For many people, vacations and trips out of town are a chance to sample the destination's food. My trip to Portland was no different—food took on a central motif.
I am an avid foodie who believes that tasting the food of a new destination gives you insight into its culture. If the ingredients alone don't tell you, the conversations that happen about the food allows for an understanding of how natives and food relate.
I had some amazing things to eat while I was visiting Portland thanks to suggestions from locals and seasoned Portland foodies who led me to some delicious endeavors. If you're headed to Portland soon, or if you're just a foodie like me, this post should get your mouth watering.
If you're a foodie, Portland really is the town for you because it is all about the food carts. At any one time, there are usually over 500 food carts parked in various locations across most neighborhoods.
Experiencing what it's like to order from one and then eat right there on the sidewalk, under a designated tent, or in a nearby park is quintessential to Portland culture. Often times, you're just on the street ordering food and there's no place to sit—but that's part of the fun.
Sometimes, food carts make their home in a lot or a pod like the North Station food cart pod which boasts actual indoor seating and restrooms. Handsome Pizza at the North Station pd is a cart that has made its home in a garage reminiscent of the 50s. It is situated on a gravel lot with indoor/outdoor picnic tables for seating. They name their pizzas in support of Portland locals who, according to their website, "do handsome deeds." It's justice represented in pizza form! Their wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas with unique ingredient mash-ups truly were justice-fiably delicious—and that's coming from a New York pizza snob!
I learned that most food carts are testing out a funky new recipe or type of cuisine. For instance, I tried a schnitzelwich from, Tábor, a Czech food cart downtown that rocked my taste buds. If a cart's food experiment catches on well enough, it will usually end up opening a more traditional restaurant centered around the original cart's main attraction.
For Portland, food is a democracy—for the people, chosen by the people.
You can catch lots of food carts at permanent locations via the map embedded below or you may just stumble upon them as they pop up in various locations and at regular events around town like the Saturday Market.
Alternatively, try searching for a particular cart's Facebook Page. If they have one, this can be your saving grace. Some of the carts will announce when they are all out of a favorite menu item or when they will be closing down temporarily to stock up.
The Big Egg—a food cart so well-known for their breakfasts that there is often an hour long wait time—was closed during part my stay in Portland. I knew not to make the trek there only because they update their Facebook page regularly.
COFFEE & BREAKFAST
In NoPo near the Rosa Parks MAX station is a little wooden, shack-like cart stop called Grindhouse Coffee. Their tagline? They're "the original sexy coffee."
Every morning, I walked with my friend from our Airbnb to the next MAX stop at Rosa Parks just so we could stop by Grindhouse on the way. According to my coffee-connoisseur friend, the coffee there was some of the best she's ever had. Truly sexy. And according to a breakfast sandwich connoisseur (that would be me), their "The Works" breakfast sandwich was out of this world good.
It's served on a ciabatta roll but, like a true New Yorker, I got mine on an everything bagel which was up to par. The best part of the sandwich was the surprisingly delicious vegan sausage patty. I'm not vegan, but I'm convinced that vegans have it good just from tasting that patty. After our first visit, we went back every morning for the same breakfast. Just so you know, that was 4 breakfast sandwiches in a row. No regrets.
One of the most fun parts about this place was running into people from the neighborhood who had made this place a regular stop in their morning routines just like us! We met and chatted with one guy who was out walking his beautiful pit bull each morning.
My friend, who owns a pit at home, bonded over the importance of adopting pits since they are often stereotyped as a dangerous breed. They make gorgeous, loving, well-behaved pets when trained properly (like most dogs).
My buddy Dani over at Globe Trotter Girls told me I should check out Blue Star donuts while in Portland. She said all the locals go there to skip the lines at other popular donut places (namely Voodoo Doughnut).
My friend and I found it easily down Washington Street. Inside, the place was bright and clean with a generous number of customers with the same afternoon snack idea in mind. There were donuts on raised platters begging to get, in, mah bell-aayyy (Fat Bastard style).
We split two kinds—one was apple cider and the other was a blackberry compote with peanut butter powder. The apple cider was dense and moist as if it were dunked in cider, left overnight, then taken out to dry and glazed in frosted awesomeness.
