The best restaurants in Portland, Oregon: Seven essential places to eat

Portland is a mecca for foodies, making it hard to choose which restaurants you should hit up in a visit. Here's seven of the best.

Tasty n Alder

Turning breakfast on its head, quite literally, with a tapas menu and full bar operating first thing Monday morning, when it is, astoundingly, packed to the rafters. This means a solid 40-minute wait before you are seated – at the bar, forget a table – where you can watch the hardest-working bartender in town toil over five different kinds of bloody marys for thirsty brunchers.

The food is served "family style" with items like lemon ricotta pancakes so light and fluffy they threaten to fly off your plate, but bibimbap bacon and eggs is the crowd pleaser – flavoursome Korean hotpot mash-up with crispy rice, asian vegetables and hoisin. Wash it down with a bloody mary laced with sriracha and ginger and surely you have new breakfast of champions. tastynalder.com

Coquine

"I have groups of Russian tourist coming in. I'm like, why are you here?" Portland chef Katy Millard says in disbelief of the success her two-year-old destination restaurant. Based at the bottom of woodsy Mount Tabor, which is filled with the neighbourhood's hikers and bikers, the neighbourhood establishment has gained a popularity with visitors alike who've come to experience refined farm-to-table dining that feels like home. Right down to the crockery, supplied by local ceramic Pigeon Toe Ceramics, the emphasis is on local produce, but perks also include warm, friendly service, great cocktails and an excellent wine list courtesy Millard's sommelier husband Ksandek Podbielski.

One can't write about Coquine without mentioning the sublime chocolate chip cookies – plan saving room for some of these salty, smokey, chewy cookies that are the best you'll ever have. No exaggeration. coquinepdx.com

Nongs Khao Man Gai

Famously moving from Bangkok with $70 in her pocket, Nong worked in Portland as a line chef at Pok Pok before setting up her own food cart "empire", now extending to a bricks and mortar restaurant. And it all stems from chicken and rice. But it'll be the best you've ever tasted.

The restaurant takes all it can from Bangkok – old signage, Thai music, simple wooden benches adorned with fresh flowers, with jars of minced garlic and chilli paste. Watch all the behind the scenes action of the large open kitchen.

Choose between chicken – dark or light meat – with her own special sauce – a kicking combination of ginger, soy rice vinegar and garlic, which is so widely adored you can buy it in take home bottles.There's also an addictive peanut sauce – creamy and flavoursome.

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The cocktails are also just right – tropical flavoured spirits with kicks of citrus and herb... better than some you'll get at twice the price around Portland. Not too sweet, with balanced flavours and the perfect accompaniment to spicy food. khaomangai.com

Pok Pok

Khao Soi, Pok Pok.

Khao Soi, Pok Pok. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin

Andy Ricker is the reluctantly famous chef behind the chain of Thai restaurants throughout Portland and in New York. New branch in the Pearl District may be more slick than the original location in SE Division but the food in offer is still the same. Today we had a special whole fish Branzino flown in fresh from Italy – not frozen – in a tamarind broth with fern and green beans that had as much punch as a tom yum soup. Khao Soi never fails to disappoint ; neither does a fragrant, moist Chiang Mai sausage with kaffir lime. Surprise is the dessert – a durian-flavoured coconut custard with sticky rice in a salty coconut sauce. Cocktails here are also good.

Head to the original location for a more authentic experience which is fitted out to resemble a Thai roadside restaurant. Here you can sit at the bar in the original house where food used to be served out a take-out window. pokpokpdx.com

Hat Yai

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Small strip of shops running parallel to Alberta on Killingsworth is one of the hottest new places in Portland. Giving Pok Pok's infamous wings a run for its money, Hat Yai is an offshoot of a restaurant you'll never get into with a small menu of Southern Thai food specialising in fried chicken wings served with Malaysian curry and roti. Match it with local ginger cider or beer served in a jar.

Check out the daily specials such as brisket curry or accompany it with brussel sprouts in sesame oil or a Thai salad. It's a casual place – small with half a dozen tables and a long bar with friendly staff. Although the thick massaman curry is flavoursome, the vinegary, rich sweet chilli sauce kicks its proverbial butt and when matched with crispy fried chicken wings, a match made in heaven. The chicken is served with sticky rice and the roti is to die for. hatyaipdx.com

Tusk

Let Tusk take you on a Magic Carpet Ride, relax, sit back, and allow one of Portland's top chefs to heap bowls of some of the best middle eastern food this country has to offer. It's "feed me" menu is generous – especially at the $50 price point – and includes flaky fluffy pita with a hazelnut hummus, vibrant salads with seeds and grains, apricots and dates, and dabs of soft cheese, accompanied with smokey chilly oil. Match with some of Oregon's best local wines or superb cocktails. For dessert there is soft serve, doughnuts with butterscotch and tahini biscuits.

The space is bright and white, suited to the buzzy atmosphere of a new restaurant, with artistically shaped cacti propped in corners and a huge photo of a young Keith Richards in a pool to ponder for those sitting at the bar. You'll find Tusk in East Burnside, on the city's hip Eastside. tuskpdx.com

Ox

Come for the meat, stay for the vegetables.

Don't be fooled by the two men turning meat on the massive grill at the restaurant's entrance – scoff you might, but this Argentinian restaurant does vegetables better than anyone. Here, the meat is a side to the to dishes such as maple glazed carrots with truffle-salted pistachios or asparagus with pecan salsa macha, a decadent nut butter. Order a meaty main to share and many more plates of vegetables.

It's a pseudo-industrial place, low-lit with exposed red brick, green velvet benches and two bars to sit at – one around the bar, and another around the grill, which could be a cosy winter option. Cocktails here are also excellent (tip: order the Re-animator). oxpdx.com

See also: The best food festival in the world is in Portland

See also: Distillery Row - a spirit tasting adventure that's unique to Portland

The writer was a guest of Travel Portland

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