One thing I envy about the East Coast is that it seems like you can get to another cool city in another state in a matter of hours. My friends from Boston were constantly hopping to NYC, to DC, to a cute little town in Vermont, to Cape Cod, etc. every single weekend. Over here on the West Coast, our options are severely limited if you’re in search of another metropolitan experience: you can go to Portland, or you can go to Vancouver, B.C.
In this post, I will tackle Portland: the city of roses, hipsters, food carts, bikes, tattoos, great food, craft cocktails, and the home of Ramona Quimby.
Getting to Portland
Portland is only a three-hour drive from Seattle, a four-hour Amtrack train ride or a three-hour ride on the (relatively new to the West Coast) Bolt Bus, which is probably the most affordable way to get there. Ticket prices vary depending on time of day and day of the week, but I was on the quest for the elusive $1 ticket and ended up spending $17 for a one-way ticket- far less than the $40-$60 Amtrak though decidedly less comfortable. The seats are slippery but there is wifi and outlets, so I don’t really feel like you can complain too much.
The Bolt Bus picks up in the International District in Seattle and drops off somewhere downtown in Portland – I’m not entirely sure where because even though everyone insists the city is on a grid, I get very confused.
Portland is also a super bikeable city, so feel free to bring your wheels with you. There’s a special bike storage bay in the Bolt Bus and you can also take them with you on the train. The city is very flat and really prides itself on it’s bikeability. I mean, just look:
What to Do
One should definitely structure their time in Portland around eating, drinking coffee, drinking beer, getting a tattoo and getting lost in Powell’s Books. I’m honestly at a loss as to what else there is to do – I mean, if you click on the “local flavor” section of Yelp, three of the top five results are beer festivals.
If the roses are in bloom, you should check out the International Rose Test Garden (free) and the neighboring the Japanese Garden ($10) – which is apparently the best Japanese garden outside of Japan. We visited at the tail-end of rose season but there were enough still hanging in there to impress.
The Oregon Coast (specifically Cannon Beach) is only 1.5-2 hours outside of the city and through the farmland. The little town of Cannon Beach is totally quaint and reminded me a lot of Carmel by the Sea in California – the shingled exterior of each building is obviously the code of the city. We parked and followed the smell of cotton candy to an adorable candy shop, where I selected an assortment of saltwater taffy to sustain us for our long walk down the beach.
The beach itself is sandy, and the water is absolutely freezing – so cast aside any hopes of frolicking in the waves. We saw one lone boogey-boarder decked out in a wet-suit catching a few waves, but the majority of people were strolling – or biking – down the beach.
The real reason that I wanted to visit Cannon Beach was because of Haystack Rock, which, according to Wikipedia is the third-tallest “intertidal” structure in the world. I think the photo speaks for itself:
We walked about 2-3 miles down the beach so that we could get “cannonbowls” of clam chowder at Mo’s Chowder – described by a friend on Facebook as the “worst restaurant with the best view”. I’m curious to know if he ordered something other than the chowder, because I definitely thought the the rest of the food looked terrible. The chowder itself was in no way the best chowder ever made, but it was hot and we were freezing and so I appreciated it. The whole experience was quite kitschy.
When we were done, we turned around and walked back along the beach to town and shopped through the touristy clothing stores and art galleries. It was an entirely lovely way to spend a day – and probably an even better way to spend a week or weekend if you rented a beach house.
Where to Eat
The easiest place to compare St. Honore to is Bakery Nouveau in Seattle – they even have their own variety of the twice-baked almond croissant. It would have been a lovely place to linger, but we were headed to the beach so we swung by for pastries for the road. As much as I enjoyed my almond croissant, I was glad that I indulged a whim and ordered the cheesy-bacon-croissant-roll item that was buttery and savory and rather heavenly.
I didn’t visit Tasty n Sons on my most recent visit, but I did dine there solo for brunch a few years ago and regularly place it on my list of “best brunches ever”. I recommend it to anyone who asks and so far, those who have taken me up on the suggestion have had no complaints. There are actually two locations with slightly different menus, so you can visit them both and you won’t feel like you went to the same place. It’s behind the same folks as Toro Bravo, which I will reminisce fondly about in just a bit.
Wouldya just look at these plates of food? That are just about to be smothered in Aardvark Sauce? Yum. Great hash browns, suuuuper-long wait, ideal hangover food. My stomach is growling just thinking about it.
Sure, Seattle is full of great coffee shops but if you’re looking to get out of the mainstream, then you should really head to Portland because it seems like every coffee shop is practicing the ART of making coffee, rather than just pouring out cups. If you don’t know much about coffee, then I suggest that you start with a tasting at the Stumptown Annex, which will help you to learn the… um… subtle nuances between each bean. I say that tongue in cheek, because as far as my taste buds are concerned, coffee is just coffee. Nevertheless, a cupping IS a pretty fun experience so long as you’re with friends who don’t take it too seriously.
