Lately, it seems as though a new burger joint opens its doors in some Portland neighborhood just about every week. But few of them stay open past 10 p.m. So when most kitchens have shut down for the night, where can you go when you're in the mood for something meaty and cheesy?
In an altruistic act of self-sacrifice, Neighborhood Notes spent 24 hours visiting six patty slingers known for serving up mean late-night burgers, all of which, coincidentally, weigh no less than a half-pound (and that's just the patties), including one that, with the bun and all the fixings, weighed in at no fewer than three or four pounds.
Here are six spots that will surely meet your late-night burger cravings.
Long before your Slowburger comes to your table, you're given silverware bundled in a black cotton napkin. Keep them handy—you’ll need them. When your burger shows, with a requisite steak knife, you'll see why: It’s a tower that stands at least three-quarters of a foot tall and is layered with a half-pound Painted Hills ground beef patty, melted gruyère, a slice of butter lettuce that's more garnish than ingredient, and two thick, wide and lightly fried onion rings, stacked one atop the other. All that is garnished with aioli and a generous schmear of tomato-pickle jam and served between two halves of a sesame seed bun. How much of a mess you make is up to you, but here's a tip: Remove one, or even both, onion rings for an easier eating experience. And don't worry about asking for extra paper napkins, the staff will bring some with your burger. Use them, because it's never too late to be well-groomed.
Slow Bar, 533 SE Grand Ave., 503.230.7767
Rock House Grill
Jimmy Knight is confident that his burgers are among the best, if not the very best, you've ever had. He whips up a variety of them in his Cartlandia food cart, including patty melts and sloppy joes, but when he says, "Ain't no one got nothing on me," and presents you with a Godzilla The Monster Burger, you begin to catch his drift. Sandwiched between the halves of a specially made Franz Bakery pub bun, the Godzilla includes a pound of sirloin patty meat, melted cheese, six slices of bacon, three fried eggs, a layer of thinly sliced ham, thickly sliced tomatoes, sandwich pickles, two layers of raw white onions, a garden's worth of fresh spinach, and liberal squirts of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup. The only question is, how do you eat it? (It comes to your table with no flatware.) The surprising thing about the Godzilla isn't its shameless abundance, but its architectural integrity. Against the odds, Knight carefully arranges each ingredient so that picking it up without it falling apart is deceptively simple. Warning: Depending on your hunger, the Godzilla easily feeds two to four, unless the people in your party are eternally hungry twentysomething guys. If that's the case, keep in mind that the Godzilla isn't even Knight's largest burger.
Rock House Grill, 8145 SE 82nd Ave., 503.753.6147
Pause Kitchen & Bar
Sometimes, the best things come wrapped in the plainest packages. Pause's burger is a perfect example. When it's set before you, it seems little more than a muddle of muted browns: It’s a burger and melted cheese with some aioli hidden inside a rather ordinary-looking bun. Don't be deceived. The cheese is Tillamook cheddar—every Oregonian's favorite—and the bun is not merely bread but a well-designed Kaiser roll from Franz Bakery that absorbs any stray juices or sauces. But it's the burger that really brings it home. That's because owner Cap Meyers and his crew grind their beef (courtesy of Painted Hills) each day and form it into 8-ounce patties, which they then char over an open flame. Brought to you with fixings on the side (leaf lettuce, red onions and house-cured bread-and-butter pickles), and your choice of either a house salad or a pile of thick, crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside, hand-cut French fries, the Pause burger, without bells or whistles, melts in your mouth like a savory, meaty chocolate. It’s quite elegant—if you can call a half-pound of meat elegant—in its simplicity.
Pause Kitchen & Bar, 5101 N Interstate Ave., 971.230.0705
The great thing about good chefs is that they unapologetically like "bad" food. But the best among them know how to take something bad and turn it into something good. You know what you're in for when you order a Swift burger—two 4-ounce patties, melted aged Tillamook cheddar, chopped Romaine lettuce, and a rosemary bun—but when it comes to your table, you'll notice that it looks familiar. It's stacked like a Jenga tower with an extra bun expertly slid between the burger's meat. Yet, it's the Memphis relish, a chopped onion-and-pickle secret sauce, that gives it all away. The Swift burger isn't just any burger: It’s owner and chef Robert Thomas' meatier, heartier, tastier and, arguably, healthier version of a Big Mac, with tomatoes. Keep in mind, it's going to make messy eating, so ask for extra napkins. And, as always, order yours at the bar.
Swift Lounge, 1932 NE Broadway St., 503.288.3333
Cassidy's Restaurant & Bar
Cassidy's late-night burger is yet another example of a simple burger done right. It's not much more than a savory half-pound patty with melted Tillamook cheddar, butter leaf lettuce, and aioli on a Grand Central Bakery bun. In other words, when something is as balanced as this burger is, less is really more. The only true twist is the presence of an extra sauce—a crunchy, creamy relish of finely diced onions and cucumbers (which have been pickled with garlic, dill and habaneros) bound together with aioli and an unsweetened housemade ketchup. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this burger is its cost: Already reasonably priced at $11 on the dinner menu, order one during Cassidy's late-night happy hour (10 p.m. to 2 a.m.), and the price drops by almost half. Extra: For a buck during happy hour, order a small plate of spicy pickles (the ones used in the relish) to snack on while you wait.
Cassidy's Restaurant & Bar, 1331 SW Washington St, 503.223.0054
You're forgiven if you wonder, "How good can a burger from the kitchen of a seafood restaurant specializing in market-fresh fish really be?" The answer lies in the beef—all 10 ounces of it. (And it weighs 13 before it's grilled.) A combination of short rib ground with the trimmings from New York strips that've aged six weeks, Riffle's Ken and Jennifer Q. Norris, New York natives, say a burger like theirs would cost you just shy of $30 in the Big Apple, but this one comes with a Stumptown price that slides between $14 and $17, depending on the season. If that still sounds costly, consider this: It comes with seasonal fixings (lettuce and tomato) on a fresh brioche bun (baked daily in-house), with a pile of hand-cut French fries, a ramekin of Thai chili aioli, and a mixed seasonal salad comprised of long, thin slices of things not often found in side salads, like summer squash, fennel, carrot, and celery. In other words, it's not a meal as much as an entire spread. Can't make it after 10 p.m.? Don't worry. The burger's also served during lunch, Monday through Friday.
Riffle NW, 333 NW 13th Ave., 503.894.8978
Where do you go for your perfect late-night burger? Let us know.