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These, in my opinion, are the five best comfort food dishes in Portland. Let the flame-wars begin.

One of the goals I've set for myself in my five-day stint as the Powell's guest blogger is to cover as much ground as possible in Portland's vast, diverse dining scene — a microcosm (microblosm?) of the aims of the new Fearless Critic Portland Restaurant Guide, which reviews 300 places to eat in and around the city.

For anyone who wants to come debate and discuss food, our big book release/Q&A/booksigning event is tonight, 7:30 p.m., at the Powell's on Burnside. I plan to show up prepared with several ballpoint pens, a few shots of local aquavit, and a bullet-proof vest.

So, for today's blog entry, I asked myself this question: What's the opposite of the esoteric Chinese dishes I described yesterday? What would be the furthest I could get from Cantonese roast suckling pig, Hong Kong-style "pineapple buns," live bait shrimp, Szechuan peppercorns, and cubes of duck's blood with ginger and scallion?

How about simple, basic comfort food?

After a lot of soul-searching, I'm ready to name the top five comfort-food dishes in Portland. This being comfort food, and thus utterly subjective, these dishes probably won't match up to your top five, and at least one might even elicit a "yuck" (a sentiment the Fearless Critic panelists have done their best to strike from our collective psyche, or at least a sentiment about which we've chosen to live in denial).

In sum, I'm willing to put my ass on the line here. Bring on the comments. I'll count down my five favorite comfort food dishes in PDX, David Letterman-style:

5. Euro Dish (better known as the "Traditional Polish Food Cart").

Central European food is the original comfort food — but it's rarely emulated with much verve in America. One thing's for sure: only in Portland would you be able to find stuffed cabbage this soft, comforting, and delicious at a food cart. Throw in sausages with mustard, potato-and-cheese-curd pierogi, pork-sausage-sauerkraut stew, and delicately fried schnitzel, and you've basically got an all-star lineup of comfort foods at this food cart in the midst of food-cart central at SW 10th and Alder.

Stuffed cabbage (with sausage in background), Euro Dish.

4. Tacos (de pescado, camarón, barbacoa, al pastor, etc.), Taquería 7 Estrellas, Tigard.

This place is completely off the map — I mean, completely. It has never been mentioned by any mainstream media outlet, unless you count our new book as a mainstream media outlet. Even the user-generated restaurant-review websites have a debate as to its exact address (it's 12198 SW Main St, Tigard, OR, in my opinion). But serious Mexican-food-nerd-style tacos have long been one of my standby comfort foodsand these are perhaps the best tacos in the greater Portland area. The atmosphere is nothing — just a few cafeteria tables and a small, distracted staff — but battered, fried fish and shrimp are treated with the utmost respect here, as is meltingly juicy barbacoa. Even the tortillas are just right. And that's not to mention the torta ahogada, a Guadalajara specialty that's hard to find anywhere in the U.S. — never mind Tigard. It's a perfect lunch stop for anyone on their way to an afternoon tasting session in Oregon wine country.

Tacos (camarón, barbacoa, al pastor, pescado), Taquería 7 Estrellas

Taquería 7 Estrellas: An atmosphere that encourages you to focus purely on the food.

3. Slowburger, Slow Bar.

In a city of great burgers — don't ever forget the downmarket burger at Nob Hill Bar & Grill, its upmarket equivalent at Bluehour, or the cookout-to-order burger at Ned Ludd — the burger at this hipsterish dive bar outlasts the competition. And I mean outlasts, in the sense of serving the burger for about three hours longer than almost any other kitchen in town, even on weekdays. Painted Hills beef, gruyère, butter lettuce, pickle relish, and, yes, onion rings (on the burger!) + late-night hours = the ultimate comfort food. The Slowburger is kept from the #1 slot only because the staff is unable to cook the meat to temperature — it always comes out a notch or two overcooked.

Slowburger, Slow Bar.

Slow Bar.

2. Borjomi sparkling water, Good Neighbor Market.

Here's the oddball pick, and I stand by it. This totally unknown Russian grocery store on 82nd Ave. may be the only establishment in the Fearless Critic restaurant guide more underreported than Taquería 7 Estrellas. But it's not clear to me why nobody in downtown Portland seems hip to the spectacular selections of smoked fishes, caviars, 29-cents-per-pound cabbage, artisanal butters, farmer's cheeses, home-baked breads, and ryazhenka (cooked cultured milk) on offer here. More importantly (with respect to this article), is there anything more canonically comforting than Borjomi, the fizzy, salty mineral water taken from Georgian springs that many Russian believe to have unique medicinal qualities for hangovers? Better still, as you can see from the photo, all the price tags are in Cyrillic. That'll appeal to the escapist in you.

