Hip, arty, fashionable Portland embraces the alternative and celebrates the best of the US Pacific Northwest with an iconoclastic dining scene and a maverick mentality.
Words Amber Gibson
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 87, September 2017
Portland has a reputation of being hip, arty and trendy. A liberal urban capital in largely rural and conservative Oregon state, it embraces an anything-goes mentality. There’s an unspoken permission to do whatever you like, to be an iconoclast. If you want to infuse chocolate with foie gras, like David Briggs of Xocolatl de David, feel free. If you are inspired to serenade strangers by ukulele in the waterfront park simply because it’s a beautiful day, go right ahead.
One of the city’s most famous pieces of public art, the People’s Bike Library of Portland, embodies this maverick spirit. Bikes are unlocked weekly from this jumbled two-storey monument of cycles and lent to the public for crazy Zoobomb bike rides in the dark down the city’s rolling hills.
It’s easy to get around the city by bike and there are plenty of green spaces around town to explore (the city has the most cyclists per capita in the US). Clearly marked bike lanes and entire boulevards make it safe and easy to get around on two wheels. Portland-based Nike funded a new bicycle-share system – Biketown – that launched last year with 1,000 bright orange bikes available to rent from a hundred stations across town.
For beginners, the three-mile waterfront loop along the Eastbank Esplanade from the Steel Bridge to Hawthorne Bridge is a scenic route entirely along pedestrian and bike paths. For a longer, but still easy and leisurely ride, extend the loop by riding past the Hawthorne Bridge along Springwater Corridor and the Willamette River, through the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge to the Sellwood Bridge.
More experienced cyclists can ride east on Lincoln Street to Mount Tabor. A steep but brief climb rewards riders with panoramic views of the city from he top of this dormant volcano. Serious riders can enjoy a 50-kilometre round trip from Sauvie Island to Skyline Boulecard with more than 915 metres in elevation gain.
If you prefer to explore Portland on foot, there are numerous options. Mississippi Street buzzes all week, from Sunday brunch and shopping to a vibrant nightlife scene. Division Street is one of the most exciting culinary neighbourhoods on the West Coast, with visual foreign flavours at Pok Pok and Bollywood Theater, elegant dinners at Ava Gene’s and sweets at St Honore Bakery and Salt & Straw Ice Cream. The compact West End, near Pearl District, is just steps away from the most downtown hotels. Browne independent boutiques such as Radish Underground, Wildfang and Tiny Loving Empire after enjoying a bite from the plethora of food carts.
But at the end of the day, our favourite sport in Portland is eating. Whether it’s an elegant sit-down dinner, street food from hundreds of food trucks gathered in pods around town, food halls such as Pine Street Market, meals in Portland are great value for money. At restaurants such as Le Pigeon and ambitious new Nomad, innovative tasting menus are precisely executive for less than US$100, remarkably affordable compared with similar meals in San Francisco, Chicago or New York. The city also has its fair share of James Beard Award winners, the most prestigious culinary prize in America. It’s only fitting since James Bear himself, a champion of American cuisine in the mid-20th century, was born in Portland le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker, Beat’s Naomi Pomeroy, Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker and Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place, Imperial and headwaters at the Heathman are all recent winners whose restaurants should be at the top of any visitor’s list.
The city has a natural joie de vivre and reverence for anything locally made. Niche speciality food shops Jacobsen Salt Co, Cacao and Bee Local brings to life singular passions for hand-harvested salt, bean-to-bar chocolate and single-origin honey respectively in thoughtfully curated stores. Hip food brands Stumptown Coffee and Salt & Straw ice Cream have built national reputations for innovation and quality.
Wherever you’re dining in Portland, be sure to try the local wine. Oregon is best known for minor noir, but there are also great chardonnay, Chenin blanc, gamy and sparkling wine producers. The Willamette Valley sits on the 45th parallel, the same latitude as Bordeaux France, and is home to more than 500 wineries. The short drive from the city (less than an hour) makes wine tasting an easy day trip or weekend getaway for Portlanders. There’s also a growing urban winemaking scene within the city, with Southeast Wine Collective as a prominent example.
End the evening in Old Town Chinatown, better known as Portland’s entertainment district. On Friday and Saturday nights, after 10pm, several blocks are closed to vehicle traffic for a street party with live DJs and great cocktails. Dance the night away at CC Slaughters and Dirty Nightclub, or enjoy duelling pianos at Barrel Room and cabaret at Darrell XV.
| First Things First
What to Do
Wake up with a stroll along the Willamette River or perhaps morning yoga. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so put an egg on it at Tasty n Sons – if you can snag a table. Or pop by 180 Xurros and Xocolata for an authentic Spanish pick-me-up before swinging by Pine Street market for lunch and Wiz Bang Bar’s soft-serve ice cream. If the weather’s nice, visit the Japanese Garden, considered the most authentic outside of Japan, with its new bonsai terrace and sand and stone gardens. Otherwise, bury your nose in a book at Powell’s City of Books downtown. Cycle north to the Alberta Arts District to shop for local arts, crafts and clothing at independent boutiques such as Antler, Tumbleweed and Frock. End the day with light flavourful falafel and spicy labneh at new Israeli restaurant Ray or watch each dish being prepared from the chef’s counter at Le Pigeon where courses like pigeon heart fried rice and foie gras profiteroles will surpass and delight. Afterwards, have one last glass of champagne at tiny Ambonnay.
Where to Stay
Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel
The park adjacent to this riverfront lodge is irresistible for a stroll on a sunny day. If it’s rainy and grey, however, hunker down by the fireplace in your suite.
1510 SW Harbor Ways, Portland, Oregon 97201
T +1 503 228 3233
Each room at this cheeky, industrial hotel in the Pearl District is dedicated to a different Oregon winery. Fun perks include complimentary bike rentals and a graffiti games room.
422 SW Broadway, Portland, Oregon 97205
T +1 503 228 1212
After extensive recent renovations, this historic hotel is one of the city’s buzziest and most elegant places to stay. Pets can order room service and you can order pints of Salt & Straw Ice Cream
614 SW 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97205
T +1 503 224 3400
Where to Eat and Drink
Indulge in sumptuously flaky buttermilk buckwheat biscuits with house-made honey thyme butter and lemon marmalade at Coquine, then work off the calories by hiking in Mount Tabor Park down the street.
Crispy Pig’s Ears
Chef Sarah Pliner offers great vegetarian options at Aviary, but it’s the crispy pig’s ear and Chinese sausage served over coconut rice with citrusy avocado and greens that has us running back.
Headwaters is the best seafood restaurant in town. Chef Vitaly Paley’s Russian heritage shines through the beet-cured king salmon. The sturgeon pastrami and mustard kippered salmon are also worth trying.
Chef Jenn Louis dishes up vibrant Israeli flavours at Ray. Her creamy labneh is dressed with tangy Amba, spicy stung and crispy brussels sprouts. Mop up the glorious mess with soft lavash or Egyptian whole wheat pita.
Sily European-style drinking chocolate at Cacao is simply ethereal. Try a flight of different styles, then sample the best bars and bonbons from Portland’s myriad chocolate makers and chocolatiers all under one roof.