Holiday Guide 2023

Come One, Come All to the Mercury’s HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR!

Welcome the carnage of the holidays with our annual guide—also in print at more than 500 locations citywide!

For the Rest of Us

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Gifts for Those Who Love to Eat!

Everyone likes food, and here are some local shops that should be on every culinary gift giver’s list.

Finding Family In Unexpected Places

How a spontaneous Thanksgiving gathering gave birth to a new tradition.

The Coziest Cafe Beverages to Warm Up With This Holiday Season

Where to warm up with the yummiest local hot drinks.

The Great Santa Debate

Should you confess to your kids about Santa? The pros and cons of the biggest lie of the holiday season.

The Holiday Brisket Roundup

Where to find Portland’s finest, most tender brisket for your Jewish celebrations.

The Terrorism Trap

In 2010, a young Portlander attempted to detonate a bomb at the annual Portland Christmas tree lighting. Was he a burgeoning terrorist or just a disturbed kid entrapped by the FBI?

The (White) Elephant In the Room

Sometimes a white elephant gift exchange goes awry. Other times, you end up with a portable bidet that can put out fires.

Clocking In for Christmas

Dispatches from job sites that don’t shut down for the holidays.

Your Guide to 2023 Holiday Events in Portland

The Muppet Christmas Carol in Concert, The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Show, and More

What’s considered holiday food by the Jewish diaspora probably has as many answers as there are members of the Jewish diaspora, but a recurring theme are meat-heavy mid-century mains that at least vaguely conform to a kosher diet. This is largely thanks to the many European emigres who passed through the East Coast deli zone on their way to assimilate in the beef-friendly plains of the American heartland, which is how the Jewish side of my family wound up in suburban Indiana serving Hanukkah dinners out of a Norman Rockwell painting. This year let’s talk brisket in particular, since I’ve done enough research on the subject to qualify for several federal livestock subsidies.

As with all human endeavors it’s possible to hyperfixate on each component part of a meal until no quantum of enjoyment remains. Let’s bypass the meat forum flame wars to the extent possible and say that my personal preferences are pretty middle-of-the-road: I like brisket you can cut with a fork, but won’t fall apart if you wave it around a bit (I got some server side-eye while employing this methodology, but I stand by it). Thick bark and a rosy smoke ring are nice-to-haves, but I didn’t notice a huge correlation between presence of either and my overall enjoyment (however, a nice bit of fat cap, properly prepared and evenly distributed, very much did). Here then are my findings, all of which offer some preparation of brisket by-the-pound for your holiday catering needs.


Podnah’s Pit 

Podnah’s Pit has been the go-to answer to “where’s good BBQ in Portland” for almost two decades now, and I’m pleased to report they’re still bringing the heat, at least in terms of brisket. A textbook example of lovingly smoked beef, Podnah’s cuts of beef are robust and flavorful, without that heavy mineral note that cuts like this can sometimes get. Fork tender, generous fat caps, and craggy bark, this is the sort of thing they should put on the Wikipedia page for brisket. 

Podnah’s Pit, 1625 NE Killingsworth,


At the risk of courting controversy (who am I kidding, that’s half the point of lists like this), Matt’s brisket didn’t really do it for me. It certainly looks the part with an impressive smoke ring and positively bark-like bark, but I found the flavor too intensely minerally to be enjoyed except as a vehicle for one of the many (excellent) available sauces. I also needed both a fork and knife to navigate the formidable slices. That’s probably not going to be a dealbreaker for most people, and I can’t fault a BBQ place for crafting a sauce-forward menu. But if you’re planning to “Ms. Doubtfire” something approaching a traditional Hanukkah dinner, I’d look elsewhere.

Matt’s BBQ, 4233 N Mississippi,


The Smoking Jay

Possibly the strangest dining experience on this list, but also the one I most enthusiastically recommend, Smoking Jay is located in what appears to be a decommissioned army barracks filled with folksy knicknacks—exactly the kind of off-kilter Fallout 4 dining experience food critics salivate over. The brisket here has an impressive depth of flavor and a soft, glossy bark that offers little resistance to a fork. But it’s the almost impossible tenderness of the beef that has me composing odes to this place. This is the kind of showcase velvety texture my dad would spend all day toiling over a backyard smoker to produce, and a rare find indeed on a restaurant menu. 

The Smoking Jay, 6305 SE King, Milwaukie,


Botto’s BBQ

Occupying the distinctive 1970s A-frame space most recently inhabited by Pok Pok Wing, Botto’s is no-nonsense BBQ that backs up the swagger. They offer a few different brisket formulations, from burnt ends to brisket hash, but I opted for the “pastrami brisket” weekly special, both as a nod to the traditionally Jewish flavor profile as well as to offer my struggling gut flora a welcome distraction. And true to form, it had the herbaceous depth and flavor of good pastrami contained within an impeccably smoked thick-cut slab of brisket. The real magic trick here are the luxurious morsels of fat, which behave like solid matter on the fork and seemingly vaporize in a puff of pure dopamine the instant you take a bite.

Botto’s BBQ, 3120 SE Milwaukie,

Reverend’s BBQ

Reverend’s is a bit higher-end than most of the places on this list, falling under the umbrella of Laurelhurst Market’s posh Neighborhood Restaurant Group. But this is a welcome case where the higher prices correlate to quality you can taste. This is damn good fancy beef: complex, decadently rich, and perfectly tender. The fat glistens invitingly, the char on the bark adds a smoky depth, and the flavors of the medium and method of preparation blend together masterfully.

Reverend’s BBQ, 7712 SE 13th,


Wolf’s Head Smokehouse

Near as I can tell, the Wolf’s Head BBQ cart in the Beaverton cart pod is your best, and perhaps only, option for by-the-pound smoked beef that side of the river. Good thing they’re in full command of their art, offering up thick slices of rich salty brisket in one of the smartest cart pods the ‘burbs have to offer. Wolf’s head brisket is salty, soft, and deeply smoked. It’s savory in the way a lovingly basted pot roast might be, rather than the more mushroom-y vibes I associate with “umami,” and it works just as well on its lonesome or as a launch pad for the cart’s several in-house sauces.

Wolf’s Head Smokehouse, 4250 SW Rose Biggi, Beaverton,


I’m keenly aware that there aren’t any, you know, Jewish restaurants on this list. Portland didn’t have a ton of them to begin with, and post-pandemic we’ve seen deli stalwart Kornblatt’s close and Kenny & Zuke’s move across the river with a significantly scaled down menu (Holy Smokes would have been a real good fit for this article, but they, alas, closed last year). But let me direct you to Lepage Food and Drinks, chef Risa Lichtman’s innovative meal catering/subscription service that offers traditional eats on a seasonal/rotating basis. Lichtman didn’t have any immediate brisket plans in the works, but keep an eye on the website for holiday menus.

Lepage Food and Drinks,