Editor's Note: The Mercury will be revisiting some older, classic Portland restaurants with a new, irregular series called "Eating Old Portland." And to kick things off, we asked Heather Arndt Anderson to revisit a few of her favorite haunts on SE Powell.
AS A LIFELONG RESIDENT of Southeast Portland, I've seen many changes in my quadrant. Great restaurants have come and gone, and streets that used to be barren wastelands have become Camdenized into oblivion. That's what makes Powell so special: It's exactly the same as it's always been. I've lived within 10 blocks of Powell almost my entire life, and my favorite joints on the strip are the ones that have gone mercifully unfucked-with. Nestled between my alma mater, two different family services centers, and innumerable titty bars are several culinary gems. Here are a few of my favorites.
Original Hotcake & Steakhouse
1002 SE Powell
I have fond memories of spending a long night in the Hotcake House as a teenager, coming off of two hits of acid over a bottomless cup of coffee and a pack of unfiltered Pall Malls. During the times when my appetite wasn't being decimated by cheap psychedelics, I recall the french fries tasting faintly of ocean-going protein and the clientele representing a colorful slice of humanity. But you don't go to the Hotcake House for the people-watching, or for any of the chicken-fried fare; you go for the hotcakes—impossibly golden, dappled with little yellow squares of cold butter and a rivulet of maple-flavored syrup. You go for the hash browns, fried to a gossamer crisp and lacquered with ketchup (or go balls to the wall and order them "ultimate"—you'll get gravy on them instead). You go for the omelets the size of a sleeping bag, filled with all manner of cheeses, crunchy vegetation, and/or cured pork products.
Edelweiss Sausage & Delicatessen
3119 SE 12th (just off SE Powell)
This deli may not be as old as Otto's on SE Woodstock, but they have everything you need to satisfy basic cravings for German (mostly Bavarian) foods. House-made mustard and sturdy rye? Check. Pastry case full of Black Forest cake and apple strudel? Check. Toothpaste tubes of spreadable fish products with frightening Aryan children on the label? Check. I go in for house-made sausages, pretzels, and the staggering selection of Ritter Sport chocolate bars (my favorite is the one studded with corn flakes), plus they sell smoked pork neck bones for a song—perfect for slow simmering into ramen broth (just add bonito flakes and kombu). A decent selection of European breads is represented here as well. Venture to the back to find a few beer cases and tables, and order yourself a mug of Spaten and the fattest, juiciest Reuben in town.
3520 SE Powell
The pizza crust tastes like Pillsbury and the spumoni definitely comes out of a five-gallon tub from Cash & Carry, but DeNicola's will always hold a place in my heart. I love that their "antipasto" platter is literally a few slices of pepperoni, some carrot sticks, and pepperoncini straight from a jar. They bring you a basket of not one, but TWO kinds of hot bread: a mini-loaf of white, and a generous wedge of focaccia, served with both butter and olive oil. Besides the various entrées served alla parmigiana, there are lasagnas and stuffed pastas, or you can keep it simple by choosing your favorite pasta shape and sauce à la carte. The red sauce is salty as fuck, but if you come from back East and long for that Sopranos-style Italian American flavor, this is gonna scratch that itch. Bonus: On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, every cop in SE Portland shows up for all-you-can-eat spaghetti night (area criminals, take note).
The Original Taco House
3550 SE Powell
Merc staffer Shelby King recently accompanied me on a jaunt to the Original Taco House, and I'm happy to report that this place has gone unchanged since it opened nearly 50 years ago. It looks like a Disneyland version of the Alamo. The jalapeño poppers and taco salad were as expected: appropriately fried and salty, with gooey/cheesy parts in all the right places, and accompanied by a zippy dressing that tastes like ranch with some Lawry's taco seasoning stirred in. One surprise hit was the coconut shrimp—deep-fried to a golden brown crisp with just the right amount of coconut flavor, a tangy mango salsa, and more of that delightful Mexi-ranch. The house special, though, is the El Bravo—a giant glass bowl of tropical liquors with handfuls of fruit thrown in for "health" and a few of those completely phallic foot-long jumbo straws for slurping. The waitress kept calling us "honey" and cracking wise about how badly she needed a drink. It was 11 am.