Review: Mother’s Bistro

Mother’s – Subliminally Sublime?

Sitting at Mother’s at 1:15pm on a Thursday afternoon looking at all the dust on the fixtures above me, it seems the place needs a good cleaning. Though the restaurant is only about 20% full, I am surrounded by empty tables full of dirty dishes that haven’t been cleared. Several tables of patrons are looking around wondering where their food or checks are. We ended up waiting ten minutes to order. While I didn’t time the wait for food but it was unusually long. I thought to myself, this doesn’t bode well for Mom.

I like the concept of Mother’s. They specialize in comfort food, the type of dishes most mothers make; things like meatloaf, pot roast, chicken with dumplings, and macaroni and cheese. In addition to her standard repertoire of comfort food, each month owner Lisa Schroeder features a selection of recipes from a new mother. This makes it interesting because she doesn’t’ stick to the United States, but features mothers from around the world.

Between the controversy on my website and all the accolades on the walls I know I have to be careful with this review. She has been written up in many magazines and named restaurant of the year by Willamette Week. These are pretty good credentials, but I wonder if there isn’t a portion of our population that are subliminally drawn to a place named Mother’s. To make sure I’m trying a good selection of dishes, I went back four times.

Let’s talk about the food at my initial lunch. We shared the following: a pulled pork sandwich with honey-mustard BBQ sauce. It was very bland, not much flavor and the meat was rather mushy ($8.95). The fries were very good – thin and crisp, but not too crisp, skins left on. The hamburger had all the basic building blocks but not much in the flavor department. Grind very fine. It wasn’t bad, but the quality of the ingredients was not sufficient to make it anything more than average ($8.95).

Undaunted, I came back the next night for dinner. Service was much better, really good in fact, though once again empty tables weren’t getting cleared very quickly. At one point on my fourth meal, we were forgotten entirely, but they made up for it later by paying extra attention. The portions were very large and there are several good vegetarian options…I’ll quickly go through the items on the menu and comment on the things I’ve tried.

Perogi – hand-made, very light, but not much potato filling. They were overpowered by the dough. They came topped with sour cream and sautéed onions ($7.50).
House salad –loaded with raisins, dotted with sunflower seeds; your average dinner salad ($4.95)
The Caesar was a limp, soggy, sad little salad. The lettuce seemed like it was either old or had been pre-dressed. The type of thing a mother (who had never had the real thing) might make ($6.95-$8.95).
Matzo ball soup was good. Nice chicken flavor, huge matzo ball in the middle. Probably the best thing we had at Mother’s. $3.95-$5.95
Denver macaroni and cheese with ham, pepper, onions, and cheddar cheese ($12.95). No added crust, this is middle-America food; a huge portion on bow-tie pasta. It was pretty good, but was slightly gummy. A few nights later it came with bacon and a dollop of sour cream. My dining companion loves this type of thing and was excited to try the dish, but admitted afterwards that he was a bit disappointed and wouldn’t try it again. They also offer a vegetarian version.
Roasted chicken with red potatoes and seasonal vegetables was $15.95. This is your basic rotisserie chicken, a bit dry, skin not too crisp. The potatoes were mashed and had a bit of an off flavor, though a few nights later they tasted great, loaded with butter though a bit overworked for some tastes. Nothing special here.
The Cascade Natural ground beef meat loaf and gravy with seasonal vegetables, smashed red potatoes was fine, but very dry ($13.95). Came with gravy which was average and tasted strongly of corn starch. The seasonal vegetables this week are zucchini, one night overcooked and over salted, other nights just fine. They strike me as a strange choice with all the good things in season, but there is a lot of repetition of sides which I suppose is necessary with all the menu choices.
The final night I had pan-seared Carlton Farms pork loin medallions which are simmered with beer and caramelized onions, once again served with the ubiquitous smashed red potatoes and zucchini ($16.95). They were okay, but nothing I’d have again.

Desserts are all $5.50. Coffee is Stumptown.

Blueberry crumb pie served warm with vanilla ice cream – nothing memorable.
A rice pudding topped with candied almonds was incredibly thick with a texture near that of wallpaper paste. It stuck to the roof of my mouth. The flavor was okay, but with four people at the table we didn’t finish it. That should tell you something.
There was a peach crisp with nut topping served warm with vanilla ice cream. Again, nothing special – I could make better in my sleep; the same thing with a poor imitation of seasonal cobbler.

Like I said, I want to like Mother’s. The concept is great, the staff seems nice if a bit harassed, but now that this review is done, it is not somewhere I’d want to go again. There are just too many misses. I guess my mother was just a terrific cook.


  • Phone: 503-464-1122
  • Address: 212 SW Stark St, Portland OR. 97204 (on the corner of Stark and 2nd). Google Map
  • Hours: Breakfast Tue-Fri 7am-2:30pm, Sat-Sun 9am-2:30pm. Lunch Tues-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm. Dinner Tues-Thurs 5:30pm-9:00pm, Fri-Sat 5:00pm-10:00pm
  • Website:

Mother's Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Marshall Mannning says

    I’ve never been to Mother’s, but it sounds like the food there is no better than my mom made (G). Maybe that explains why my idea of comfort food was shaped when I first starting eating at good restaurants, not by traditional “home cooked” meals?

  2. Jill-O says

    I adore the chopped liver, which is almost as good as my mother’s version…especially as a sandwich on challah. That and the bagel (which she flies in from H&H in NYC and are better than anything else I can find in PDX) and lox plate is about all I go there for.

    Good iced tea and very good french press coffee (worth the extra charge) too.

