Here's where to eat in Portland, Oregon.
"We have to try Pok Pok. Do you mind going tonight?" my husband asked on our final night in Portland, Oregon. Sounds polite, right? It was, but here's the snag. At the time, we were sitting at a table outside Nong's Khao Man Gaia, eating a different Thai dinner.
We dined again, at Pok Pok, a couple of hours later.
So you see how our vacations roll.
Armed with at least two dozen restaurant recommendations, we chomped our way through Portland, Oregon, in April 2018, stopping between-times to peruse the shelves of Powell's Books, hiking, and driving through scenic areas.
Portland is known as a food town, and we found a whole bunch worth recommending. Here are the highlights, with a few lows thrown in. Our meals, in order:
We'd heard wonderful reports about the artisan ice cream at Salt & Straw, so we stopped in late on our first night, when nearly everything else was closed. The dipping shop was abuzz, and the service was terrific. Employees approached guests on line, offering and providing samples. That cut down time at the counter tremendously. I tried and enjoyed the Sea Salt with Caramel, but was less enchanted with the Honey Lavender (it tasted like those sachets for negligee drawers) and Chocolate Gooey Brownie. The flavor selection was eclectic and creative. Pear with blue cheese? Sounds enticing. I didn't love most of what I tried, though. To me, the ice creams left an unappealing aftertaste.
Voodoo Doughnuts gets the most buzz in Portland these days, but a unit just opened in Orlando so we chose another homegrown Portland sweetshop, Blue Star. The chocolate almond ganache and the blueberry bourbon basil were both a win. My husband even returned for another chocolate almond ganache another day.
Portland has a permanent food truck collection in the heart of downtown (although I hear it may be demolished). On a whim, we decided to try a so-called "authentic Chinese chicken wrap" from the Bing Mi stall. Good call. Each wrap is made to order. According to the owner's literature, the street food dates back 2,000 years to Northern China. Each thin, savory crepe is filled with egg, black bean paste, chili sauce, pickled vegetables, green onion and cilantro, plus a "crispy fried cracker." These were possibly my single favorite food in Portland, Oregon.
He can eat, that husband of mine. On our way out of the food truck pod, we came across Bao Bao and he bought, and loved, a boa. I'm pretty sure it was pork. (This was vacation. I sometimes forgot to take notes.)
Russian food? Really? Yessirree. I got such enthusiastic recommendations for this trendy Russian restaurant and bar that we bellied up to the bar and dug in. Win!
OK, we started with a self-designed flight of infused vodkas and that helped our attitudes tremendously. But still. The food was amazing. The flavors were classic Russian as I know them, yet modernized, or intensified, or maybe just created with farm-fresh ingredients. I'd be a regular if I lived in Portland, Oregon.
Flip through the slide show below (click on the beet salad picture to get the gallery rolling) to see our favorites: lavash flatbread with an eggplant spread, smoked Baltic sprat on pumpernickel squares with parsley mayonnaise, dumplings in broth, pan-fried dumplings and a beet salad.
I wanted to be a die-hard fan of this sweet downtown bistro. The shabby-chic space had the nicest servers in the world, the butter served with the bread was exceptional, and the menu was interesting. The food was fine, but of all we tasted I only went ga-ga for one dish – but it is spectacular. It's an appetizer, and it's escargot with parsnip noodles, toasted hazelnut herb butter and parmesan. Once all but the sauce was gone, I swooped in with bread, and more bread, until the bowl was clean.
Portland has several farmers markets, but the Saturday gathering at the Portland State University campus is the motherlode. It has fresh produce like all farmers markets do, but here I saw nettles and ramps and other vegetables I read about in magazines but never see for sale in Orlando – or elsewhere, for that matter. The bottom photo is of a Mexican food stall cooking chilaquiles and other items to order.
(Here's another hidden slide show. Click on the first picture to see the others.)
The Thai Restaurants
Which is better, Pok Pok or Nong's? Food writers disagree about this, so let's call it what it is. Nong's is amazing for a flavorful, filling, unusual chicken-and-rice dinner in a no-frills atmosphere. Pok Pok is an experience with its unusual, descriptive (if wordy and meandering) menu. If I lived in Portland, Oregon, Nong's would be a weeknight go-to, Pok Pok a regular for evenings out. The latter has a unit in New York City, so I may be riding out to Brooklyn during my next visit north.
Before heading to the airport on Sunday morning, we walked to Ken's Artisan Bakery, which was filled with locals drinking lattes and reading newspapers. I didn't take pictures, yet I urge you to go get the Oregon Croissant. It's made with local berries and hazelnut cream. It's as good as that Chinese wrap from Bing Mi.
Where to Stay in Portland, Oregon
Rona recommends, right? So of course I need to suggest lodging in addition to restaurants. We chose Inn at Northrup Station and I'm glad we did. It's designed like a bland chain motel, yet it's a colorful, personal hotel with yoga mats in every room, free beer tastings, complementary breakfast, free daily trolley tickets ... everything you'd need and more. Plus, every room is a suite. The location is a bit far out, but its leafy residential neighborhood is steps from the trolley, walking distance to many areas you'll want to see, and refreshlingly quiet. And, the hotel offers free parking, which is a big deal for an urban lodging facility.
If you visit, please tell me where to eat in Portland, Oregon – your opinions. We all try, and enjoy, different foods and restaurants.
Want more ideas about where to eat in Portland, Oregon? Eater Portland is one good place to start.