Picking a breakfast spot in Portland is getting to be a bit overwhelming these days. There were already countless classic diners and cafes before the new wave of bakeries and restaurants flooded neighborhoods with liege waffles and brined salmon sandwiches. And, dear lord, what is it with all these lines?
Here is a list that will help you navigate the best breakfast spots in the most happening neighborhoods, where the meal is worth the wait, and the menu won’t (unnecessarily) break the bank.
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This petite brunch spot refuses to present breakfast and lunch as any less dignified as dinner. Their Bloody Marys are adorned with shrimp, ham and cheese bites, and the berry puree gives their lemon mascarpone pancakes the essence of an impressionist painting. This is not the cheapest brunch spot in town, but it is rarely overcrowded and the service is always par excellence.
Tip: Perfect for a weekday breakfast date.
There is no diner in Portland like Fuller’s. A warmly lit, cup-of-coffee, bar-seating-only throwback whose simple approach to breakfast (various presentations of bacon, eggs, potatoes, toast, and fixings) will take you home in the morning after a long night. The packed seating on the dining room floor gives every visitor the chance to bump elbows with a character; overhear local debates about the weather; and get to know the always fast, always friendly waitresses. Sometimes I order two plates of food just so I can hang out there longer on a dreary Sunday.
Tip: A single blueberry pancake is my go-to dessert.
Who knew there could be such a thing as Scandinavian breakfast food? The ingredients and taste buds of the Pacific Northwest are perfectly suited for gravlax, puffed pancake balls, and veggie-packed egg scrambles. Just like the restaurant’s concept, the presentations of some of Portland’s most unique breakfast dishes have their own quirky aesthetic. Despite being tucked into a narrow building on a side street on the East Side, this breakfast/lunch spot still draws hour-long waits.
Tip: Worth it if you are looking for something new and brined.
It is what it sounds like it is. Crispy hash browns, slabs of fatback bacon, mountains of cheesy eggs, hunks of country fried steak- all with the potential to be doused in savory, good-loving meat-stock gravy. In such a health-conscious town, it feels good to know there is at least one spot that takes down-home cooking to new heights. The not-so-subtle cuisine is matched with frontier-kitchen décor that keeps Gravy feeling modern without slipping into ostentation.
Tip: Loosen your belts and bring your 6-foot friends.
The lake in question was filled in almost a century ago, but the historic photos hanging on the wall remind you of a Portland when the chances to spend several hours on your sofa digesting eggs hollandaise and waffle-fries were rare. Rae’s is a big-booth, big plate, all-day spot that draws hipsters from around Wallace Park and parents from across West Hills, both of who mightily enjoy Rae’s robust Mimosas and Bloody Marys. There might be a line outside if you show up on a weekend, but once you are seated there is no better place to stretch out and go for extra helpings of baked-egg pancetta with melted Gruyere.
Tip: Best enjoyed with three dining pals.
Every once in a while, 21st century Portland can come off a lot like 1970’s New York. There is no single instance where this is truer than sitting by the window of this old school diner with a tuna melt in hand. The $8 steak’n’eggs, pork chop’n’eggs and chicken-fried-steak’n’eggs give this bare-bones place a distinct smell that feels like it should be complemented by a polyester jacket and vaporub. This lovable café is run by an equally darling Greek couple who might stop while taking your order to comment on the Oldtown craziness going down outside.
Tip: Cash only and don’t expect a platter.
Every dish here could be a painting. This bright crêperie splashes and dollops fruit and berries, chocolate drizzle, ice cream, merguez sausage, harissa, candied nuts and more on their scrumptious wafer-thin pancakes. The combination of crepe toppings and fillings are endless (thanks to the build-your-own section) – I am grateful that I can tap-out of my creative brain and let their $14 prix fixe menu do the work.
Tip: Avoid going here for a first date. Your mom will be watching from the corner with her sister.
John Street Café
This place is the gateway to a day of hanging out in St. Johns, the neighborhood most Portland locals visit to affectionately recall what this town was like before it was “cool.” The understated and unpretentious John Street Café does much of the same for guests looking for Portland’s best breakfast cuisine at (slightly) lower prices. Their omelets are among the heftiest of the joints on this list, especially the green chili omelet, which is killer for anyone who searching for a Mexican-American brainchild.
Tip: Give yourself a tour of quirky St. Johns if there is a line at the café.
Just over the West Hills in Hillside, is a little strip mall café that is home to the best Belgian waffles in the city. Get them with fried chicken, or bacon and Camembert, or banana and Nutella, or roasted turkey and ham: these waffles are a perfect blend of crunchy sweetness and buttery savor. Gigi’s is a family-oriented, sunny hole-in-the-wall whose menu is playful and clientele easygoing.
Tip: Always good for a less overwhelmingly crowded Sunday brunch.
One of the more adventurous upscale breakfast joints downtown, Mother’s has it all. From ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls to the more austere matzo ball soup (after 11:30 am), there is little that will disappoint. While many of these dishes can be had elsewhere at a lower cost, the chandeliers, white paneling, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking SW Stark and 2nd Ave will remind you that this restaurant brings class to the most important meal of the day.
Tip: Tuck in your shirt. Invite your godmother.