Mezcal, My Love: Tacos and matching plaids at La Taq
Mezcal, My Love: Tacos and matching plaids at La Taq

La Taq: MEX TEX MAESTRO

Come for: Addictive fried-to-order chips and spicy salsas
Come back for: A velvety tequila, orange curaçao, and scotch face-smacker named Bandalero

How do you top the downhome charm of Podnah’s Pit? Tuck the barbecue haunt’s signature brisket inside a Three Sisters Nixtamal tortilla and serve it alongside a Zanahorita, the zippy, sweet-and-sour offspring of a margarita and carrot-cumin salad. Indeed, Rodney Muirhead’s “Mex Tex” companion to his beloved BBQ spot hits all the right smoky, meaty, boozy notes. The tiny, candlelit cantina faintly glows with good vibes, its harmonious mix of tile, wood, and poured concrete set off by framed ponchos and a long row of tequila and mescal bottles, the air perfumed with frying tortilla chips and lamb barbacoa. Former Beaker & Flask barman Kevin Ludwig and his affable crew sling a roundup of satisfying, agave-focused cocktails as well the high-low punch of Double Mountain IRA and Pacifico on tap. Given the quality, prices are more than reasonable, and the bar’s chic yet unassuming atmosphere makes it the kind of spot where you could gorge on tacos and beers with a lover, an old college buddy, or even your mom in tow. Heck, bring all three. 1625 NE Killingsworth St 

White Owl Social Club: THE LYNCH-, GEAR-& MOTORHEAD

Come for: Mayahuel’s Tequila Toddy (Sauza Hornitos Reposado, agave nectar, habanero, preserved orange peel, fresh citrus)
Come back for: DIY s’mores, complete with skewers and tabletop fire

With its angular red- and black-tile floors and leather booths, the White Owl Social Club could double as a set from Special Agent Dale Cooper’s dream sequences on Twin Peaks. In reality, it’s a booze-fueled music hall from the rock-happy Sizzle Pie empire, complete with a monthly meet-up for vegan drinkers, a pair of kombuchas on offer, and a line of wolf-emblazoned T-shirts for sale. Faux-fur-clad gals and bearded motorheads often flock here for Richter scale–bumping punk and metal bands, a dozen rotating draft brews, and dangerously easy-drinking creations like the Papa Legba, a kind of soft-porn Slurpee that mingles Bulleit bourbon and New Deal coffee liqueur with vanilla-bean soda and root beer. The gritty space’s sprawling patio and fire pit are built for long summer nights, but plates of fried Moonbrine pickle fritters and taco mac and cheese loaded with Hatch chiles help combat seasonal affective disorder during long PDX winters. But don’t say we didn’t warn you about the dreams. 1305 SE Eighth Ave

Lighthouse Inn: THE LONGSHOREMAN

Come for: Whiskey and a beer back, from a small but surprisingly varied local tap list
Come back for: From the snowshoes and Pachinko machine hiding in the booth-filled restaurant wing to the inlaid backgammon board by the jukebox, it might take a few visits just to take in the ancient building’s many artifacts. 

This airy Linnton tavern offers plenty of room to rehydrate after a hike in Forest Park or recover from a harvest-season trip to nearby Sauvie Island. Fridays and Saturdays draw regulars for prime-rib dinners, but the many burger choices, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me mountain of tots, and Oregon-proud pints (the taps take in Burnside Brewing and Cascade Lakes) are on offer every day. The respite comes with a history lesson: it may not be right on the water, but few bars in Portland make you feel more connected to our rivertown history than the Lighthouse. Red and green channel markers set around the room bounce light off a bar that’s shiny as a ship’s deck, and after a few strong pours, you might think you spot a seagull landing on the dock pilings behind the shuffleboard table. Dockworker notices tacked outside and union signs within hint that this isn’t a place to get too highfalutin: just order a drink (or go with the bartender’s whim—she may even cure your cold), sit back and watch the game, or join in the welcoming conversation. Even the resident ghost, said to sit and smoke cigars in what was once the building’s bank vault, is a friendly sort. 10808 NW St. Helens Rd

Whey Bar: HEAVY-WAIT CHAMPION

Come for: The gin-based Weekend at Bernie’s #2, a tweak on the classic Corpse Reviver 2 (and an excellent movie reference)
Come back for: The oyster bar

Technically, Whey Bar serves as the overflow pit for anxious diners hungry for Ox’s highbrow Argentine grilled meats. Stuck in a former garage behind the perpetually packed restaurant, this stepchild of a boîte is all but invisible from the street. Exposed lightbulbs hang from the ceiling, casting a warm glow. There’s no bathroom. But since it opened in the summer of 2012, Whey Bar has quietly elbowed its way into the spotlight by focusing on the simple things: great cocktails and perfect bivalves. Step inside, take a seat at one of six bar stools, and order the La Yapa (rye whiskey, Fernet Branca, Velvet falernum, grenadine, lemon), which could easily be overpowered by the fernet but is in fact flawlessly balanced. Whet your appetite at the raw oyster bar by the door. They’re not just the perfect drinking companion; they’re a whole other reason to visit. If you’re lucky and they’re in stock, try the Blue Pools from Hama Hama in Lilliwaup, Washington: just the right salination and size, made celestial with a dollop of garlic butter sauce. What reservations? 2225 NE MLK Jr. Blvd

Aviary: COCKTAILS WITHOUT BORDERS

Come for: The Brix Layer, a spin on an old-fashioned with a float of cabernet sauvignon
Come back for: A happy hour menu that’ll blow your taste buds and barely dent your wallet

Like its adjacent restaurant, Aviary’s cozy bar calls to mind a rustic Zen temple—polished wood, dark steel, and white walls all coming together in a minimalist homage to lines and right angles. That serenity, however, is disrupted by the dancing LED lights of a small Miller Genuine Draft sign, which might as well serve as a metaphor for the Alberta spot’s cocktails: adventurous but thoughtful fusions of East and West that fairly pop on the tongue. Most nights you can spy a well-heeled crowd of couples and food acolytes trading sips of flavorful elixirs pumped up with everything from tobacco bitters to “cookie spice”; all calibrated to complement the kitchen’s often delicate, deliciously perplexing, sweet and savory dishes. The Canicule, which mashes up Bombay Sapphire East gin and sauvignon blanc with pineapple shrub and jalapeño, performs throat-tickling acrobatics in your mouth, while the One Night in Bangkok offsets vodka and lime with savory kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass for a sophisticated alternative to the lemon drop. These are combinations to meditate on. 1733 NE Alberta St