Cheap Eats 2015: American Comfort Food


Top 5 Food Carts of the Year | African Food | American Comfort Food | Breakfast/Brunch

Burgers and Dogs | Chinese | Indian | Island/Ocean | Japanese | Korean | Latin American

Mexican | Middle Eastern/Mediterranean | Old World European | Pizza | Sandwiches

Thai/Laotian | Vegan/Veg-friendly | Vietnamese | 21 Delicious Bites For $7 or Less

Reel M' Inn

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

There are few constants in this world: The Cubs won't win the Series, Dick Cheney is an asshole, miniature golf is stupid, and the Reel M' Inn serves the best damn fried chicken and jojos in Portland, to people who are willing to wait the half hour to get it done right. After daylong triple-header softball in front of Hosford Middle School, Croghans and Malkmuses alike have retired since years gone by to the Reel M' Inn for postgame wings and breasts and legs. They are joined by generations both younger and older, sixty-year-old shitkickers and a new crop of technocratic food hunters.

The birds remain cheaper than sin—which was always expensive anyway—and almost poetic in their simplicity. A breast is $3.50, a leg $1.75, a thigh $3. A three-piece is a bargain at $7.75. But like a lot of things in this guide, you're not at Reel M' Inn just because it's cheap. 

Husk's Sean Brock, ink-sleeved celebuchef of Nashville—one of two putative home cities to fried chicken nationwide—says that Reel M' Inn was his fried-chicken inspiration. The technique is simple: You spice the chicken lightly, bread it fresh, drop it into oil heated just so, and take it out at just the right time. But only a lot of trial and error can get the perfect result, a tender and juicy interior with just the right edge of crispy-crusted skin that slips neatly off the meat. And Reel 'M Inn has burned the error right out of its system.

Amid new condoplexes that rise on each side off Division Street like the channel walls on the Death Star—with vulnerable pedestrian cross traffic that always seems like the second act to a tragedy—the Reel M' Inn is a sanctified refuge that will still lure this paper's food editor, the most belaureled brewmaster in the state, and the city's longest-running arts critic all on the same night. Because some things don't change, and they shouldn't. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Breken Kitchen


1800 NW 16th Ave., 841-6359, Breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday.

[WEEKDAY BRUNCH] At pretty much any other location, the Green Egg sandwich ($6.75) at this cafe would be legend. It might just be the best breakfast sammy in town: nutty pesto, a squishy egg, creamy havarti and sliced avocado on lightly toasted slices from a squat loaf of chewy como. But Breken sits just outside the Pearl, in an industrial zone that's more like the mainland Swan Island, and stays closed over the weekend. Well, if you're in the neighborhood, and need to use the john... Inside, Breken is homey, with red brick walls, tatty hardwood floors and one black Barcelona chair next to a frumpy armchair with an ugly floral print. Hazelnut-heavy granola and super-milky hot cocoa with a lump of fresh cream on top are real treats. Getting more coffee is not: one refill, available only at the busy counter. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Cackalack's Hot Chicken Shack

4262 SE Belmont St. (Good Food Here pod), 891-8093. Lunch and dinner daily.

[NASHVILLE WARM] Nashville chicken is so hot it makes your eyeballs sweat. Cackalack's doesn't make it as hot as the Nashville version—no one in Portland does—but they come closest, although it's still a bit like someone spilled chili powder on a regular old chicken breast, with almost no red drippings on the bread below it. Scandalous! But their breast is nonetheless big and juicy, and if you like regular ol' fried chicken with a little spice, Cackalack's does a decent job. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Daddy D's BBQ 

7204 E 4th Plain Blvd., Vancouver, 360-892-4418, Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

[FILL 'ER UP] Widely acknowledged as the king of gas-station barbecue in the wilds of Vancouver, Donnie Vercher of Lake Charles, La., presides over a cherry-wood smoker early each morning alongside the Shell station, cooking up apple-rubbed ribs ($14.99 for a half-rack), or brisket he chops and stews into thin, tangy sauce, plus some of the best damn collared greens anywhere, stewy and rich. Sometimes maybe he'll round up some gator, sometimes some boudin sausage. But no matter what, he'll tell you a story or six over his lunch counter inside the gas-station mini-mart. Treat it like a full-service truck stop and eat in. You'll feel like you've gone somewhere. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Dime Store


837 SW 11th Ave., 228-1866, Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Monday-Friday.

[STILL NO SMOKING] In the spot once home to charming old Leo's Non-Smoking Coffee Shop, bittersweetness lingers, but Dime Store's BLT ($8) features thick-sliced heirlooms in the summertime, under thick slices of bacon on nutty wheat bread. Add a runny fried egg and it's the best buck you'll spend all week. The rest of the menu has the same graceful uptick in ingredients and execution, from fluffy buttermilk pancakes ($8) to Water Avenue Coffee ($2) to rotating scrambles ($9-ish) with Yukon Gold home fries. But for those with long memories, there is the off-menu Leo's tribute special, an egg-in-a-hole and home fries for $5. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Dub's St. Johns

