It's funny being back in Oregon, Portland has changed so much from when I was a teenager, but at the same time it feels like I never left. Different but the same, making no sense and complete sense at the same time. Like the time I saw a man in a business suit riding a unicycle to work while texting on his iPhone, literally the day after we moved here. Back when I was 17, that guy would have been wearing flannel, cut-offs, and birkenstocks with socks, but he still would have been riding that damned unicycle around town. Where am I going with this? I have no idea. But I can tell you that it feels good to be home. My forested, weird, hippie home.
Comparing Portland now to Portland then, I think that one of the things that's changed the most has been the food scene. Up until recently, the most popular foodie destination in the northwest has been the sprawling Pike Place market in Seattle, but there’s a little hidden gem a few hours south that's become less and less hidden lately. A place where the importance of fresh and local ingredients is valued above all else, where even the pizza shop on the corner’s menu is bursting with creativity, where you can take a butchering class for fun, and where the craft beers at the local microbrewery are only $4 a pint. That place is Portland, Oregon.
For a foodie, the eating and drinking options in this city are almost endless, but there are a few must-tries that I recommend checking out. They may not be the most recognized places (there is no voodoo donuts on this list), but they are delicious, and from a Portland foodie’s perspective, that is all that matters.
If you find yourself hurrying through the city needing a quick bite but looking for something substantial in flavor, try stopping at one of the city’s many food cart pods. These are miniature villages taking up whole city blocks that are filled to the brim with authentic, affordable, and delicious food stands. Here you’ll find a diversity of food (ever seen a Transylvanian food cart? Come to Portland.) that you just can’t find in most cities, and at unbeatable prices. Some recommended carts are Burrasca, Cackalack’s, Potato Champion (as amazing as it sounds), and PBJ’s Grilled. If you’re willing to go a bit outside the city limits and venture into Gresham, another non-sit down foodie stop to make is Babushka’s, a small family-run Russian bakery and deli whose cabbage and mushroom peroshkis will fill a hole in your heart you didn't even know existed, along with their fresh-baked sweet rolls.
If you have more a sit-down restaurant feel in mind, there’s a plethora of places overflowing with tasty local eats. Try Screen Door for amazing fried chicken, Olympic Provisions for in-house cured meats and sausages, Ken’s Artisan Bakery for the best bread of your life, Smallwares for deliciously affordable Asian fusion, Ava Gene’s for house made pasta filled with local ingredients, St. Jack for high-end provincial French food with a northwestern flair, Pok Pok for deliciously traditional Thai food, Khao San for authentic Thai street food with an uptown twist, Langbaan for one of the city’s many pop-up restaurants, Lardo for some international and meaty sandwiches, Meat Cheese Bread for sandwiches with a more local ingredient emphasis, Kachka for richly flavored eastern European eats, Verde Cocina for healthy and incredibly tasty Mexican food, Tanuki for Japanese and Korean drinking foods, and Cheese and Crack for a delightful assemblage of snacks and appetizers whose flavors and presentation will continually blow your mind.
Portland is also a coffee-lover’s paradise, with coffee roasters appearing on nearly every corner and coffee snobs roaming streets everywhere. For a particularly pleasant roast, try Coava, Stumptown, Heart, Ristretto Roasters, or Water Avenue Coffee. For those of you who have more of an affinity for the delicious range of flavors that come with hand crafted artisanal tea, Steven Smith Teamaker is a must-stop. He’s been blending teas for over forty years and if you order a flight of tea from their tasting room in NW Portland, you'll taste all those years of experience in every drop.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth that needs itching, try Blue Star Donuts or Pip’s Original for some of the tastiest and most creative donuts of your life. If you’re looking for incredible ice cream, Salt and Straw is a popular (and deservedly so) ice cream parlor with locally sourced flavors that often rotate with the seasons.
For those looking to partake in some of the delicious craft beers that Portland has to offer, try, Hair of the Dog, Hopworks, Breakside Brewing, Migration Brewing, The Hedge House (Lompoc Brewery), or one of McMenamin’s two popular Portland locations. There’s McMenamin’s Kennedy School, an old elementary school that has been converted into a restaurant/brewery, complete with soaking room, boiler room, and cigar lounge. And then there’s McMenamin’s Edgefield, a farm that’s been converted to a restaurant, bar, and hotel that sits right next to the Columbia River Gorge, one of the areas most scenic landmarks. You get a pretty stellar view of Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helens driving up I-84 east to get out to Edgefield, too.
If you’re looking for something a wee bit stronger than beer, try Whiskey Soda Lounge for hand-crafted cocktails, Modern Man for a Barbershop Speak Easy vibe, Rum Club for some of the tastiest rum drinks this side of the Mississippi, Expatriate for delicious drinks with a great snack menu, Hale Pele for a fun tiki bar, Landmark Saloon for a country western hipster bar (yes, that is a thing here), Reel’M Inn for a dive bar feel with tasty fried chicken, and Enso Winery to end the night with a bright and full-bodied glass of wine.
To pick up some quality serveware while you’re in town, definitely check out Alder & Co. for some gorgeous ceramics and hand-carved wooden measuring spoons, Canoe for more gorgeous ceramics and sleek servewares, Schoolhouse Electric for lovely mugs and glasses, Woonwinkel for some fun and funky brightly-colored pieces, Smut for fun assorted vintage finds, and Grand Marketplace for a more finely curated vintage shop.
If you want to do something that’s a bit more activity-oriented, go on one of the city’s many bar crawls (a good start is Oso -> Triffecta Tavern -> Voicebox SE -> Dig a Pony -> Morrison Hotel Bar). You can also take a class on butchery at the Portland Meat Collective. In the summer berry-picking on Sauvie’s Island (a large farming island a bit west of the city) is a beautiful and delicious afternoon trip. There are also underground tours of the city, whose old suspicious tunnels have a decidedly murky history. If after the dark tour you want something with more daylight and color, stop at the Portland International Rose Test Garden in the hills overlooking the city for amazing views and fine popsicles. To capture the moment, head to the Ace Hotel’s photobooth for an old-fashioned photobooth strip.
And if after all that eating you’re looking to burn off some of those calories, the Eagle Creek trail just outside of the city walks along several waterfalls, one of which becomes a nice little private swimming hole. Triple Falls also has a good trail, as well as Opal Creek. To sweat the calories off, there's also Bagby Hot Springs just an hour east of the city where you can lay in hollowed out logs filled with piping hot natural spring water. If you're looking for a cooler water retreat, Savuie’s Island has some pretty nice beaches (including a lone nude one) on the opposite side of the island from the berry-picking.
|Big thanks to my friend Melanie Johnson for helping reacquaint me with the plethora of Portland activities.|
Well there you have it. A magnum opus of things to do in the beautiful Rose City. While attempting all of these activities would leave you spending a lot of time in these parts, I can’t recommend it enough, as the more time you spend in Portland the happier you (and your stomach) will be.