|Keep Portland weird|
1) Food Carts
The first thing that Portland has become famous for is Food Trucks. There are more than 700 food carts in the city, in 30 different pods. Most of the food trucks are not actually trucks as they don’t have wheels and each ‘gathering’ of food carts, generally around the edge of parking lots, facing out, is called a ‘pod’.
“People came to Portland originally for the river, but people were a little more stoked on the land. Oregon City was further down the river, trappers were more into catching beavers and being lonely. This spawned the Oregon trail in the 1830s-40s.”
Dan continued:”By the 1860s Portland became bigger and flatter than Oregon City, the railroad was completed, had more space, man. The main business was agriculture and logging. They cut down trees along the river and the expression Skid Row came from this place, as timber workers used to skid the logs down the area now known as Chinatown, but it became like really ‘sketchy’ cos the workers and immigrants used to get ham sauced and there was a lot of prostitution.”
I asked Brett: why did Portland become the centre for food carts?
“Mainly because there were no laws against it. Food trucks are constricted by the parking laws, the right of way laws. It’s easier to open a food cart on a parking lot than a food truck, which is what they tend to have in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.”
Brett’s top 10 food cart recommendations:
- The Big Egg – Breakfast – Mississippi Marketplace
- The Native Bowl – Vegan bowls and more – Mississippi Marketplace
- Nong’s Khao Man Gai – Thai Chicken and Rice – SW 10th and Washington. This lady has won TV chef competitions and now has a bricks and mortar restaurant. She does one dish, Thai chicken, very very well. She was serving the day I visited, she will circulate between her outlets, making sure that each of them gets her personal touch.
- Kargi Gogo – Georgian Cuisine – SW 9th and Washington
- Tabor – Czech – SW 5th and Stark
- The Cheese Plate – cheese, crackers and more – NE 23rd and Alberta
- Maine Street Lobster – lobster sandwiches – Cartlandia
- Potato Champion – poutine and fries – Cartopia
- Sugar Shop – sweets – NE 23rd and Alberta
- Gabagool – Italian sandwiches – N Beech and Mississippi
- Wolf and Bear’s – Iraqi/Israeli street food – Pod28 – SE 28th and Ankeny. I was recommended the Middle Eastern style wraps here and the idea slightly bored me. But these falafel and wraps were stunning, with candied nuts and delicious sauces. Not boring at all.
- Grilled Cheese Grill – NE 11th and Alberta. Australian owned, stretchy cheese jaffles or toasties.
Another must-eat experience in Portland is a visit to Voodoo doughnuts. It originally started out as an underground after hours joint, selling Peptobismol iced doughnuts injected with Tylenol to help with a hangover. Eventually the FDA found out about them and they had to tone down some of their crazier offerings. Nonetheless, the selection of flavourings is still avant-garde; be prepared for a wait when you go here: even at 2am you’ll stand in line for 45 minutes. But take that as part of the experience: chat to others in the queue, get one of their lurid pink boxes and buy some for breakfast the next day.
- Insiders also recommend Blue Star doughnuts
Portland is also known for two things: beer and bikes, brought together at the Velocult bike shop and pub, check out their tap list, and Hopworks bike bar. The whole micro-brewery scene is big here, with soft water and local hops which comprise 25% of the world hop harvest. A brewers schedule is rather like a bakers schedule: they start early. I went on a beer tour with Brewvana which I can recommend. Although it was kinda weird when the woman who sat on the front seat of the tour bus confessed that she wouldn’t be drinking because she was a full-blown AA-attending recovering alcoholic. And then we discovered this was the tour guide’s mother. We were given ‘pretzel necklaces’ to wear as we toured around Portland visiting various breweries and bars. I learnt a bit of the beer tasters lingo: the froth at the top of the beer is prettily referred to as the ‘lace’.
Check out the beer scene also at:
- McMenamins: several branches all over Portland. The decor reminds me of Amsterdam brown cafés and Irish pubs, ornate and art deco influenced. Beautifully decorated brewing tanks also. Live music at most branches.
- Ecliptic: astronomy fanatic and legendary microbrewer John Harris runs this place. Great food too. I enjoyed the malty Procyon Pale Ale and the caramelly Phobos extra red ale.
- Old Town Brewing: clean tasting beers, you can see the brewing tanks too. I drank I’d like to buy the world a kolsch lager and the slightly cloudy but floral fresh hop pale ale Cents and Censability. These are known as ‘wet hop’ beers, made with new season hops. They are the alcoholic equivalent of juicing perhaps, using ingredients that are still ‘live’.
- Robusta: tastes like burnt rubber and has twice the caffeine. It is of lower quality, but higher yield. Disease resistant. Most supermarket coffee is Robusta.
- Arabica: half the caffeine and twice the genetic complexity.
I learn about the characteristic roasts:
- French roast: a style which is a smokey dark roast which goes well with cream and sugar.
- Italian roast: has some robusta, which foams, delivers the ‘crema’ in Italian coffee.
- North West Pacific style: they like fruity/sour coffee, this is a trademark style of Seattle. It’s very consistent.
- Starbucks: the caramel comes through
- 7/11 coffee: only good when it’s really hot.
- The paper filter method is better for cholesterol
- The French press method can give heartburn.
