I went to Portland for my brother’s wedding and somehow managed to squeeze in a billion pizzerias. This was really intense – so intense that it took me three months to recover and write it up. Keep in mind that these reactions are based on single visits that happened at the end of August, so don’t take my recollections as gospel. Here’s the scoop.
Scottie’s Pizza Parlor
2128 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202
This small operation has only about a dozen seats, but its size is inversely proportional to the quality of its food. Owner Scott Rivera is a serious pizza maker making serious pizzas. His oven is a Swedish-built Pizza Master unit, which is an electric oven. These days, wood-burning ovens are getting all the action, but these electric ovens are super consistent and reliable. Scottie’s getting an awesome charred crust after just a few minutes on the clock. He’s also using a starter instead of packaged yeast, so the crust has a rich flavor. This is a new place (opened in August 2015) but will definitely contribute to an elevation of the city’s by-the-slice game. This is a must-eat pizza.
2131 SE 11th Ave, Portland, OR 97214
Pizza Rules Everything Around Me – a reference to Wu Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M. (sub Cash for Pizza) is an upscale restaurant featuring salads, small plates, and pizzas. They rock a might wood-burning oven that cranks out puffy-crusted Neapolitan-inspired gems. The pizza was a bit salty, but not to a distracting degree. We got there just as they opened for dinner, so it was easy for our group of about a dozen to sit right away. I can see it being a lot busier later at night and on weekends. Some of the kids in our crew claim it as their favorite pizza in town! I thought it was very very good, reminiscent of Motorino in NYC.
2934 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211
This was a quick stop between other pizzerias, but we had to check it out because I have one of their pizza boxes in my collection. It ended up being a decent slice, but nothing too exciting to brag about. I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way for this, but it’s nice to know it’s there when you need it. Especially nice to know they have vegan slices (slice on the right in above photo), which is especially helpful if you’re with your vegan brother.
1603 NE Killingsworth St, Portland, OR 97211
I heard about this place from my friend Katie, who is buddies with owner Will Fain. They recently moved into this new location and built a custom wood-fired oven, which they share with Seastar Bakery. As much as I liked the cheese pizza, the prettiest pie we had was an impromptu vegan pie Will made for my brother Jon. It was perfectly balanced between toppings and crust was both chewy and crunchy at the same time. Truly delicious. When we visited, they were just starting to mill their own flour in-house! THAT’S SO BADASS! OK fine, here’s a picture of the cheese pizza at Handsome.
Also badass is the custom oven they had built on-site. It’s a copper-plated brick oven similar in design to older coal-burning ovens like those at Totonno’s and John’s of Bleecker Street, but this one’s outfitted with wood-burning capabilities. Final awesome bit, Will was wearing a Scottie’s Pizza Parlor t-shirt the day we showed up and that’s totally worth even more awesome points. Enjoy the oven and the shirt in the following photo, then we’ll return to the 1-photo-per-pizzeria rule.
1408 SW 6th Ave, Portland, OR 97201
I stayed at the hotel attached to this place, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have ended up at Nel Centro. Only one person recommended it and, as it turns out, he’s not at all into two of the places I really loved in town. Alas, the pizza is only slightly better than what you should expect from a restaurant attached to a fancy hotel. We tried a few different pies but the standout was topped with spicy capicollo, scamorza, and green olive relish. It’s not that the pizza wasn’t good, it just didn’t have much to say. Great spot for some snacks and a glass of wine, but it’s not a destination pizza.
This place serves the kind of pizza you’ll find in Rome. The crust is thick yet light, with a bready quality. The thing to order here is the Pizza Bianca (in the photo above behind the word “register”) although I only had one bite of it while it was hot. We were between pizzerias and just happened to pass by, so ran in to grab a slice thinking I’d have time and stomach space for it later. That didn’t happen. I ended up leaving it on the roof of my friend Katie’s car the next day and can only hope some lucky family of squirrels feasted on its mangled remains. Long story short, this place is good based on the single bite I had. I vow to return for more.
For some reason, the best photo I took at Sizzle Pie was this poorly-lit shot of a pepperoni slice. Please believe me when I tell you there’s wayyyy more to this place. It’s run by a bunch of artists and you can tell by the brilliant design work on their t-shirts and pizza boxes. But it’s not a grubby rundown artist collective space where pizza’s just there to pay the rent. Someone on the team has really business savvy and someone else really knows how to make good pizza. They serve New York style pizza that’s thin, foldable, oversized, and unpretentious. Sizzle’s always has three meat pizzas, three veggie pies, and three vegan selections. I’m just seriously upset with myself that I don’t have any better photos of their pizza, but believe me when I say it’s the right stuff.
Ken’s Artisan Pizza
304 SE 28th Ave, Portland, OR 97214
Of all the pizzerias we visited, this one came with the most recommendations. I met Ken Forkish in January 2015 at the Caputo Cup in NYC and we totally hit it off, so I was delighted to finally try his pizza. It’s a wood-fired pie, but not at all Neapolitan. It reminds me of Franny’s (Brooklyn) with its personal size pies baked longer and at a lower temp than their Southern Italian cousins. The crust had a crispy bite that gave way to a chewy interior. This wasn’t a plain crushed tomato like so many other pizzerias are doing these days. I’ll go ahead and say it: this was my favorite sauce in Portland. I’ll have to ask Ken what’s going on with it, but I bet it’s really simple. Definitely check this place out when you’re in Portland, it’s essential.
