Eat and Drink Guide Spring 2017

The Dodo Takes Flight

Shyam Dausoa’s Chez Dodo Empire Expands to Airport

Skin Is In

From Chicken Skins to Chicharrones, Here’s the Best Places to Get Your Skin Fix

Infusing Their Roots

Portland Chefs in American-Style Restaurants Are Returning to the Food of their Heritage

Where Foodies Take Their Kids

Looking for Children-Friendly Restaurants that Won’t Murder Your Taste Buds? Here Ya Go.

Pies of PDX

Local Places that Will Make You Say, “That’s Some Damn Fine Pie.”

Hop to It

A Brief History of How Oregon Became the Land of Hops

Go Greek: An Odyssey of Eats

Once Prominent, Portland’s Greek Restaurants Are Harder to Find

At the turn of the millennium, Greek restaurants, bars, and clubs were unmistakable presences in Portlandā€™s nightlife. Satyricon was ground zero for the cityā€™s underground rock scene; the club, owned by George Touhouliotis, has since entered into legend for being the place where Kurt Cobain met Courtney Love, and where Dave Grohlā€™s Foo Fighters played their first-ever live show. The late-night souvlaki window was, for years, the place to soak up booze after a night on the town.

Berbatiā€™s Pan, owned by the Papaiouannou family, held shows by the likes of My Morning Jacket and the Decemberists, while the adjoining Berbati restaurant and bar was the fulcrum of the downtown drinking scene that centered around Southwest 2nd and Ankeny Alley. Greek Cusina, at Southwest 4th and Washington, was the place for ouzo toasts and plate smashing, provided you werenā€™t too intimidated by the threat of the building collapsing or going up in flames. The beleaguered nightspot, owned by Ted Papas and made iconic by the purple inflatable octopus that hung outside, violated fire and structural codes for months before its unceremonious closure on January 1, 2010.

On the Eastside, the best bet for a quick lunch was Fotiā€™s Greek Deli, a wonderfully friendly (and wallet-friendly) place that changed hands in December 2011, when owners Foti and Jill Kosmas retired and transferred the business to their nephew Pantelis Kosmas, who operated it as Mad Greek Deli before his death in 2016. (The business still operates under that name.) Further out in Lents, the New Copper Penny nightclub, owned by Saki Tzantarmas, had items like Greek Steak and Athenian Chicken on its varied menu, and established its own tradition of late-night shenanigans before closing and being demolished to make room for apartments.

While Portland has embraced a huge variety of cuisines from around the world during its rapid growth in the past few years, the once-prominent Greek flavor of the cityā€™s food and drink scene has receded.

The roots of Greek cuisine go back thousands of years, of course, but it was never a particularly unified tradition to begin with. Ancient Greece was a land of autonomous city-states separated by rocky mountains and crashing sea, and over the years, the distinct regional differences accentuated their foods. Once modern Greece became the unified nation we know todayā€”celebrating its autonomy from the Ottoman Empire in 1828ā€”Greek immigrants started to travel in large numbers to America, bringing their individual traditions to the new world, where they became inextricably linked with the United Statesā€™ budding restaurant culture. Many of the first restaurateurs in America came from Greek backgrounds, but rather than impose their homelandā€™s dishes on their American customers, they adapted and absorbed American tastes and cooking techniques, creating a unique marriage between old world and new.

The dinerā€”perhaps the quintessential American type of restaurantā€”became ubiquitous, particularly in the Northeast, after large numbers of Greeks made their way to America during the first half of the 20th century. Greek ingenuity and malleability can still be seen in those dinersā€™ encyclopedia-sized menus, with page after page boasting every kind of dish imaginable, not just the expected Hellenic fare.

Portlandā€™s own restaurant tradition has more in common with the old west than it does with the New York metropolitan area, and Greeks were among the first to open restaurants in pioneer towns and budding cities like San Francisco. At the end of the 19th century, there were more restaurants per person in the western half of the US than there were in the east or south, mostly due to all of the unmarried male laborers without wives at home to cook their meals. The first Greeks in Oregon found work selling fruits and vegetables, and as a Greek American population began to grow in Portland during the 1920s, a kafeneio (coffeehouse) culture emerged.

