Written By: Ashley Griffin
Often overshadowed by West Coast foodie favorites San Francisco and Seattle, Portland is the West’s newest culinary epicenter. Today, trendy Portlanders frequent James Beard award-winning restaurants, shop a variety of expansive farmers’ markets each week, benefit immensely from their proximity to sweeping farmlands and award-winning wineries, and are as food literate a population as that of France or New York. As such, it comes as no surprise that Portland tourists should lead with their noses when planning their travel itinerary.
Begin your stay at a local hotel but forgo the chains; Portland’s indie spirit means there are plenty of boutique hotels to check into. Among them: Hotel Lucia with its sleek lobby and cozy rooms; the glamorous, old Holleywoodesque Hotel deLuxe; Hotel Monaco with its playful decor and complimentary evening wine tasting; and the European-style Ace Hotel that takes up an entire downtown block with an adjacent restaurant, quaint coffee shop, and authentic New York-style deli.
Whether morning or afternoon, a perfect day exploring in Portland start with a cup of coffee and a sinful pastry from one of the many independent bakeries and coffee houses about town. The best baked treats are found at one of three spot: Ken’s Artisan Bakery makes flaky, buttery croissants and rustic breads; St. Honore Boulangeric exudes Parisian charm and makes classic pastries such as brioche chocolat; and Pearl Bakery makes a delightful fig-anise roll. You’ll also find these treats and more at the city’s highly regarded Saturday Farmers’ Market from April through December in the city’s Park Blocks.
For a rich roast to start or break up your day, visit local favorite Albina Press, whose famous baristas have won multiple coffee competitions. Stumptown Coffee Roasters are another favorite for coffee connoisseurs who enjoy small-batch roasts, French press coffee, and beautiful espresso drinks served in a laid-back setting.
For a casual mid-day activity, wander any of Portland’s four major city quadrants for shopping and more eating. The quaint streets in the Pearl District house block upon block of boutiques, eateries, and the famous Powell’s Books. One could spend an entire day browsing the shelves at Powell’s, an expansive warehouse-size store the rumors to house more books than Portland does residents.
A popular way to experience some of the Pearl’s culinary hotspots is by joining Portland Walking Tours for a three-hour Epicurean Excursion tour. You’ll taste wine, local produce, teas, mustards, beer, coffee, sorbettos, chocolate truffles, and artisan breads, among other treats. While indulging, you’ll also chat with the artisans themselves and glean a bit of history about the Pearl District from your tour guide.
Across the river, Mississippi Avenue provides another, albeit smaller, area to explore. While wandering this artsy district, be sure to stop in at The Meadow. This tiny store sells only gourmet finishing salts, flowers, chocolate, and wine, but you’ll be wowed by the selection found in each category. Then, after browsing the other neighborhood boutiques, act like a local and head to the nearby 820 Lounge, where cocktail maven Lucy Brennan invents delightful libations of all sorts.
Have only a pre-dinner drink here, as there are many restaurants you’ll want to sample during the dinner hour. Portland’s most famous restaurants serve seasonal, locally sourced fare and include the venerable Wildwood, Higgins Restaurant and Bar, and Paley’s Place. Each of these esteemed restaurants has its own style of decor and cuisine, and none should be skipped over on your tour of Portland.
For many of Portland’s new culinary talents, these establishments served as makeshift cooking schools. Chefs from each institution have recently opened their own restaurants or have decided to rule the roost as head chef at another. Chef Adam Sappington (formerly Wildwood) opened Country Cat to serve regional, American home-style cuisine such as beer-batter-fried rockfish and bacon-braised collard greens; Chef Gabriel Rucker (formerly of Paley’s Place) took over as head chef at Le Pigeon. Meals here cater to adventurous eaters with dishes such as pig’s ear pate, beef cheek bourguignon, and a dessert of apricot-bacon corn bread crowned with maple ice cream and warm bacon bits.
Fortunately, for those of us who enjoy caloric indulgences such as these, Portland is also a pedestrian- and bike-friendly city. Here, you can eschew the use of your car for the weekend and use either the well-planned public transportation system or your own two feet to get around. Walking or biking the river-front esplanade in warmer weather (Portland sees its share of rain) is a pleasant activity; for a more strenuous climb, head to Forest Park, where thousands of acres of trails mean you’ll never walk the same path twice.