The eminent philosopher Homer Simpson once said “I discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch.” I think that’s the key to getting the most out of eating in Portland. It is a great food city. Amazing, really. It was a type of city that I had trouble planning out what I was going to eat each day, only on account of there not being enough meals in a day and me not having enough stomach capacity. With Homer’s mantra on my mind and hoping I could walk off all the calories I’d be consuming, I wasted no time once my flight landed in getting my first meal into me.
Lardo (a seriously awesome name for a restaurant) was my destination for dinner. As a sandwich lover, I had too many choices. I settled on their double burger from a menu where everything was “tied for first” in my mind – I mean, how do you choose among porchetta, a bahn mi, a Philly pork sub and about a half dozen other selections? The burger was great, but the star was the crispy pig ears with fennel salt and honey. I’ve eaten a lot of pig parts in my days and these may have been the best ever.
Waking far too early the next morning, I was off for three very specific things for breakfast. A voodoo doll donut from Voodoo Donuts was first. This guy was so, so good. I started eating him from the head (not sure what psychoanalysis would say about that) and encountered a tasty surprise of the “blood” from his wound when I got to his belly – raspberry jam! I can’t remember the last time I had a donut before this trip. The wait was definitely worth it.
The second thing I wanted was another donut, the maple bacon bar from Voodoo. It was an on point mix of sweet and salty. Years without a donut, then two within twenty minutes of each other. I enjoyed it with the third thing I was in search of – an exceptional cappuccino from Stumptown Coffee. That cappuccino would be the first of an almost uncountable number of coffees over four days as I found myself being pulled into coffee shops on my explorations for an espresso here or a latte there. I was buzzing for four days.
Street food and food carts are an enormous part of Portland’s culinary scene. With a hotel downtown, I could barely walk two blocks without sauntering past a collection of at least a couple of carts offering up everything from falafels to tacos to, of course, fair trade coffee. One cart that caught my eye was Bing Mi!, serving Chinese crepes called Jian Bing. The crepe was filled with egg, chili sauce, black bean paste, cilantro, pickled vegetables and fried wontons. Served piping hot, this was simply amazing, and a great start to what would be an afternoon of craft beer tasting in the Pearl District.
Although not formally street food, a grabbed a slice from Sizzle Pie after my beer tastings. There’s a wide variety of slices for take-out and I settled on their “The ‘Ol Dirty” with salami, ricotta, olive oil and peppers. Spicy, earthy and perfectly greasy in a good way – this filled my belly in a way needed after three brewery visits.
The one absolute “can’t miss” for me in Portland was Pok Pok. Across the Willamette River east of downtown, Andy Ricker’s homage to Thai street food is a place I have wanted to have a meal at for a long time. With dishes made to share and me visiting on a solo trip, I arrived here intentionally hungry, a hard thing to do in Portland. I ordered two of their signature dishes – a central Thai style spicy papaya salad and the Vietnamese fish sauce wings. I loved the salad for its freshness and balance – spicy, salty, sweet. The wings were meaty, crispy and again, perfectly balanced in flavours. I’m so glad I had a meal here, even if it meant I was forgoing afternoon snacking on account of eating a quantity of food intended for two.
On my last day in Portland, I listened to a couple of tips and headed to Imperial Restaurant during happy hour to try what many think is the best fried chicken in the city. The early eating time was a small sacrifice to make to taste this outstanding chicken at better than half price… how I love American happy hours. I rounded the meal out with some great frites and a pint of porter to ward off the chill from a grey, rainy day.
My last non-airport meal in Portland saw my return to Stumptown for another exceptional cup of coffee – this time an americano – and a Voodoo Donuts “Portland cream”, suspiciously similar to a Boston Cream, but with eyes to watch you while you eat it. This was a delicious way to end a short visit to a city I am already looking forward to returning to.