Foster-Powell is one of the few neighborhoods in Portland that seems especially resistant to the modernization and growth happening at an exponential rate throughout the rest of the city.
Maybe it’s something to do with the borders of this scalene triangle-shaped area being designated by three
very busy thoroughfares: Southeast Powell, Southeast Foster, and Southeast 82nd. Or maybe it’s the working-class vibe it carries, cultivated by longstanding businesses like the nearly 100-year-old George Morlan Plumbing Supply (5529 SE Foster), the 72-year-old Mac’s Automotive (6147 SE Foster), half-century-old firearms dealer the Gun Room (5537 SE Foster), or ageless strip clubs DV8 (5021 SE Powell) and Devils Point (5305 SE Foster). Whatever the reason, as new businesses, food cart pods, and residents—and the rare hyper-designed mixed-use building—start to pop up, they still seem to run counter to the stumbling effort to rebrand the neighborhood as “FoPo.”
All that is to say if you’re getting a sampling of Central and South American cuisine at the Portland Mercado (7238 SE Foster) or downing some pints at Assembly Brewing (6112 SE Foster), you’re making some excellent choices in life, but you’re also only getting a sliver of the true Foster-Powell experience. To really get at the roots of this neighborhood, you need to dig a little deeper.
A great place to start is right on the corner of Southeast 50th and Foster at Variety Shop (4932 SE Foster). While the city’s vinyl collectors tend to make a beeline for Crossroads Records (8112 SE Foster) or take a break from their brunches at Bar Carlo (6433 SE Foster) to peruse their in-house record shop, the more daring diggers spend a few hours at this quaintly dingy locale. Packed stem to stern with physical media—including more VHS tapes than any business should legally be allowed to carry—this is the spot when you’ve got ample time to kill and an understanding that sometimes it pays off to flip past two dozen overpriced copies of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to unearth that shockingly underpriced gem you’ve longed to get your mitts on.
You’ll likely have worked up an appetite finding that special record (or that VHS copy of Speed for the office white elephant gift exchange). Here’s where Foster-Powell truly shines. This is one of Portland’s hubs for great, inexpensive meals, served at unpretentious locales.
For Vietnamese food, you can’t go wrong with Rose VL (6424 SE Powell), the offshoot of the ever-popular Ha VL, which offers up two or three soups every day, including the sweat-inducing Red Spicy Chicken Curry (Thursday only) and the note-perfect Cao Lau Noodle soup (Saturday only). If you’re short on cash, you can’t go wrong with a nice bánh mì, the flavorful Vietnamese sandwich. Luckily, you’ve got two perfect options to choose from: the always-hopping Best Baguette (8308 SE Powell) or An Xuyen Bakery (5345 SE Foster), which also serves up an array of pastries ideal for your next sugar rush.
If Thai food be your desire, you’ll be well-served by the heaping portions and colorful décor of Siri Thai (5234 SE Powell). Or if you’re craving a gyro stuffed with lamb and tzatziki, hit up Gyro House (8140 SE Cora) for that and much more. A mix of Chinese and classic American served at a vinyl-topped counter? That’s what has kept the Maple Leaf Restaurant (7129 SE Foster) alive for decades.
The real culinary treasure of Foster-Powell, though, can be found at Tienda Mexicana El Campesino (6611 SE Powell), a humble Mexican market that’s the home of Salt & Pepper Restaurant. Their Peruvian-style menu includes a lomo saltado, an aromatic blend of steak and veggies, and cordero trujillano, a tender lamb chop sautéed in a brightly flavored ají panca sauce that will have your knees buckling.
Now, who needs a drink? And who wants that drink but doesn’t need house-infused liquors or naked women gyrating nearby? Brothers and sisters, you’ve come to the right neighborhood. The best bars on Foster and Powell have been in operation for decades and have a clientele that have been regulars since the doors opened. That’s certainly true of Foster Gardens Tavern (7855 SE Foster), a no-bullshit establishment that leans toward the shot-and-a-beer-with-a-shuffleboard-chaser crowd. The same goes for Andy’s Inn (7901 SE Foster), Spot 79 (7944 SE Foster), and the Slingshot Lounge (5532 SE Center), though the latter has better-than-average bar food and some sweet pinball machines. Over on Powell, our go-to remains Lay Low Tavern (6015 SE Powell). Run by the same consortium that oversees the Sandy Hut and the Alibi, they’ve kept the spirit of this long-standing dive while improving the food menu in all the right ways. (Two-egg breakfast available all day? You had me at hello.)
Will Foster-Powell continue to stay the course in the face of the waves of change in Portland? That’s impossible to predict, but we’re going to do our part to celebrate its gritty, unaffected charm while it’s still there.