Hamburger Mary flipped her first burger in 1972 in San Francisco’s SOMA district. From her humble origins as the lovably eccentric icon for a late-night beer-and-burger joint, she has now crisscrossed the nation with her brand of family dining, which welcomes all open-minded people and focuses on members of the LGBT community. With cleverly mismatched dinnerware, diners dig into a menu rooted in Angus beef burgers such as the Buffy the Burger Slayer or the 1-pound Proud Mary. Bold colors splash the walls, and colorful collages and artwork frame a fun, quirky space to encourage diners to get out of their comfort zone and finally attempt to bench-press their family members.
Sisters Of The Road was born in 1979, when an anonymous person used chalk to draw a circle containing three Xs—the hobo symbol for good food and hospitality—on the sidewalk in front of the organization's new restaurant in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood. The founders paid for the space with $10 and bartered for the rent.
Today, visitors who can't afford the typical $1.25 price tag for a meal at the café also can barter work in exchange for their food—much of which is donated by local grocery stores. First-time customers and those who cannot pay or work for their meals get their food for free. Last year, the café served more than 39,000 meals, 3,500 of which were given gratis to families, people with disabilities, and first-time customers. Others worked a total of more than 10,000 hours to pay for their tabs. In addition to operating the restaurant, Sisters Of The Road has published a book and video on homelessness and sponsored an annual conference on economic human rights and nonviolence.
Eschewing the over-the-top costumes and writing that typify many other murder-mystery dinners, The Dinner Detectives’ cast of improvisational actors blends in with audiences, holding secrets tight to their chests while steering each night’s tension-filled storyline. After a diner is found murdered, a resident detective helps lead the investigation, allowing guests to interrogate one another with Tickle Monster tactics to distinguish the culprit among the crowd of fellow diners and dissembling thespians. Multicourse meals keep bodies well fueled during spurts of crime-solving intuition, and a prize basket awaits the gumshoe who comes closest to solving the case.
The Gilt Club Restaurant caught the attention of national foodies when it hosted a James Beard Foundation event, and won over the public with its cameo on the first episode of Portlandia. Described as "part lab, party swanky James Bond hideaway," by Portland Monthly, Gilt Club's décor swaddles guests in crimson curtains and high-backed booths illuminated by organically shaped chandeliers. Owner and manager Jamie Dunn is often spotted prowling the house in shiny gold shoes while executive chef Neil Everett helms the kitchen. Neil's seasonal menu marries European tradition with gourmet local and organic ingredients—such as tom yum mussels, ricotta gnocchi, and hanger steak—that come from businesses and farms with sustainable practices whenever possible.
Behind Gilt's gilded bar, a pair of bartenders whips up signature cocktails from an impressive list of 125 spirits, including house-infused liquors spiced with ingredients such as beet, habanero, and blood orange. Even in the vintage cocktails, house-made bitters surprise jaded taste buds like a soufflé stuffed with joy buzzers.
Portland Prime's claim to fame is its steaks. Each highly marbled piece of USDA Prime beef is aged for 28 days before it’s cooked to achieve maximum flavorization. Wood-fired ovens sear the juices of diver scallops and ahi tuna steaks inside blackened crusts, and locally sourced ingredients enrich every dish, including seasonal desserts. The eatery’s expansive wine list boasts 140 bottles and 40 wines by the glass, which helped it to win Wine Spectator's 2011 Award of Excellence, which is only given to establishments at which it's truly enjoyable to watch other people drink wine.