Tasting the World in One City

A Guide to Portland’s Best International Eats


March 30, 2015 Culture By Photo by Jeremy Fenske
portlands-best-ethnic-cuisine-gear-patrol-lead-full

Local and approachable may describe this town best, but Portland’s global culinary offerings also rivals any city on earth. Whether you’ve got an evening or a weekend in the city of roses, plan on eating at one of these standout ethnic restaurants. And keep a roll of Tums within reach; no amount of digestive rebellion should stall enjoying meals this appetizing and diverse.

Bröder Nord

Broder-Nord-Gear-Patrol-650x600

Photo Credit: Lauren Coleman

Swedish/Nordic: Rattling off the foundations of a classic Swedish menu requires a dive into IKEA memories for most Americans living outside of the Midwest. Portland is one exception. As with many successful culinary enterprises in the city, Bröder Nord has expanded to two locations, both known for their brunches of Swedish hash (a combination of potatoes, onions and baked eggs topped with pickled beets and optional smoked trout) and Aebleskiver (Danish pancakes) sweetened with house-made lemon curd or lingonberry jam. 2240 North Interstate Avenue Portland, OR 97227

Kachka

Kachka-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Kachka

Russian: Surviving a vodka-fueled evening is simple. Just ensure all toasts are padded by Zakuski — Russian finger food — which Portland’s Kachka happens to specialize in. Nosh on dishes (between infused Vodka swigs) including a sliding scale of caviars, “herring under a fur coat” (described on the menu as “7 layer dip. but russian. and actually a salad”), and short rib borscht before moving on to classics like chicken Kiev and Stroganoff. 720 Southeast Grand Avenue, Portland, OR 97214

Little Bird Bistro

Little-Bird-Bistro-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Little Bird Bistro

French: The sibling to PDX’s widely popular LePigeon isn’t exactly a secret. The New York Times even stopped by back in 2012. Most agree, though, that the fame hasn’t altered James Beard rising star chef Gabriel Rucker’s intent of “accessibility for the everyday diner”. Iconic French entrees like coq au vin and cassoulet priced above $25 are balanced by ham and gruyere baguettes and even a burger below $12. The five-course tasting menu for $65 is a steal on a price-per-course basis, particularly for those in search of chef guidance. 219 Southwest 6th Avenue Portland, OR 97204

La Taq

La-Taq-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Johnattan Curiel

Mexican: Portlanders know Rodney Muirhead as the city’s BBQ king and founder of Podnah’s Pit. His recently opened La Taq cantina, built right next door to Podnah’s, may lean more toward Tex Mex, but there’s little to dislike about finding his signature brisket wrapped up in an enchilada. Throw in an agave-inspired tequila cocktail from star bartender Kevin Ludwig for an enjoyable night several thousand miles away from the border. 1625 Northeast Killingsworth Street Portland, OR 97211

Sok Sab Bai

Sok-Sab-Bai-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Sok Sab Bai

Cambodian: The Clinton neighborhood favorite, honored more by solid Yelp reviews over best-of lists, proudly represents a genre of southeast Asian cuisine often overshadowed by Thai and Vietnamese cooking. What started as a food cart has transformed an old Portland house into a lively, wallet-friendly destination for unique fare such as ginger fried bass, “Cambodian sandwiches” consisting of caramelized spicy braised pork, fried chicken skin, house pickles and jalapeños on a locally baked French baguette, and chae chien (coconut battered fried banana) for dessert. Southeast 21st Avenue, Portland, OR

Ava Gene’s

ava-genes-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Ava Gene’s

Italian: Having his second restaurant venture honored as the fifth-best new restaurant in America by Bon Appétit in 2013 just poured more gasoline on the red-hot streak of Stumptown Coffee Roaster founder Duane Sorenson in PDX. His edgy Italian experiment is named after his daughter and was created as a culinary gift to the neighborhood. Inside, rock and roll soundtracks serve as a new-world reminder to Ava Gene’s Medici-levels of interior decadence — forming an atmosphere that leaves as much as of a lasting impression as the innovative dishes. Needing an English glossary for the copious Italian kitchen terms sprinkled across the menu is unfortunate, but a minor speed bump in an otherwise stellar experience. 3377 Southeast Division Street Portland, OR 97202

Bamboo Sushi

Bamboo-Sushi-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Bamboo Sushi

Japanese/Sushi: Portland’s best sushi spot is renowned for its Kobe Burger on brioche with aged Tillamook white cheddar, caramelized onions and onion rings as it is for its fish. That’s not a knock on its seafood — as the founder of the first independent restaurant certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, Kristofor Lofgren is as serious about seafood as they come. Order the “house on fire” mackerel, drizzled in red chili oil, topped with pickled mustard “caviar” and seasoned with lemon charcoal and alder wood smoke, or the MSC High 35 roll consisting of East Coast red crab mixed with spicy sesame aioli, avocado, cucumber and asparagus, topped with sake poached pears, eel sauce, tempura crunchies and tobiko, and you’ll get the point. 310 Southeast 28th Avenue Portland, OR 97214

Ataula

Ataula-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Ataula

Spanish: Atuala — which means “to the table” in Catalan — ditches the pomp often associated with tapas in favor of neighborhood conviviality. Fare like the pepito de ternera (veal breast covered in havarti cheese and roasted green peppers with horseradish) or the atuala montadito (cured salmon, mascarpone yogurt, black truffle honey and coca bread) is simple but innovative, making Ataula an ideal spot for catching up over a fizzing glass of Cava. 1818 Northwest 23rd Place Portland, OR 97210

Stammtisch

Stammtisch-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Stammtisch

German: Critics agree that this relatively new German beer hall is best experienced with a posse. Bring a crowd and obey the words found on plaques attached to the table: “As in Germany, Please Share Your Table With Those You Do Not Yet Know”. Fill your steins with liters of Bitburgers, Hofbräus and Dunkel Weisses before tackling fried pork and veal sausages with curried ketchup, potato cakes with applesauce and schweinshaxen — smoked and braised pork shank with spätzle and red cabbage. Repeat. 401 Northeast 28th Avenue Portland, OR 97232

Bollywood Theater

Bollywood-Theater-Gear-Patrol

Photo Credit: Jeremy Fenske

Indian: Chef Troy MacLarty’s résumé includes stints at Chez Panisse, yet there’s nothing pretentious about his Indian street food-themed restaurant, which has now expanded to two locations. As you’d guess from the name, MacLarty is as ethnically apart from Mumbai as it gets, but an extended trip to India served as the inspiration for dishes like vada pav, a spicy potato dumpling coated in chickpea batter and fried that’s described as “the poor man’s burger” of the country’s capital city. 2039 Northeast Alberta Street Portland, OR 97211