There are days when eating like an adult sounds like an absolute chore. In those moments, the only thing that appeals is a direct injection of comfort-food dopamine. These are the kind of things you may have eaten years ago at a mall food court, on a road trip, or after soccer practice. No judgment—our list is designed to help you achieve exactly the kind of joy you experienced then, but as an adult with access to your own modes of transportation and income.
These menu items far outstrip the quality of the originals you may remember in terms of ingredients and execution, yet still bring a big grin to your face at the end of a long day. or days. Right now, the city is filled with new flavors served with a dash of style to appeal to your adult sensibilities as well as cool colors and limited nutrition value for your inner, gourmet child.
Think of them as foods that appeal to both sides of the proverbial Frosted Mini-Wheats.
Walla Walla French Onion Dip With Ruffles at Pacific Standard
100 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., kexhotels.com/eat-drink/pacificstandard. 3pm-midnight daily.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Benjamin “Banjo” Amberg’s bar with bites on Kex’s ground floor hits plenty of familiar notes. It’s in a hotel, just like you remember from their time at Clyde Common, and the décor here is still “Most Interesting Man in the World” chic, with tall bookshelves, leather chairs and lamps atop the bar. It adds up to a vibe that feels stylish but unfussy. On their food menu, the duo add a touch of unexpected whimsy in the form of Ruffles potato chips paired with a housemade Walla Walla onion dip. Presented simply in a ramekin with the aforementioned Ruffles on the side and a kiss of scallions on top, it’s a great value at $8. During happy hour, when all menu items are $2 off, the dip’s optional upgrade of osetra caviar drops to a price of $98—a steal! Caviar or no, it’s a high-low pairing designed for even the pickiest of eaters, with the tangy-sweet bottom balancing atop the engineered saltiness of the Ruffles.
Fried Mozzarella Shots at Gabbiano’s
5411 NE 30th Ave., 503-719-4373, gbbianospdx.com. 4-10 pm Wednesday-Sunday.
They’re ooey, gooey, saucy and cheesy—what’s not to like? “The Fried Mozzarella” (the menu takes pains to include the definite article, Ohio State style) is Gabbiano’s galaxy brain take on the humble mozzarella stick served with a side of marinara. Eschewing the traditional cheese torpedo shape, the red sauce wizards at Gabbiano’s chose to invert the entire proposition. Their sticks are transmuted into a shooter by shaping the mozzarella around an actual shot glass. After it’s breaded and fried, the cheese becomes a load-bearing vessel for the marinara. The sauce goes on top and in the empty middle of the “shotzarella” before it’s all dusted with Parmesan and parsley. It’s no longer a finger food, but still the main event the moment it’s set on the table. The mozz arrives on mismatched dishware with silverware that appears to have been pilfered from Nonna’s during Sunday supper. Gabbiano’s homey back garden is the perfect place to debate whether to order another round of mozzarella shots for the table. Let’s hope they choose to reinvent garlic knots next.
Soft Serve With a Chocolate Shell at Bluto’s
2838 SE Belmont St., 971-383-1619, blutospdx.com. 11am-10pm daily.
Anyone who’s spent time at an East Coast Greek diner will be familiar with the “Greek-inspired” playbook at Bluto’s, while anyone who’s eaten at Lardo or Grassa will be familiar with Rick Gencarelli’s emphasis on a pared-down menu featuring only the hits. His fast-casual spot slings souvlaki from a wood-fired grill, supplemented with dips, pitas, and “ranchziki” in a light-filled space decorated with houseplants and anchored by a stack of wood in front of the register. The soft serve, available in any flavors as long as they’re chocolate or vanilla, comes with two optional—which is to say, absolutely necessary—toppings. Our go-to is the chocolate tahini magic shell with pistachios; the chocolate goes on first and cools, but is studded with the pistachios crumbled on top. It’s creamy, chocolaty and crunchy, the essential three C’s of any well-balanced soft serve. While not served in a baseball helmet, it’s still delicious.
Ube Latte at Portland Ca Phê
2815 SE Holgate Blvd., 2601 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (opening soon); portlandcaphe.com. 7:30 am-4 pm Monday-Friday, 8 am-4 pm Saturday-Sunday.
Cà Phê is a remix of Portland’s coffee culture, featuring both arabica and robusta beans grown in the highlands of Central Vietnam and roasted here in town. Not exactly familiar with the East Asian country’s geography? There’s a helpful mural of Vietnam on the wall, the most noticeable piece of art in a space that’s utilitarian enough to use stacks of baguettes destined to become banh mi later that day as part of the ambience. Owner Kim Dam’s robusta bean rehabilitation is commendable, but it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact if the drinks weren’t so darn good. Arriving in a shade of Tinky Winky purple, the ube latte at Cà Phê is more than a social media phenomenon. The ube root extract lends the latte its signature color, though it’s less sweet than it looks, simply because the shade suggests a flavor profile targeting an overstimulated 6-year-old. The lactose intolerant can sub in alternative milks, while lactophiles may want to add a pillowy cloud of cheese on top for bonus style and dairy points.
Fried Chicken Torito Salad at OK Omens
1758 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-231-9959, okomens.com. 5-10pm daily.
While not all salads are inherently good for you, they are quite improved by the presence of sliced fried chicken and a bottle of Crystal Hot Sauce. Sitting in the dining room while eating OK Omens’ spin on a Mexican Caesar salad—complete with chopped romaine, creamy cilantro dressing, cotija and corn nuts, another crucial component to any salad—is one of Portland’s great pleasures. Think of it as the platonic ideal of a Cheesecake Factory-style entree. Chef Justin Woodward, who has run the kitchen since OK Omens replaced Cafe Castagna in 2018, targets all those pleasure receptors in your brain with ruthless efficiency. He’s perfected a combination of hot chicken and cool cilantro dressing with the crispy skin of the poultry and the corn nuts for crunch, while the hot sauce imparts a Portland-appropriate level of spice. See, Mom? It’s a salad, it’s totally healthy.
Lime Pepper Wings at Sunshine Noodles
2175 NW Raleigh St., Suite 105, 971-220-1997, sunshinenoodlespdx.com. 5-9pm Sunday-Thursday, 11am-11pm Friday-Saturday.
Some might argue the relative merits of big box chicken wing purveyors in our fine city—your Wingstops, your Fires on the Mountain—Portland’s best wings since the departure of Pok Pok emerge from the fryer at a Cambodian noodle shop in Northwest Portland. Diane Lam’s Sunshine Noodles, which rose from the Pray + Tell pop-up during the thick of the pandemic to become a brick-and-mortar earlier this year, still slings its OG lime-and-pepper wings alongside more classical Cambodian dishes. The gluten-free dredge gives the wings a level of crispiness that saucier wings cannot achieve, supplemented by spice from the pepper, zip from the lime, and juiciness from the chicken itself. It’s intensely, almost painfully flavorful. Paired with a “Hello Kitty from the Year 3000″ aesthetic (Dan Flavin-esque lighting, candy-colored chopsticks, ice cubes branded with the restaurant’s mascot), it sure beats watching the Seahawks lose with a dozen wings as your only companion. Drumettes only, please.