Update: As of November 24, 2013, Pal's has suffered a serious fire. They do plan to rebuild. More info as it becomes available.
One place that has become a must for me on every visit to Portland is Pal's Shanty Tavern. The place has been around since the 1920s and owned by the Hanson family since 1965. The drinks are generous and creative. The waitresses match the image of the place as gutsy, a little bit sexy, but with a heart of gold. It's even more interesting when one of them lets on that in her off time she's studying philosophy at Portland State. The food, however, puts Pal's way above most places of this type. It is a true Pacific Northwest restaurant with some of the best seafood around.
Drinks at Pal's are not to be missed. This is not as much a wine and champagne place as a destination for those who appreciate a good cocktail. The pours are generous. Those in the know, however, usually make sure they get an “Everything In the Kitchen” Bloody Mary. Celery is just the tip of the iceberg on this drink. Depending on the day, it also has olives, artichoke hearts, a peperoncino, and a pickle spear wrapped in bacon. The somewhat spicy drink goes down easy and makes a perfect start to a meal. Sometimes, depending what is on it, the drink can be thought of as the whole meal.
To end with the drinks would be a big mistake. Oyster shooters are as fresh as they come, sourced locally and served with a good sauce in the shooter glass. Fresh steamer clams come in small or large buckets. They are good-tasting, served with their broth as well as some bread to sop up the delicious liquid. The classic white clam chowder is good but not memorable. Their Primo chowder IS memorable, adding Dungeness crab, shrimp, smoked salmon, and smoked trout for a chowder that's just different enough to have your taste buds stand up and take notice.
Seafood salads and seafood Louie are available for the person looking for a cold, refreshing meal. The seafood Caesar adds smoked salmon and smoked trout to the mixed greens and then tops it off with some bay shrimp. The gems on the menu are the sandwiches and platters. The razor clams are a Pacific Northwest specialty, lightly breaded in panko and then grilled. One razor clam easily runs off an inch or two from the large bun. The razor clams are sweet, a little chewy, and come with a nice tartar sauce and local potato chips. The razor clams also star in a razor clam platter, in which another clam is added, as well as a small shrimp salad, and hash browns or twice-baked potatoes. Depending on the season, the razor clams are locally sourced or brought in from Alaska.
Other seafood available as either platter or sandwich include breaded and grilled oysters, Eastern clam cutlets, and a calamari steak. Ahi tuna, grilled wild salmon, and halibut make appearances on the fish side of the menu. One notable sandwich is a creation called the Oyster Clubhouse. Grilled oysters are paired with pepper bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a garlic aioli on grilled sourdough. Fresh Dungeness crab cakes with a roasted red pepper sauce are one of the better crab cakes around.
With delicious items like the razor clams, Pal's is a must-stop for lovers of good, fresh seafood in a place that is still not a tourist trap, where the charm and the atmosphere are real.