  3. tha-krza says

    My mother was an absolutely terrible cook, but she was the brainiac in the family, so I spent most of the time with my grandmother while Mom was in law school. My grandmother was a FINE SOUTHERN LADY and I was weaned on FINE SOUTHERN FOODS. To me, the food I grew up with was the epitome of comfort food–Meatloaf, fried chicken and corn on the cob, garlic cheese grits and long-cooked oatmeal slathered in butter and sugar, corn casserole, BBQ pork, turkey and cornbread stuffing…I just can’t imagine any restaurant serving up the food I consider comfort better than that!

  4. Betsy says

    See, I’ve been happy with Mother’s ’cause I always get the same thing – matzoh ball soup and a chopped liver sandwich.

    That and the fact that the last few times I’ve been there, someone else has footed the bill…!

  5. Mary says

    I love weekend brunch at Mother’s. They have an amazing tea selection, and delicious tofu scramble, migas (a Mexican egg and tortilla dish), and Eggs Benedict (which you can request florentine (spinach and tomato) instead of with meat). Sit outside or in the room with the big windows on 2nd.

  6. Karmani says

    Thank you for helping me understand why I want to like this restaurant. Makes perfect sense to me. I think another reason I keep expecting to like it is that it’s often crowded; of course, a crowd at a downtown restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean more than “walkable from the office” and “predictable.”

    The first time I lunched there, about two years ago, I had a really bland Cobb salad. All of the ingredients (including the bacon) were ice cold to the core, as though they’d been prepped the day before and stashed in the most frigid regions of a reach-in. Today I went back because that’s where my companion wanted to go. I had a reuben – decent texture, but otherwise disappointing. The sandwich tasted mostly of the oil it was grilled in, and it came on plain-old not-rye bread (!). Blah. There are plenty of great places in town to scratch the homestyle itch, but Mother’s ain’t one of them.

  7. Another_Mother says

    Inconsistency in meals is the theme of both this restaurant and her neighboring “Mama Mia” establishment. What is consistent, however, is how Lisa treats her employees. She constantly berates them for every minor infraction. She is known to dress them down on the floor, with customers present… screaming and cussing in a very abusive manner. She has a reputation for this; [edited] and for paying her employees by the hour to submit votes to win awards and placements (that should clear up some questions). I am speaking from personal experience, and if anyone is left wondering about my bias, just check such sites as: or Food aside, her behavior should not be rewarded with anyone’s business. Karma is bound to catch-up one day.

  8. Jean B says

    I’ve had dinner here a couple of times and have found it to be all right. Good, not great. I agree this restaurant is overrated.

    To me, what really stands out about Mother’s is the cocktails. I’ve had unusual and delicious drinks here, stuff I don’t see anywhere else. Last time we went to dinner there, Hubby had a blueberry gin cocktail, and I had something fantastic that involved vodka and cucumbers. Very refreshing!

    I will say that I have enjoyed brunch here, however. In addition to good breakfast food, I love that we can get French press at the table and have a selection of different coffees. It’s not as inexpensive as many excellent breakfasts in Portland, so we tend to come here maybe once a year or so, when we get out-of-town visitors.

    I worked as a waitress for 9 years, so if I ever saw an owner dressing down her staff on the floor, I would never return again. I worked for one or two bosses like that, and it was miserable.

  9. Juliet Morefield says

    I have a bone to pick with breakfast at Mothers. It’s just wrong to have to choose beween potatoes and toast for breakfast…that’s just plain cheap…are they judging their customers’ carb intake, or banking on people ording either toast potatoes on the side?

  10. Whatdoesitmatter says

    Ya know.. Actually the food is AMAZING at mothers. I am not really sure what the writer was looking for, in her reviews. Mother’s doesn’t claim to be a snooty four-star restaurant. It’s just simply good, healthy food (like your mom would have fed you) withOUT any frills!
    So, don’t always believe what you read, maybe you should try something for yourself!

  11. Laura says

    We absolutely loved our cozy dinner at Mothers! The ambiance was superb,A corner table in the bar was perfect for people watching.
    My husband ordered the Copper River salmon. It was fresh, flaky, and very flavorful atop steaming hot mashed red new potatoes(skins on) and quick stir fry spinach. Excellent dish!
    My London Broil came out hot,cooked to perfection. It was accompanied by augratin potatoes,just like my grandma used to make,nice browned cheesy crust on top. The veggie of choice was buttered corn with a nice touch of zucchini tossed in. Colorful and garden fresh.
    We topped off our dinners by sharing a piece of the Lemon custard pie with fresh marion berry topping a dollop of fresh whipped cream, and steaming hot pressed coffee. Our server Brian,recommended this fabulous winner. Light with a great combination of flavor. We jokingly fought for the last bite.
    Overall dinner was one of the best we’ve had in a long time. Watching Eddie make drinks at the bar was great entertainment, an art in itself. Jessica, another server, told us all about the Stumptown coffee they serve. She was informative and as sweet as can be.
    The owner , Lisa,does a wonderful job of making customers feel comfortable and very welcome.
    We will not only be back, we will brings friends!

  12. says

    One wonders, with the time Laura put in learning the names of Mother’s staff and the ingredients they work with, if she’s had a chance to read about Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey sock pupperty troubles.

    As for Mother’s: Nice room. Nice location. Food, underwhelming.

  13. sopdx says

    I haven’t been here for a couple years and I always liked it. However, I have been informed of how the owner treats her staff. I will not eat here again until I hear otherwise.

  14. jpgr69 says

    I can attest to the abusive treatment she dishes out to her employees. Everything “Another_mother” says is true. I watched many co-workers walk off the job. She is notorious for this behavior. I can’t believe she gets away with it.

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