Restaurants serving up hearty US southern-style eats have become some of the Oregon city’s most popular, thanks to transplant chefs making their way west.

With restaurants serving such entrees as sesame tofu polenta, vegan cannoli and tempeh BLTs, Portland, Oregon’s reputation as one of America’s most vegetarian-friendly cities should come as no surprise. But while the city may be best known for its health-conscious, granola side, Portland has also started embracing culinary trends with more comfort than crunch.

Over the last six years, restaurants serving up hearty US southern-style eats have become some of the city’s most popular, thanks to transplant chefs making their way west.

“Authentic barbeque was something that was missing here, and I decided to give that a go,” said Rodney Muirhead, chef and owner of Podnah’s Pit Barbeque, who moved to Portland after leaving high-tech jobs in New York City and Austin, Texas. “This city has a passion for food and anyone doing anything authentic will probably do pretty well.  Portland has attracted a lot of really talented cooks who are following their passion, from the low-end up to high-end.” 

Locals and travellers alike can take advantage of that passion by trying dishes like New Orleans-style crawfish étouffée (a thick shellfish sauce served over rice), Texas beef brisket and North Carolina-style biscuits and gravy, all without leaving the Rose City. Embrace the Southern drawl and take a bite out of these comfort food staples.

Podnah’s Pit Barbeque
Named after Muirhead’s grandfather, Podnah’s Pit in Portland’s northeast Alberta neighbourhood stays true to Texas-style barbeque by firing all the meat fresh in an oak hardwood-burning pit. The smoker only holds 200lbs of meat, so arrive early and cosy up to the thick wood bar that sits atop exposed brick. Check out the chalkboard for beer specials and order the brisket, smoked whole trout or pork spareribs. Instead of coming smothered in sauce like Carolina-style barbeque, the meats come dry-rubbed, and an assortment of sweet and spicy sauces can be added to taste. Dishes come with sides like barbeque baked beans, “Texas caviar” (black-eyed pea salad) and buttery cornbread.

Screen Door
A Portland brunch favourite, Screen Door often has lines wrapping around the block on weekends, with visitors clamouring for the farm cheddar grits, fried chicken and waffles, and eggs Sardou (poached eggs over artichoke hearts and creamed spinach). But the wait pays off once you are sitting at the outdoor patio tables or in the comfy booths surrounded with shelves of canned vegetables. Owners David and Nicole Mouton hail from New Orleans and work to combine the best in Southern-style cooking with the organic meats and produce that are so plentiful in Portland. Come to the East Burnside Street spot for dinner to try New Orleans specialties like trout Orleans (whole ruby red trout served in a shrimp butter sauce over a buttermilk biscuit), and shrimp and grits served with pork belly.

Pine State Biscuits
With outlets on northeast Alberta Street and southeast Belmont Street (along with a weekly appearance at the Portland Farmer’s Market) Pine State Biscuits offers a casual, diner-like space where visitors can enjoy the restaurant’s flaky namesake. The biscuits come served as sandwiches, topped with eggs, steak, fried chicken or pork, or they can be enjoyed sweet and simple with honey or apple butter. The restaurant, started by North Carolina friends Walt Alexander, Kevin Atchley and Brian Synder, also serves southern standbys like sweet tea, pecan pie and fried green tomatoes.

Tasty and Sons
At the brunch and dinner spot Tasty and Sons, buttery biscuits and hot link sausage omelettes exist side by side with more exotic fare like house-made kimchi (fermented cabbage) and Burmese red pork stew (rice topped with roasted pork belly and a fried egg). Growing up in coastal Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, chef and owner John Gorham combines family favourites with more global influences. Watch the food magic happen up-close at the sushi-style counter in front of the open kitchen, or grab a table along the maroon-coloured wall that runs the length of the restaurant. The northeast North Williams Street location will soon have a sister site, opening downtown in spring 2013.

Irving Street Kitchen
With stark white tapestries decorated with inked animal illustrations  – reminiscent of a Rorschach test – hanging above the bar, the Pearl District space has a funky but upscale feel. The Irving Street Kitchen serves organic fried chicken with collard greens, pork cheeks braised with Guinness and pumpkin, and head-on barbeque shrimp with grits. Get the warm beignets for dinner, served with seasonal sauces like espresso-Sambuca or blood orange, and order the chocolate bread pudding with mint chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Chef and owner Adam Higgs flies in gulf shrimp, blue crab, oysters and crawfish twice weekly to ensure this New Orleans bistro in Portland’s northeast serves the most authentic food. The candle-lit restaurant, with saffron-coloured walls covered in upbeat paintings, also makes its own andouille and boudin sausages for the rabbit gumbo and pasta jambalaya. The bar stays true to Southern tradition as well, with classic cocktails such as hurricanes with rum, vodka, juice and gin, and sazeracs with rye whiskey, bitters and absinthe, along with the “Fair Shake” peach gin cocktail and the “Catahoula Leopard Dog” with brandy and allspice liqueur.