Cheap Eats 2014: American Comfort Food


Dub’s St. Johns

9520 N Lombard St., 998-8230, Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

A year after the fire that felled the beloved Mack & Dub's Excellent Chicken and Waffles on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, William "Dub" Travis III has set up a new solo shop cooking up brisket, chicken, waffles and burgers out of a window inside old-school blue-collar haunt the Ranger Tavern, the northernmost bar in all of Portland.

The fried chicken and waffles ($12) are still excellent: the fried chicken browned, salted and spiced—with a juicy interior that's a perfect ground for the Frank's Red Hot in the squirt bottles—while the sweet-battered Belgian squares have pretty much the same texture as the pats of butter served on top of them. Which is a very good thing, an unexpected kind of comfort.

The brisket ($14), meanwhile, is juicy and thick and infused with sweet BBQ; it's not the dry-smoked Texas version, but rather a saucy, butter-tender slab. Heck: Everything's butter here. The sides don't really measure up-—the mac 'n' cheese is dry, the garlicked collards one-note, but that juicy brisket can also be taken in $9 sandwich form. For the budget conscious on the hunt for a free heart attack, Dub's has a hot dog slathered in spiced hamburger for a mere $4.

Pair your meal with a $2.50 bud from the bar side of the Ranger—because, America!—and watch the sports game with the regulars, who will waste no time telling you which team you're supposed to root for. But it's OK. At places that feel a little like home, everybody always tells you what to do. And then when you eat the food, you're reminded why you always come back. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Fire on the Mountain

3443 NE 57th St. and other locations, 894-8973, Lunch and dinner daily. 

Don't kid yourself: No one goes to Fire on the Mountain for the wings. Sure, these tie-dyed fried-food pushers would like you to believe they're primarily in the bird-slanging business, but the poultry is merely a mule for the true narcotic. It's the sauces, stupid—liquefied bath salts able to turn normal, unsuspecting folks into voracious Walking Dead extras. Are we even sure it's chicken they're serving? Slathered in tangy lime-cilantro or smoky bourbon-chipotle or the tongue-blistering El Jefe, it could be roasted pigeon or a plastic dinosaur for all we know. Oh yeah, the fried Twinkies and massive sandwiches and homebrewed beers also help keep all three locations perpetually packed, but if all they offered were celery sticks and the sampler trays available at the register, the lines would still stretch out the door like a methadone clinic. MATTHEW SINGER.

George's Corner Sports Bar

5501 N Interstate Ave., 289-0307. Lunch and dinner daily, breakfast Saturday-Sunday.

Let's admit, right up front, that the best dive-bar fried chicken in town is still at Reel M' Inn on Southeast Division. That said, this is the better bar, and given how long it takes the birds to get good and crispy, that gives George's an edge. Put in a three-piece meal order ($6.75-$7.50) and prepare to kill upwards of an hour in the little tavern that hipness forgot. If there isn't a Blazers, Ducks or Beavers game on, one of the half-dozen TVs will certainly be tuned to the Golf Channel or an episode of World's Dumbest Criminals. A woman in her late 40s will get her groove on to the Black Eyed Peas and Buckcherry pumping out the jukebox. Not feeling especially social? Crack open a copy of the Bar Rag News for the latest blond jokes, redneck jokes, Viagra jokes and horoscopes. And then, four PBRs later, out comes your chicken and jojos and cheese fries, and by that point you'll be fully prepared to hate yourself in the morning. MATTHEW SINGER.


5101 N Interstate Ave., 230-0705. Lunch and dinner daily. 

Dimly lit and minimally decorated, Pause gives off a classy, even romantic air. That is, until some brat the next booth over starts whining for his mac'n'cheese. But a few booger-eaters are worth enduring for comfort food this, well, comforting. To start, try the house-made pickle plate and the Runners, deep-fried chicken legs that come drenched in habanero sauce. Then either get fancy with ultra-tender coq au vin or traditional with a top-shelf burger that burns the typical grease pile served at most brewpubs. Or split the difference with the Cuban, which dumps those house pickles atop a mound of roast pork and ham. MATTHEW SINGER.

Pine Shed

17730 Pilkington Road, Lake Oswego, 635-7427, Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Pine Shed is outfitted to look like a garden shed and has an odd but functional layout: Patrons order while standing at the counter in a small room in front of the kitchen, then choose between a raft of picnic tables situated on wood chips out front, or head to an indoor dining area a few doors down. Beef ribs ($12 for a small order) are skimpy on their nonetheless firm, smoky meat. Order instead the moist, meaty, black-barked pork ribs with spicy ranch beans ($3) and a hunk of cornbread ($2), which has the texture of fluffy grits inside a dark, crispy crust. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Po' Shines Café de la Soul

8191 N Denver Ave., 978-9000, Breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Old Portlanders know the names Swift and Union Meat. From your table in this street-corner diner-style storefront in the Kenton neighborhood, you can practically visualize the bygone meatpacking plants that once ruled the roost here. Carnivorous thoughts firmly in mind, it's time to attack the soul food-centered menu. Why not order the pork ribs, pulled pork and brisket combo that includes a few golden-crunchy hush puppies and a couple sides ($22.95) and split it with a friend? And how often do you see chicken and waffles ($9.95) on a Portland menu? Also rejoice with gumbo, grits or catfish. Stay all day because you can. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Reel 'M' Inn

2430 SE Division St, 231-3880. Lunch and dinner daily.

Cigarette smoke no longer cuts the lingering aroma of deep fryers, but the graffiti-strewn interiors of Reel'M'Inn still don't seem like where you'd find your lunch. Recently name-checked by Nashville celebrity chef Sean Brock of Husk as inspiration, the downmarket neighborhood pub's no-frills technique enables the bartender on duty to plop lightly-spiced, freshly-breaded poultry into precisely-heated oil behind the bar for ginormous servings bursting with flavor. A single breast ($3.50) or leg and thigh ($1.75; $3.00) should be all the chicken any man ever needs, and the three piece meal ($7.75) allows plentiful space to daub a half-dozen sauces upon meats white and dark, though tread softly with the accompanying jojos lest ye carb-load for the season. JAY HORTON.


Road Runner Barbecue

Southeast 52nd Avenue and Foster Road (Foster cart pod), 310-2837, Lunch and dinner Thursday-Sunday.

At Road Runner Barbecue food cart, Texas-born Jimmy Hart slow-cooks his tender take on the mesquite brisket. (See our best food cart listings, page 13). 

Smokehouse 21

413 NW 21st Ave., 971-373-8990, Lunch and dinner daily.

The barbecue intelligentsia may worship elsewhere, but let's give praise and glory to this urban hole-in-the-wall that's been banging out serious Q for a couple years now. Low ceilinged and den-like, the space holds few tables--—so when you snag one, order copiously. The lamb ribs ($17/full rack) are rambunctiously flavored of smoke and beast, so they should be your first choice. Brisket ($14) is just right and the half smoked-chicken ($13) passed the picky teenager test with flying colors. A three-meat sampler is a deal at $18. Two sides come with all entrees and they aren't just filler. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

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