Sometimes I return to a city for the weather.
Sometimes I return to a city for the culture.
Sometimes I return to a city to visit friends and family.
They’re all good reasons… and none of them were why I went back to Portland in March.
No, I went back to Portland to eat.
For a month, our aim was simple — eat as much great food as we possibly could.
30 days and 30 million calories later, here’s the evidence.
PS: Note that we were staying in a ‘foodie’ area between Mississippi St and the Alberta Arts district, so all of the restaurants we visited were either there or downtown. There are, of course, many other neighbourhoods with equally great food – but it’s a testament to Portland that we didn’t even need to visit them to eat so well.
We booked a great little house through Airbnb for a month, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. It’s no longer listed on the site, but there are dozens of other short and long term options in the same area. You can save $25 off your first booking by using this link.
Maple glazed yams with cumin at possibly the best restaurant in the world, Tasty n Sons. No joke, it was this dish, and this restaurant, that bought us back to Portland by itself. When I mentioned that fact to the waiter, he got so excited that he spent the next ten minutes writing up a vast list of other places that we just had to try while we were in town.
And so we did.
Address: 3808 N Williams St, Suite C, Portland, OR
Day 2 of Mission Eat Everything in Portland saw me ordering khao soi and Beer Lao at Pok Pok Noi. The main restaurant is famous throughout Portland, and this ‘baby brother’ version was only a few minutes walk from where I was staying.
When you walk into a Thai restaurant in Portland and see a wall-length panorama of the Chiang Mai gate night market, the *only* option is to order the khao soi. It didn’t disappoint — easily the best I’ve had outside that northern Thai city. And, of course, Southeast Asia’s best beer to wash it down with.
Address: 1469 NE Prescott St, Portland, OR
We loved the decor at Bollywood Theater, a warm, bustling Indian street food restaurant on Alberta St – and the food didn’t disappoint. This was our favourite dish, the chicken kati roll. It was a delicious combination of chicken, egg, onion and chutney in a fried flatbread.I may or may not have had a 16oz can of PBR to go with it, because I’m classy like that.
Address: 2039 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR
Despite it only being early spring, Portland turned on the good weather for our first few days in town, and it was positively warm in the sunshine as we sat in the beer garden at Bar Bar.As for the food, it was just a good, juicy, old fashioned cheeseburger and spicy cajun fries, washed down with a pint of apple cider. Is there any better way to spend an afternoon?
Address: 3939 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR
Finally venturing downtown, we headed for Deschutes Brewery and ordered the Fresno chili-garlic wings with a smoky blue cheese dipping sauce. They were very good, although the previous incarnation of the spicy wings that we’d had there six months earlier was even better.
In the background you can see the aptly-named Meats Pizza that made up the rest of the meal… well, along with a Deschutes River Ale, of course, because it’s probably a crime to have lunch at a brewpub without sampling the brews. If it’s not, it should be.
Address: 210 NW 11th Ave, Portland, OR
A random Yelp recommendation led us to Cedo’s Falafel and Gyros, this little Middle Eastern place on a main road near our house. It’s nothing fancy from the outside, and no more so once you’re in the door … but the gyro and falafel plates were absolutely outstanding.
If you’re in the neighbourhood and looking for excellent hummus, this is the place to get it.
Address: 3901 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR
With friends in town for a weekend, it was perhaps no surprise that we ended up back at Tasty n Sons for brunch yet again. The lightest, least calorie-filled option that arrived at the table was this grilled asparagus, bacon and egg plate. Just like every other damn thing on the menu, it was delicious.
Shocking, I know.
Despite being so highly rated on Yelp, the ‘Everything Nice’ plate at Tin Shed Garden Cafe didn’t live up to expectations. The hour-plus wait for a table didn’t help (hint: brunch in Portland is best had on a week day), and the food was … well … only ok. It wasn’t bad at all, but compared to the competition in nearby restaurants, it was bland and nothing to write home about.
In a city with amazing food on every corner, simply being ‘ok’ doesn’t cut it.