Good Neighbor Market: magical Borjomi mineral water.

Good Neighbor Market: welcome sign.

Good Neighbor Market: cabbage for 29 cents per pound.

1. Pizza, Scholls Apizza.

This still-humble pizzeria in Southeast Portland gets more local and national press than it possibly deserves — and then justifies every word of it (and the absurd queues, which begin at about 4:30 p.m. on weekdays) by reliably turning out better pizza than anyone else in the city. The secret? There's no secret. Scholls uses an ordinary metal pizza oven. None of these wood-burning, brick-oven hijinks. Ridiculous.

Scholls Apizza: pizza with sausage.

Scholls Apizza: main dining room.

÷ ÷ ÷

Robin Goldstein has an A.B. in neuroscience and philosophy from Harvard University, a J.D. from the Yale Law School, a certificate in cooking from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and a WSET advanced wine and spirits certificate.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Fearless Critic Portland Restaurant... Used Trade Paper $8.50

Robin Goldstein is the author of Fearless Critic Portland Restaurant Guide 2010 (Fearless Critic)

10 Responses to "These, in my opinion, are the five best comfort food dishes in Portland. Let the flame-wars begin."

    Deetz December 1st, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    oh but what about the shepherd's pie from Kell's? I know it's a touristy restaurant but the shepherd's pie is the best I've ever had. And what could be more comforting then a combination of hamburger, mashed potatoes, cheese and tender veggies topped off with some HP sauce?
    And the reuben from Kenny and Zuke's deserves at least an honorable mention...

    Manya December 1st, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    What a great list! Couldn't have done it better myself! Yes, there are other little-known gems (Victor's European Meats in Tigard comes to mind for the Polish sausage, not the irascible owner). The ultimate burger, real tacos, sublime pizza and the good sense to add a Russian deli (always a comfort spot for me). From one ex-lawyer and gourmand to another, I salute you and will gladly go Russian deli-crawling with you any day you choose.

    Gariti December 1st, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    7 Estrella is an excellent place I'm glad it was mentioned. It saddens me that nearby tres hermanos by the joy theatre is no longer open :(

    The Incredible Kid December 1st, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I was looking through the book and noticed a glaring error in the entry on the India Chaat House. The multiple references to South Indian and Southern Indian cuisine in the review are completely out of place. Neither the India Chaat House, or the Bombay Chaat House (which I support) have ever served South Indian food. They serve food from the Punjab, a region currently divided between Pakistan and the NW corner of India. Veerrry different from the multiple cuisines of South India. The fact that this was the first entry I read made me very skeptical of the quality of these reviews.

    gal4giants December 1st, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Good Neighbor Market is one of my favorites...something I really miss about the bay area.

    I had to comment simply because of the first 4 words of our mention. Thank you for noticing & classifying us as a pizzeria. Next year you won't have to sweat along with our servers (Kiah in the beater) during Portland heat spells. We bit the bullet & upgraded the original side ac to match the frigid 'new side' ac.

    Thanks much,
    kim @ apizza scholls

    KevinS December 1st, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Biscuits and gravy at Bertie Lou's (who are also mysteriously absent from your book).

    WordsMyth December 3rd, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Uh, Robin ... You write about the "Good Neighbor Market," but the photograph of the store window clearly shows the name in Cyrillic is "ΓАСТРОНОМ" or, roughtly translated into English - "Gastronome."

    ann December 4th, 2009 at 6:57 am

    These places all sound wonderful and will certainly try them when I
    make that trip to Portland for Rose Festival this spring..
    Does not bother me that areas in India are probably not correct.
    Will look forward to more of your opinions.

    Bobkat December 6th, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    The Slowburger does seriously rock, but you're right about the kitchen. Last time I was there, I ordered 'medium' (a relatively safe bet, usually), and then the burger came blood-rare!
    I did send it back, and they got it right the second time, and also comped us a round of drinks, so it all worked out in the end.
    Rivalling the Slowburger is the burger at Savoy on Clinton. Their kitchen is also more reliable (and quicker, usually) than Slow Bar... and they have fried cheese curds, the ultimate comfort food!

    Eli January 18th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    If anyone has a definitive answer on the address of Taqueria 7 Estrellas, I would love to hear it. I went to 12198 Main in Tigard, and it's a restaurant called Taqueria La Fuente. It is definitely not the same place pictured above.

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