1) Indonesian: root veg/ steak/ forest floor/earthy, mossy, leather, spice, pepper. Goes with beef stew or soup, broth, tomato soup.
2) Kenyan: bright, blackcurrant, tomato, lemon, peach, strawberry. Astringent.
3) Ethiopian: floral, cheesecake, afternoon, almonds.
4) Costa Rican: light, chocolaty, pancakes.
5) Guatemalan: bourbon, chocolaty, coconuts.
Brunch is a Portland addiction, sometimes you have to queue for hours at the top spots for Sunday brunch. I checked out Tasty and Alder in the Downtown area which had an entire section of the menu devoted to ‘Marys’ ie. Bloody Marys, and also ‘Grown Ass Milkshakes’ which were more akin to milk based cocktails. I ordered the Tasty Mary: it was rimmed with salt and loaded up with pickle garnishes, virtually a side in itself. There are a selection of egg dishes but ‘The Whole Toad’, a kind of cheesy Yorkshire pudding, slips down like proper hangover-cure comfort food. Another thing to try is the fried egg and cheddar ‘biscuit’, the equivalent of our savoury scones.
- Red and Black Cafe: worker-owned co op restaurant.
- Paradox cafe
- Papa G’s Vegan Organics: vegan deli
- Petunia’s Pies and Pastries: vegan/gluten free bakery
- Sweetpea Baking company: delicious vegan cakes
- Sweet Hereafter: bar and food
- PokPok: Thai food with a vegan selection
- Natural Selection: vegan restaurant
- Vegan food carts:
- DC Vegetarian SW3rd/Stark, Downtown.
- Native Bowl Mississippi Marketplace at 4237 N. Mississippi
- Homegrown Smoker: vegan bbq. Yes! Mississippi Marketplace.
- Sonny Bowl SW3rd/Washington
- Wolf and Bears: downtown and Mississippi branches.
7) Distillery row and cocktail culture:
Places to taste spirits and order cocktails in Portland:
- Clyde Common, attached to the Ace hotel, does fantastic cocktails as well as food.
- Multnomah Whisky Library this is a private members club, but non-members can also drink there, without reservations however, so expect a wait.
- Expatriate cool bar
- House Spirits Distillery
- New Deal Distillery hand crafted vodka, gin
8) City farms, farmers markets
Like the right-on types that Portlandians are, there are urban farms, where you can volunteer for work parties and buy produce. I met supper club hostess Kusuma Rao who’d moved from Texas to Portland; I tasted her soft and more-ish coconut naans at the Bluehouse Green house farm stand, bought a punnet of heritage cherry tomatoes (don’t you just love the turquoise boxes they use for fruit and vegetables in the USA?). Here is a map of other urban farms in Portland.
Street. I bought great local cheeses, fantastic fruit and vegetables, cherry chipotle jam, fresh masa for tortillas, bread, flowers, while listening to live music.
Skidmore Saturday market, again, downtown, you can buy crafts, clothes, food and see street performers.
Most people know that California has great wines, but go a little further north to the next state, Oregon, which also a burgeoning viticulture. In fact, with global warming affecting California wine, Oregon is a great future bet for wine, although at present they are producing only small artisanal batches. The most popular grapes are Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with a bit of Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling. I went on a wine and waterfalls tour, to visit wineries around Portland, whilst viewing incredibly beautiful countryside, crossing the Colombia gorge and seeing Mount Hood. We also passed salmon fishing and incredibly, sturgeon farms where domestic caviar is produced. Unfortunately I broke my arm in a cycling accident just five minutes before boarding the bus. I thought I was ok, but as the six hour tour progressed I was increasingly in pain and by the end sobbing. They dropped me off at an Urgent Care centre, where the clinicians are so paranoid about drug users they carry no pain relief. I spent the night in agony in my hotel, and went to the hospital the next day where they gave me some lovely drugs, Oxycontin. It’s times like these that, travelling on your own, that you can start to feel a little bit down. You have no one to buy you medication, nobody to carry your suitcase or help you take off your clothes. The worst was trying to pull my knickers up on both sides after going to the loo. I walked around for days with half-mast panties, yanked up on one side only, lopsided. It’s not the sort of thing you can ask a stranger to help you with. I remembered travelling through Brazil and meeting a backpacking one-armed Frenchman, arm amputated at the shoulder. How did he do it? I pondered, two decades later. I didn’t like him much at the time and now I felt guilty and ignorant, at last fully recognising his heroism.
Wineries worth visiting near to Portland:
- WyEast Vineyards
- Cathedral Ridge Winery
- Pop up dinners such as Plate and Pitchfork which often take place in vineyards.
- There are also urban wineries within Portland and the Union Wine Company tasting truck.
I stayed at the Ace hotel which I loved, like staying in a really cool Portland flat.
I stayed also at the friendly McMenamins Crystal hotel. Good cheap hotel stay with salt water pool in the basement.
(One thing: American hotels do not have electric kettles or tea in their rooms. After a while, you get desperate for a cuppa. Bloody uncivilised it is.)
No sales tax in Portland. 10th and 12th streets downtown is a good place to shop.
Try the much loved Powers bookstore.
Also Willamette Week.
Portland is also known as the ‘city of roses’. One muggy Sunday I took the tram up to the International Test Rose garden. During the second world war, some of Kew Gardens rose stock was sent here for safe keeping.