207 Foodie’s Favorite Hidden Steals and Deals
As inflation continues to rise, you may be wondering if there are any hidden gems, cheap spots, or hidden steals and deals that you don’t know about around Portland. Here’s my list of some of my favorite hidden steals and deals that I’ve collected over the years, so keep reading to find out more!
Omakase Menu at Izakaya Minato
It’s no secret to absolutely anyone that Izakaya Minato is my favorite restaurant in Portland. What you may not realize is that the omakase menu is part of the reason why.
Omakase, aka the chef’s choice menu, means you put your meal in the chef’s hands. Although the price has increased slightly in the last few years, it’s still extremely reasonable when you consider what you’re getting. This is an approximately 5-course meal for about $40 per person.
In my experience, the omakase menu at Minato always includes the much-loved JFC (Japanese fried chicken for those not in the know). I’m literally obsessed with it, and if you’ve had a conversation with me, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard me talk about how tender it is and how I dream about this chicken for months afterward. It’s that good.
But besides the JFC, it’s a bit of a toss-up what you’ll get, and to be honest, that’s why I love it! My thought is that the chef knows their menu pretty well, so I’m only going to end up with delicious bites and entrees to share.
If you want the omakase menu (and you know you do, let’s get real here), it’s something that your whole table has to order. So, no one person omakaseing here, and if you’re with a table of 4 people, you all have to order it. But trust me, it’s worth it because I keep coming back for it!
The Charcuterie Board at Sagamore Hill (Fridays and Saturdays only)
If you’ve looked at my Instagram feed, you can tell pretty quickly that I love a good charcuterie board. What’s not to love about meats, cheeses, some kind of honey or mustard or jelly to smear on your bread, a little fruit on the side, so you can take that perfect bite?
This next hidden gem is more recent, as Sagamore Hill only started offering this charcuterie board in May, but oh my, I’m a fan. Part of this may be because this is one of the few boards you’ll find in Portland that features pate!
In my last life, I may have been a seventy-year-old man, because pate is something that grouchy old men tend to love, but I have a serious passion for a chicken liver mousse. And the charcuterie board at Sagamore features it, along with plenty of meats, cheeses, a highly-flavorful bourbon brown sugar mustard that they make in-house (I asked because I wanted to buy some), mushrooms, daikon, and some fruit on the side.
It’s basically just the perfect little board with sweet, savory, and a few acidic items to make your tastebuds sing. Not to mention, it feeds 2-3 people, so if you’re drinking cocktails (why else are you at my favorite cocktail bar in Portland?), now you have a snack to munch on throughout your evening.
The Monday Night Special at Roma Cafe: $65 Menu for Two People
After COVID (if that’s a term since it might just go on forever, who knows), I thought for sure the Monday night special at Roma Cafe wouldn’t be served anymore. But I finally got the chance to try it for myself a few months back and knew I had to share my findings with the rest of the world.
Somehow, this incredibly reasonable and delicious deal is not well-known. For $65 on Mondays only, two people can get the following: a bottle of wine (house choice), family-style house salad, choice of 2 family-style entrees, and dessert! Seriously, that’s a fantastic deal.
I went with a friend to try it out, and let me tell you, we had so much food between the two of us that we had to take leftovers home. She took the leftover bottle of wine home as well. But on Mondays, when it can be difficult to find anywhere to go out to eat, you should definitely keep this unbelievable special in your back pocket.
Working on Brighton Avenue in Portland, it can be a bit of a struggle to find good places to grab lunch. Well, one of my favorite inexpensive but filling spots is Vientiane Market.
Here’s the thing: in all the years I’ve been going, I’ve only ever ordered two things. I get crab rangoon and pad thai with chicken pretty much every time.
This is not typically how I choose to order at restaurants, but I need to let the cat out of the bag…this might be the best pad thai you’ll ever put in your mouth. The portions are enormously generous, meaning I can get at least 3 meals out of one order easily.
When you’ve found something so perfect, why would you mess with perfection by ordering something else? However, I have a sneaking suspicion that everything on their menu is incredibly tasty if I ever decided to order something else. Vientiane may look tiny, but you’re missing out if you don’t try it.
Bet you didn’t know that Westbrook had an arcade bar. Yep, it’s true! And now, I can also tell you that Wessie’s Den has a kitchen serving up some tasty eats, like pizza, wings, homemade snack mix, burgers, and more.
They’ve literally only had it open for a week or so, but there are some tasty things coming out of there, and when I was in eating on a Saturday night not too long ago, the chef told me that this was just the beginning. Be prepared to see a more varied menu of offerings later on this summer.
Wessie’s is also an excellent spot if you love craft beer (and I bet you do) or if you want Truly on tap. The bartenders are all ridiculously friendly and knowledgeable, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to convince one of them to make you the Drunken Pelican.
Sir. King Kitchen
So, in addition to the awesomeness that is Wessie’s Den, we’ve also got a seriously phenomenal new Jamaican restaurant here in Westbrook. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also right across the street from Wessie’s!
