Patrick’s Portland Restaurant Pointers

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to visit Portland on a couple of extended trips. Even more I visited Portland to visit someone who inspires exploration.

When I was up there last the weather was, frankly, not very inspiring. Overcast skies throughout, with regular rain and only very occasional glimpses of the sun (though these were handily placed on days that were set aside for being out, so it was okay).

But, even if the weather here in SoCal suits me just fine I have to say the restaurants there in the north are more my style.

A few stand out, and one has become what I think is my favorite place to eat anywhere.

I’m not fancy or looking for chic style or polished atmosphere. I’m looking for good unique food, in good unique settings, with fair enough prices. Having good beverages is a great plus.

First on my list is Queen of Sheba in Portland. It’s a no-frills, kind of a hole in the wall, Ethiopian restaurant located in a fairly nondescript part of Portland. The decor is pretty utilitarian and the space is pretty tight. But the food is very, very good, served in the traditional Ethiopian way.

The second is Noho’s. It’s Hawaiian food. Good sized portions, good prices, and authentic in taste and casualness. Maybe it helped that we ate there on a Sunday afternoon that actually had sun shining. But, I imagine having a taste of the islands on a rainy day would do a heart very good indeed.

The next one on my list isn’t at all obscure except for those who don’t live in the Northwest. It’s a chain. But that doesn’t quite describe it all that well. Because while we can assume that every Chili’s in the country looks pretty much the same, has the same menu, and atmosphere it’s absolutely not that way with McMenamin’s. We went to three locations during my visits. The first was McMenamin’s Tavern and Pool, located in Portland and lives up to its name, being a pub with pool tables. Nothing extravagant or particularly out of the ordinary. Good pub atmosphere, good food, and good drinks–I highly recommend the Terminator Stout. I remember it mostly, however, because it was the first restaurant I went to with Amy in Portland, on the first day of my first trip up there, just after spending a fair while at Powell’s bookstore. We were so cute and unsure and cautious about where things were going then. Now we’re just cute.

The next one we went to gave me a lot more insight into the McMenamin’s experience. On our way back from exploring the Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls we stopped at McMenamin’s Edgefield. McMenamin’s is unique in that they don’t just have little restaurants. They buy up historic sites and make a whole McMenamin’s experience out of them. Edgefield was built in 1911 as a European style resort. And it is still run this way, with a hotel, spa, and all kinds of other relaxing diversions, including a number of different places to eat and drink on the grounds. We ate outside, where mostly grilled food was served. I had a big ol’ hamburger, tater tots, and good conversation. A storm was beginning to arrive while we were there and for a little while, until the table with an umbrella next to us opened up, we sat and ate and drank while being gently sprinkled. There was lightning in the distance and a rainbow on the horizon.

The third McMenamin’s I went to was Kennedy School. And it was just that. A school, an elementary school, bought by McMenamin’s and made into a restaurant/hotel. Totally unique and fun.

The fun thing about McMenamin’s is that while the drinks stay the same, the menu’s are unique, with some exceptions, and they make it so a person wants to visit all the locations.

Next on the restaurant list is a good German restaurant, Gustav’s. There’s polka music playing as you walk in. They serve free lemonade while you wait for your table. There’s very good German food and a great selection of German beers. Can’t go wrong with that.

Finally, is what has become my favorite place to eat. Salvador Molly’s. They call it Pirate Cooking, and that’s not so much because the staff wear eye patches or fake parrots and says “arrrr!” a lot. There’s nary a “shiver my timbers” to be heard. So get that image out of your mind. Instead, it’s good world cooking, the kind of cooking that seafarers might find in a circumnavigation. The setting is as casual as can be found. It’s in a little strip mall, right across from a McMenamin’s in fact. But the food is extraordinary in diversity, portions, and price. More than that, however, extraordinary in taste. I had the Ginger Peanut Chicken Breast and Amy had the Kalua Pork. Because we were quite a bit hungry on that late afternoon we shared the Rasta Rings; well, we shared our meals too. Add to this the selection of mixed drinks–rum being their specialty. The service is great and relaxed, making us feel instantly comfortable.

After filling up on delicious food, I got out of my seat, sat next to Amy and we watched Big Brown entirely not win the Belmont Stakes.

So there you go. Those are my Portland culinary discoveries–places I fully expect to eat at the next time I’m in Portland and places that go a very, very long way in making the awful weather seem not all that bad.

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