Portland, Oregon has become one of America’s greatest and weirdest towns to discover great music, award winning breweries, amazing food, and grungy hipster neighborhoods. Wait, that sounds a lot like Austin doesn’t it? It’s best to think of Portland as Austin’s Pacific Northwestern sister city due to our funky and liberal characteristics, making it such an attractive destination for Austinites and hungry travelers all over the world. Like Austin, Portland boasts a brilliant music scene, burgeoning tech sector job market, bad traffic and swarms of Californians invading our space. While we’ll always have a long, and sometimes inappropriate love affair with our home here in ATX, we can’t help but have the need to occasionally cheat on her with her beautiful sister Portland (PDX).
Portland is endlessly intriguing, making it easy to fall in love with her Northwestern charm. From the cooler temperatures (it only gets hotter than 80 degrees two months a year) and excellent public transportation, to an impressive selection of health friendly food options, and a cool blend of coffee shops on every corner, it’s a perfect alternative to Austin. The city boasts vast collection of top rated craft breweries with the beards to match. Bikers thrive in Portland’s robust cycling scene as the streets are generously riddled with wide bike lanes all over, easily making it the friendliest bike town in the country. The downtown area is bit compact yet walkable and easy for biking across the compass-spanning neighborhoods.
Portland is unmistakably beautiful and easily attractive to anyone visiting the city. Despite her visual beauty, Portland’s real charm is reflected in the food scene. Again much like Austin, the city is renowned for some of the country’s most innovative chefs and restaurants boasting a stellar selection of delicious, and mostly inexpensive and options with nearly every restaurant and food cart working for a noteworthy stake in fame.
Tourists can easily eat their way through the city with a never-ending hodgepodge of unique and inventive dishes to enjoy. Up till now we’ve only seen evidence of Portland’s culinary greatness from across the country, so we decided to hop on a plane to check it out for ourselves, returning a few pounds heavier and happier.
Photo: Sumptown Coffee Roasters
Stumptown Coffee Roasters is known for its top-quality beans and Portlandia, indie spirit. Like Starbucks has done for Seattle, this famous coffee shop has transformed the a once sleepy town of Portland into one of the greatest coffee cities in the United States. “Stumptown” was an early Portland nickname which many long time locals still wear with a badge of honor.
Everyone knows the legendary Voodoo Doughnuts is the crown jewel of Portland, but now that we have one of our own here in Austin, you should opt for the lip-smacking creations Portland’s other donut chain. Blue Star Donuts boasts donuts “for adults” using high-grade French brioche dough with flavors like blueberry bourbon basil, salted caramel, hazelnut dulce de leche, lemon poppyseed, bananas Foster and, maple bacon. They normally sell out quickly, so get your butt out of bed and get there early. Order more than you can eat and share it with your travel buddies.
Pine State Biscuits features North Carolina-style buttermilk biscuits and gravy prepared hot and fresh every morning. Locals usually line up very early for counter orders for house favorites like the Reggie Deluxe which is a biscuit sandwich with fried chicken, cheese, egg and bacon, smothered with sausage and mushroom gravy.
Portland Food Carts
Prepare to sample Thai, Lebanese, Italian, and Japanese cuisine, among many others because most Portlanders locals love dining at food carts spread in to pods all over the city. Portland boasts more than 600 food carts all over the city making it home to the world’s best street food. You won’t have time to visit them all in one weekend but here’s a few of our favorites.
The Cartlandia “super pod” is home to The Blue Room, a full-service bar with 18 beers and ciders on tap, and a family- and dog-friendly outdoor beer garden. More than 30 carts representing 15 different countries include a Voodoo Doughnut mobile van, three carts serving lobster and the Coop, where you’ll find decadent fried chicken and waffles.
This small Central Eastside Cart Row pod is home to the acclaimed — and gut-busting — Big-Ass Sandwiches, where the eponymous sandwich is a ciabatta roll stuffed with turkey, ham or beef and topped with hand-cut French fries and bechamel sauce.
