Remember when Portland was sunny by June? Yeah, neither do we. But let’s look on the bright side (hah!): This kind of weather is the perfect complement to hearty Old World cookery, which is enjoying a revival on the PDX foodie circuit.
Aside from being delicious, it also syncs well with Portland’s progressive dining scene. Rustic Eastern European fare championed the sustainable farming, local ingredients, and whole-animal approach of today’s sustainable food movement. Sausage lovers and pork belly enthusiasts, rejoice! There’s plenty of Old World fare to be found in the city, from traditional Eastern European cuisine to modern interpretations.
So go ahead, get out of the cold and hole up at some of these places. We promise, by your second bite, the only drizzle you’ll be aware of is the sauce from your spätzle. Maybe by the time you awaken from your food coma, the sun will have emerged from the gloom of the Northwestern spring. And if not, luckily, these places are here year-round (much like our winter seems to be!). Anyone for another Zywiec?
Grandpa’s Cafe and Polish Deli
Hands down, this is the best place to order that Zywiec and gorge on some seriously good Polish food. A tiny space in the basement of the Polish Library Association, Grandpa's is run by an affable man and his wife, who he'll tell you is an excellent cook as he pats his ample belly. Wood paneling and sconce lights make it feel like your great-uncle’s winter cabin, and Grandpa’s radiates the same kind of warmth. Who needs that sun when you’re in here? Tables murmur contentment as they tuck into kraut and sausage, asking if everyone's tried the mushroom pierogies (really, take as many of these as possible). Only the last bite of shared bratwurst interrupts the convivial atmosphere, and that 3 p.m. closing time will come sooner than you want it to.
Grandpa's Cafe and Polish Deli, 3832 N Interstate Ave, 360.936.6564
Ararat Armenian & Russian Restaurant-Bakery
“We make sandwiches, yes. Big ones.” So says the charming lady behind the counter at Ararat, a place best known for its Russian pastries. This deli-by-day, disco-by-night is also a gem of a grocery store, selling imported Eastern European specialties. Invite a friend for lunch; grab some house-smoked fish, a loaf of fresh bread, a bottle of German Riesling, and post up at a table in the dormant club, watching the monsoon outside. Finish off with an almond puff pastry that will quickly end up on the shirts of anyone involved in eating it. Warnings that these profiteroles are “messy, very messy!” are not to be taken lightly. If you’re lucky, by the time you lick the last bit of sweet cream from your fingers, you’ll have some clear weather for the sprint back to your car.
Ararat Bakery, 5716 SE 92nd Ave, 503.235.5526
Grüner is the answer for those craving some downtown chic with their calf liver. You’ll find the German-inspired menu here to be as elegant as the space itself: giant windows provide a great view into the abyss of rain outside, but your excellent spätzle—or the grilled quail, the bratwurst, the nettle and ricotta dumplings (we could go on)—will command your attention. Drink deep from a bottle of Zweigelt and don’t feel bad about going back for seconds.
Grüner, 527 SW 12th Ave, 503.241.7163
As a classic Portland standby, we can’t really leave out the purveyor of the Schnitzelwich in this kind of list. There’s a reason why Tábor was pretty much the O.G. Portland food cart—namely, that breaded cutlet, horseradish sauce, and paprika spread that we all know and love. But that’s not the only thing that’ll chase away your rainy-day blues. Try their Szekely goulash, a stew that straddles both Czech and Hungarian cooking. Pork sirloin? Cream? Sauerkraut? Check, check and Czech. This one is worth standing in the rain for!
Tábor, Corner of SW 5th and Stark, 503.997.5467
When is a juicy, house-cured pork belly sandwich (complete with fried egg) ever to be resisted? And there are still so many other delectable, meaty things on the menu at Lardo, you won’t know what to salivate over first. With their fresh approach to pork that’s rooted in rustic Italian fare, even the fries don’t make it out vegetarian. They’re basted in pork fat to begin with, but don’t be shy, make ‘em dirty, too—this involves lardons, red peppers, and Parmesan. Would you like tangy homemade ketchup to go with that? And all over everything else? You’ll be the envy of all the diners in the rain tent.
Lardo, 4262 SE Belmont St
If all that didn’t satisfy you—let’s say what you really wanted was some Bosnian wine and smoked blood sausage—this is where you need to be. Anoush stocks all kinds of international delights, from a full case of European cured meats to Middle Eastern cheeses and an aisle full of all the pickled vegetables you can imagine. Lunch here is unpretentious and satisfying. Try a falafel with that Ukrainian lager you picked out from their extensive beer selection. Still pouring out? The gentlemanly owner keeps a bookshelf stocked with atlases, photography tomes, and language books for those looking to linger.
Anoush Deli, 1710 NE 122nd Ave, 503.254.7676