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Searchfest 2015: Your Guide to Eating & Drinking in Portland

Our annual guide for where to eat and drink for Searchfest.

Our annual guide on where to eat and drink while attending Searchfest.

It’s February which means SEMpdx’s Searchfest is right around the corner, and with it is our updated for 2015 Guide to Eating and Drinking in Portland.  Once again I’ve updated this guide with some great spots located close to the Sentinel (formerly Governor) Hotel where you can enjoy a meal, find a great happy hour special, grab a cocktail or quench your thirst with one of Portland’s fine craft beers.

Beer Me

Let’s start off with my true love. Beer.

Almost every Portland restaurant and bar is going to offer at least a couple fantastic local beers for you to try. This is Beervana, and our great city has more breweries per capita than any other city in the world.

Given the option, brews from local breweries like Laurelwood, Gigantic, Breakside, Ninkasi, Fort George, Boneyard and Hopworks are always a sure bet.

But if you are looking to geek out with fellow beer snobs and sample from 24 constantly rotating taps, look no farther than Bailey’s Taproom. As their goal is to offer the most eclectic selections of beer around, you are sure to find something that matches your

Honorable Mentions:
A few additional places to get a pint include Rogue Distillery and Public House, Henry’s Tavern, Deschutes Brewery, Bridgeport Brewing Company

Portland’s Famous Chefs

Andy Ricker is a James Beard award winning chef and Pok Pok is the restaurant that put Portland’s food scene on the map. While this is only one a few recommendations that is across the river and not within walking distance of the Sentinel Hotel, the authentic Thai cuisine is worth the price of a cab fare. And if you do go, you’ve got to try their amazing fish sauce chicken wings, which were named by Thrillist as one of America’s most iconic foods.

While getting a table at James Beard award winning chef Gabriel Rucker’s Le Pigeon can be an extremely difficult thing to do (hint: go early and sit at the chef’s table), you can always try Rucker’s Little Bird to get your fix of his imaginative French cuisine. I’ve personally had one of the most amazing meals ever at Le Pigeon (our other recommendation across the river) and highly recommend it if you are looking to be impressed and dine at one of the best restaurants in the good old US of A.

John Gorman might not have a James Beard award on his resume, but he is responsible for 3 of my favorite restaurants in Portland. For our Searchfest recommendation, you won’t find a closer or better choice than his year old Tasty N Alder. Last year I took some colleagues here and everybody raved about the food. Take a big group and plan on sharing multiple dishes with your table.

Food & Drink (Places known for their cocktails and food)

Andina’s Choros a la Chalaca – Photo by Lincoln Barbour

Clyde Common is a European style tavern which offers delicious food and some seriously fantastic cocktails. Plus they have a very impressive list of whiskey and always some good local beers on tap. The open dining room lends itself to a boisterous casual setting perfect for your group of search marketers.  It should also be noted that Clyde Common was just named as a semifinalist for the 2015 James Beard Awards under the Best Bar Program category.

Andina showcases some of the best local ingredients fused with popular dishes found from the coast of the Andes throughout Peru. This is a great place to go with a large group so you can order and share from a wide selection of their amazing Peruvian inspired tapas. They also feature some mouthwatering main courses and a great selection of cocktails and wine. I’ve eaten here several times in the past with just my wife for our anniversary and with large parties for birthday celebrations. Make sure to try one of their four types of cebiche, a signature dish of Andina’s.

Davis Street Tavern was the last minute destination last year for our large group of SEMpdx’ers before hitting up the Searchfest After Party. They offer modern American dining in a historic Portland landmark building. If you are looking for excellent food and drinks, you can’t go wrong with Davis Street Tavern.

Seriously Good Eats

Tagliatelle – photo by Joe M.

Back in 2010, GQ named Gruner one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in America. I’ve eaten here a few times and have never been disappointed. As their website states, “Gruner is cozy alpine cuisine”. Think old world comfort meets new world sophistication.