The Cartopia pod is located on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard at Southeast 12th Avenue, has a covered, heated seating area staying open until midnight Tuesday-Thursday.
Hot Lips is a proud Portland staple that produces, their own sodas and locally sourced ingredients, serving up delicious pie by the slice or whole pizza using locally grown produce from 30 farmers and local producers. The sodas are made from locally grown fruits and berries that’s available on tap or in a bottle. They also feature a great selection of beer and wine for in-store, to-go and delivery. Try the Tough Mother: Pepperoni, mixed peppers and onions on a lightly spicy chipotle sauce.
With origins as a food cart in SE Portland, Lardo is a smash-mouth sandwich shop that worships at the altar of bovine and swine. With a few old world techniques and a contemporary, yet industrial approach, Lardo celebrates a menu that features a pork drenched double burger, a giant meatball Banh Mi, and hand-cut french fries (again) smothered in pork, Lardo also has lots of beer and a refreshing mix of premium cocktails.
According to locals, Pearl is the best bakery in PDX and listed in the Top 10 on The Daily Meal as one of America’s 50 Best Bakeries. Pearl Bakery breads and pastries are served on the tables of some of Portland’s finest restaurants, including Clyde Common. They use the finest ingredients, using organic, local, and small-producer items whenever possible. The bakery is a favorite in the vibrant Pearl District neighborhood, offering daily fresh pastries, sandwiches, bread, coffee and tea to the workers and residents seven days a week.
Clyde Common is a lively, popular European-style tavern inside of the Ace Hotel, offering a daily menu emphasized on in-house butchered and cured meats, with locally farmed produce and Pacific Northwest seafood. The restaurant was a semi-finalist for The James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Bar Program, specializing in American whiskeys. The restaurant pioneered the world’s first barrel-aged cocktail program and is a local favorite for their craft cocktail program.
If you’re looking for a slightly upscale, rooftop bar with modernistic decor and a great view, Departure sits 15 floors high in the grungy heaven of Pioneer Square, in downtown Portland. You’ll find some of the best craft cocktails in town, boasting a well-balanced seasonal rotation. The highlight of the bar may be the rooftop views, but the attraction for us is Gregory Gourdet’s pan-Asian small plates menu. You’ll find bold, creative flavors and ingredients, like salmon sashimi and shu mai. Yum!
Helmed by Executive chef Erik Van Kley, Taylor Railworks celebrates the renaissance of an old, gritty, industrial section of Portland. Serving upscale American comfort food in a warm casual environment, chef Van Kley provides a menu split into four of five raw plates, five small plates, five large plates and five desserts in a dinning room that evokes an older era of PDX, when trains were the primary form of transportation. The bar provides modern take on classic cocktails, while the kitchen boasts a fresh spin on delicious Northwestern dishes from well-sourced ingredients celebrated throughout Portlandia.
Ruby Jewel got its start at the Portland Farmers Market and now boasts a pair of brick-and-mortar locations serving locally sourced scoops, sundaes and addictive ice cream sandwiches. Try the lemon cookie with honey lavender ice cream or adventurous specials like chevre with port. The downtown shop also features a candy shop and soda fountain.
Founded in 2010 as a small brewpub in Clackamas County, Breakside Brewery has become one of the fastest rising and most acclaimed breweries in the Pacific Northwest. Breakside produces around 20,000 barrels a year, sold throughout Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and British Columbia. They’ve recieved multiple awards including the prestigious Gold Medal in American-style IPA at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. They’ve also been named the Best Brewery in Oregon by Thrillist and places in the Top 25 Beers of the Year by Draft Magazine. We sampled several of their flavorful seasonal drafts including Classique – a traditional Saison Belgian farmhouse ale boasting a wealth of complex flavors and aromas that are refreshing, and funky. My favorite is the Wanderlust Golden IPA – made with five different hops boasting intense grapefruit flavors with a crisp finish and an extremely light, crystal lemon gold color mixed with a hint of carbonation.