Whether you want to avoid seeing people making googly eyes and kissie faces at each other while you try to eat or whether you just want to avoid paying double for a meal served by a frazzled waiter, here are 10 options to escape the trappings of dining out on Valentine’s Day. They’re un-hip and non-trendy. And most are inexpensive and casual, too. Also, because most of these places are rarely slammed, it’s a good list to keep around for a Friday or Saturday night when waiting 45 minutes for a table sounds especially miserable.
When pressed, two out of three times I will say El Inka is my favorite restaurant in Portland, even if it is in Gresham. The casual Peruvian restaurant makes wonderful wood-roasted rotisserie chicken and the best fish ceviche in PDX. $20 will stuff two people.
48 NE Division St.
Gresham, OR 97030
Possibly the best bowl of pho in Portland can be found at Pho An Sandy. And yet, I rarely order pho there because the rest of the menu is so superb, such as the banh hoi dac biet, a mix of meats served with thin noodle cakes and an abundance of fresh herbs for stuffing into salad rolls. They also make a terrific bowl of bun rieu, the funky orange-colored soup with pork bits, seafood sausage, and vermicelli noodles. It’s hard to spend more than $15 for two.
Pho An Sandy
6236 NE Sandy Blvd
Portland, OR 97213
When most people think of Indian food, they think of creamy curries, tandoor chicken, and naan. Chennai Masala, however, while it serves many of the typical Indian dishes, specializes in Southern Indian food — vada, dosa, uppatham, sambhar, etc. The dishes are lighter, use sourdoughs, and are almost exclusively vegetarian. They’re healthful, flavorful, and extremely cheap. Two people can get plenty of food for $15 to $20. (Note: As pointed out in the comments, Chennai Masala is not open on Mondays. Blrrrgh!)
2088 NW Stucki Ave
Hillsboro, OR 97124
The best Mexican food is in Gresham, Hillsboro, and Woodburn. But La Bonita consistently proves itself to be the best taqueria in central Portland and able to hold its own with the taquerias on the outskirts of PDX. Their tacos combine excellent house-made tortillas with skillfully prepared meats. Their posole, tamales, and guacamole are all quite good. Two people can have a plentiful meal for $10 to $15.
La Bonita Taqueria
2839 NE Alberta St
Portland, OR 97211
A half dozen or more Korean restaurants in Beaverton are probably the most under-the-radar quality eateries in PDX. JCD, a hidden mom and pop shop with latenight hours barely visible from chain-central Cedar Hills Blvd is among the best. Kimchee and panchan are all solid and delicious. Dishes such as the pork neck bone and potato soup are hearty and soul satisfying. Two can have a meal with leftovers for under $25.
Jang Choong Dong Wang Jok Bal (JCD)
3492 SW Cedar HIlls Blvd
Beaverton, OR 97005
While busy at lunch, Meat Cheese Bread barely has more than a trickle of customers for dinner. Yet, they have a more diverse menu than most other sandwich shops with a good selection of salads plus breakfast, including their breakfast burrito, available morning, noon, and night. The ability to have any of their sandwiches as salads, such as the BLB (bacon, lettuce, and beet) or the green bean with egg and tangy bacon relish, was a brilliant creation. Two people can eat for under $15. (And the blue cheese wedge is a steal at $5.)
Meat Cheese Bread
1406 SE Stark St
Portland, OR 97213
Portland has several solid Lebanese restaurants, but Karam is a step above them all. Most of their mezza is as good as anywhere in town, but their falafel are unequaled, with a crunchy exterior and nutty flavor. They excel at stews, with both lamb and goat being among the best. Two people can easily eat for under $25 and the interior is more date-friendly than most in this list.
316 SW Stark St
Portland, OR 97204
One of the most frequent foodie complaints about Portland is the dearth of good Chinese food. But there are a handful of Cantonese restaurants on the east side, most on or just off 82nd Ave, where a very good meal can be had. Ocean City is probably the best of the bunch. The key is to stay away from dishes like General Tso’s Chicken, sweet & sour pork, or Mongolian beef. Instead, look to simple preparations, such as seafood, often from live tanks, in a simple sauce and vegetables cooked similarly. Dishes are large so if two people order three items at about $30, they’ll have enough food for several meals.
3016 SE 82nd Ave
Portland, OR 97266
No dish represents the cuisine of the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai better than the noodle curry khao soi. The tiny restaurant on Hawthorne named for the city serves the best version in town. Most people haven’t realized that yet, meaning one of the best Thai restaurants in town doesn’t have a line out the door like the others. A dinner for two will be less than $25.
3145 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland, OR 97214
Hiroshi isn’t cheap. It’s the most expensive sushi in town, though still not expensive compared to high end sushi in most cities. Not even close, actually, just a bit more expensive than Bamboo or Sinju, but with much better quality. Hiroshi serves the best sushi in Portland with Murata its only real competitor. Despite all this, Hiroshi never seems to fill. It may be the best restaurant in Portland with an open reservation on Valentine’s Day.
926 NW 10th Ave
Portland, OR 97209