D and I travelled to Portland, Oregon a few months back on a whim. We were looking for somewhere new to go for a long weekend and figured, why not. We knew nothing of this town except that 1) everyone loves it and 2) it has good food. Win and double-win! So naturally, upon our return to SoCal, the conversations always went something like this.
“How was Portland?”
“Amazing!! We ate a lot!”
“What else did you do?”
“We just ate!”
For us, traveling is synonymous with eating. And downtown Portland was pretty much heaven on earth. Who knew that a city of seriously fashion-challenged hipsters (no offense to those who hail from Portland!) produced the best food?!
All we knew is that Portland is known for its food cart culture, so we set out in search of food carts as soon as we dropped off our luggage at the hotel. We arrived on a Friday just in time for lunch and found ourselves at the famous Alder street pod, where food carts stretch an entire city block square and more. There is just something so wonderfully exciting about street food… the unfussiness, the authenticity, the sense of community, the way you’re standing on a street corner wolfing it down ’cuz it’s just that good.
And when the majority of food carts shut down in the afternoon, we gladly took our voracious appetites around town, where there are what seems like hundreds of cafes, eateries, and fine dining all crammed within a 15-minute walking span. Food options in Portland are endless and overwhelming. All emphasize on fresh, local ingredients.
I cannot even begin to do justice for all the food we tried: from Poland’s pierogies, Georgia’s khinkalis, fries confit, to spicy pad Thai noodles, I am not exaggerating when I say that everything was the best I have ever had in that category (D even swears that the coffee he got was the best!). However, a few meals are truly outstanding and my mouth is watering as I write this.
– The porchetta sandwich wins a spot on the top 3 sandwiches I have ever had: tender pork roast with arugula and whole roasted garlic cloves, drizzled with lemon juice; served on the fluffiest sourdough bread with a perfectly crusted shell (The People’s Pig at the Alder street pod)
– Chicken and rice – every country has its version. However, the version from Nong’s may be the best yet. Simple tender boiled white chicken over chicken-fat rendered white rice, served with a side of sweet, tangy and spicy sesame sauce. (the famous Nong’s Khao Man Gai at the Alder street pod)
– The classic reuben has met its match in Kenny and Zuke’s pastrami reuben sandwich. Cured, smoked, and steamed the old fashioned way and served on artisanally crafted rye bread. So good that we went back for a second round. If the porchetta was #1, then this was #2. (Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen)
– The most decadent drinking chocolate sampling like 3 little cups of magic and pure sin. I also blame this charming little shop for converting me into a forever chocolate snob as their collection features only the best in the world. (Cacao Drink Chocolate)
As a whole, I would say that downtown Portland is a perfect balance between the old and new, mainstream and boutique, up-scale and grunge. It is eclectic, unpretentious, and ever so dynamic. On the weekend, the city streets empty of locals and visitors slowly stream in. Our days were spent strolling through the quiet brick paved sidewalks, walking through Powell’s City of Books slacken-jawed, popping into cafes for bit of rest and conversation, and wandering into whatever eateries that catch our fancy.
I was so sad to leave Portland. Our visit wasn’t long enough. We did not even begin to scratch the surface of everything that Portland has to offer. We didn’t get to venture out into the mountains or go across the river to the other side. However still, the worst part about leaving is that even though LA has wonderful food, it severely pales in comparison. LA still seems to be overpopulated with chain fast foods and few restaurants serve up fresh, local fare (unless you’re specifically searching for it). And nowhere is there such an eclectic community with hundreds of eateries all within walking distance.
In just a short two and a half days, I have fallen so completely, irrevocably in love with Portland that as soon as my feet landed on LA soil again, I was already planning my trip back.