How To Dine Somewhere Popular Without Losing your Patience

Despite Portland bursting with hundreds of hyped about dining establishments, this city is still notorious for having an abundance of restaurants with an unspoken requirement to wait long and occasionally non-guaranteeing periods of time to snag a table.

While having a reservation is almost always a reassurance (and perhaps a good idea in potentially non-platonic first date scenarios), many of the local favourites here do not accept them. Plus, planning where to feast more than a few hours in advance appears to be atypical around here unless a specific occasion or date has been preemptively set. In fact, the 30% or so of the time I do make reservations I usually check Open Table a couple of hours in advance to see which of my reservation-accepting options happens to have a spare two-top.

While I am yet to even attempt to get in the door at Ox or Luce, I do have a couple of basic success rate increasing tips to get a sitting with little to no wait. After all, never have I ever had to wait to order at Apizza Scholls or Pine State Biscuit…and that’s mostly because I have never been to Pine State prior 12:45 am.

1. Go on a Tuesday: 

Tuesday is my favorite night to dine out in Portland, mostly because the majority of the universe seems to view Tuesdays as anticlimactic and not the kind of night to swipe some YSL matte on the lips and hit the town. I’m sure there is also some fantastic show with a cult following on television that I am unaware of that is on Tuesdays, which makes it all the better to make an attempt to venture somewhere where all the Little Green Picklers keep tweeting about. And you know what? Timing is not even too terrible of an issue; while yes you are much more likely to skip a wait at 5PM opening time, I tend to work until 7, hit dinner at 8 after all my post-work salon appointments and can still phone up a friend, saunter into Bamboo Sushi on SE 28th and get a table no problem (or at the bar…but you get it, if it’s platonic you really don’t need to be facing anyone but the bartender).

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“Karashi” hanger marinated and grilled hanger steak with asian mustard mushrooms and puffed rice…one of my favorite unconventional meat small plates in Portland; and for only $10

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Kyle’s assorted vegetarian sushi: Veggie roll, avocado nigiri, inari- a mere $9

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Grilled asparagus salad: Grilled, miso dressed asparagus with panko crusted poached egg

What makes Bamboo unique from Portland’s many other sushi options are the innovative and superbly presented variety small plates, the upscale atmosphere, and the Wagyu burger for those times I’m craving a sandwich but am dining with someone who was craving poke salad all week. Plus, it’s a rather convenient choice considering that there is a location in SE and one on NW 23rd so there is never one too far away when I feel like going for a panko crusted poached egg (which happens way more frequently than I am willing to admit). And if you did not already suspect: Everyone who works there is an absolute darling.

2. Pick an Option-Strewn Neighbourhood, Wing it, Go for the Bar/Open Kitchen Seating:

Let’s face it, you will not ALWAYS get in where you are going to want to go so it is always good to have one or two reliable back ups within walking distance. While I would love nothing more than to give it a shot at Ox, the truth is that if I have my heart set on some slabs of sirloin it will be very difficult for me to refurbish my cravings du jour and resort to an Ethiopian finger feast down the street (though I do adore Ethiopian cuisine, mistake me not). Fortunately however, Portland is full of vibrant mini neighbourhoods densely populated by attractive options whether it’s the corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth, the culinary corridor that is SE Division, or the cutesy village-like SE Clinton.

This past Friday at around 6:30 PM I was at work plotting out my course of action for the evening when I pulled up the menu for St. Jack and found it to be beautifully tailored to my cravings. In addition, Anne and I met a lovely lady in our age demographic several weeks back at a farewell party at Kask who worked at St. Jack and Rum Club and had encouraged us to come in one night. Friday night seemed to be the perfect time as it really had been a good while since Anne and I  went on a friend date somewhere new (translation: not Gruner). We skyped about the possibility, checked Open Table for a reservation which surprise surprise, there were none available. Anne suggested we still give it a shot, perhaps sit at the bar, and if the wait is too tedious to head down the street to Vindalho, Savoy, or Broder.

Lo and behold, we got lucky walking in at 8:35 PM on a friday:

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Improved Jack Rose x2

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Onglet Steak Frites w/ shallot, red wine demi glace, bearnaise, and mixed greens

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Asparagus & Gruyere Crepes: Caramelised onion, oyster mushrooms, tarragon, cream, peas

We were both thoroughly impressed with St. Jack; and had our appetites been more substantial we may have also indulged in some hors d’oeuvres and dessert. However, splitting a steak and the savoury crepe entree ended up being the optimum amount of nourishment and left us both extremely satisfied with our decision.

3. Go for an Unconventional Meal:

Screen Door and the Tastys are for Sunday brunch, RoboTaco for a post-Holocene nacho nightcap (or an intermission/re-energizer if you’re akin to Anne and I), and Luc Lac is for happy hour (or 3am crispy rolls to soak up debauchery of the hours before…or just anytime now that I think about it). My advice for getting into the busies is to go for a meal most people would be somewhere else for- like doing Tasty n Sons for supper or weekday brunch instead of enduring a two hour Sunday morning queue. This recent Sunday was such an instance; I had unwisely forewent a proper lunch and supper the prior evening and as usual woke up to a condiments-only refrigerator and an incapability to go anywhere where automatic seating would not be an option. I called my vegan friend Kyle, dished out some options and assured him that one day we will indeed try Blossoming Lotus or Portobello Vegan Trattoria but that this particularly morning “I really needed some animal protein and didn’t want to wait anywhere.” So we decided on Thai, yes Thai food for “Easter brunch,” and none other than my new favourite, PaaDee. We arrived at 11:45 am, were the only patrons in while folks lined up at ScreenDoor several blocks back. Not jealous.

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Lunch menu…while shorter than most Thai menus still full of way too many tantalising options

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Pad Kee Mao: flat rice noodle, egg, bamboo shoot, pepper, scallions, onions, basil and chilli; also the first time in my life I order a noodle dish.

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Kai Look Kaey : fried soft boiled egg, dry chili & shallots, scallions, tamarind sauce at $2

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Tofu Green Curry – noodles, red peppers, Thai eggplant, bamboo shoot, and basil

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Green curry accroutements: Basil, pickled chard, cucumbers, chillis, spring onions, bean sprouts

Absolutely divine as usual; though Portland is incredibly abundant with fantastic Thai eateries I have to agree with Portland Monthly’s Best Restaurants list and concur that PaaDee is the king of them all. Everything is always fresh, flavourful, and incredibly affordable.

One day I’ll go to Ox…and it will most likely be after I convert from Blackberry to iPhone come my July upgrade so that I can Tinder my way through however long the wait will be.

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3 thoughts on “How To Dine Somewhere Popular Without Losing your Patience

    • Thanks, Cecily! You should definitely come back and visit- as usual there is at least three new amazing places opening up each week. Too difficult and expensive to keep up with the food scene here!

  1. Great post. I love these tips and how you presented them! I worked SEVERAL years in restaurants… and, the Tuesday thing is SO TRUE.

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