Eating in Portland, Oregon can make even minor league foodies panicky. There is so much good food in that city and only so much time. If you took all of New York, simmered off the grade B Thai restaurants and bagel shops, and condensed it into a square footage the size of Brooklyn, you might come close to approaching the density of yummy spots in Portland. Good food, good coffee, and good beer are everywhere.
Here’s the problem. I’m sure you can relate. I still want to fit into my ski pants this winter. So I somehow have to counterbalance calories in with calories out. Great trails for biking and running climb out of the city in every direction, but getting to those can take some time. Especially when you’ve got young kids in tow. So my visits to Portland are always fun but never relaxed. I eat, I run, I catch up with old friends, I sometimes play with my kids, and I sometimes sleep. Then I do the same thing all over again the next day.
Here’s the other problem. I lived in Portland for a few years about a decade ago. So I have my old favorite food spots that I want to visit. But those are “so yesterday” according to our Portland friends. They insist on also dragging us to better places. By the time we return the next year and mention those same places, our friends have already found newer, better spots than the ones they took us to last year. And so on. The city’s like a forest after it rains– new restaurants are mushrooming up all the time.
This year, one of my favorites was Pok Pok. Located on the southeast side of the city on Division Street, this open-air restaurant serves only the best kind of food in my opinion: Thai street food. Grilled chicken on lemongrass skewers. Papaya salad. Grilled eggplant. They also place a Northwest spin on some of their dishes. Dungeness crab finds its way into a pad thai. Cascade peaches find their way into rum drinks.
The drinks, by the way, are another reason this place is great. We went at lunchtime so we had to moderate a bit but if you wanted a Thai whiskey, a passion fruit cocktail, and a hoppy Northwest beer all in the same place, you could have it at Pok Pok. Yum.
Bakeries deserve their own category in my mind. This year Little T Bakery (also on Division) found a spot in my heart. My bakery list in Portland is already pretty packed. Grand Central (pedestrian loaf). Noah’s (bagels). Pearl (pastries and bread). But everything we had at Little T was exceptional—the cakes, the croissants, the bread. (Yes, we made all of the kids order something different so that everyone could try everything.) I wince even saying it, but if I have to pick just one bakery next visit, Little T could be it.
Finally and I cringe even saying that word because I haven’t even mentioned farmer’s markets, brew pubs, or food trucks but finally….a word on coffee. For me, it has always revolved around Stumptown, the roaster that created our local spin-off roaster in Lawson. This visit though, the lattes that I had at Stumptown were lacking a little coffee flavor for me. The best coffee I had was at the Ugly Mug, in Sellwood, also in southeast-side Portland. I liked the coffee shop too. It was like Stumptown before it got too popular—a nice level of grunge everywhere, communist flyers lying next to surfing magazines, and a server who was friendly but also just mean enough to let you know that making your coffee was serious business. Admittedly though, Ugly Mug makes their coffee from Stumptown beans which proves once again that little makes sense in this world except that there are good baristas and then there are amazing ones.
So if you’re ever chasing up a fun getaway and have even the smallest level of foodie in your heart, head to Portland. Be prepared for nothing to be relaxing but everything to be great as you eat, run, and drink your way around that small and wonderful city.