Cheap, hole-in-the-wall eats in Portland

Dana Brumley, Staff Writer

Everyone has that one restaurant that is hard to find but well worth the effort because customers swear it has the best burrito or the best stir fry or the best burger.

Usually these places look questionable. They might look less inviting than the restaurant next door that has 50 locations.

But when you travel off the beaten path, you can find treasures.

Portland is full of those hole-in-the-wall treasures everywhere you look, especially in North Portland.

One such treasure is King Burrito. Located on the main streets in St. Johns at 2924 North Lombard, this Mexican restaurant has been open since 1970, and yet it doesn’t look like it has changed at all. There is almost always a line, but it moves really fast and the food is worth it.

Two huge burritos, ones that you have to hold with two hands, filled with beans, cheese, and rice will cost you roughly $7, depending on whether you add guacamole or onions and cilantro, which cost an extra 50 cents.

And yes, both hands are necessary.

Voted the Best Cheap Eats in Portland by Willamette Week, King Burrito has parking close to the back door, and although it might look sketchy, it is a great place to stop for a quick bite.

Over on Alberta Street on the other side of North Portland is a window. This window opens up to serve waffles. All day.

The Waffle Window has expanded to include both an indoor and outdoor seating area due to high demand.

The best time to go is in the late spring, summer, or early fall because the featured waffles include fresh local fruits and berries. One option is the Blueberry Cheesecake Waffle, featured year-round, and has a house-made blueberry compote, cheesecake pudding, house-made whipped cream, and graham cracker crumbles on top of a fresh fluffy waffle.

If sweets aren’t your thing, there are also savory options. The Spicy Bacon Cheddar Jalapeno Waffle is very popular, and has peppered bacon, diced jalapenos, Tillamook Cheddar, and house-made avocado-tomatillo salsa on top of a waffle.

The huge waffles are filling and well worth the $7.

If you are looking for a moveable hole-in-the-wall option, try Potato Champion, a food cart that can be found on Hawthorne, a few minutes south of Alberta.

Everything has potatoes.

A medium plate of poutine, a Canadian comfort food involving fries topped with cheese and gravy, will cost you $7.75.

Everything offered at this food cart is local. The meat comes from Nicky USA, the cheese comes from Ellsworth Creamery, and the potatoes are purchased from local farmers.

One restaurant in downtown St. Johns doesn’t have a huge fan base, but it has a loyal one.

Thai Cottage offers dine-in, take-out, and catered authentic Thai food. If you go before 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, the lunch specials range from $7.50 to $12, depending on the type of meat you want.

The most popular lunch option is tied between the Pad Kee Mao, or Drunken Noodles, and the Gaeng Ped, or Red Curry.

Drunken Noodles are stir fried wide rice noodles mixed with egg, chili, onions, scallions, tomatoes, bell peppers, bamboo shoots, garlic, and basils with your choice of meat in a special house-made sauce.

The Red Curry includes bamboo shoots, basil, bell peppers, and eggplant simmered with Thai spices and curry paste in a coconut broth.

Restaurants with good and cheap food are always on peoples’ radar, and these four restaurants should be on yours. Don’t be afraid of the small restaurant that doesn’t look as bright or fancy as the chain location next door. There might be treasure in that hole-in-the-wall, too.