Consistently named one of America’s best food cities, it’s not unusual that eating is a major part of any Portland getaway. While I’ve already written about what to do in Stumptown, it’s now time for a delicious reminisce of the best food and brews in Portland.
Portland isn’t too focused on fine dining. True to its west coast roots, the best spots are casual, and offer innovative dishes from local sources.
Stick with me as I cover brunch, coffee, bars with food, breweries, dinner destinations and of course – dessert!
One thing I truly miss about Australia is its incredible brunch culture. From small towns to major cities, cafes offer fresh, delicious and interesting takes on breakfast food.
Brunch is practically a religion in Portland, and as a devoted worshiper it’s been my mission to try as many of the city’s brunch destinations as possible.
Tasty n Alder: Behold Breakfast Tapas! This place is wildly popular and it’s not hard to see why. Lemon ricotta pancakes with apple butter, smoked trout, and Korean fried chicken. Breakfast bi-bim-bap, potatoes bravas, tomato and pepper frittata, pancetta & artichoke sandwiches. All served family style so bring your friends and sample as much as possible. There’s also an applaudable brunch cocktails menu including decadent ‘Grown Ass Milkshakes’.
It’s worth noting that when we returned in May we were greeted of a line of at least 50 people waiting for breakfast here. Get here early.
Imperial: The house-made pop tarts first caught my eye, and was the sugary heart-starter I needed for the morning-after-the-night-before. Tom and I tussled over who would order the Potato Latkes with smoked salmon and duck egg. (I’m vehemently against ordering the same dish as it means we don’t get to try as much). I conceded and went with the eggs benedict with smoked salmon cake, house made biscuits and poached egg. Boxing gloves aside, we both came away as winners. Our fellow weekend travellers enjoyed the Dungeness Crab Omelette, Imperial Hash and Chorizo & Scrambled Eggs. Wins all round.
Bijou: This busy French bistro is home to perfect omelettes, fried oysters, buttermilk chicken and pancakes. Open since 1978, Bijou has been serving local food since before local was cool. If you enjoy modern takes on classic dishes, add this cosy café to your breakfast. It’s worth noting that Bijou is also open for jazz dinner on Fridays too!
Veritable Quandry: I’m so sad that after 45 years, this Portland institution is now closed – but also glad we got to eat there before it did! It will be hard for any restaurant to match the food and ambiance of this place. Brunch on the patio was one of the best breakfasts of 2016.
Still on my hit list: The Brunch Box, Mother’s Bistro, Levant (Isreali food!), Irving St Kitchen, and the southern-accented Screen Door.
Excellent cafes can be found across Portland, so this coffee addict has been thrilled with each visit.
Heart: Heart hogs a lot of the limelight when it comes to Portland coffee – and for good reason! This Nordic influenced café has the best coffee in town.
Deadstock: This tiny café in Old Town Chinatown is perfect for when you want coffee to-go, but not before you admire the kicks that line the walls. The first café I’ve seen embracing sneaker culture – and awesome cold brew.
Case Study Roasters: An ever changing coffee menu for both filter and espresso, Case Study is one of the best (and busiest) cafes in town. While I don’t take my coffee sweet, the house made flavourings draw a lot of fans – I’ll admit caramel bourbon sounds pretty delicious! The café has locations in Downtown, Sandy and Alberta.
Barista: Barista is one of the first multi-roaster coffee shops in Portland. They showcase a rotating range of smaller roasters, so it’s the ultimate caffeine break when you want to try something new.
Stumptown: This Iconic Portland coffee brand has now set up shop in cities across America, including LA, Seattle and New York. Its big success has not impacted its delicious brews, and I always get a fantastic espresso here.
Food Cart Fantasy
Portland is home to over 700 food carts, offering a United Nations of delights.
Food carts are scattered throughout the city – the biggest being the Alder Street pod which is home to 60 awesome vendors.
My recommendations? Dump Truck has fantastic dumplings– I devoured the sampler pack which included traditional flavours alongside a Bacon Cheeseburger Dumpling. Korean BBQ has fantastic bi bim bap. When I returned in May I made a beeline for Mumbo Gumbo. But my favourite is Mac and Trees – the perfect balance of rich, creamy mac n cheese – with the addition of broccoli, so you feel a little healthy!
Apparently there is an annual food cart eating competition. Where do I sign up?
Pine Street Market
For a smorgasbord of Portland’s finest food, visit the city’s flourishing food hall Pine Street Market. It opened in Spring 2016, and I think it’s great for not just Portland locals, but for visitors who want to maximise their dining in short time period.
Here you’ll find everything from coffee and pastries to mains, cocktails and dessert. The vendors do occasionally change, but right now includes Barista coffee, Marukin Ramen, Kure Juice Bar, Pollo Bravo, and the Wizbangbar by Salt and Straw – which is a must visit for inventive soft serve ice cream and sundaes!
Bars with Food
One of the best ways to sample the best food and brews in Portland is by old fashioned bar-hopping. I discovered that Portland’s best cocktail bars also serve up some of the best food, therefore I highly recommend you visit as many as you can!
