Five Old Portland Pizza Parlors That Feed the Stomach and the Soul

Sauce, flour, cheese and dough can bind a community together.

Escape From NY Pizza (Michael Raines)

For more than 40 years, Escape From New York Pizza owner Phil Geffner has watched his pies mark the passage of time.

“People have met their husbands and wives here,” he says. “They’ve had all kinds of epic things. This is where they first met. This is where they had their first anniversary. We’re near the hospital, so when someone’s in labor, someone’s getting a pizza.”

Since Escape opened in 1983, Portland has become a pizza haven. In 2021, Modernist Pizza authors Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya hailed the Rose City’s pizza as the world’s finest. Just last month, Grana Pizza Napoletana owners Chris Flanagan and Maya Setton placed 15th worldwide in the Neapolitan Division of the International Pizza Challenge held in Las Vegas.

The Portland pizza community has weathered every imaginable fad, from paper-thin crust to hulking Detroit pies to slices with a side of ranch dressing (which Geffner declares to be “the most disgusting thing I ever heard of”).

Amid the churn, neighborhood fixtures like Escape that withstand the tide of trends have an eternal appeal. These pizza joints are older, funkier and forever devoted to an enduring ideal: that sauce, flour, cheese and dough can bind a community together.

“It’s not just a food,” Geffner says. “There’s more to it than that. But you got to make it with a little soul.”

The following five Old Portland pizza parlors embody that philosophy. Each serves damn good pizza, but don’t just show up for the grub. Show up for the taste of memory and history, the ingredients that only time and tenacity can provide.

American Dream Pizza

4620 NE Glisan St., 503-230-0699, 11:30 am–8 pm Monday–Thursday, 11:30 am–9 pm Friday–Saturday, 2–8 pm Sunday.

Judged by dough alone, American Dream is legendary. The braided, garlicky crust is perfect for slices, pies and calzones—and thick enough to support the famously heavy layers of sauce and cheese. The scrumptiousness of the pizza is matched only by the gloriously gaudy décor: walls of pizza boxes covered in customers’ colorful illustrations.

Open since: 1985

You gotta try: The calzones. They’re big. Like whole-pizza-folded-in-half big.

Escape From New York

622 NW 23rd Ave., 503-227-5423, 11:30 am–11 pm daily.

It’s revealing that Escape’s sauce is prepared from whole tomatoes and fresh garlic, cooked for up to 12 hours. If anything, the restaurant’s four decades have sharpened its attention to detail for a rotating cast of pies—from classics like pepperoni to “swine and pine”—that personify the concept of well-crafted comfort food.

Open since: 1983

You gotta try: The mushroom and olive slice, a subtle symphony of taste and texture.

Mississippi Pizza

3552 N Mississippi Ave., 503-288-3231, 11 am–10 pm Monday–Sunday.

The more Mississippi Avenue changes, the more Mississippi Pizza stays blissfully the same. Not only does it serve some of the city’s zestiest pizza (any restaurant that puts caramelized onions on a “fancy veggie” slice is a keeper), but it’s home to the Atlantis Lounge, which hosts music and comedy throughout the week.

Open since: 2001

You gotta try: The garlic breadsticks, best dipped in chunky, fruity marinara.

Old Town Pizza & Brewing

226 NW Davis St., 503-222-9999, 3–10 pm Wednesday, 2–10 pm Thursday, noon–11 pm Friday–Saturday, 2–10 pm Sunday.

How did Old Town Pizza make it to its 50th anniversary? By being a hot spot for ghost hunters—it’s built above the Shanghai Tunnels—and the most romantic pizza place in town. Low lighting and nooks with rustic furniture cultivate an atmosphere at once sprawling and intimate, so come for the superb pizza and stay for the splendid vibe.

Open since: 1974

You gotta try: The pesto special with sun-dried tomato, spinach, walnuts and feta.

Vista Spring Cafe

2440 SW Vista Ave., 503-222-2811, 3–9 pm Tuesday–Sunday.

Tucked away on a sloping corner in Portland Heights, Vista Spring is the most secluded location on this list. That’s part of its charm: It’s the perfect spot to have a quiet dinner to celebrate a wedding or a graduation. Meat and veggie pizza options are plentiful, as are homemade focaccias and garlic knots.

Open since: 1993

You gotta try: The montrachet pizza, which has a monumentally tasty sun-dried tomato and garlic base. Save room for chocolate lava cake, too.

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