Grassa is known for its handmade pastas and casual setting. There is usually stoner rock playing on the turntables, but as their website states, no you can’t get a tattoo here. Not that you would want to as you will be kept plenty busy choosing between the fabulous Radiatore, Squid Ink Fettuccini or the mouthwatering Carbonara.

I’ve not personally eaten (yet) at Racion but everybody I’ve talked to who has insists that you must try their tasting menu. The restaurant is divided into an open kitchen bar (first of its kind in Portland) and a lounge. The food is modern Spanish, and if you enjoy the art, preparation and presentation of a meal, you will certainly want to give Racion a visit.

To experience a touch of Spain in Portland you will want to visit Ataula, which was recently named as one of the 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015 in GQ Magazine’s March issue.  At Ataula you will experience a modern interpretation on the traditional Spanish “tapeo” culture.

Langbaan is a new Portland restaurant that is already racking up awards and recognition, being named Portland Monthly’s Restaurant of the Year for 2014, The Oregonian’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year and #3 in the previously referenced 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015 by GQ Magazine.  Alan Richman from GQ says Lanbaan is “A two-hour Thai vacation in the Pacific Northwest” and deems “This is the first Thai food I’ve eaten that made me wish I lived over there.”  While Lanbaan is not in walking distance, for those who are looking to experience some of the best food Portland has to offer, it is certainly worth the quick cab ride over.  Reservations are required as they offer a fixed menu.

Casual and Quick Eats

Lardo started out as a food cart, but now has two brick and mortar locations. This sandwich shop not only boasts some of the most delicious sandwiches Portland has to offer, but also 12 taps of mostly local beers.

Cheryl’s on 12th offers a little bit of everything as it is a restaurant, bakery and market. For dining in they offer breakfast, lunch, morsels and supper specializing in New American cuisine. Their expansive menu offers everything including soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, salads, burgers, meatloaf, steak, omelets, scrambles and their famous Portuguese Fried Rice. Cheryl’s really is the place to go if you want a wide selection and great food.

Tilt  is a new addition to our list and is the place to go for Burgers, Handcarved Sandwiches, Big Salads and a slice of old fashioned pie.  This blue collar inspired restaurant and bar will leave you full and happy and their from scratch biscuits n’ gravy make for the perfect hangover recipe should you need it.

Mi Mero Mole, another new addition to our list, is the place to go for authentic Mexican cuisine.  Don’t go expecting your typical American styled Mexican food, as each item is made from scratch and are traditional dishes you would find in Mexico City.

Little Big Burger offers exactly that…little burgers with a big burger taste. Or as Jules Winnfield says, “Mmm-mmmm. That’s one tasty burger”. LBB keeps the menu simple by offering a limited menu focused on burgers, cheese burgers, veggie burgers, fries and root beer floats. Reminds me of how In-n-Out likes to roll. Focus on a few items and do it well.

Best Food Carts

Portland is known for its food carts, and right across the street from the Governor you will find several options. If you are having trouble picking one,
here are some of my personal favorites:

Nong’s Khao Man Gai is a one trick pony, but that pony does one hell of a trick. When you go to Nong’s Khao Man Gai you will be getting….yep, Khao Man Gai. Just what is Khao
Man Gai? Chicken and Rice. Or from their menu, “Poached, organic chicken with rice simmer in chicken stock and Thai herbs, served with sauce of fermented soybeans, ginger, garlic, Thai chilies, vinegar, house made syrup and soy sauce. Garnished with cucumbers and cilantro, and accompanied by a light soup. Nong’s is open Monday thru Friday from 10am to 4pm.

Shoyu Chicken at 808 Grinds | Photo by Anna B. from PDX Yelp

808 is the area code for Hawaii, a place known for its warm weather, sandy beaches and love of Spam. And while you can find Spam Musabi and the required side of macaroni salad with every plate, 808 Grinds also offers some fantastic Hawaiian inspired food. You can’t go wrong with both the shoyu chicken and the 808 fried chicken.