Couva Coffee is located on the edge of Southeast Portland and shares its location with the roastery and with a bamboo furniture store. The decor is super industrial but all the pieces are really beautiful – we sat at a coffee grinder turned into a table. It’s not a particularly COZY coffee shop but it’s cool because they offer a super limited menu of espresso drinks and then they have one barista devoted to hand-poured coffee, which is fun to watch.
On the other side of town in the Alberta Arts District, you’ll find a more classic and comfortable coffee shop where I spent several hours working one afternoon. I was a bit concerned about laptop etiquette at Barista, but as I had nowhere else to go, I decided to hell with it and plugged in. The baristas were VERY attractive and entirely unfriendly – but again, maybe that’s because I needed to plug in my computer and sat near an outlet.
One (other) area that Portland’s got Seattle beat on is outdoor dining options. Sure, you can only use them for a few months a year but it seems totally worth it to put in just a bit of effort in order to like, triple the seats in your restaurant and give people a nice experience for those months.
As the name would suggest, you might want to steer clear of Lardo if you don’t like pork. It’s the only thing on the menu. I actually think that I mis-ordered on this one (I had the pork meatball bahn mi), but made up for it with sides of the dirty fries and chicharrones – that were literally still crackling throughout the meal.
We asked our bartender for his suggestions on where to eat, and he insisted that we try Teote – “I’ve gone there four times this week”. Then a server piped in with “I’ve been there three times this week!” and so I knew we must go. Teote serves Venezuelan street food – or, arepas which are corn cakes topped with a meat of your choice and then some kind of slaw-like salad. I ordered the fried plantains (I was hoping that they would be similar to Island Soul’s but then realized I was in the wrong part of the world) and the pernil arepas: “Crispy and succulent Carlton Farms braised pork roast in a Morita chili sauce, cabbage salad, verde sauce and queso.” Mouthwateringly delicious. Teote is located in basically a house, and has a great upstairs dining area, awesome backyard seating options as well as multiple bars and tons of seats. We went first thing in the morning and it was slow, but it would definitely be a fun spot to hit up at night.
My rule for eating in other cities is to try and order things that I can’t get in Seattle, so basically any food cart (yet another way in which Portland beats Seattle) was fair game. I did some research and landed on Chez Dodo, a Mauritian truck that serves up some bomb-dot-com pan-fried noodles and giant amazingly delicious samosas! People on Yelp rave about the friendliness of the owner and the yumminess of the food – both of which I can wholeheartedly agree with. Check it out if you’re in the area!
I accompanied my former roommate on a day-trip to Portland and the only thing that we actually had time to do was to meet my friend Charissa for dinner. She took us to Toro Bravo where we spent a few hours dining on the chef’s tasting menu, which was the best way to experience the magic of the menu without breaking the bank.
Ask anyone where you should eat in Portland and Pok Pok will probably be the first place that comes out of their mouth. I’ve taken to NOT suggesting it because there are so many other places to try – but it’s really f’ing good so if you haven’t been, then definitely go. Pok Pok is Thai/Vietnamese fusion and they make a mean chicken wing. Be prepared to wait because it’s real popular.
First of all, don’t be shy about trying all the flavors! Some of them are just so unusual that you simply HAVE to try them to understand how in the world that could be a legitimate ice cream flavor. Most of the time, all you need is just a little bite to have that understanding – and to know that you could in no way ever consume an entire scoop of it. That’s how I felt about the “loaded baked potato” flavor I tried- bleh!
Only good things come in pink boxes, and I advise you to hold tight to your box of Voodoo Doughnuts because people are CRAZY for them. They’re crazy enough to wait in line for HOURS and people are not shy about asking you to share. Their eyes light up when they see the boxes! Voodoo Doughnuts come in all kinds of crazy flavors and are decorated with glazes and icings and cereals and sprinkles and even Oreo cookie crumbles. Now, there are actually better doughnuts out there (I prefer Top Pot) but if you’re looking for the colorful and unique, you gotta go to Voodoo. You should plan to purchase a half dozen or even a dozen because it’s really stupid to wait in line for that long and only walk away with a single doughnut.
The Overall Verdict:
People who live in Portland REALLY LOVE Portland. Like, so much that it deserves it’s own show. I think it’s a great city to visit for a short period of time, particularly if you like to eat – because I didn’t find that there was much else to do besides drink coffee, drink cocktails, and eat your way through the city. As I write this, I’m feeling over-caffeinated and not really sure what to do with myself beyond figure out where I’d like to eat next.