Multnomah County is entering another indoor dining freeze. Not ideal, but important. And hey, you can live through this. You’re young, you’re vaccinated or shortly will be, and you’ve built up a reliable pod of friends following best COVID-19 safety practices. Plus, Portland’s warm months are coming, and soon it’ll be 75 degrees every day with not a drop of rain in sight. So put on your fancy “going outside” pants and text that group chat that’s been dormant since your Zoom Halloween party and hit up a couple Portland restaurants serving great food outside.
Located on Portland State campus just across from the 4th Avenue food cart pods, Phat Cart has been a familiar haunt for PSU students since it opened its brick-and-mortar building five years ago. Phat Cart serves bento boxes that strike a comfortable balance between protein and sides, whether you get the korean beef bento with marinated short ribs and kimchi or the classic Mr. Miyagi sandwich—a mayo-marinated slab of fried chicken with lime aioli and crisp veggies served on pillowy white bread. Phat Cart also has some of the best vegan options on campus, and fried tofu can be added as a side to any meal. Rather than a traditional patio in front of the restaurant, Phat Cart’s outdoor seating is a balcony just above the entrance, accessible through a staircase on the side of the building. The balcony provides an unparalleled view of Portland’s downtown, especially at sunset, making it an ideal first date spot. There are only five chairs available, so go early, preferably during Phat Cart’s weekday happy hour from 4:20–7 p.m.
Before the pandemic, Luc Lac was the number one late night happy hour in downtown Portland, running specials until 4 a.m. on the weekends. Now it’s slightly more reserved, finishing patio service at 10 p.m. cutting off take-out at 12 a.m. Still, it’s one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in all of Portland. Although the pho menu is excellent and the namesake luc lac beef is rich and smoky, the real move is the small plates section of the menu. Here you’ll find sugar cane shrimp, steak rolls, and meat skewers all at around seven dollars. Grab a couple vaccinated friends and find a seat on the big wooden patio that Luc Lac built into the street during the pandemic, then pass the small plates of grilled meats around the table and pretend that life was always like this.
Hawthorne Asylum is a relatively new food cart pod, opened about a year before the pandemic. Like other pods with outdoor seating, it has become a hotspot for people looking to gather safely outdoors and partake in a variety of different foods. Carts shuffle in and out as leases expire, so there’s always something new popping up in the 21-cart pod. What really makes Hawthorne Asylum stand out is Black Dagger PDX, a drink cart serving beer, wine, sangria and mimosa pints for onsite and to-go consumption. This makes Hawthorne Asylum one of the city’s best places to grab after-dark grub and booze, all in the open air. Hawthorne Asylum can be accessed from Portland State campus via the 14, 6 and 2 Trimet bus lines.
If you’ve trawled all the carts at Hawthorne Asylum and didn’t find anything to your greasy, diseased heart’s liking, the logical move is to walk up the street to Lardo. Here you’ll find massive sandwiches served either on bread or over fries, if you’re feeling particularly piggish. The sandwiches come from a variety of traditions, including a pork meatball banh mi, a griddled mortadella sub and the Pho’Rench dip, a shaved steak sandwich served with pho broth aus jus. Lardo sits right on the corner of Ladd’s Addition, Portland’s sleepy and most roundabout-laden development. Its patio is large and spacious, with plenty of wooden benches, and heaters for when summer nights get chilly. Lardo also has a large rotating tap list of local beers and ciders from breweries like Breakside and Baerlic Brewing.
Double Dragon is first and foremost a cocktail bar, serving strong drinks with eye-catching names such as Electric Lettuce and Burnt Reynolds. All 15 speciality cocktails are excellent, but the more bizarre ones, such as the First Time Caller (mezcal, Singani, Aperol, lime, passionfruit, aloe, hellfire bitters and blackstrap float) really stand out alongside Double Dragon’s food offerings, which include banh mi, a coconut milk-based ramen and a shrimp, pork and scallion sausage patty on a bun from Grand Central Bakery. The banh mi and rice bowls both come with a choice of pork belly, chicken or soy curls. The pork belly is slightly charred, and the richness helps balance whichever boozy cocktail you’re imbibing. Double Dragon is just a short walk from the 12th and Clinton MAX stop, easily accessible from PSU’s campus.