Portland is a food city where little things matter. People here debate everything they eat and drink: how it’s made, how it’s produced, where it comes from, and—of course—how it tastes. Here, even the salt has a backstory (it’s probably from Jacobsen), and the fast-food places advertise seasonal specials. (Read on!) Meanwhile, a low-key vibe and accessible attitude make Portland an unusually kid-friendly restaurant and food-culture city. At Little Sous, we’re headquartered here—lucky us!—and harbor no shortage of passion or opinions about the best places to go. But whether your family calls the city home or you’re traveling and plotting a family food quest, in Portland you’re invited into the conversation.
Find your way around Kid-Friendly Portland
Divided into five quadrants, Portland essentially sorts into distinct, village-scale neighborhoods organized around retail and dining corridors. Key walkable areas packed with diverse food options include:
—Northwest 23rd and 21st Avenues
—the Pearl District
—Southeast’s Hawthorne Boulevard, and Belmont and Division Streets
—East 28th Avenue as it runs from Northeast Glisan Street to Southeast Stark Street
—Northeast Alberta Street
—North Mississippi Avenue
At the outskirts of Southeast, you’ll find the city’s best Latin American food market and a range of authentic Asian food. The goliath Fubonn Market makes a great destination in this car-oriented part of town, with several Asian restaurants in the adjoining mall.
Immerse yourself in Portland food culture
Don’t miss visiting one of the food cart “pods” on the Eastside—arguably the defining feature of the last 10 years of the city’s culinary scene. The best of these clusters of independent food trucks offer a cosmopolitan array of cuisines, a few slam-dunk kid options (hello, Smaaken Waffles), and enticing all-weather hang-out areas that can handle moderate rambunctiousness. (The best have beer.) Piedmont Station, The Bite on Belmont, and Cartopia all currently seem worth checking out; pods do shift, move, and sometimes disappear, so timely research is advised.
For an indoor food-hall experience, visit Pine Street Market, which offers a one-stop sampling of many of Portland’s trendiest eateries in a fancy—albeit often crowded—food court atmosphere.
See Rose City restaurant icons in action
Score a reservation early and get to Han Oak, helmed by the nationally heralded Peter Cho. Set in a delightful secret courtyard, this Korean-American family restaurant is full of surprises, including that it’s so welcoming to kids. If your child is open to a lively culinary adventure, Kachka offers skewers and dumplings alongside the more refined Russian fare.
Great burger stops
We mentioned fast food. No surprise—a city that prides itself on artisanal everything is home to several competing, home-grown alternatives to the emergency McD’s stop. Burgerville, a Northwest favorite, prides itself on links to regional farmers; often, the prize in its kids’ meal is a packet of herb seeds. Little Big Burger’s several storefront locations tend to be in the thick of neighborhoods with lots of food options, while the ambitious new SuperDeluxe aims to reinvent the drive-through. Other great options: the myriad Killer Burger locations and neighborhood finds Free House and Dick’s Primal Burger.
A Portland food-itinerary cheat sheet
Hang out: Speaking of Little Big Burger, the N. Mississippi Avenue location sits at the center of a vibrant little courtyard where kids can run semi-free and explore some intriguing concrete orbs. Here, Laughing Planet (healthy-ish burritos), The Meadow (gourmet salts and chocolate), Blue Star Donuts, and the huge selection of graphic novels at Bridge City Comics offer diversions for diverse age groups.
For pizza: Families flock to Northeast’s Pizza Jerk, where vintage video games and red-checked table cloth evoke ‘80s birthday parties (and renowned chef Tommy Habetz spins some of the city’s best pies, including a killer deep dish).
For picnics: Sellwood Park is conveniently close to Portland’s version of Coney Island, Oaks Park. (Bonus points for biking there on the Springwater Corridor trail.) On the west side, Washington Park offers commanding views of the city, an amazing playground, and walkable proximity to a host of other attractions, including the Zoo, Children’s Museum, and lovely, leafy Hoyt Arboretum.
For Italian: The Pearl District’s Piazza Italia is entertainingly over-the-top, with soccer flags everywhere and looping Serie A games on screen to captivate budding soccer aficionados.
Destination: The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry offers a fantastic, eclectic cafeteria, with a great local beer and wine list and a river view, meaning you can unleash the brood on hours of interactive, educational exhibits and work in a very satisfying lunch.
A great Portland neighborhood to explore
And … OMSI anchors a fast-growing riverfront district with plenty more to eat and explore, especially along the bike path that loops along both sides of the river. Head south, and you’ll find the Portland location of Mt. Hood Brewing, where you can sit in converted train cars to sample microbrews and eat simple or imaginative wood-fired pizzas. The “North End” pays tribute to the beloved Portland Timbers soccer club with green toppings including pesto, zucchini, green olives, and arugula. Train buffs (and their parents) can wander over to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Walk, ride a bike, or take the streetcar over the car-free Tilikum Crossing Bridge to explore the Southwest Waterfront. Back on the Eastside, head north, and you’ll find hip but kid-friendly (a.k.a. boisterous) favorites including Boke Bowl (where kids love the fun design, fried chicken, and PB&J steam buns), Bunk Sandwiches, and Shalom Y’all. Inside Cargo, a treasure-trove of a store, don’t miss Giraffe, selling cute Japanese snacks and street food.
Kid-friendly food musts
Visitors and locals alike wait for hours in the rain for Salt & Straw ice cream (known for bizarrely delectable flavors such as Pear & Blue Cheese and Arbequina Olive Oil, along with more typical tastes). And if you don’t get to one of many Blue Star Donuts locations early, they’re likely to sell out their best. A surefire-hit experience is certainly Slappy Cakes. This DIY pancakes joint typically stocks five different batter choices and more than two dozen toppings. Make your picks and start designing a masterpiece on your tabletop griddle.
Teachable local-food moments
Portlanders love farmers markets, and there’s no better way to see, taste, and smell the vast range of Oregon’s bounty. The biggest operates year-round in the downtown South Park Blocks on Saturdays, and offers periodic kids’ cooking workshops. For a more in-depth experience, consider signing your kids up for a cooking class at Portland Cookshop, The Merry Kitchen or Portland Culinary Workshop.