Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was once known as Union Avenue, and ironically, its 1989 renaming was one of the most divisive issues in the city's recent history. Some 37,000 people signed petitions to oppose the change, revealing another vein in Portland's long history of secretly nasty race relations. But this neighborhood's hard-earned culture is vital to Portland. If you're hungry, you'll find Ethiopian restaurants that import ingredients from their home country and some of the city's best barbecue. The treasures here are worth finding.
Matt's BBQ, 4709 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Billy Ray's Dive, 2216 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Nike Factory Store, 2650 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Irving Park, Northeast Fremont Street and 7th Avenue.
Queen of Sheba International Foods
2413 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-287-6302, queenofsheba.biz.
Dinner Sunday-Wednesday, lunch and dinner Thursday-Saturday.
The northern section of MLK is home to a vibrant community of East African immigrants, and the restaurant Queen of Sheba was one of the first and best restaurants making the cuisine of that region. Owner Alem Gebrehiwot started his restaurant in 1995, when finding traditional Ethiopian ingredients in Portland was next to impossible. To solve this problem, Gebrehiwot began importing his own grains, spices and teas to make the flavors at work in his berbere lamb and okra stew as close to home as possible. $.
Cedo's Falafel and Gyros
3901 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-719-7344. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday.
The brisk, friendly service and Jerusalem-style falafel sandwich with tabbouleh and hot sauce have created a cult following. Order the falafel plate, which offers fat, golden, crisp-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside falafel on a salad, served with soft, warm slices of pita bread and creamy hummus. $.
Korita Sabor Casero Pupuseria
5800 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-317-9328. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
In building walls and an awning around its food truck, Korita Sabor Casero Pupuseria has given up mobility in exchange for all-weather service. The pupusas, flat fried discs of masa stuffed with cheese and sausage, are perfect with curtido, a tart fermented cabbage that comes in a Ziploc. $.
4709 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 516-314-4739, facebook.com/mattsbbqpdx. Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday.
One of the twin stars Willamette Week named Cart of the Year 2016, Matt Vicedomini's barbecue was already very good before his trip to central Texas, but by December 2015, he was making some of the very best barbecue in Portland. There's no need to choose which meat to get. For $16 you get the whole shebang: every meat, every side. $.
3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-288-6900, nedluddpx.com. Dinner nightly.
If a certain popular Portland-themed television show had a themed restaurant, it would look something like Ned Ludd. The wood-fired hearth isn't just for display. True to the technology-averse Luddites from which Ned Ludd takes its name, everything is cooked by flame. $$$.
2225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-284-3366, oxpdx.com. Dinner nightly.
Ox is a meat place first, but the basics, such as fried russet potatoes, are anything but basic. Ox is expensive—a 42-ounce ribeye is $115—but look at it this way: It's a fraction of airfare to Argentina. $$$-$$$$.
Beech Street Parlor
412 NE Beech St., 503-946-8184, beechstreetparlor.com.
Beech Street is a "parlor" without being pretentious. It's your quirky aunt's home—hardwood floors that creak, overstuffed couches, wall sconces—but with a DJ booth in the entryway that plays Jacques Brel or the Beatles while couples and packs of 20-somethings descend into low-lit corners.
Billy Ray's Dive
2216 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-287-7254. Cash only.
Like Johnny Cash and Greg Oden, Billy Ray's was born old. Sure, it's got some modern contrivances, like a fancy television for Blazers games and an ATM—they're not animals—but the sign out front reading "tavern" seems permanently on the blink, and if you order food, it's time to seriously re-evaluate some choices. All this, of course, is part of the ramshackle charm.
2145 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-719-5665, jaynepdx.com.
If you want Pinterest-worthy pot shopping, Jayne is your gal. This well-coiffed store is probably the most adorable in Portland, whether you want glass, roll-up rubber bongs or "wake 'n' bake" handmade mugs.
3611 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-287-0311. Closed Monday.
Music stores are useful for more than just serving as sets for bad Jack Black movies. At the funky Mothership Music, for example, you can buy and sell guitars, saxophones, and even large flat discs of black plastic called "records," which are primarily used for patching holes in drywall.
Nike Factory Store
2650 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-281-5901, nike.com.
Crowds at the Nike Factory Store often rival those at an Omaha Best Buy on Black Friday, and yet the rush of beating back a mob of 14-year-olds for the best Jordan colorway at discount prices has proven an opiate to the masses. Nike ain't cheap in any currency.
Title Wave Used Bookstore
216 NE Knott St., 503-988-5021. Closed Sunday.
One of the more unique phases in the life cycle of a Multnomah County Library book is the Title Wave Used Bookstore, where books are taken out of circulation and sold at sometimes massively discounted prices. The store is run by volunteers and offers educators a 25 percent discount.
Curious Comedy Theater
5225 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-477-9477, curiouscomedy.org.
If you're into improv (and ya know, no judgment, there's nothing wrong with improv, ya know, it's not "evil" or anything, ya know, it's not like kicking puppies or something, ya know, so there's no reason you should feel weird for liking improv), Curious Comedy Theater offers shows and classes.
Irving City Park
Northeast Fremont Street and 7th Avenue.
If you've just bought new kicks from the Nike Factory Store, head over to Irving City Park: the Platonic ideal of urban outdoor recreation. Once the site of a seedy horse-racing track, this land is now home to children splashing in fountains, competitive five-on-five basketball, and dogs roaming off leash.
Purringtons Cat Lounge
3529 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-334-3570
For a mere $8, you can sit in a room while multiple cats hide from you, sit on your lap while pretending you don't exist, allow you to pet them and then revoke the privilege and bite you, or watch them eat their own tail. Refreshments available for purchase.