The peanut butter donut was a delight. For some reason when ordering it initially my brain did not compute that this combination would taste like a PB&J, but that is exactly what the bakers were trying to emulate.
This was like a grown up version of the grade school sandwich. Interestingly, it finished off with a slight spice—I think it was a bit of pepper in the peanut butter powder that coated the dough. A welcomed surprise.
A little later, we wandered a few blocks over to see what was happening at VooDoo Doughnut. Sure enough, the line looked like the pre-sale crowd outside an Apple store. Voodoo Doughnut is all the rage among tourists (and I suspect some locals, too).
During my 2-week stay in Portland, I saw several dozen people walking around carrying their iconic pink boxes filled with donuts. Voodoo has become a staple tourist stop, known for putting things like cocoa puffs on their donuts.
Definitely a novelty.
I went there on my last day—a random Monday afternoon when the line wasn't ridiculous—and I had a Rice Crispies-covered something or other that was rather underwhelming.
So Blue Star was the donut shop that really hit the spot for me. I support the idea of skipping the lines at Voodoo and visiting Blue Star instead.
For the experience, go to Voodoo on a weekday at a mid-day hour to miss the crowds. Or check out their food cart which I came across at Last Thursday.
I was standing in the middle of Alberta at Last Thursday when I first saw a line that had formed outside a particular building. Trying to figure out what the fuss was all about, I approached a young woman on the line to ask her, "So, what's with the line?" She told me it was for the ice cream place, Salt & Straw, and that her favorite kind was sea salt with caramel. I vowed to go back.
Like VooDoo, I ended up going to Salt & Straw on a random weekday in the middle of the day to escape the lines. They had "keeping Portland weird" type flavors, like "Pear and Blue Cheese" and "Tomato Water Olive Oil Sherbet."
So if you're looking for some adventure in your ice cream, this is the spot. I ended up playing it safe and ordered the Sea Salt Ice Cream with Caramel Ribbon on one of their homemade waffle cones. It was very good. And I could feel good about eating it, too. Salt & Straw is all about building local community. Their ingredients primarily come direct from Oregon farms.
The next day, we were walking downtown on our way to First Thursday when we had a hankering for ice cream again. We happened upon a little shop called Ruby Jewel. Inside, we learned that their specialty is their ice cream sandwiches.
They bake cookies for the sandwiches right on the spot and let you watch through a little viewing window in the seating area. In true Portland fashion, Ruby Jewel's ingredients also support the local economy by sourcing from farms in Oregon and the Northwest. I ordered the apple pie ice cream on a homemade waffle cone.
The winner between Salt & Straw or Ruby Jewel? I have to go with Ruby Jewel! Unless it was the flavor I chose, Ruby Jewel's ice cream seemed to be slightly less sugary than Salt & Straw's.
I'm also a sucker for ice cream sandwiches, even though I didn't try one. There's also something really unique and wonderfully transparent about the woman in her chef's uniform baking in the room adjacent to us as we ate. But you really can't go wrong with either. Why not try them both like I did?
Known for its craft beers, I tried a lot of locally brewed beers while in Portland. My favorite was served cold from the Deschutes Brewery downtown. The brewery was huge, with beautiful wood carving sculptures and artistic piping along the tall, rafted ceilings. A group of friends and I tasted several of their varieties of beer, from stouts to IPAs.
My favorite, by far, was Deschutes' Black Butte Porter. It had the perfect velvety start with a slight chocolaty finish. We had their beer nuts and brewery pretzel to share and—I must admit—I wanted to gobble up the whole thing without the help of the others. The dough was crispy outside, soft and warm on the inside. When dipped in the luscious cheese—my mouth was tingling with the anticipation of every bite. And those beer nuts—addictive!
Definitely check this place out. It's huge and has an excitement in the air that was contagious even after a long day touring around.
Picnic food: New Seasons Market boasts itself as the "friendliest store in town." Get fresh and flavorful local produce and delicious deli sandwiches. Pro foodie tip - They give away samples of baked goods at the counter (e.g., huge chunks of blondies, cake, etc.).
Don't you just love posts about food? I know I do when I visit other people's blogs. That's why I'll be posting about the food at each place I visit around the world during my Year of Deviation. Get ready for some mouth-watering reading in the months ahead!