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

[PUB LIFE] Chef-owner William "Dub" Travis III (one half of weed-loving local rap duo Mack & Dub) serves up memorable soul fare from a kitchen window inside the Ranger Tavern, a dive bar full of seasoned regulars, beer signs and video poker. But don't let the ambiance fool you: This is great grub. A nice pile of golden-fried catfish nuggets ($8) with big-cut fries and slaw could satisfy, sure. But why not unbuckle your belt and get meaty, tender, sweet and slightly tangy ribs and a couple sides ($14)? We opted for slightly spicy collards—naturally—alongside candied yams and cornbread topped with a dollop of melting butter. Wash your heart attack down with a beer from the bar, or get your food delivered(!) straight to your door in North Portland. JENNIFER ABBASI. 

Fire on the Mountain

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

[HOUSE BREW] Beer and wings go hand-in-hand. Not because chugging beer helps salve capsaicin burn, but because they inhabit the same spaces. You watch sports with them, and you down a pint to get the gumption to eat that final nuclear-holocaust-flavored El Jefe wing. (It burns!) So it's only fitting that Fire on the Mountain makes both—with the beer specifically to "wash the wings down." The brewery is located at their newest spot on Northeast 57th Avenue, which also serves bitchin' pizza, but you can find their beer at all three Portland locations. In an age when many breweries offer haute pub food, Fire on the Mountain took the opposite route and ended up at the same destination. Grab a few "boneless chicken wings" (i.e. large chicken tenders) in the house jerk sauce and get a stout to wash it down. JOHN LOCANTHI.

Leroy's Familiar Vittles

4847 SE Division St., 442-7421. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

[RIBS ARE GOOD] Mr. Anton Pace of Portland, former Arkansan and Delta Cafe owner, makes thick, intensely meaty bones ($10 for a quarter rack and side) with a lovely bark and smoky ring, drizzled with a sweet sauce that slowly sneaks up to three-alarm level over the course of a meal—a burning that's doubled down on by cross sections of hot-pickled, mustardy spring squash and okra. This from a food cart that also serves pan-seared trout for $10. It's cash-only, and you might have to track down Pace in the bar. But shit, for this food you should probably buy him a drink when you find him. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

A Little Bit of Smoke

Southwest 9th Avenue and Alder Street pod, 758-8860. Lunch Monday-Friday.

[CAROLINA IN MY MIND] You want true Carolina-style pulled pork, this is where you get it in Portland, served up with cheery, no-nonsense efficiency to a packed scrum surrounding the cart on weekday lunch hours. To put on your tender, tender pulled pork ($9 for a platter, $6 on a sandwich), they've got sauces from all three main Carolina styles, which sneakingly lets you blend them all together and create a united Carolina BBQ paradise. But if you're willing to stray, they'll also serve you a $7 chicken-and-potato Brunswick stew that is hearty, steamy and savory, and throw in a mini Moon Pie to boot. What a hill country! MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Meet BBQ

4233 N Mississippi Ave., 828-5604, Lunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday.

[FEEL THE BURN] Oh, Jesus, how do the ribs at this Mississippi Avenue food cart get so pretty? One could draw the Platonic ideal of a dry pork sparerib from the purest thoughts of an angel, and it would come out looking like these eight-hour-smoked ribs from Meet ($11.50 for a quarter rack and two sides): thick and smoky bark, a cable of pink smoke, moist and marbled center. John Wysong of Wankers Corner studied with K.C. barbecue pitmasters to get these things tasting of meat and smoke and nothing but, enough so that one feels free and happy to eschew the tangy, sweet, gently spicy Memphis-recipe sauce. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Oui Presse 

1740 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 384-2160,  Breakfast and lunch daily.

[SOUP'S ON] Soup is one of the most underrated of comforts, a warmth from within that begins almost immediately. This sweetheart of a coffeeshop—which doubles as artsy magazine stand—offers warmth from the outside as well to match their rotating cast of some of the city's best soups, each $7. And so one day you'll get a split-pea soup with grapefruit and mint, and the next it may be Alsatian sprout, or squash and chickpea. If these comforts are not enough, there is almost always a fresh round of tortilla espanola for $3.75 a slice, or an artisanal take on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich ($5) with Oregon jelly, fresh-ground peanut butter and homemade bread. Oui Presse puts both your mom and your grandmom to shame. Poor mom. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

P's and Q's 

1301 NE Dekum St., 894-8979,, Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

[MINDING THE STORE] There's a lot going on at P's and Q's, with its huge bank of windows illuminating a true grocery store, complete with a produce section, bulk bins and individually hand-wrapped cheeses. The real action though is going to be behind the deli case, where brunch is served up throughout the weekend. A proper order of toast is a dying art, which is why it was so heartening to receive a perfectly rendered version of it at P's and Q's. Included with their bacon and brisket hash ($10), the two isosceles triangles of lightly browned goodness held up to dunking in the over-medium yolk of the egg and ferrying the fatty, salty brisket and sweet bits of apple to my mouth. They do offer fries ($2/$4) and biscuits and gravy ($7) so if you ever want to replicate the late night Shari's fries and gravy experience from your youth with non-shitty coffee, now's your chance. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.


