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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Upmarket restaurant

Tue–Thu 5:00pm–9:30pm
Fri–Sat 5:00pm–10:00pm
Sun 4:00pm–9:00pm

Features Outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Not accepted


Southeast Portland
1429 SE 37th Ave.
Portland, OR
(503) 236-6886
3 Doors Down Café
It gets most things right...but that’s only a small part of what it’s trying to do

It’s hard to say whether it’s the folksy name, the lighting warm enough to flatter even the weakest of chins, the advantageous location on the edge of one of Portland’s hippest neighborhoods, or the bargain-priced happy-hour menu that sustains the cult following of 3 Doors Down Café.

Whatever it is, this effortlessly artsy, eternally popular restaurant seems to have its shtick down. At a recent visit, we were most impressed by an unexpected and welcome cranny of the beverage program: a flight of hard ciders from Normandy’s Eric Bordelet. Cider is one of the most underrated of alcoholic drinks, and to taste three different versions—all more or less dry—from some of its most hallowed grounds of production is a special treat. The wine list is also interesting and broad across Europe, the cocktail list nostalgic and better than average.

Wonderful slices of big, crusty bread start things right, but the globetrotting menu is wrought with the sorts of embarrassing cross-continental misunderstandings (not to mention misspellings) that can occur when you try to speak too many languages at once. Although the kitchen’s work is clearly competent, the lack of focus is preventing this restaurant from rising to the top tier.

An Anaheim chile, for instance—a special on a recent visit—was stuffed with jack cheese, dipped in an ethereally light egg batter, and expertly fried, but the tomato sauce in which it was bathed was…well…just tomato sauce, and lime crème fraîche had little detectable lime. The execution was so good that it was frustrating, because an additional layer of spice complexity could have really taken this dish to the next level—and that layer of complexity might be possible if the restaurant were to develop real expertise in Mexican cuisine instead of trying to be Italian, French, Spanish, and Japanese as well.

A pasta called “tortiglione” (a form of rigatoni, really), is also executed well and cooked ideally al dente, but plagued by another underperforming recipe: an overrich sauce that’s a bit too chunky, too heavy with cream, weighed down by unappetizingly gray sausage. All that said, the dish still manages to taste good. Starches are what these chefs do best, after all, whether orecchiette or risotto or that lovely bread.

However successful the formula has been for 3 Doors Down, we just can’t heartily recommend a restaurant that offers to grind black pepper from a great big mill onto your pasta with tomato sauce. Sometimes it’s best to refrain from knocking on the doors of so many cuisines and try to master just one.

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