Listen, I know: Salads? For summer? How groundbreaking.
But sometimes the cliché exists for a reason. It’s hot, and the idea of a potato dumpling hitting your tum-tum while it’s triple digits sounds painful. (Unless you’re me, and then it’s always dumpling season.)
Salad seems simple, but there are a lot of critical elements to hit. A good salad needs just the right blend of crunch, fat, acid, salt and even umami, plus protein if you’re trying to make it a meal.
For that reason, I often like to leave serious salad making to the pros. In Portland, a town so flush with veggies, there are plenty of options, but these are some of the best.
Insalata Nostrana (Nostrana)
The OG cult classic salad in Portland, chef Cathy Whims’ Caesar-esque salad is a study in both flavor and texture. Bitter radicchio—soaked in ice water for two hours to blunt the sharpness—is doused in a creamy anchovy and garlic dressing and given ample crumbles of rosemary sage croutons and a heavy sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. It’s always on the menu and always a must-order, along with whatever other goodies are on special—and the classic Negroni to start. 1401 SE Morrison St., Suite 101, 503-234-2427, nostrana.com.
The Colossal Cobb (Garden Monsters)
When I think of a big, satisfying salad, this is immediately where my mind goes. This classic take on a Cobb salad has it all: romaine lettuce, roma tomatoes, black olives, blue cheese crumbles, free-range chopped egg and croutons, topped with a tangy avocado ranch dressing. You can add bacon or grilled tofu, but the balance of carbs, protein and fats already in this bowl means it’s not necessary. Get it delivered or pick it up at one of Garden Monsters’ three carts—on Southeast Division or Northeast Alberta or in the BG Food Cartel in Beaverton—and know that you have a power lunch on your hands. Multiple locations, gardenmonsters.net.
Goi Bap Cai (Xinh Xinh Vietnamese Bistro)
Tucked inside a small strip of businesses on Southeast Morrison, Xinh Xinh is best known for its banh mi and soups, but the real ones know that the move is the crunchy salad. On my first day of work, my then-boss ordered this salad and, wanting to belong, so did I. A love affair was born. Served with a slightly sweetened fish sauce dressing, I find myself slurping down the grated cabbage, onion and carrots, to which I always add strips of charred and salty grilled pork. Peanuts add even more crunch, while basil adds depth. It is an epic salad. 970 SE Morrison St., 971-229-1492, xinhxinhbistro.com.
XL Iceberg Salad with Fried Chicken Thigh (Yonder)
God bless this salad. There’s not a trace of austerity and rabbit-foodishness when it comes to cool, crisp iceberg lettuce, amply dressed with a ramp ranch and the bite of pickled red onion slices and tossed with housemade sourdough croutons and sumac-toasted pecans. It’s a fantastic side on its own, but if you’re looking for a “light” meal at Yonder, adding a dusted fried chicken thigh to this concoction for just $5 more is the way to go. Few are brave enough to add fried chicken to a salad, and for this, chef-owner Maya Lovelace should get a key to the city. 4636 NE 42nd Ave., 503-444-7947, yonderpdx.com.
Butter Lettuce (St. Jack/La Moule)
I’m not sure there was ever a time when this bright little salad wasn’t on the menu at St. Jack. If there were such a time, it was poorer for it. This stack of mild and soft butter lettuce leaves nestles layers of buttery avocado, radish, croutons and French fines herbes, topped with a zippy Dijon vinaigrette. It is deceptively simple, but that’s where its perfection lies. There is very little menu overlap between St. Jack on Northwest 23rd and its sister restaurant La Moule on Southeast Clinton, but you know chef Aaron Barnett had to put this salad tower of power on both menus. Multiple locations, stjackpdx.com and lamoulepdx.com.
Tuna Nicoise (Flying Fish Co.)
This is the real Portland twist on the ladies-who-lunch classic. At $19, it’s the most expensive salad on this list, but it’s packed with quality ingredients that make the price tag worth it. Flying Fish starts with an ample layer of local Mizuna Gardens wild greens, upon which it places tender poached Oregon Coast albacore, Moroccan black olives, blanched and halved green beans, the softest of boiled eggs, baby yukon golds, with radish, pickled red onion, basil and red wine vinaigrette. When you’re done, you can almost feel the vitamins, fiber and fish oil hit your bloodstream. 3004 E Burnside St., 971-806-6747, flyingfishpdx.com.
Whatever’s Seasonal on the Menu (Farmer and Beast)
No, this isn’t a particular salad, but that’s not the point. It’s that this cart in Northwest Portland—famed for its smash burger—is also so good at its produce game that Oregonian critic Michael Russell once wrote that a salad he ate there stopped him cold. Hard agree. Recently, it was a watermelon panzanella, the sweet juicy watermelon and toasty bread cubes set off by sliced cucumber, fresh mozzarella, cilantro, mint, basil, with a peanut crunch and a perfectly acidic and umami fish sauce-lime vinaigrette. The salad is always changing, but the satisfaction won’t. 1845 NW 23rd Place, 971-319-0656, farmer-and-the-beast.square.site.
Taco Salad (Taqueria Portland)
A good taco salad is a thing of beauty, and surprisingly hard to find. Perhaps the addition of a burrito’s worth of fillings and lettuce to a deep fried tortilla shell has become terminally uncool, but it’s a consistent craving of mine. Luckily, Taqueria Portland has come through with a solid entry for under $10. I like the grilled chicken, served over rice, beans, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole and Monterey jack and Cotija cheeses. Unlike some taco salads that only sprinkle lettuce on like a condiment, this one had enough shredded lettuce and cabbage to give it a whiff of health as I broke off pieces of my deep fried bowl and jammed it all in my mouth. 820 SE 8th Ave, 503-232-7000.