We Traveled Up and Down the Columbia in Search of Riverside Dining

Have boat, will eat: Everything tastes better with a river view.

Post up alongside the river in Stevenson, Wash. for a summer meal. (Brian Burk)

Portland rose up around the confluence of two major rivers, but despite all the water everywhere, you’ll find few places on it where you can eat. It’s a missed opportunity. Eating and drinking with the birds chirping and water rushing in the background makes everything taste better.

We traveled up and down the Columbia in search of riverside dining. We found a couple of contenders in Portland and several others along the Columbia’s banks where you can enjoy tremendous river views—and if you’re ready to take up the challenge, paddle or sail to your supper.

Bargeway Pub

1535 Bargeway Road, The Dalles, Ore., 541-370-2345, bargewaypub.com. 11:30 am–close Tuesday–Sunday.

It’s a surprise to find this fantastic spot after winding your way through the industrial westside of Interstate 84 at The Dalles. Built right on the banks of the Columbia River, the Bargeway recently celebrated its fifth birthday with a three-day bash (it’s also an event space and live music venue). The menu covers the gamut of Northwest pub classics—thick burgers, big salads, fish and chips, chicken wings, etc.—but with sharp attention paid to local, seasonal ingredients and a distinctly Asian flair (try the kung pao firecracker calamari). As big supporters of The Dalles community, the owners stock the wares of local microbreweries, wineries, and distillers. The Dalles’ best beach, swim, and boat area is a couple of miles upriver near the marina, but the Bargeway’s incredible water views and friendly service will tempt you to spend more time in the area and the river. (AVB)

Clark and Lewie’s

130 SW Cascade Ave., Stevenson, Wash., 509-219-0097, clarkandlewies.com. 11 am–7 pm Wednesday and Thursday, 11 am–8 pm Friday–Sunday.

Located near beloved Bob’s Beach, one of the windiest spots in the Gorge, Clark and Lewie’s is an ideal place to reward yourself after a day skimming the waves—or trying to. Clark and Lewie’s building dates from 1908 and has a Western saloon ambience. On sunny days, most customers pass through to the pooch-friendly, wind-sheltered riverside patio. The menu makes cheeky nods to famous explorers: Sacagawea chicken strips, a Charbonneau salmon wrap, and a classic Clark burger. Try a buffalo or elk burger and imagine the Northwest before cattle. Clark and Lewie’s is especially popular on Saturdays when the Stevenson Farmers Market is in session next door (10 am–2 pm), and there’s live music at night. (AVB)

The Cove

5731 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, Wash., 360-360-5000, thecovewa.com. 11:30 am–8 pm Sunday–Thursday, 11:30 am–9 pm Friday–Saturday.

The shining and new Vancouver Waterfront on the west side of the Interstate Bridge gets plenty of attention for its myriad dining options, offering expansive views and expensive style. But travel a few miles east and you’ll find The Cove, a restaurant so enmeshed in the Columbia River that its website provides a link for making a boat slip reservation. If you’re paddling a smaller craft, go rogue and pull it up along the bank. Inside The Cove, lots of glass means there’s not a bad seat for admiring the river scene. Cheerful and patient staff walk you through the massive menu (there’s a heavy emphasis on pescatarian options). We recommend visiting during the 2-to-5 pm social hour to take advantage of the killer afternoon views and prices. A $5 shrimp taco, $10 bay shrimp fondue, or $12 bowl of steamed clams or burger paired with a discounted adult beverage can make the perfect fuel for a gentle paddle. (AVB)

The Deck

2901 NE Marine Drive, Portland, Ore., 503-283-6444, thedeckpdx.com. 9 am–7 pm daily, for the season.

The second the Pacific Northwest sun comes out, the town leans in. At The Deck, crowds of families bunch by the host, waiting for a table, their cheeks and shoulders lightly flushed by the welcome sunshine. People jump into the Columbia, yelping at the still-cool temperatures. The air is tangled with heat and a slight breeze rolling off the water and the smell of gasoline (but not from you eco-friendly paddleboarders and kayakers). Once you get that coveted table, note that the outside patio seating can be a little rocky, so if you’re not one for the bumps, wait long enough to grab a seat inside. The menu is simple and expected for a summery fun spot on the water—try the halibut bites, a few small fillets with a side of fries. If you plan to paddle over, remember to enter at the marina that’s downstream from the restaurant. The Deck’s only open for the sunny season, so get there before it’s gone. (RB)

Try the fish tacos at Island Cafe. (Whitney McPhie)

Island Cafe

250 NE Tomahawk Island Drive, #22, Portland, Ore., 503-283-0362, islandcafepdx.com. 11 am–9 pm daily, for the season.

Craving an island getaway but don’t have the means to actually get away? On Hayden Island, the Island Cafe will transport you to beachy vibes. The seasonal restaurant’s been floating on the Columbia River since 1989, offering fruity cocktails and fish dishes with a laid-back tropical ambience—thatched sunbrellas, tiki and patio lights, leis dangling over the bar lined with bottles, and an old captain’s wheel mounted in the center like a star. The halibut tacos are big with a thick batter and soft shells, with a side of mango salsa and crispy tri-colored chips. The no-frills vibe at the cafe—rolls of paper towels on the tables, fearless birds hopping around your feet—makes the place even more endearing. For those arriving by water, there’s a dock to tie up your water steed of choice. If you’re looking for an easy ride on a paddle board before you dine, launch just down the road at Lotus Isle Park. You might feel the slight lilt of the water under your feet on the floating deck, or maybe you’re just sinking into island time. Either way, it’s good. (RB)

If you feel the deck moving below your feet at Island Cafe, you might just be sinking into island time. (Whitney McPhie)

Puffin Cafe

14 S A St., Washougal, Wash., 360-335-1522, puffincafe.com. 11 am–sunset daily.

Floating within the Port of Camas-Washougal, with a plate of calamari tacos, a Calypso burger, or a jerk chicken sandwich in front of you and a salty dog, sea breeze, or fuzzy navel in hand, you’ll almost forget you didn’t make it to the tropics this year. Family owned and operated since 2002, the vibrantly colored and amusingly decorated Puffin Cafe serves Caribbean-inspired cuisine and drink all year round. Even the indoor tables have views of the water and the marina. If you’re arriving from the water, there’s plenty of room to tie up your boat or beach it nearby. (AVB)

Admire river traffic at Coffee Girl. (Audrey Van Buskirk)

Coffee Girl

100 39th St., Astoria, Ore., 503-325-6900, thecoffeegirl.com. 7 am–3 pm Monday–Friday, 8 am–3 pm Saturday.

Located on a pier jutting into the Columbia, on the edge of the West’s oldest cannery building, most people reach Coffee Girl by driving over a rickety-feeling dock. But however you get to Pier 39, at Coffee Girl, you’ll discover some of the Northwest’s finest espresso drinks, terrific baked goods, and light breakfasts and lunches. The daily quiche and soup are made in-house and are universally delicious. The lox bagel with Scandinavian-style marinated cucumbers is worth the drive from Portland. Cozy indoor seating is available for dreary days, but unless it’s pouring, aim for the outside tables on the water’s edge. If you arrive too late for coffee, try The Vineside (thevineside.com), a sweet wine bar on the other side of the building. (AVB)

This story is part of Oregon Summer Magazine, Willamette Week’s annual guide to the summer months, this year focused along the Columbia River. It is free and can be found all over Portland beginning Monday, July 1st, 2024. Find a copy at one of the locations noted on this map before they all get picked up! Read more from Oregon Summer magazine online here.

Oregon Summer Magazine

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