Address: 1438 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR
Because it had been at least 48 hours since last walking through the door of Tasty n Sons, obviously it was time to do it again. This visit was closer to lunchtime, and I think this remarkable blue cheese burger pretty much speaks for itself.
Just look at it. No further words required.
One of the many things I like about Portland is its vibrant food cart scene, and after walking past a particular Mexican cart on N Williams half a dozen times, I just had to stop and check it out one chilly afternoon.
Sadly, after six months in Mexico, it didn’t do much for me. The beans and rice were bland, only one of the tacos compared to anything I got south of the border, and even dousing the entire thing in both red and green chili salsas didn’t do much to improve the situation.
The owner was friendly and I really wanted to love his food … but I just couldn’t. Ahh well.
Address: In a parking lot on N Williams Ave, between Shaver and Failing
You know how some days, all you want in life is a grilled cheese sandwich? Well, Portland being Portland, there was a food truck providing exactly that a few blocks from where I was staying.
Grilled Cheese Grill had about 20 different variations available, and I opted for the Moondog. Verdict: Mighty tasty, with quality salami and perfectly melted cheese.
Address: NE 11th Ave and Alberta St, Portland, OR
It didn’t take long to make our way back to Pok Pok Noi, mainly because Lauren finally discovered that she loved khao soi after 2+ years of me trying to convince her to try it. I was all set for the same thing myself, until I noticed one of the specials — khanom jiin naam yaa. I’d never had it before, but this coconut-based catfish curry came with noodles, beansprouts, boiled egg and plenty of deliciousness.
Not pictured is the celery drinking vinegar that I chose to accompany it. I’d never heard of drinking vinegar before, celery or otherwise, but it was remarkably good.
Because nothing says breakfast like half a cow on your plate, right? This was the eggs and pastrami at Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen — I had the choice of three slices of bacon or two slices of pastrami. I wonder if the bacon option involved rolling out an entire pig on a spit…..
Address: 3901 N Williams Ave, Portland, OR
After a five-mile hike in the Colombia Gorge with my friend Heather, I felt justified in heading to one of Portland’s most famous ice cream joints, Salt & Straw. Being a sunny Sunday afternoon, the line was out the door and down the street – but even that couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this waffle cone with scoops of blue cheese and pear, and strawberry, honey, balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper.
It was, of course fantastic.
Address: 2035 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR
Grain & Gristle had mixed reviews on Yelp, but I’ve no idea what the complaints were about — the ambiance was great (cozy and busy without being loud or crowded), service was excellent and the food was so much better than expected.
This was actually Lauren’s dish (mussels and fries with garlic aioli), but my smoked lamb was also great, and our shared starter of the charred tips/leaves of brussels sprouts plants was far tastier than you’d imagine. Highly recommended.
Address: 1473 NE Prescott, Portland, OR
Helser’s on Alberta had an hour wait the first time I tried to have brunch there (yup, it was a weekend…), but it was a different story on a rainy Tuesday morning. It was basically the thought of Scotch eggs that bought me back — my mother used to make them when I was a kid, and I always loved them.
These ones obviously weren’t as good as what mum makes (because nothing ever is), but they were a close second…
Address: 1538 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR
And then this happened. The Cheesus. It’s big, it’s fat, it’s ugly and it’s evil, and it’s the signature dish from Grilled Cheese Grill. It’s a cheeseburger… except that instead of the buns, it has grilled cheese sandwiches. Because, America.
I shared one with Lauren, and after my arteries finished hardening and the paramedics were stood down, I realised that it was quite delicious. And that I will never, ever eat another one in my life.
Apologies for the crappy shot — thankfully the food was far better than my photography skills! Life of Pie Pizza was a new restaurant just down from Tasty n Sons, that hadn’t even opened when we’d last been in Portland eight months earlier.It’s a relatively small place, with a big wood-fired oven that churns out an endless flow of great pizzas.