It took several more decades, however, for the dishes that we often think of as idiomatic of Greek cuisineā€”souvlaki, moussaka, spanakopitaā€”to make their way onto Portland menus. When Alexis Restaurant opened in 1981, the Oregonian reported it was the first place in the city to serve fried calamari. That restaurant, one of Portlandā€™s best Greek eateries, closed in 2016, following a years-long trend that also witnessed the shuttering of Greek Cusina, Fotiā€™s, and Berbatiā€™s Pan. Famed jazz club Jimmy Makā€™sā€”renowned for hosting performances from national jazz luminariesā€”also had a limited a menu that echoed owner Jimmy Makarounisā€™ Greek heritage; the club held its final show on December 31, 2016, and Makarounis died two days later.

Still, there are a few remaining spots with excellent Greek food, even as Yelp! searches and the like will often point you to nonspecific ā€œMediterraneanā€ fare. While itā€™s true that the cuisine of neighboring countries like Lebanon and Syria shares many qualities with Greek foodā€”even down to specific dishesā€”these wholly Greek places are some of your best choices for the real deal.

Eleniā€™s Philoxenia | 112 NW 9th

Named for chef Eleni Touhouliotis, Eleniā€™s Philoxenia is the second of Touhouliotisā€™ Portland-area restaurants specializing in Greek cuisine (Eleniā€™s Estiatorio in Sellwood closed in 2014). Philoxenia is a Greek word roughly translating as ā€œkindness to strangers,ā€ and the Pearl District spot emphasizes food from Crete, the largest island in the Aegean Sea. As such, Eleniā€™s menu is packed with seafood, including calamari, shellfish, and prawns, alongside plates like dolmathakia, gigandes, kouneli stifatho (rabbit), and Cretan-style risotto.

Dorio CafƩ and Taverna | 1037 NW 23rd

All the usual suspects make up Dorioā€™s traditional Greek menu, from hummus plates to spanakopita to a variety of gyros. Itā€™s worth checking out the tyropites, AKA thin sheets of filo pastry filled with cheese, and saving room for baklava or chocopitesā€”more film filled with ganacheā€”served with ice cream.

A Taste of Greek | 321 SW 2nd

While downtown lunch staple Greek Express sadly disappeared when its digs closed to make way for the new, upscale Portland Food Hall, the proprietor is still going strong at the A Taste of Greek food cart just up the street. This is a great place for a quick, light lunch, with falafel, gyros, and Greek salad all making solid choicesā€”or go big with a super lamb gyro or the lamb platter with rice, and take a nap at your desk.

Overlook Restaurant | 1332 N Skidmore

Much like the Greek diners found in the Northeast US, you can get virtually anything under the sun at Jim and Jane Sassalosā€™ charming neighborhood restaurant, including breakfast, T-bone steaks, and all kinds of sandwiches. But a chunk of Overlookā€™s sprawling menu is devoted to Greek dishes, including moussaka, pastitchio (a meaty, baked mac and cheese dish), and Greek meatballs.

Angelinaā€™s Greek Gyros| 112 NW Couch

Angelinaā€™s has been serving up Greek food at Portland Saturday Market for years, and in 2014 opened a full-time storefront in Old Town serving up the same delicious gyros. The ingredients are always fresh and crisp, and the menu boasts other fun items like a Mediterranean twist on chicken and waffles (the waffles are falafel cooked in a waffle iron) and the seductively named ā€œMeat Boat.ā€

Loukoumades Portland Greek Festival

Portland Greek Festival | NE 32nd & Glisan

Every year at the end of September/beginning of October, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral hosts Portlandā€™s annual Greek festival, and itā€™s the best option to gorge on traditional Greek food. Dinners include dishes like kota riganati, dolmathes, and pastitsio, and the festival also hosts a makeshift kafenio where you can get loukoumadesā€”delicious honey dumplings that are the Greek analogue to fried dough. The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral also hosts the Hellenic American Cultural Center and Museum, where you can learn about Greek Americans and their history in the Pacific Northwest.