As widely appreciated as it is small, the
Columbian Cafe (1114 Marine Dr., 503/325-2233, 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon.–Tues., 8 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–8 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 8 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Fri., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun., breakfast and lunch $7–10, dinner entrées $11–24) is where the meatless ’60s collides with cutting-edge Northwest cuisine.
The menu changes according to seasonality and the chef’s whim (be daring and order the “chef’s mercy”) but generally includes a good selection of pastas, chilies, crepes, fresh catch of the day, and always a selection of homemade garlic, jalapeño, and red-pepper jellies.
You may also enjoy the free-flowing political repartee with the staff and regulars in this cramped (several booths and a lunch counter) but friendly place. Breakfast is a highlight here.
If this is your first time to the Columbian Cafe, don’t let the tiny, slightly seedy-looking venue put you off. Just barge in and take a seat—the servers will make you feel comfortable, and the rest is all culinary pleasure. Expect to be here for a while; the Columbian is not a quick in-and-out dining experience.
On downtown’s most prominent corner, diagonally across from the Liberty Theatre, Clemente’s (1198 Commercial St., 503/325-1067, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Tues.–Sun., lunch $9–15, dinner entrées $16–26) serves fresh sustainably grown healthy cuisine inspired by both the owner’s Italian roots and the slow food movement. “Water specials” include not only seafood but a tasty hijiki (seaweed) salad. The restaurant’s large windows, earth-tone walls, and large paintings contribute to a sophisticated but casual atmosphere. A three-course prix fixe menu highlights whatever is fresh and local (though on one visit, it included the decidedly not-from-Astoria offering of mango sorbet).
Another good restaurant with an inspiring motto (“Eat well, laugh often, and love much”) is the easygoing T. Paul’s Urban Cafe (1119 Commercial St., 503/338-5133, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, closed Sun. Oct.–June, $9–11). The menu of hip diner food with fresh Northwest twists includes towering turkey sandwiches, bay shrimp seviche, Caribbean jerk quesadillas, prawn pasta, and clam chowder. Quesadillas are the specialty, with about a dozen innovative varieties served.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel