Restaurant Guide 2013: Counter Attack

Portland's best counter-service eateries.

FROM LEFT: Slowburger, Shut Up and Eat, Mi Mero Mole, Bollywood Theater




2329 NE Glisan St., 477-5779,

Portlanders wouldn't shut up about Slow Bar's burger, so it spun off to a place of its own. If you can't fit a full-sized burger ($8) into your mouth—especially difficult after the juice soaks through the brioche bun—try two $3.50 sliders and the sea salt-speckled fries with stinky cheese ($4).

Killer Burger

4644 NE Sandy Blvd., 971-544-7521; 8728 SE 17th Ave., 841-5906.

Killer Burger could very well kill you. Probably not quickly—but consuming peanut butter, bacon and pickle hamburgers on a regular basis is a bad idea. And yet. These delicious burgers have a crust of char to seal in every drop of sweet, beefy juice, and are all topped with bacon. You can opt out of crispy pencil-thin fries, but you've already paid for them.

Little Big Burger

122 NW 10th Ave., 274-9008; 3747 N Mississippi Ave., 265-8781; 3810 SE Division St., 841-6456;
930 NW 23rd Ave., 971-544-7817.

In the Portland foodie world's eternal battle of top-notch burgers, Little Big's has emerged as the Tyrion Lannister: What it lacks in size, it makes up for in substance. The top-heavy tower of brioche bun, juicy beef, housemade Sriracha ketchup, and fresh veggies ($3.25) packs a wallop no sandwich of its stature—or price—rightfully should. Add cheddar, blue, chevre or Swiss cheese (50 cents), a hefty paper sack of crisp truffle-oil fries ($2.75), and a brewski from their dazzling lineup of tall boys ($2-$4) for maximum satisfaction.


3449 N Anchor St., Ste 200. 285-8458.

Tilt burgers actually tilt: The six-inch towers mock architecture, teetering from an overload of ingredients that mass atop their brioche bun. The Koolakofsky ($8.50) is the scary and delightful monster of them all, basically a reuben that lives inside a hamburger. A Pearl District location is forthcoming.


Meat Cheese Bread

1406 SE Stark St., 234-1700,

They should add "Sauce" to the name of this sandwich shop. What would the roasted pulled pork ($9) be without gooey aioli? Would the pink flank steak on the Park Kitchen ($8) pop without blue-cheese mayo? Would either sandwich be nearly as good without a side of leafy kale topped with hot bacon vinaigrette and shaved parmesan ($7)? We're happy we don't know.

Shut Up and Eat

3848 SE Gladstone St., 719-6449,

Shut Up and Eat is a Philly transplant's take on the classic lunch counter. That means a mammoth cheesesteak ($9), topped with fried onions and hot peppers. And a massive meatball sub ($9) with four balls—made of beef, veal and pork—as big as a grade-schooler's fis., But this is Portland, so there's also an excellent vegetarian option with smoky charred yams and mascarpone ($9).


211 SW 6th Ave., 972-8100; 621 SE Morrison St., 477-9515.

Bunk is now a brand unto itself. If you stop by the tiny downtown shop, you'll understand why. From the roast beef ($9), with its silky caramelized onions and tangy horseradish, to the saucy meatball parmigiano ($8), the sandwiches showcase unique flavors and meticulous attention to detail.


1205 SW Washington St., 241-2490; 1212 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 234-7786. 

Lardo's sandwiches are seriously fat, stacked on Fleur de Lis bread (until the upcoming ChefStable French bakery hits full swing) with hunks of pork belly and heirloom tomatoes ($9), thick hunks of buttermilk-fried chicken ($9) or pork shoulder with housemade kimchi ($9). The mortadella made them famous, but isn't it time you branched out?


Mi Mero Mole

5026 SE Division St., 232-8226,

Nick Zukin's 2-year-old Mexican joint builds simple tacos, burritos and quesadillas from astonishing array of Mexico City style stews, called guisados. Most astonishing is rajas con crema, mild green chilies engulfed in a sour cream and cheese sauce. Tamales are only occasionally availible, but when they are you should get a dozen or two. Look for a second location in the Pearl sometime next year.

¿Por Qué No?

3524 N Mississippi Ave., 467-4149; 4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 954-3138.

¿Por Qué No? is a Technicolor shrine to the hole-in-the-wall joints owner Bryan Steelman saw in Mexico. Get super-thick tortilla chips ($3 with salsa) and an agua fresca, then mix-and-match a tacos from fancied up versions of familiar fillings. Take special note of the back patio—while the main dining area is a cramped tunnel of running servers and foot-tapping diners, it's one of the most pleasant spaces in town.

El Cubo De Cuba

3106 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 971-544-7801.

Newly stationary El Cubo de Cuba is now a bright-painted rectangular solid, with two patios. Perhaps the city's best traditional Cubano ($9) has been transplanted intact from the cart, joined by milkshakes, liquor, tender-sweet-citric meat dishes and a whole host of sides. Slightly crispy roasted Mojo pork shoulder with black beans and brown rice is a wonderful meal.

Tienda Santa Cruz

8630 N Lombard St., 286-7302. Lunch and dinner daily.

Burritos are the perfect human food pellet: protein, dairy and veggies rolled into one ginormous tortilla. This St. Johns bakery, butcher shop and Mexican grocery with a restaurant in back has perfected this science of deliciousness delivery, with forearm-sized burritos ($4-$5) filled with grilled and spiced meats.


Frank's Noodle House

822 NE Broadway, 288-1007, 

Frank is Portland's Willy Wonka of noodles. And we're all here for those magic chewy, thick, hand-stretched strands of gluten. Get them in the chicken soup ($10.95) or stir-fried with veggies and beef for a weekday lunch special ($7.95). Throw in handmade pork dumplings ($4.25) and scarf the free banchan of kimchi and pickled vegetables. Just make sure you don't leave feeling like poor Augustus Gloop.

Bollywood Theater

2039 NE Alberta St., 971-200-4711,

Bollywood Theater, following its namesake film industry's rise into economic empire, is likewise expanding into grandeur this November with a huge space on Southeast Division Street. The Alberta Street standby still serves the poor man's burgers and millworker favorites of India, less spice bombs and dosas than comfort food leavened by the palates of European visitors to Goa. Try the standout Mughlai-hybrid beef kati roll ($8).

Lela's Bistro

1524 NW 23rd Ave., 719-4744, 

In a 'hood with almost no good, cheap food, Lela's has become a de facto lunch counter for the WW office. It has solid pho, noodle bowls and kimchee, but stands apart for fresh takes on the French-Viet banh mi (grilled portobello with ginger-garlic-sesame sauce, $6.50), on chewy baguette from Binh Minh. Try also the lemongrass chicken banh mi ($5.99), stacked with moist, slightly sweet chicken pieces, sticks of lightly pickled carrot, cilantro, thinly sliced cucumber, and, if you want it X-rated, thinly raw jalapeño.

Jade Teahouse

7912 SE 13th Ave., 477-8985,

Jade is perhaps the best place to take your Midwestern aunt and uncle for a painless introduction to Asian food: The glossy, high-ceilinged dining room, with its prominent displays of purple macarons and silver tea jars, says Pearl District 2: Yuppie Boogaloo more than sleepy bedroom burg. For yourself, get Tom's Special stir-fried glass noodles ($10), a bird's nest of lemongrass flavor emanating through fresh veggies and tender chicken. And drink your vinegar.

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