Leo’s 837 SW 11th 228-1866 Mica Grohn

837 SW 11th


Leo's Non-Smoking Coffee Shop is the Ultimate Downtown Lunch Secret. Located on 11th and Taylor, in the Medical Dental Building, Leo's opened in 1929, when its no-tobacco promise was still unheard of--but important for doctors and patients lunching there. Leo's still attracts its lunch crowd primarily from the building, and perhaps a two-block radius beyond that. (Although one loudmouth bike courier has recently spread the word, ensuring a couple of cycle toughs will usually be in the fray.)

Leo's serves your standard short-order fare: egg and/or hotcake breakfasts, burgers, fries, sandwiches, and milkshakes. Their preparation--and prices--are a throwback to simpler times. None of the items go out on a culinary limb (although the "chip steak" is a real mystery), but the likelihood is slim that you'll be displeased with your choice. Be warned, though: there is nothing here for vegans.

First of all, Leo's has the best grilled cheese sandwich ($2.50) I've had in Portland. Made with American cheese--all too rare in Tillamook country--the sandwich is impeccably toasted on the outside, and layered with the ideal amount of bright-orange deliciousness within. (Swiss cheese is available, too, but why?) It comes on your choice of bread, with potato chips.

The tuna melt ($3.50) errs a little on the mayonnaise-y side. Its tuna salad is plain--no pickles or onions--and generously portioned, with just enough cheese to add zip. On the other hand, Leo's BLT ($3.25) is helped by heavy-handed mayo; the bacon, too, is generous, and the bread is, once again, toasted with the utmost precision.

Most sandwiches come with potato chips; fries are available for $1.50. They are clearly fresh and hand-cut, and fried to a golden-brown crisp. Because they aren't frozen, as you might expect in a diner-type establishment, you get the occasional "soggy" fry (which those, like yours truly, actually prefer), but Leo's fries theirs crisper than most, and the taste and texture is far superior to your Ore-Ida/Sysco types.

While the cheeseburger ($3.95) may not be the biggest in town, the beef is of the highest quality. The chili burger ($4.35), served on an open bun, is ladled with enough chili (and onions, if you want) to bury the patty. Leo's chili is thick, meaty, and old-fashioned, and during the lunch rush, it seems that everyone else in the place has a bowl ($2.25), which comes with a big basket of saltines.

In the milkshake ($2.45) and malt ($2.65) department, Leo's once again merits superlatives. You'll wonder why your for-here shake is served in a paper cup--until the meal is over and you still have half of it left. Not only are the shakes generously sized, but they're ice-cream heavy and very thick.

At noontime Leo's gets crowded, but never fear, counter seats are usually available if the booths are full. The service is quick, and ranges from very friendly to obsequious, and someone always brings a newspaper to your table when you sit down. Wow, cheap, friendly, tasty, and centrally located! Your cholesterol level might not want you to eat at Leo's every day, but since when do you listen to that jerk?