5101 N Interstate Ave., 971-230-0705. Lunch, dinner and late-night daily.

[VEGEMEAT] While it may not be the hippest joint on the scene, Pause on North Interstate Avenue is a time-tested favorite among Overlook neighborhood residents for its low-lit, laid-back vibe, cushy red booths and generously sized patio. It's also home to what I strongly believe to be the best-tasting, most beeflike veggie burger in the city. Despite my status as an avowed carnivore, I order it every time. Smoky and mushroomy, covered with Tillamook cheddar and housemade zucchini pickles and nestled in a pillowy bun smeared with chipotle mayo, it's a veritable umami bomb that stands up to even the most unabashedly sinful meat creation. KAT MERCK.

Po'Shines Cafe De La Soul

8139 N Denver Ave., 978-9000, Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, breakfast and lunch Monday. 

[SOUTHERN GENEROSITY] Our waiter warned us our half fried-chicken dinner ($12.95) would take a full seven to 10 minutes to prepare, as if that's too long to wait for nicely battered all-dark meat smothered in gravy and sharing a plate with mashed taters, seasonal veggies (spinach with mushrooms in our case), a loving spoonful of stuffing and, of course, cornbread. We didn't need the beef brisket basket ($9.95)—for reals, there was so much chicken that they served a couple pieces on a side plate—but the sublime shredded meat plus fried okra bites and addictive hush puppies rolled in honey sure as hell made us glad we did. And makes sure totack on a few beignets ($2.95) and the traditional sorrel ($2.75), or "purple drink," made with hibiscus flowers, green tea and citrus. JENNIFER ABBASI

Road Runner BBQ

5205 SE Foster Road, 310-2837. Lunch and dinner Thursday-Sunday.

[MEAT MEAT!] Truly excellent brisket just smells different. Maybe that's blackened bark shell or off-gassing from the bright pink smoke ring, or maybe it's just my imagination. But even from 10 feet away, I can tell a transcendent beef breast. There are precious few places to encounter that pungent eau de boeuf in Portland and this cart on Southeast Foster is one of 'em. Jimmy Hart's family cart makes Texas-style cue. The dry-rub pork ribs are of Flinstonian scale ($3 to add one on Friday and Saturday) and will convert anyone who ain't from some crappy upriver sauce hole to Lone Star supremacist. Our sides included an ultra-crisp coleslaw and creamy mac and cheese with almost as much umami punch as the meats. Call it blasphemy, but I actually like a squirt of sauce here—Roadrunner's house mild has a nice bright vinegar flavor that pulls out the flavors of the smoke and fat without burying them below sweetness. Even if you drench that brisket in it, you'll still smell that meat. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Slabtown Ribs & BBQ

2606 NW Vaughn St., 227-2903, Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday.

[PRIZE-WINNING SLABS] Slabtown's walls are full of barbecue-contest ribbons, its meat ribboned with the pink of smoke. Though the meat's sometimes up and down, pitmaster Tim King's ribs are cooked with as much technical chops as any you'll find anywhere in Portland—about four hours on cherry and oak—with a "spicy" sauce that lives up to its name and an even better, ketchupy K.C.-style sauce that's nonetheless usually not needed on those namesake ribs, which are rich in both smoke and flavor. Single bones go for $2.50, and for $9 you'll get some barky brisket on a sandwich, slathered in that spicy sweetness. MATTHEW KORFHAGE. 

Son of a Biscuit

2045 SE Division St., 971-888-5933, Lunch and dinner daily. 

[DON'T CALL ME DAUGHTERN] Micah Camden's fried chicken spot—three blocks east of Reel M' Inn, the best in town—is what we've come to expect from Camden: sparse, bright, with cans of Rainier and Fort George 1811 stacked behind the register. Biscuit's "Nashville-style hot" chicken isn't. But two pieces of white are $9.50, two pieces of dark are $8.50, a half-bird is $12.50, and the breading, with a very salt-forward 24-spice blend, is always golden and crispy. The sides are solid if unremarkable. Popeyes may be in trouble thanks to this place. But it doesn't beat Reel M' Inn except in convenience: You get a bird here in 10 minutes, and it takes 30 at Reel M' Inn. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Top 5 Food Carts of the Year | African Food | American Comfort Food | Breakfast/Brunch

Burgers and Dogs | Chinese | Indian | Island/Ocean | Japanese | Korean | Latin American

Mexican | Middle Eastern/Mediterranean | Old World European | Pizza | Sandwiches

Thai/Laotian | Vegan/Veg-friendly | Vietnamese | 21 Delicious Bites For $7 or Less

WWeek 2015

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