Burger Project – Helvetia Tavern

Jay picked this week and we got to go to Helvetia Tavern. We had high hopes for this place and we weren’t disappointed. It’s a bit of a drive; probably as far northwest of Portland as Dee’s In and Out is east. But we live on the west side so no problem.

Our wives wanted to join us for lunch to see what it was all about I suppose. Who were we to say no; I mean, most people looking at the lot of us 5 guys walking in  would be surprised we are married at all, much less to such awesome women. Terry also took some pictures and posted about her experience on her blog.

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot I knew we were someplace special. There was a classic old RC Cola sign. Even though there were satellite dishes flanking the sign, it reminded me of the kind of sign we’d stop for on a Route 66 trip.

Paula, Jay, Mary Ann, Terry, Ray, Karen, Carla, Norm, and John

Ramrodding 10 people is a bit of a task; we had a keystone kops moment when we sat down at two tables, then got up because we thought there was a larger table in the other room, then came back and had to find different tables because other people came in behind us.

Some said it was over my head, but I discerned a theme at work in the decor.  They looked a little more dust-free than the pennants at Stanich’s

Hundreds of hats covering every bit of ceiling except for the lights.

And some interesting signage. You know going in what to expect.

They clearing set expectations!

It’s interesting to watch the reactions people have to the Burger Project. We spend a lot of time discussing the menu and then commence to taking pictures of everyone and everything. People sit back and have the “WTH” look. Then when we throw down our awesome cards, they .. well they still look at us with that “WTH” look.

Our card: designed by Terry Grant

 Our waitress was pretty skeptical about the whole deal and didn’t want to pose for a picture. But John has a way with people and quickly changed her mind.

Our waitress gamely posed for a picture.
Nice looking grill work!

Similar to Stanich’s this is a tavern, not a malt shop. So, no milk shakes, but there was lots of good beer.  We all ordered and the plates looked great. We were seated in front of some big picture windows with a lot of glare; so, I wasn’t able to get decent pictures of everyone. But I did get a nice picture of Paula and Norm.

John had a cheeseburger with onion rings
I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries. Look at that melted cheese!

The only decent interior shot of our group. Norm had the Super Burger. Looks like Paula had a bacon cheese burger.

These hamburgers were fabulous.

Did I mention Helvetia Tavern is out in the country? Across the street was a pasture with a big ram and some donkeys. I decided to take a few quick shots of the wildlife to get me prepared for our trip to South Africa next month.

 I hope I don’t get this close to a rhinoceros or lion next month.




John (Cheeseburger)
This was a very good burger. The patty was about medium-cooked and juicy.
All the condiments were good, except for, perhaps, the dreaded shredded lettuce. The
bun was of the sesame seed variety and fresh and moist so held together well.
This was one of the best I’ve had so far in our search for the perfect burger.

Ray (Bacon Cheeseburger)
This burger came close to perfection. The meat was tasty and not overshadowed by numerous ingredients. Lots of very crispy bacon extending from the side of the bun. The bun was perfect – fresh and substantial. I think they had toasted the bun so it would provide the necessary structural foundation. The sauce was very good. They used just the right amount to add tons of flavor but not overwhelm the burger. It was nice and moist, but not sloppy. Only required two small napkins.

Howard (Bacon Cheeseburger)
A great hamburger. The real test of a hamburger is that first bite. This one had it all; a soft-but-not-soggy bun, melted cheese, perfectly cooked bacon, perfect patty texture, and a wonderful creamy sauce. I had to stop for a minute to fully appreciate that first bite; then I wolfed it down!
Norm (Jumbo Burger)
I had the  Jumbo Burger. It was around  $9 but worth it,.   Two patties, not too thick,  very tasty and moist.  Good sauce but not too much of it, plus all the usual goodies.  The bun was very large and this allowed me to maintain control of the burger down to the last bite,  unlike previous large burgers I have sampled elsewhere. 
Burger had great flavor. Bun fresh and appropriate size. The lettuce was fresh, but shredded.  The Secret Sauce added flavor

Side Dish

John (Onion rings & fries)
The rings were tasty. Crispy and not greasy. Fries were okay. My preference is thin, crisp fries. These were good, but a bit thicker and greasier than I like.

Ray (Fries)
These are the type of fries I love. They appeared to be made from scratch and cooked just right. They were large and were crispy on the ends. The color was great. Stanich’s could take a lesson. I think these are the fries that McMinnemans is trying to achieve, but the H Tavern got them just right.

Howard (Fries)
Perhaps the biggest “take away” from this project is that there is a wide range of views on the perfect french fry. My perfect fry is a thin, crispy-not-burned sliver of goodness. Other people like thicker cut fries that bring out more of the “potatoiness” of this classic side dish. These fries were very good for what they are; but not a perfect fry for my tastes.

Norm (Fries)
The fries were thick, lengthy and not greasy.  I also appreciated the fact that they had NOT been overly salted….allowing me to put just the right amount of salt on myself.   The color was good and there were not a lot of  short ends at the bottom of the basket.

