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No trip to Portland is complete without experiencing its diverse food and drink options. Judging by all the fabulous food options, Portland is a city where you go to eat and eat well.
Portland is famous for its food cart pods. Gatherings of food carts that range from just three or four carts to ones with 40 or 50 carts. I hit up one of the larger pods in downtown Portland on the corner of SW 9th and Alder which has 60+ carts in one city block. Be sure to go on a weekday because most carts are closed on the weekend.
So why Portland? Why are there so many people trying to make it by starting up a food cart in a city that is overflowing with food carts? Well it comes down to chasing the American dream. The economic ressession in 2008 was the catalyst that was needed for the food cart revolution in Portland. With less jobs in the city, more and more people were turning to their own skills to try and earn a living. In 2008 there were only about 70 food carts. Today? Over 700.
There are food carts for every cuisine imaginable from the typical gyro and kebab places to some really unique offerings like Georgian dumplings. Some places, through word of mouth and press, eventually take off and lines are down the block to grab food. I really wanted to try the famous chicken and rice from Nong’s Khao Man Gai, but the line was really long (I picked something nearby and was annoyed to see that that line was moving a lot faster! Next time.) To stand out from the crowd, there are many fusion places like this korean taco place I tried.
Have a fantastic family recipe? Want to start up your own food cart? The statistics are against you though. In the first year and a half of operation, 40 – 60% of food carts will fail. Each cart pays about $1000 a month in rental fees, plus a lot of startup and maintenance costs, and everything starts adding up quickly.
Read reviews and find out more about all of Portland’s Food Carts here. Plus they have an app you can download!
Portland loves it food. There are over 1200 independent restaurants in the city and almost every year a James Beard Award is won by a Portland restaurant. Pretty impressive! When planning a trip it’s so hard to narrow down where to eat because there are just too many fantastic sounding places.
Pok Pok is an Asian fusion restaurant with multiple locations around Portland. While each has their own menu, there are some similar dishes like the restaurants famous fish sauce wings. I went to two different locations: the original Pok Pok and Pok Pok Noi. The original Pok Pok operates out of what looks to be the garage of a house in a neighbourhood almost in the middle of nowhere. You would not expect there to be a restaurant, except there is and there is often a wait.
While you wait, you can hop across the street to the Whiskey Soda Lounge to wait. They’re affiliated with each other so they help keep tabs on when your table is ready. Here you can have some appetizers and try one of their sipping vinegars. I had no idea why anyone would want to drink vinegar, but I tried it anyways. It was nothing like vinegar and more like a italian soda minus the fizz and with a slight pucker. Not bad actually and pretty refreshing on a hot day.
At both locations of Pok Pok, I was left wanting more. I found it to be overpriced for what it is and with small portions. Maybe it was just too hyped up for me. I had their wings both times. The first, from Pok Pok Noi were really tasty with the perfect mesh of sweet and savory, but the second time, from the Whiskey Soda Lounge I found them to be overwhelmingly salty.
The rest of the meal was good. Lots of great flavour and spice to it, but nothing to write home about. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by all the great food in Vancouver.
Pok Pok Restaurant
Original location: 3226 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202
Pok Pok Noi: 1469 NE Prescott St, Portland, OR 97211
Brunch is a huge thing in Portland and there are many places who offer a great meal. We attempted to go to Tasty N’ Adler and Tasty N’ Sons, but both had massive lines. We drove past Screen Door and it was the same case there. In the end, we went to this really cute brunch place just around the corner from Stumptown Coffee (see below) that was recommended to us by a random on a bike who had stopped my friend for a cigarette. Sometimes, locals really do know best. Hello Bijou Café!
I loved my meal. Everything was fresh, light and as healthy as brunch could be. I opted for a chorizo hash which is strange for me because I generally do not like chorizo, but I really enjoyed this one.
132 SW 3rd Ave
Portland, OR 97204
Portland is the beer capital of the world. It has the most microbreweries per capita of any city and 40 craft breweries sit within the city limits with many more just outside of it. This beer drinking culture dates back to the founding of the city as beer was the drink of choice for many of the first workers in the city.
An interesting remnant of this lifestyle can be spotted in the water fountains around the city. Known as Benson Bubblers, these fountains date back to 1912. They were placed around the city as a way to encourage workers to drink water instead of beer (which, not surprisingly, also reduced accidents on the job due to drunken reckless behaviour).
Of them, 20 of them remain around the city which signifies that at one point in history, there was a drinking establishment nearby. Portland is one of the few cities in the country that doesn’t put fluoride in the water and the water coming out of these fountains are perfectly safe to drink. I took a sip and it tasted fine.
On our last night in Portland we made our way to Deschutes Brewery for dinner and it was a fantastic choice. Be prepared for a line though. If anything, Portland has restaurant wait times down to a fine art. At Deschutes we were given a buzzer and allowed to roam until it went off. We opted to hang out at the bar naturally.
I ordered an elk burger which was fantastic. It was the first time I’ve ever had elk and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t too gamey at all.
However, the highlight of the meal had to be the pretzel and cheese that one of my friends ordered. All the cheesey, carby goodness you can imagine and so so tasty. I’m still thinking about that pretzel.
Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House
210 NW 11th Ave
Portland, OR 97209
Long known for its coffee culture, when in Portland you need to visit a coffee shop or two, and no, Starbucks doesn’t count. The most well known of these coffee options is Stumptown Coffee, after Portland’s nickname. What makes them awesome is their commitment to fair trade without compromising quality. Although I’m not a massive coffee drinker, but I had to grab myself a cup and enjoy.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Original location: 4525 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97206
Location visited: 128 SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR 97204
To cap off a great meal, dessert must be had and there are plenty of choices in Portland and yes, most of them with crazy lines. We were smart and opted for places and locations with significantly shorter lines.
Ah yes, the famous Voodoo Doughnuts. A must visit when you’re in Portland which many do based on the massive lines that form outside its doors. They even have crowd control barriers set up! Madness!
Did you know they have another location though? It’s not downtown and has a significantly shorter line. It was especially convenient for us because we booked a hotel that was only 15 minutes walking distance away from doughnut heaven.
I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable all these doughnuts were. We ordered a half dozen and got a variety of flavours. They varied from the classics like chocolate dipped to crazy sugar filled options like fruit loops and butterfingers. Of course, you gotta try the maple bacon as well. After trying all these wacky and weird options, my favourite turned out to be a simple chocolate dipped with crushed peanuts.
Original location: 22 SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR 97204
2nd location: 1501 NE Davis St, Portland, OR 97232
A great place to grab breakfast, the Waffle Window also has multiple locations. By not visiting the main one, you can cut down drastically on wait times. Or, be like us and go at night for dessert. Same thing, no lines. You can get all sorts of toppings on your waffle from savory (like the bacon in the back) to the chocolate dipped on the right. I opted for the regular waffle.
After living in the Netherlands for a couple months and eating the cheapest and most delicious waffles in the world, nothing can compare. Waffle Window might be good, but it doesn’t hold up to the waffles of my memory. They advertise a Liegé waffle and yet it really wasn’t. I missed the delicious melt of pearl sugar.
The Waffle Window
Original location: 3610 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214
Location visited: 2624 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211
Time to go back
So there you have it, everything I ate and drank while in Portland. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many fantastic places to explore and try out. I cannot wait for the next time I’m in the city so I can keep on exploring it’s great food scene.