Grandmas Go Out for a Cup of Chowder in Portsmouth

I don’t know what alchemy occurs at a food cart in a gas station parking lot exactly, but I believe in this magic.

The Fishwife is just across Lombard Street from Portsmouth in the University Park neighborhood, but we’re counting it anyway. (Aaron Lee)

Tucked between the more marquee Kenton and St. Johns neighborhoods, Portsmouth can have a “blink while tooling down Lombard and you’ll miss it” feeling. But this residential, working-class neighborhood has a lot to recommend pulling over for.

Hidden Gem

Arches Bookhouse (8900 N Wall Ave., 503-251-5383, isn’t on a main street, and despite its low foot-traffic location at the corner of North Wall and Houghton Street, it thrives with a broad selection of theology, rare, antique and technical books, and a hearty $3 paperback section.

Best Breakfast Spot

I don’t know what alchemy occurs at a food cart in a gas station parking lot exactly, but I believe in this magic. Located next to a 76 station, Charro’s Street Tacos (5305 N Lombard St., 253-883-9355, has an amazing repertoire of tacos, burritos and tortas. But along with a solid breakfast burrito, it’s got a few more novel morning munches, including a huevos con chorizo omelet, served with tortillas and toppings. And it’s probably the only place in town serving a “Mexican pancake,” a regular griddled flapjack piled with your choice of meat and fresh pico, sour cream and cheese, smothered Christmas style in red and green chile sauces.

Place to Buy Your Stomach a Gift

An unassuming store with hand-painted window decorations proclaiming “Dog Food,” “Homemade Sausages” and “Sides of Beef,” Western Meat Market (4707 N Lombard St., 503-283-5174) is the place to score a reasonably priced pork chop, grab a four-pack of Hatch chile-and-cheese sausages on special for $6.99 a pound, a pepperoni stick, some twice-baked potatoes and a bag of Juanita’s, and still walk out for like $30. This is an old-school butcher shop, complete with gregarious counter guys who have clearly been in the biz a long time.

Favorite Meal

I could not be more charmed by The Fishwife (5328 N Lombard St., 503-285-7150, if they paid me. The interior is filled with nautical knickknacks, clever posters, and red Formica tables around which gathers everyone from the neighborhood: grandmas out for a cup of chowder, punk rockers sucking down oyster shooters, and elder millennials with an unhealthy obsession with the seafood combo dinner, featuring cod, prawns, scallops and oysters, grilled or fried. (I’ll leave you to guess which one I am.) The drinks are cheap, few entrees cost more than $25, and the addition of bay shrimp to the chowder is genius.

The Fishwife (Aaron Lee)

Outdoor Adventure

There are a few iconic parks just outside of the Portsmouth neighborhood—Smith and Bybee Wetlands and Kelley Point Park are all a short jaunt. But within the ‘hood’s boundaries, Columbia Park (North Lombard Street and Woolsey Avenue, can’t be beat. The 35-acre park is well shaded by tall Douglas firs and cooled by a splash pad. Explore the flower garden near the historic cottage and give the seesaws a test drive.

Watering Hole

The only true answer to the question of where to drink in Portsmouth is The Twilight Room (5242 N Lombard St., 503-283-5091, This dive is a little bit of everything: a University of Portland hang, a solid pool table situation, stiff drinks, decent burgers, and a giant patio out back. If you’re into craft beer, it’s worth it to walk across the street to the Chill N Fill for a growler on your way home, but your serious drinking should be done at the Twilight.

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