Posted by Josh Berkus
Welcome to Portland! As the top “food city” in America according to the Washington Post, you can eat quite well here, even on a very modest budget. Even during the conference day, you have multiple options for local, quality food and drink. Given the thousands of restaurants, cafes, food carts and pubs in the city, though, we’re going to limit our recommendations to places within a quick walk of the Oregon Convention Center (OCC). For recommendations outside that area, please see Resources below.
Eating In the Convention Center
The OCC now has multiple food and coffee options inside the convention center itself, so if you really don’t want to experience Oregon rain, you never have to exit the show. Menus and hours are detailed on the OCC website; note that the hours of each restaurant vary by day based on expected show traffic. While these eateries are slightly less economical or interesting than options outside the convention center, they keep their prices modest. None of them are open past 4pm.
Your first stop inside the OCC is likely to be one of the two Portland Roasting coffee bars. As well as serving locally roasted coffee and espresso drinks, both locations offer pastries in the morning and shrink-wrapped sandwiches at lunch. Similar take-out lunch options are available from The Orbit Room. Want a hot, sit-down lunch? Try The Dragon Boat Grill or Cucina Rosso … but go early, since there will be thousands of other potters looking for lunch. On Thursday and Friday, the pan-Asian Stir Bistro will also be open for lunch.
Food Near The Convention Center
If the lunch lines are too long inside the OCC, or you simply want more local, interesting fare, grab your umbrella and head outside. While still sparsely occupied, there are a lot more places to eat near the OCC than there were a few years ago.
You don’t have to eat the “continental” breakfast at your hotel. There are several options you can stop by for a quick pastry, or a full breakfast, on your way to NCECA in the morning. J Cafe, located on the walk from the DoubleTree Hotel, has excellent espresso and tasty breakfast and lunch panini. Citizen Baker, across the street from the OCC, serves pastry, sandwiches and coffee all day long. And while My Father’s Place, South of the OCC, is known as a dive bar, they also serve diner-style eggy breakfasts every morning.
For lunch, why not Burgerville? Yes, it’s undeniably fast food, but it’s fast food with a gourmet twist: salads with Oregon blue cheese, Tillamook cheddar cheeseburgers, wild-caught halibut sandwiches, and best of all, milkshakes with local, seasonal ingredients (currently chocolate-hazelnut). If you want something a bit more healthful, try Table 6, a local vegetarian-friendly cafe. Since Table 6 is popular with the local office workers, it can pay to order ahead on their website.
Let’s face it, if Portland is known for anything, it’s beer. With more than 80 breweries in the city (not counting elsewhere in Oregon), you can drink local beer on tap with every meal and never the same one twice. Because of local and state law, most beer halls also serve food, although it can vary from perfunctory to gourmet; check reviews to be sure.
While most of the drinking establishments you’ll frequent will be downtown or elsewhere, there are a few options close by the OCC. The Altabira City Tavern is the restaurant and beer bar in the newly-opened Hotel Eastlund. Go there for a snazzy (but spendy) small-plates lunch or dinner, as well as any of 16 local beers on tap. If the Altabira is too crowded or too rich for your tastes, the Spirit of 77 sports bar has both local sports and 11 rotating taps (the food is not recommended).
Oregon is also known for wine, particularly pinot noir. Sadly, though, there isn’t a good place for wine within a quick walk of the convention center. Try The Portland Wine Bar and Wine Tasting Room downtown.
A Little Further Away
If you have a bit more time to find breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the Broadway district is only about 20 minutes walk from the OCC. There you’ll find popular places like Milo’s City Cafe, Frank’s Noodle House, Cadillac Cafe, and a vegan bar and grill called Black Water. You’ll find that Portland is very accommodating to special diets; whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, halal or something else, there is a restaurant for you — probably more than one!
Downtown and the Pearl District are only a 10-minute MAX ride away from the OCC, making them an option for lunch as well as evening activities. If you want to eat like a real Portlander, head over to the 9th and Alder Food Carts, where inexpensive takeout food from 30 different countries is available. If it’s raining, the Pine Street Market offers food-cart-type foods but with a roof overhead. There are also numerous standard restaurants. For a treat, try the Portland City Grill for a skyscraper view of the city, and don’t miss Cupcake Jones in the Pearl for a little something sweet.
East Burnside is directly South of the OCC, and has many of Portland’s new and hot restaurants and bars, such as Katchka, Screen Door, and Le Pigeon. North is the North Mississippi and Alberta neighborhoods, including many affordable local restaurants like Eat, Petite Provence, Bunk Sandwiches and Pine State Biscuits.
Attendees from small cities or rural areas should keep in mind that Portland is a city, and as such popular restaurants will fill up, even on a weeknight. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially for parties of more than four. Note that some popular eateries don’t take reservations, and some are cash-only. For example, if you plan to go to Pok Pok, go very early (5pm) or be ready to wait for an hour or more. Also, parking downtown is limited and requires payment before 7pm. Tips are expected.
Enjoy your time in Portland, and eat well!