As you may have heard, April is National Grilled Cheese Month. Okay, you probably haven’t heard, but trust us, it is. An Internet search reveals that many people are aware of this month’s special designation, but nobody knows exactly who gave April such a lofty title. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the month, we set out not to find the best grilled cheese in Portland, but to taste the offerings from a wide range of establishments. From food carts to high-end restaurants, we went on a three-day grilled cheese binge so that we could appraise grilled cheese sandwiches for all types of taste buds (and budgets).
The Grilled Cheese Grill on NE Alberta made for an obvious starting point in our artery-clogging quest. We ducked into the school bus-turned-kitschy dining area to try the Northsider ($5.25), a sandwich which features provolone cheese, tomato, and basil pesto. The pesto was the star of this sandwich and made up for the slightly green, tasteless tomato. The provolone was stringy without being rubbery, and completed the pleasant, caprese-esque experience. It was a trip to Italy, via your childhood kitchen, for a perfectly reasonable price.
Grilled Cheese Grill, 1027 NE Alberta, 503.206.8959
Next up was The EastBurn, the popular bar and restaurant on East Burnside. More famous for its heavenly Trinity french fries, EastBurn served up one of the best grilled cheeses that we sampled. The key was the bread, Grand Central multigrain that was hearty and full of seeds on the crust. The healthy-tasting bread made us feel better about devouring the cheese, bacon and tomato inside of it. The bacon was crisp, and the tomato was juicy and flavorful. The four-cheese mix was somewhat lost in the midst of the other ingredients, but none of us complained. This one may have been the best relative to its price: $5 during The EastBurn’s “recess“ happy hour.
The EastBurn, 1800 East Burnside, 503.236.2876
After licking our lips at The EastBurn, we headed north to the Breakside Brewery on NE Dekum Street. There we tried the restaurant’s only grilled cheese option, the spicy grilled cheese ($8). What it may have lacked in title creativity, the sandwich made up for with a nice kick provided by a moderate dash of chipotle Tabasco. The sauce meshed perfectly with a mix of cheddar, mozzarella and pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, and cilantro. Despite its overwhelming gooeyness, the sandwich was easy to scarf down. It went particularly well with some of Breakside’s beer offerings. Our only complaint was the inclusion of a sad looking pickle and cilantro on the plate, which none of us dared to touch.
Breakside Brewery, 820 NE Dekum Street, 503.719.6475
The final stop of our first day of tasting was Journeys in Multnomah Village. We braved the chill and sat on the porch to eat the grilled cheese bites ($5 during happy hour, $6.50 afterwards), which were presented in four small segments with appetizing grill marks on both sides. The Journeys grilled cheese bites are known for the accompanying dipping sauce, a pinkish concoction called world famous red electric sauce. According to Brian Russell, whose business card informs that he is an Indulgence Facilitator, the sauce was created in a rush when he and another Journeys employee realized they would need a sauce for their grilled cheese bites. The result is a sun-dried tomato pesto aioli that has a nice lemony, peppery tang to it. The tasty sauce combined with the perfectly fine grilled cheese made Journeys a winner.
Journeys, 7771 SW Capitol Highway, 503.245.4573
Day two began at Evoe, the stylish restaurant attached to Pastaworks on Hawthorne. The luscious smells of cured meat, cheese and fresh bread greeted us as we sat at one the wooden communal tables and bobbed along to the Beatles and Rolling Stones songs playing in the background. Evoe’s grilled cheese ($7) featured some of the thickest bread we encountered, which housed subtle white cheese and, more noticeably, a zingy mustard. In fact, the bread and cheese served as a vehicle for the tasty mustard, which deserved to be the centerpiece of the sandwich.
Evoe, 3731 SE Hawthorne Blvd, 503.232.1010
After a quick jaunt across the river, we found ourselves at Kenny and Zuke's Sandwichworks, a Northwest offshoot of the famous downtown deli. We asked for a grilled cheese with the works ($6.75) and received a sandwich loaded with cheese, bacon, tomato, and a slab of avocado. Our initial excitement waned as we found the avocado to mask all of the other flavors. Only with a healthy dose of Cholula hot sauce did the sandwich rise above mediocre. The menu makes no mention of avocado on the grilled cheese, and next time, we’ll make sure they don’t include it.
Kenny and Zuke's Sandwichworks, 2376 NW Thurman Street, 503.954.1737
Our third and final day began at Little T American Baker, where we had tried to eat the previous day but were stymied by the fact that it only serves breakfast on Sundays. The charming staff assured us that the grilled cheese ($7) was worth returning for, and they were right. It was the tallest sandwich we sampled, with the bread toasted perfectly golden brown. Despite the thickness, eating it was like biting through delicious air. The light, sweetish bread complemented the tangy cheese—a combination of cheddar, provolone and gruyere—perfectly.
Little T American Baker, 2600 SE Division Street, 503.238.3458
From the sleek interior of Little T, we headed into the rain and the food carts on SW 5th and Alder. There we sampled the texas toast grilled cheese ($2.50) from Brunch Box, a cart better known for its heart attack-inducing burgers (including one housed between two grilled cheese sandwich ‘buns’). This was the closest thing we had to the grilled cheese that the proverbial mom used to make. Buttery without being greasy, the two slabs of texas toast surrounded a layer of perfectly melted yellow American cheese. We scarfed it in about two minutes and lamented the lack of tomato soup for dipping.
Brunch Box, SW 5th and Stark Street, 503.477.3286
We didn’t lament for long, however, as we then went to the Savor Soup House food cart on SW 10th and Alder. The well-known soup cart includes a make-your-own grilled cheese option with toppings ranging from apple to turkey to Vegemite. We took the easy way out, however, and opted for the “grilled cheese idea of the day,” which included Tillamook cheddar, goat cheese, tomato slices and scallion. The earthiness of the goat cheese mixed well with the tangy cheese and refreshing tomato. We could spot scallion bits throughout the sandwich but couldn’t really taste them. Savor’s famous tomato soup, made with fennel and orange and topped with Parmesan cheese and croutons, made for a perfect side dish until I tragically let it spill all over the plastic bag in which I was holding it. Thankfully, we had already finished the sandwich without incident.
Savor Soup House, 1003 SW Alder Street, 503.548.7652
After eating nine grilled cheese sandwiches in three short days, we hobbled to our final stop, Clyde Common. There we were rewarded for our gut busting and potential onset of lactose intolerance, for Clyde Common’s grilled cheese ($9 with bacon, $8 without) was the best of the bunch. The Monterey jack cheese had just the slightest piquant flavor and was bolstered by marinated Anaheim peppers, forest green slivers of vinegary goodness. The inclusion of Clyde Common’s delicious house-cured bacon seemed almost unfair, as if the chef were bragging. This wonderful combination came sandwiched between two slices of a Pearl Bakery baguette, which sports lovely panini press grill marks.
Clyde Common, 1014 SW Stark Street, 503.228.3333
Unfortunately for penny pinchers, the best grilled cheese we tried was also the priciest. Nevertheless, nearly all of the sandwiches we tried warranted a return trip, including most of the cheapest options. What’s more, we only scratched the surface of Portland’s grilled cheese scene (had we eaten any more we may have gone into some sort of dairy shock). So, in honor of National Grilled Cheese Month, get out there and celebrate in the best, gooeyest way possible.