If you want some of the best Jamaican food you’re going to eat outside of Jamaica, you owe it to yourself to come to check out Sir. King Kitchen. Chances are, you’ve seen some of these dishes gracing my Instagram lately, and if you’re drooling over just the pictures, wait until you come and try these dishes out for yourself!
The mac ‘n cheese is all you could hope mac n cheese should be: ooey, gooey, cheesy, and bursting with flavor. The curried goat quite literally melts in your mouth…you don’t even need a knife to cut it because it’s so tender.
The jerk chicken is just on fire; as in we’re talking the flavors are out of control. There’s so much going on in your mouth as you take the first bite that you don’t even know what to think because it tastes so damn good.
If I sound obsessed, it’s because I am, and you will be too. I’ve also heard some rumors that there may be outdoor seating in the form of a patio and even a bar at some point, so keep your eyes peeled, because only good things are coming from Sir King Kitchen.
Before I write anything, let me just preface by saying that according to Asmara’s website, they appear to be temporarily closed. I believe this is only until August (I hope). But when they reopen, this is a place you have to visit if you haven’t been!
There is truly nothing else in the world like Eritrean cuisine. Don’t let the fact that you don’t eat with utensils scare you, because it’s a new and different way of experiencing the culture. Instead, you use a large piece of flat, spongy bread called injera to scoop up everything.
The communal style of eating encourages conversation and is something you’ll never forget. But, and this is the most important part, the food they serve is incredible. The flavors are so diverse and varied, with some tasting sour, while others are sweet and spicy.
It’s like a flavor explosion that just gets better and better with each bite. I can tell you that some of the best curries I’ve ever had in Portland I’ve had at Asmara, so for that reason alone, I hope they reopen very soon.
Smalls Cafe: Caesar Salad with Anchovies
You all know I’ll try anything once, and sometimes that means going to a small cafe in the West End and making sure to order their Caesar salad with anchovies. It’s hyped about, and I’m here to tell you: it lives up to the hype!
Smalls in and of itself is a hidden gem since it’s really tucked in and a bit hard to find if you’re not looking for it. If you remember where the short-lived cider bar was, you’ll know exactly where Smalls is.
But back to the salad. It’s a little creamy, a little bit acidic, and there’s even a bit of crunch, along with a jammy egg that is honestly the perfect touch. Who knew that adding an egg to your Caesar salad would take it to the next level, but it definitely does. Go try it for yourself, and I’m telling you, you’ll love it.
Thanh Thanh 2: Bo Tai Chanh
Now, normally, when a place has a “2” in the name, I get nervous. But you have to trust me here. Whoever it was a few months back that recommended Thanh Thanh 2 to me, thank you.
I honestly cannot remember who it was, but what I can tell you is that my friend and I had dinner plans about a month ago, and the place we were going to go to ended up being closed. Thanh Thanh 2 was the place I thought of because of that recommendation, and lo and behold, that recommendation ended up being totally on the money.
Now, I will also tell you that I’ve had like three things on this menu. I ordered a Thai tea, some spring rolls, and an incredible beef salad that our server recommended when we asked what his favorite dish on the menu was. He was not kidding around about this salad.
It might be one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth! Bo tai chanh is a beef eye round with rare steak, lemon sauce, onion, basil, jalapeno, and peanuts. And oh my…it was spicy, a tiny bit sweet, and basically like the best part of what I like about beef tartare.
It was like they created a salad that read my mind and filled it with things I simply loved. Now that I’ve had this amazing dish, I don’t know if I want to try anything else on the menu. However, I have heard that Thanh Thanh 2 has some of the best pho you’ll find in Portland, so I may have to investigate purely for research purposes.
The Frying Dutchman: Korean Corn Dogs
If you somehow haven’t made it to the Frying Dutchman in the Public Market, you are MISSING OUT. All the food is delicious (hello, eggs benny fries served during brunch), but the most life-changing thing that’s going to pass your lips? It’s got to be the Korean cheese corn dogs!
The only thing that makes a corn dog better is when you stuff it with tons of ooey, gooey cheese, and then you top it with bonito flakes and wasabi aioli. I mean, c’mon! For one thing, the potential for cheese pulls on these things is insane.
Hi, have you seen my feed? Yeah, I’m guilty of cheese pulling, sorry. But the other thing you may not realize is the Frying Dutchman is the only place in Maine you can get a Korean corndog of any kind, let alone a cheese one.
If you want one that isn’t in Portland, you have to go all the way to Boston. And they aren’t going to look as pretty or taste nearly as good as these, I can tell you that.
Convenience wins, but the creativity shown at the Frying Dutchman is quite literally ingenious. From the play on words of the name to the most creative food offerings Portland’s seen in years (did you SEE the cannoli cake? It was a thing of beauty and so tasty), the Frying Dutchman is a must-try if you haven’t been.
This list barely scratches the surface, I know, so let me know in the comments or on social media where your favorite hidden gems are when you want to save money and still have a great meal. I’m always up for a new restaurant to try!