In a city where coffee making is practically a professional sport and baristas are treated like celebrities, it can be hard for some places to stand out. After all, Portland has some rock-star spots, and cafes like Stumptown, Barista and Heart are destinations both drawing in crowds and shipping out beans all over the world.
With that in mind, we wanted to focus on Portland's neighborhood cafes. You know, the totally awesome places that you've probably never even heard of. Here dwell the daily regulars, the poets and the people who like to just hang out. They’re the places primed for rainy days, chess games, and long, open-ended conversations. These are the places that people mean when they melancholically say, “Old Portland”. And don’t worry, you still can get your latte art and locally-roasted beans.
Tōv is a double decker bus that sits on the side of Southeast Portland’s most (arguably) interesting street, Hawthorne Blvd. The location alone makes it a must-visit spot, but the cushion-lined top deck, styled in the way of an Egyptian lounge, accommodates for all seasons. Their Sahlep and Mocha options are both exceptional — very smooth and creamy consistencies unique to the Egyptian variety. To top it all off, they boast perhaps the most elegant presentation style in the city.
Rumi poems on the walls, warm lighting, comfortable seating… everything about Dragonfly encourages you to take a seat and stay awhile. There’s an especially friendly vibe at this true neighborhood spot, where the baristas make it a point to get to know you. They have a fantastic selection of specialty drinks, and the Mystic Mocha comes highly recommended (just trust us). Located in the top corner of Northwest Portland, Dragonfly is in close proximity to some of the city's prettiest neighborhood strolls, and is a short walk from Forest Park, the largest urban forest reserve in the country.
Through one of Portland’s prettiest streets and nestled in one of it’s finest neighborhoods sits Palio, one of the most low-key cafes in Southeast Portland. Library lamps and tall bookshelves lend to a scholarly feel, and its later hours allow for a great late-night read. The only knock against Palio is their unwavering commitment to keeping a quiet atmosphere, though it can be an advantage if a little solitude is what you’re seeking. Go with the vanilla latte and a giant slice of German Chocolate Cake, and be sure to bring something non-social to do.
In the back of Twentysix Cafe is perhaps the greatest porch in Portland, a true asset for a city that sees rain for the better part of the year. The interior holds high-upholstery and tasteful decor, making for a European feel that other cafe's haven't quite yet mastered. Half of the patrons find a spot with their laptop to camp out for the day, while the other half complete crossword puzzles, sip cappuccinos and do other leisurely activities. Twentysix uses real pastes for their specialty drinks (as opposed to syrups) which means you get a latte that hails flavor over sweetness. That said, the Hazelnut Latte here is pure gold.
Designed to replicate its actual ski lodge headquarters in the Cascade Mountains, Sisters has been built to look like an urban ski lodge in the middle of Portland. With one of the primo fireplace setups in the city, it’s a welcome place to rest after exploring Portland’s chic and boutique-lined Pearl District. Come here for the Black Butte Bomber, a caffeine bomb made of their Black Butte Gold coffee (roasted in Sisters) topped with two shots of espresso. Once you’re sufficiently hopped up, go hit the nearby breweries for a different kind of buzz.
It’s not hard to get a homey feeling in a Craftsman-style coffee shop. Rocking Frog totally captures this with plush armchairs in front of the fireplace, as well as ample choice of seating across multiple rooms. We know we're meant to be talking straight coffee, but you’d be remiss not to grab a doughnut. Partner one (or four) with their zippy Americano and we promise you won't regret it. A mile’s walk will take you through the shops and restaurants of Belmont Street and conclude in Laurelhurst Park, one of the most beautiful areas in the city.
Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, open late and just a short walk away from some of the best bars and music venues in the city, is a true Portland institution. Doors open at 7pm, and throughout the night you’ll witness first dates, meet musicians, and people watch those stumbling in after a local show. Inside is a real funhouse — tables move automatically, ghost stories abound, and love poems are slipped under the glass tabletops. This is old school Portland at it’s finest. For coffee, grab the Cafe Borgia, a mocha with a touch of orange, and pair it with their deliciously rich Mocha Fudge Brownie. Pro-tip: it’s cash only.
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