FORGET DIVE BARS. Anytime anything's marketed around shabby chic or local color, you know its time is up. For a true slice of Portland life--life sans themes, cute menus, and hipster music on the jukebox--the all-night diner is your baby. And my baby is the Original Hotcake and Steak House on Southeast Powell. But maybe "baby" isn't the right word. More so, Hotcake House is my paisley muumuu'd, Xanax-fiending, boozer aunt that everyone in the family hates, but is damn good people to party with. And she's a great cook who doesn't give a red shit about your arteries.
At any time of the day, night, or anything in between, Hotcake House is there and waiting, with comfort food that doesn't know it's comfort food. Burgers, both Garden and cow, come topped in great things like sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese, and send you to food coma town for under six bucks. Fries, not too greasy, but greasy enough, are your best friend after the bars close, and unlike your stupid friends, they want to hear about your love-life blues.
Decor is pure friendly--big, ugly, stained booths to hide in, hanging ferns, kitchen up behind the counter so you can watch your hash browns get browned. And the jukebox is R&B sleaze extraordinaire. Want a little Luther at 2 AM? Your ladyfriend's thrown you out with no pants again and all you want is some strong coffee, a plate of potatoes, a T-bone, and some place warm to sober up, hear the slow jams, and come to grips with your confusing, long-suffering life. Hotcake House is your guardian angel. Can I get an amen from the back row?
But burgers and fries and Luther aside, the main poison at Hotcake House is, of course, 24/7 breakfast. Heaping omelets made with inches of cheese and eggs that are always ultra-fresh? Massive waffles? Biscuits and gravy? Carb-intensive scrambles? Piles of bacon, sausage, and ham on the side--a veritable hog slaughter house? Pancakes, perfectly round, light and heavy at the same time, stacked, syrup'd, and buttered to heaven? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
Downsides. There are a few. The staff's super friendly but there's one creepy dude that compliments a friend of mine's pants every time he comes in. It's a leering, slobbery, watery eyed, "Niiice paaants" no matter if homeboy's wearing $200 jeans or piss-spotted sweats. Also, the famous steaks, as said by my dining companions, were a little chewy, so ordering under your cooking preference might be the key. And no free refills on soda. Still, those aren't too weighty, and won't kill your experience.
Also, it should be noted, Hotcake House is a pretty sweet celebrity watching spot. Besides the occasional hiphop tour busload, Sean Penn, Ryan Adams, and Ice Cube have all been seen wolfing down the comfort in its shadowy innards. But how does that affect you? It doesn't; you're a purist. Go for the food. Your arteries will shrivel, swell, then implode with joy. You can thank me later.