwiches, salads and plates from former Interurban sous chef Patrick Kille, whom Gomez took to Miami to research the city's Cuban diner cuisine. The Frita Cubana ($10) is the killer of the bunch, a messy, beef and pork chorizo burger covered in fried potato matchsticks, American cheese and onions that channels Carl's Jr. straight into the elite tier of Portland burgers, The Medianoche ($11) is a humbler option—a take on the Cubano that balances savory pork, ham, pickles and mustard with a sweet, pillowy brioche specially baked for Palomar by Fleur de Lis Bakery and grilled flat. WALKER MACMURDO.
Bonus: Stacked Sandwich Shop
These are the kinds of sandwiches you race through and then are disappointed because the experience ended so quickly. Chef-owner Gabe Pascuzzi designs food based on childhood memories—i.e., grilled cheese—and riffs on fine dining. These variations include a Reuben ($12), with turkey that's brined for five days, dried overnight and smoked for up to five hours, or an oxtail French dip ($13.50) and rosemary jus.
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