Where To Find Inexpensive Meals As Cost of Living Rises


While working on my first post about the critics’ top restaurants, I realized when friends come to visit, this list may not best represent what a typical trip to Portland would have in it.  Because of the flow and economics of a vacation, someone might go to one or two places like Kachka or Le Pigeon.  Many of these places take reservations and to be honest, they cost a fair amount of money.  This doesn’t factor in that almost everyone’s first time here includes Voodoo Doughnuts, but this is another story for another post.

So I set out to gather some additional data to include some of the less expensive but still delicious meals that can be had in the Rose City as well.  The sources here are:


The interesting thing about this compilation is that only Yelp is ranked.  The rest are treated as flat lists.  There is a single dish that appears on all five of my sources.  It’s the chicken sandwich at Basilisk (in the Zipper Building on Sandy).

There are forty establishments on multiple lists, but only three of them were on three lists or more.  If you were going for consensus picks, you’d prioritize these:

  • Basilisk: the much-praised chicken sandwich costs $8, and it’s delicious!
  • Nong’s Khao Man Gai: Thai chicken and rice is one of the most iconic dishes in Portland.
  • Scottie’s Pizza Parlor: Pizza by the slice on SE Division
  • Enat Kitchen: The lunch buffet at Enat Kitchen is not only affordable at $10, it’s also one of the tastiest Ethiopian meals you can get in Portland.
  • Love Belizean: At $8, the Belizean chicken is a steal.
  • 808 Grinds Cafe: This Hawaiian plate lunch spot has several great, affordable options, but their boneless, marinated, fried chicken is fantastic.

Willamette Week is certainly the most extensive list, with 81 specific items from each restaurant, followed by the Oregonian’s Michael Russell’s top 50 picks.   Yelp tended to skew more towards places downtown or west of the river, likely due to a high number of tourist reviews.  This is consistent with what I found to be true in the top overall restaurant reviews.

Eater limited themselves to 25 selections across two lists, so they had fewer slots to work with than any of the others.  However, I am not entirely sure why they had no selections anywhere close to 82nd Avenue.  Given that Rose VL is on their Eater 38, it should probably be one of their essential cheap eats.

Best Reviewed and Best Deals

The following restaurants are well-reviewed businesses and fairly inexpensive (in order of review strength):

  1. Hat Yai
  2. Nong’s Khao Man Gai
  3. Rose VL
  4. Duck House
  5. Basilisk

Judging The Results

This intersection of well-reviewed and bargain meals represents some of my favorite eats in town.  In fact, I frequent the top three fairly often, and I do bring friends from out of town to these places.  In the end, all of this is subjective, but when it comes to matching up with my cheap eats recommendations, this method did very well.  That being said, I really do like to bring people to Pine Street Market, which has a bunch of high quality, reasonably priced eateries.

Follow Up Work

I’d love to try this on another city (like San Francisco) to see how that comes out.  Additionally, a little more analysis can be done on this dataset.  It would be interesting to see where cheap meals tend to cluster.  If I had to guess, more of the restaurants are on the east side, and possibly, the cheaper meals are farther from the river.  I’m interested in whether the restaurant pattern reflects the affluence of the residents.  Lots can be done here, and I’m just getting started.


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