Hot, greasy, soft in the center, just the way I like them.


John (IPA)
Lagunitas I.P.A. is a great pairing with a burger and sides such as these. Hop forward with floral, citrus notes and a great finish. (who am I kidding – it’s beer, right?)

Ray (Ninkasi IPA)
beer is beer. Cold and on tap.

Howard (Ice Tea)
Another week where we hit a tavern and not a classic burger joint. That translates to no milk shakes, so I went with my backup of ice tea. It was good tea.

Norm (Drifter Microbrew)
Beer always rates high with me.  The price was a bit on the high side but pretty much in line with other places.  (However nowwhere near the $2.50 we paid last week at Stanich’s Tavern in Portland)

The Lagunitas is one of my favorite IPAs.  It was served cold in a clean glass,

Ambience and Atmosphere

They have cleaned this place up a bit so I’m rating it a 4. If they would have left it
in its old, funky state I might consider bumping it up. I think some might have actually
vacuumed the hats on the ceiling in the last few years. Bad form.

I really liked the atmosphere in this place. It has been there for a long while and it looked like the decor had evolved with time. A place like this is probably kept alive by lots of loyal locals, which is reflected in their approach to atmosphere and service. While old, it seemed very clean. Like most bars, there were a number of TV’s broadcasting sports events. The seating area is fairly small and there was not a table large enough to hold all 10 of us. We had to sit in two separate booths.

A classic spot, the ceiling filled with ball caps is a hoot. Nice bar and cooking area. Across the street was a pasture with some donkeys and a ram.  All in al this is a fantastic country tavern.

I would actually rate this a   4.5. The Helvetia Tavern has been around since prohibition ended…. in the same location in rural Washington County.  It’s been spiffed up several times over the years  (perhaps with some professional help in the decoration, a point disputed by some of my crowd yesterday) but one look at the printed menu, and the “This Ain’t Burger King” sign above the grill, and you quickly realize this is a one of a kind place.   The atmosphere is friendly and the patrons range from just plain folks, to Bikers, both engine and human powered.   It’s sort of  a  Washington County version of  Stanich’s, the place we visited last week.  Everything was neat and clean, including the restrooms.

This is a perfect established local burger place.


“Friendly, efficient and let Howard take her picture. Don’t care much for the ‘automatic’
inclusion of the 18% gratuity for a table full of people who happen to know one another.
That seems easier than dealing with five separate tables, Just me I guess.  “

The waitperson was working hard and she got everything right. She could have communicated a little better. For example, I wasn’t sure she heard us as she didn’t provide feedback. And we couldn’t figure out if they had added a tip to the bill. Also, to our surprise, they don’t take plastic, only cash and checks. The wait for food and beverages was not bad. They had lots of customers, but they seemed pretty used to a Saturday lunch rush.

Nice service. Handling a group of 10 is a challenge. But they didn’t come by to top off my iced tea.

Service was good,  very prompt and efficient.

Service was prompt and accurate.


Always like the place. Great food, comfortable surroundings. I guess as part of the ambience, they even have some burros,or donkeys or whatever those were, along with some sort of lazy ram kind of animal lounging about in the field across the road. Now that I think about it, he never did get up the whole time we were there! I may never go back.

I would definitely recommend the tavern and their burgers. If lived closer, I would probably hang out there regularly.

Loved it! This is close to having it all; great food in a great place. I’m holding back on an “Epic” rating until I get perfect fries and a hard ice-cream milk shake.

A very good experience.   And you’ll be thanking those  bureaucrats who came up with the Urban Growth boundary for a chance to drive through bucolic rural Washington County on the way to the Helvetia.  Don’t forget to check out the pasture across the road for the  horned Ram and his friends.   A couple of notes…the Helvetia does not take credit or debit cards,  and your server will add  a  gratuity  to larger parties.  Not a big problem but something you should be aware of.  It was a bit chilly when we visited but I noticed what seems to be a  fairly new deck  on the back of the tavern, looking out over the green fields. Loks like a great place to spend an afternoon.   The main part of the tavern is off limits to minors, but the other side of the building has plenty of room for families and kids

This is a classic burger place.

4 thoughts on “Burger Project – Helvetia Tavern

  1. I am baffled by the critical attitude toward shredded lettuce. It was crisp, freshly shredded and added a nice bit of crunch and texture in my opinion. Better than a soggy old leaf any day.

  2. I think we may have been traumatized one time by some terrifically terrible shredded lettuce once; maybe it was Mike's Drive-In where the burger was mostly crummy lettuce. Maybe.

  3. I would have to say Norm and I think alike on this one. The bacon cheese burger was good EVEN the shredded lettuce (boys!) and it was easy and not messy to eat. Beer good as always and I love this part of Oregon…the country-side is so peaceful and beautiful! Thanks for inviting the women-folk….

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