Clyde Common: Known for hand crafted cocktails and local far, Clyde Common’s Happy Hour was booze stop numero uno on my very first Portland visit. The Spelling Bee cocktail was incredible (Cazadores reposado tequila, agave syrup, absinthe, bitters, grapefruit peel) and nicely washed down with marinated olives, popcorn with tōgarashi and the house made pate. Take a seat at the bar or communal tables and enjoy
Multnomah Whiskey Library: While I’m no whiskey aficionado, the library at Multnomah can be appreciated by all. Whether novice or well versed in your peats and pallet swirls, the staff make recommendations based on whatever your taste – straight up, on the rocks, or in whiskey based cocktails.
The food is just as impressive. I sampled the pork belly, crudo scallops and Aleppo fries. The bar itself nicely balances the line between classy and comfortable, and filled with leather and wood accents. Like a rich man’s library!
Ambonnay Bar: A dedicated champagne bar on the East Side of the river, Ambonnay was named one of the top 7 champagne bars in the USA by Travel and Leisure. Choose from more than 50 bottles of champagne and sparkling wine, as well as six champagnes by the glass. Our group split two bottles of French champagne along with a decadent cheese plate. I’d love to return to sample some of the local sparkling wines!
The Main Course
Saucebox: Come for fantastic Asian-inspired food, cocktails, and décor. We stumbled upon this place after our small bar crawl and I’m thrilled we did. We sipped tiki inspired cocktails while waiting for a table and once the meal arrived I didn’t regret our earlier lack of planning. Tom and I split Korean baby back ribs and furikake roll (salmon, hamachi, avocado, shiso, tobiko mayo), along with a coconut cream and kaffir lime tart for dessert.
Shigezo Izakaya: Ramen, yakimono (skewers) and Japanese style pub food awaits at Shigezo. The menu is huge – perfect for a group dinner as it caters to vegetarians as well as those who don’t eat seafood. I could eat my sashimi and tuna carpaccio guilt free while my sister happily tried the Chicken Katsu Don. The hot and cold tapas options are delicious too, along with the sake menu!
Swank & Swine: Voted by all five Aussies as the culinary highlight of our October trip, dinner at Swank & Swine was one of my favourite meals of 2015. Fresh Pacific Northwest ingredients with flavours influenced from around the world.
Starters included beef tartare with quail egg and harissa, salt and pepper calamari with nuoc cham and ahi tuna with kimchee aioli. I was blown away by my main: the absolute best scallops of my life, served with pork belly & spaghetti squash. Others in the group had seared duck breast and Painted Hills beef. I rounded it out with dessert of bourbon custard with shortbread and cream.
After dinner we stopped in at Swine, the accompanying Whiskey & Moonshine bar. The extensive whiskey list was promising and we had great cocktails, but the slow service on a very quiet night was a bit of a disappointment.
Still on my hit list: Pok Pok, Beast, Ava Gene’s, Little Bird Bistro.
Beer and Cider
It’s impossible to talk about Portland without mentioning beer. The city is home to 58 breweries, and if you include the wider metropolitan area the number skyrockets to 84! Needless to say, it’s very easy to get a very good pint here in Portland.
Portland also has several great craft beer bars that showcase the best local brewers – perfect if you want to sample several in the one location. Loyal Legion has 99 different Oregon beers on tap, and I got a tasting paddle so that I could sample as many beers as my lightweight frame could handle. I loved Lompoc’s Hip Hop IPA Series, Coalition’s Droppin Science IIPA and Breakside’s The Oligarch Imperial Stout. If the tap list overwhelms you, ask your bartender for a recommendation! Visit during happy hour for the best deals (3-6pm daily).
Bailey’s Taproom is a great beer bar in downtown Portland with 26 rotating taps of Oregon beers and ciders.
Those preferring apples to malted barley should high tail it to Cider Bite in the Pearl District, or Cider Riot on the east side. If you’ve been drinking Angry Orchard or Strongbow, your life is about to change forever.
Still on my hit list: The other 75 breweries in Portland. Reverend Nat’s Cider is known for unusual ciders. I tasted the Hopricot (hopped apricot cider) at Beer on the Pier in Anacortes and was hooked. I definitely have to visit HQ in Portland next time!
Sweet toothed satisfaction
What is a roundup of the best food and brews in Portland if I don’t include dessert?!
Salt and Straw: No trip to Portland is complete without an ice cream pit stop at famous Salt and Straw. With flavours like Pear & Blue Cheese and Olive Oil, I highly recommend a few tasting samples before making your decision. My picks of are Stumptown Coffee with Burnside Bourbon, and the Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper.
Voodoo Doughnuts: These sweet treats no longer contain niquil, pepto bismol and aspirin – but they are said to be just as addictive. Nowadays you’ll find Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops, Oreos and M&Ms on top. I’ve never braved the lines for these sweet treats, but it’s a fun stop if only to see the spectacle.
Those more interested in flavour than hype should try Pip’s Doughnuts for fresh, hot mini doughnuts. The house blended chai is amazing!
Still on the hit list: Blue Star Donuts gets rave reviews, though I’m yet to visit!
Two long weekends of eating, and I’ve only scratched the surface of the best food and brews in Portland.
It’s safe to say that I returned home with jeans that fit a little bit tighter. Totally worth it.
Where have you found the best food and brews in Portland? What are your favourite cafes, restaurants or bars? I’d love some ideas for my next visit!
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