If you are like Tony Bourdain and love all things pork, then get your little piggy self over to the People’s Pig. Yes, as the name suggests this isn’t a place to take your vegan friends, because they are all about the pork. This is certainly one of the top carts in town and a great way to experience what Portland’s food cart scene is all about. I highly recommend the porchetta sandwich.

For Those Serious About Their Whiskey

Multnomah Whiskey Library | Photo from Dina Avila Photography

Multnomah Whiskey Library is Portland’s hottest attraction, which is why some people have willing waited over 2 hours just to get in. What is the fascination with the place? To start they have an extensive selection of whiskey and other libations. Next, the setting certainly reminds one of a library; definitely an old money feel to this place without being stuffy or intimidating. Finally, the servers don’t prepare the drinks behind the bar, but in front of you at your table.

Tips for getting in? Don’t go on weekends. Go early or go late. You can show up early, get your name in and then go next door to Kask or Tasty N Alder for a warm up cocktail while you wait. They will call your cell phone when your seat is available.

Best Happy Hour

In Portland you will find that most restaurants and bars have some amazing Happy Hour menus. And happy hour doesn’t mean just getting a buck or two off of your drink; happy hour is typically a meal all unto itself. So while some of our other recommendations like the Davis Street Tavern and Andina have great happy hours, here are some additional places to get some great food at really low prices.

My wife and I stopped by The Ringside Fish House for happy hour a few weeks ago and we were both impressed. Now, if you are planning to go, make sure you get there early. The happy hour menu is only available in the bar area and while it accommodates many, it fills up fast. However, they are used to being busy and despite how crowded it was on my last visit, we had our drinks and first round of food within 10 minutes of being seated.

In my house Pizza has been elected as one of the basic food groups.  No food guide would be complete without at least one place to satisfy a pizza craving.  While Oven and Shaker is great any time of day, it’s hard to beat getting a Margherita pizza for only $7.  While you can also pair your pie with some great local beers, Oven and Shaker also feature some amazing cocktails on their Happy Hour menu.

Yes Ruth’s Chris is a chain restaurant (that’s actually considered a bad word here in Portland) but almost everybody I’ve talked to when doing my research for this post recommended them for their happy hour. So if you don’t need something distinctively Portland, this is a great option for happy hour.

I’ve got to be honest in saying that I really don’t know a lot about the Red Star Tavern and looking at the reviews on Yelp they seem to be very mixed. However, the one thing I have heard about is their happy hour menu. So while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them as a place for dinner, if you are hankering for some cheap eats, this might be the place for you.

Something for Your Sweet Tooth

Blue Star Donuts’ Sesame Salted Carmel

If you are craving something sweet don’t give in to the hype known as Voodoo Donuts. The line is long and the donuts are just ok. Instead try one of these great options for something to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Blue Star is the more delicious gourmet version of Voodoo, offering a wide selection of unique donuts made from a classic brioche recipe that originated in the south of France. With flavors like Blue Berry Bourbon Basil, Pistachio Cheesecake with Raspberry Hibiscus glaze and Bacon Maple, you will most likely enjoy a donut experience unlike anything you’ve had before.

Ruby Jewel’s owner started selling her homemade ice cream sandwiches out of a cooler at Portland farmers markets. Today you can find their ice cream sandwiches in stores across the country. Using local ingredients, every flavor is carefully hand crafted daily. Go in for a cone, or have them make you a custom ice cream sandwich on the spot.

So there you have it…my recommendations for where you should get your eat and drink on while attending this year’s Searchfest. Oh and if you need any other recommendations, just look for me, I’m the guy with a beard and beer belly …oh wait, that describes 50% of Portland’s men, so just hit me up on Twitter @twistedlister instead.

Cheers and happy eating!

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