4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97215
Enough buildup, his was my favorite pizza in Portland. It’s the closest thing to what I’m used to at places like Sam’s Restaurant and Totonno’s (both in Brooklyn) but there was a richness to the cheese that came as a pleasant surprise. Apizza Scholls came almost as highly recommended as Ken’s, but it seemed like lots of the Portlanders just hadn’t checked it out yet. It has a reputation for long waits, so maybe that scares people. I made a reservation online and it was no big deal. I think people need to check their priorities. It’s such a comfortable pizza. How great to have something that’s large enough to share in a place that feels like a cleaner, nicer version of a New Jersey bar (I mean that as an absolute compliment). I really want to go back to make sure my initial impression was accurate, but if my taste buds were sharp this is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. Even better, I went there with some SPT alumni who wanted to see the oven and they totally let us hang out and watch the bake while we asked the pizza makers questions! So much fun.
2727 NE Glisan St, Portland, OR 97232
My friend Katie has been telling me about this place for years. She once brought me a slice all the way in NYC, wrapped in foil and cradled during the flight cross-country. It’s deep dish pizza, so the crust is dense and crumbly, topped with cheese before toppings and sauce. It’s very hard to eat deep dish pizza in the middle of a very intense pizza crawl, so take this assessment with a few large chunks of salt. I liked the taste, but it’s just too heavy for a dude like me. In my mind, pizza is lighter and eating one slice makes me just want to eat more. The place was packed so we ended up taking our two pies to-to and eating them out of the trunk of a car. It was pretty great. I really did like the flavor, but was running the risk of exploding if I finished an entire slice. Guess I’ll just have to go back and try it again, but I’ll do it on an empty stomach!
Lovely’s FIfty Fifty
4039 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR 97217
The name says it all – these pizzas are LOVELY! Pardon my poorly lit photo, but you can see we got there after sunset and the place is not bright. I honestly don’t remember which pies we ordered but I can assure you they tasted as good as they looked. Lovely’s makes a naturally fermented dough and sources as many of their ingredients locally and responsibly as possible. Their topping combinations are creative and delicious. But the best part might be that they ALSO make their own ice cream! You can’t get much better than a couple of scoops after a day of intense ice cream eating. I had a scoop of the malted flavor and it was a celebration of human life. That is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.
Escape From New York
622 NW 23rd Ave, Portland, OR 97210
Here’s a place that has been serving slices for longer than anyone else in Portland. Owner Phil Geffner left New York in the early 1980s, back when the city was affordable but nobody wanted to live there. He headed to the Pacific Northwest and settled in Portland to eventually open EFNY in 1983 when the only pizza in town was from the big national chains. Phil brought pizza by the slice to Portland and his place really does feel like a NYC slice shop, or at least how slice shops felt at the time he left New York. It’s hard to find places that still have this feel, but guys like Phil are preserving something that otherwise only exists in their minds. Good luck finding places like this in New York, they’re on the endangered list.
Ken’s Artisan Bakery
338 NW 21st Ave. Portland, OR 97209
Familiar name, right? This is the place that started it all for Ken Forkish, of Ken’s Artisan Pizza. Ken started doing pizza nights at his bakery and they were so popular he spun it off as its own business with Ken’s Artisan Pizza. But I knew I had to try the bakery while I was in town. I ended up going there with a group of amazing kids from a local school as a pizza tour fundraiser for the Oregon Food Bank. The pizza’s good, but it’s much drier than the pies I had at KAP, which bake much faster in a wood-burning oven. KAB uses electric deck ovens at lower temperatures (for their breads) so they naturally take longer to bake. If you’re at the bakery, you absolutely have to try their breads and pastries. They are unreal. But if you want pizza, go to Ken’s Artisan Pizza.
Here’s another by-the-slice joint, but this one’s a bit more stylized than the others. They have a few locations around town and even make their own all-natural soda. It’s excellent and pairs really well with the pizza! We tried a few different types, from simple cheese pizza to this crazy apple and gorgonzola pie. Really fun pizzas here and very different from Sizzle Pie and Escape From New York, the other big slice joints. This was also part of the charity pizza tour I ran and owner David Yudkin, whose father opened the place in 1984, was kind enough to share his knowledge about pizza with the kids. Great place with a big heart and solid slices.
Oven and Shaker
1134 NW Everett St, Portland, OR 97209
By the time we got to Oven and Shaker, I was definitely nearing the maximum tolerance for human interaction with flattened and topped round bread discs. We ordered a flight of pizzas and my appetite suddenly returned! This is another wood fired place serving pizza that comes out charred and firm without being burnt. The crust is a bit dense for me but it seems like there’s more concentration on the topping combos here, which are delightful. This was a late addition to our list but I’m very happy we went. Also neat is their menu option to buy a round of beers for the kitchen. For just a few bucks, you get to give a gift to the back of house team. They also ring a gong to celebrate whenever someone buys them a round. I just hope they’re not drinking as the orders come in, otherwise I’d strongly recommend coming in earlier in the night before everyone back there is blitzed.
226 NW Davis St, Portland, OR 97209
A fitting end to an extremely packed trip to Portland, Old Town is the oldest pizzeria we visited. Opened in 1974, this downtown pizzeria is located in an old hotel building dating back to the late 19th century. There’s a ton of cool history about this neighborhood involving crime, prostitution, and Shanghai tunnels – but the best part about Old Town is that it’s totally haunted!!! Nina, a young woman employed by the world’s oldest trade, was apparently thrown down an elevator shaft and haunts the building to this day. I didn’t see her, but the space is haunting enough even without a ghost in the room. There’s a great vibe in there and I really dug the atmosphere. It was actually the perfect end to some intense eating because after one bite of their pizza, we came to the conclusion that ordering a pie is not a requirement for a visit to Old Town.