My Favorite Cheap Eats In Portland, Oregon

This post is part of WiseBread’s Best Cheap Eats group writing project. I chose to write about Portland, Oregon, because I recently left and I miss these spots! What’s cheap? I’m saying under $10 for breakfast/lunch, and under $15 for dinner. This gives me more interesting options, because when I eat out I like to have things that I can’t make myself.

All of these are no more than a 10-minute drive from downtown Portland, and many are clustered around close-in Southeast Portland where I used to reside. You can either interpret this as either (1) I am lazy and only eat near where I live, or (2) I only live near where there is lots of good cheap food nearby. 🙂

Zell’s An American Cafe – Breakfast
No website (Yelp) / 1300 SE Morrison St / (503) 239-0196

It’s a chilly weekend morning and your friends want to get breakfast. When you arrive, there’s already a line, so you go to the waiting coffee pot outside and pour yourself a mug while you wait and talk (will be added to your bill later, free refills continue inside). If you feel creative, there is a big bucket of street chalk that you can use on the sidewalk. How Portland is this?

After you get inside, you pick up the menu and peruse the huge list of specials on the wall. You consider getting one of their famous Bloody Mary’s but remember this is a frugal visit so you lay off. As you wait to order, the friendly waitperson drops off complimentary scones that are still warm from the oven. You add some softened butter and homemade jelly that’s already on the table.

What to choose? Good bets are their creative omelettes… maybe Greek this time? Or fresh mushrooms? Perhaps German pancakes with a pear-ginger topping. Maybe splurge on a side of chicken-apple sausages.

New Taste of India – Indian – Lunch
Website / 340 SW 5th Ave & 1810, SW 4th / (503) 888-0489

Although this is a lunch cart, it is my favorite Indian restaurant in Portland at any price. Two locations, I usually go to the one by the Portland State University campus. They have a daily $5 lunch special: rice, naan, and 3 different entrees (meat or vegetarian) that is always popular. So much food, I can never finish it. I prefer ordering off the North Indian menu, but each dish is well under $10. I still dream about their Chicken Khorma…

Apizza Scholls – Pizza – Dinner
Website / 4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd. / (503) 233-1286

My vote for best pizza in Portland. This is where pizza purists go when they want pie that you might have found in New York City’s Little Italy in 1905. Charred, crispy, thin crust and high quality toppings only. This ain’t Pizza Hut. In fact, you can only get 3 toppings max, and only one can be a meat. My pick is the Apizza Amore – classic Margherita plus capicollo.

The dough is handmade once every day, and when it runs out, it runs out. Could be 9pm, could be 7pm. So go early or risk being disappointed. A (16″? 18″?) pizza runs about $20-$25, which can satisfy 3 medium appetites, or 2 larger ones. They have a nice beer selection too, but the pizza is so good I’m happy with tap water.

The Italian Joint – Italian – Dinner
No website (Yelp) / 3145 SE Hawthorne Blvd / (503) 234-3004

A tiny neighborhood restaurant, this place will never win any foodie awards and is not fancy at all, but it has a great charm to it. The pastas are simple and solid. If you arrive before 6pm, they have a happy hour menu where the pastas are really cheap (less than $7). My favorite is actually their clams with white wine sauce and bread though. You can also get a large carafe of decent house wine to share for only $9, which contains at least 4 glasses worth. Filled with regulars and and wine that’s as cheap as soda, it feels very European.

Saburo’s Sushi House – Japanese – Dinner
Website / 1667 SE Bybee Blvd. / (503) 236-4237

Sushi as cheap eats? Stay with me. Saburo’s is also small, unpretentious, and usually packed. However, the fish is good and their portions are huge. Two pieces of nigiri here have literally the same amount of fish as four pieces at any other Japanese restaurant. Rolls are ginormous as well.

I love the underappreciated saba (mackerel), and at only $2.50 for two mega-pieces, it rocks. Salmon or tuna is $3.50. You can get 8 pieces of California roll for only $3.25. Don’t like sushi? A full combo dinner with miso soup, rice, pickles, gyoza dumplings, tempura, and teriyaki chicken is only $11.

Any Portlanders out there?


  1. Jeremy Wilkins says:

    Hey Jonathan, thanks for the list!
    We moved to Portland in July of ’07 and we’ve found a load of great places to grab cheap eats.

    I’m surprised Tin Shed on Alberta didn’t make your list for breakfast. Also, we’ve discovered you can get a *heaping* side of chicken/beans at Pepino’s for $2.70–great low-carb fare!

    Drop me a note if you’re in the city sometime; would love to grab you a beer. You’ve definitely saved us some serious cash over the past couple years.

  2. Hey, Just started reading recently. I currently live down in Albany, but visit Portland frequently. All my college buds live in Portland now, and I am trying to save to be able to go up there. But I will defenitely try to check these places out. I find we spend most of our time in SE though.

  3. Thanks for the great ideas. We live just across the river in Vancouver and I’ve never heard of any of these places…can’t wait to try them!

  4. Bankok Restuarant (53rd @ E Burnside) awesome papaya salad and peanut chicken

    Los Taquitos (E Glisan @ 58th) Humongous breakfast burrito for $5

    Holman’s (E burnside @ 28th-ish) Bangin’ peanut butter and bacon cheeseburger.

    Jonathan, sorry you’re no longer in PDX; greatest city in the US.

  5. Ken’s Pizza on SE 28th is worth a look-see. It’s the best pizza I’ve ever had. Go early – the lines are long. It’s owned by the same Ken as Ken’s Bakery on NW 21st.

  6. heather lee says:

    I am so homesick for Portland right now. Funny that this post should pop up today.

    You are missing from the list of great cheap eats:

    Foti’s Greek Deli ( East Burnside & 17th)

    Beulahland (Couch & NE 28th)

    Nichols (Pine & SE Grand)

    Which, if I were home right now, I would be tossing a coin to figure out where to eat.

  7. Oh, my list could stretch for pages, but I limited myself to 5 places with 5 different cuisines. PDX has about 15 breakfast places that I like, and I can’t even remember the names. There’s a Thai restaurant every 5 blocks too, for some reason.

    I totally forgot Pepino’s. Two excellent fish tacos, chips, and and a drink for only $4.50. I probably ate there once a week!

  8. Chinese Food
    Golden Horse@3rd Ave
    Shenzhen@82nd Ave
    Treasure Island@158th Ave

  9. I moved to Denver from Portland recently and one of the best late night spots is “The Montage”. I believe it’s under the Burnside bridge. Open late and the best part is your left overs get wrapped into aluminum foil animals. Great place for a date too!

  10. Yummy mac-n-cheese at Montage. 🙂

  11. sfordinarygirl says:

    Le Montage by the Burnside Bridge especially the gumbo. Their portions are huuge and hearty. They wrapped my leftovers in the shape of a bird with aluminum foil!

    Nicholas on the E. Burnside has great Lebanese food.

    Pied Cow in the Hawthorne district – open late and very affordable soups and the best lavender cardmon milk after dripping in mud at the haunted house/pumpkin patch.

    The Roxy in downtown for great pancakes and breakfast fare.

  12. glasssatellite says:

    montage is a portland classic for sure, but is actually located under the MORRISON bridge, just in case anyone wants to find it.

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