A delicious thin crust, only a few different options (always a good sign) and a warm, cozy atmosphere.This was the bacon, goat cheese and oven-roasted leek option, and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve had in years. If you’re hungry and in Portland’s NE, just go there already.
Address: 3632 N Williams Avenue, Portland, OR
I know, I know, another photo from Tasty n Sons. But seriously, I don’t even *like* French toast, and yet I somehow kept ordering this every time I went there. It’s like crack for the taste buds… if crack came with whipped cream and berries.
After the delight of the Scotch eggs a few days earlier, I headed back to Helser’s again – this time for a salmon eggs benedict that really was as good as it looks. There were only a few other diners at the time – another reminder that brunch at popular Portland restaurants is best had during the week.
Another low-light restaurant, another crappy phone camera shot. Apparently that’s how I roll.
Again, despite the awful photo, this shepherd’s pie at BridgePort Brewing Company was absolutely delicious, and the perfect distraction from the pouring rain outside. The pints of beer that accompanied it didn’t hurt either…
Address: 1313 NW Marshall Street, Portland, OR
Top marks for presentation of these tamales at La Cocina, a new Mexican restaurant a few minutes walk from where we were staying. As with the tacos from a few days earlier, I really wanted to love this place — the owner was super-friendly, much of the menu was genuinely regional Mexican food and I always like to support new businesses.
Sadly though, while it’s definitely worth checking out, I ended up a bit disappointed by my meal choice – the tamales were surprisingly bland, perhaps toned down for the local palette. Still, most Yelp reviewers seem to disagree with me, so what would I know?
Address: 3939 NE Martin Luther King Blvd, Portland, OR
Another day, another visit to Tasty n Sons. I can’t tell you exactly what this cheeseboard contained, but the server definitely used the words “local” and “artisan” more than once in describing it. Because it’s Portland.
I’m surprised it didn’t come with a bird on it to be honest.
Just to show that not everything I put in my mouth in Portland had enough calories to sustain a rugby team, I present this delicate little deviled egg from Grain & Gristle. Those are anchovies on top, and I’m pretty sure I picked up a hint of horseradish, but other than that I’m not quite sure what magic was weaved to make it so damn delicious.
But delicious it definitely was. Apparently I was so excited at the prospect of eating it that I couldn’t even hold my camera steady to take a photo…
So, Inca Kola, huh? This soft drink was on the menu at Las Primas, a local Peruvian restaurant that we visited several times, so of course we had to try it. It’s apparently a Big Deal in Peru, but to me it just tasted like an even sweeter version of cream soda (if that’s even possible).
A couple of mouthfuls was enough – I put it to one side and just focused on the food instead.
Address: 3971 N Williams Ave, Portland, OR
There’s pretty much no way to do arty shots of food like this, so I didn’t even bother trying. On the right was a vegetarian platter with half a dozen small dishes, while the bowl on the left held some excellent spicy kitfo with crumbly cottage cheese, all served on fresh injera.
Sengatera didn’t quite have the best Ethiopian food I’ve ever eaten — that honour goes to a little restaurant in the Netherlands that my brother took me to — but it was pretty damn close.
Address: 3833 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR
I just had to head back to BridgePort Brewing Company one final time — I always get caught up in the excitement of craft beers and forget just how damn good the food is there. This Mediterranean plate was exceptional, and yes, that feta was just as great as it looks.
I knew that saying goodbye to Tasty n Sons wasn’t going to be easy, so I hoped that alcohol might help ease the pain. This Bloody Mary was full of thick, rich tomato juice, spicy sriracha, horseradish and god knows what else.
Damn it was good.
Avoiding the weekend crowds elsewhere in our neighbourhood, we headed back to Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen for a final breakfast. Both set on the whitefish bagel, we had to settle for the Nova Lox (salmon) version instead when they were out of stock.
Let’s just say it wasn’t a terrible choice.
Remarkably, given the location of the cafe, it was a pretty decent attempt at a clam chowder with a hunk of baguette, for under five bucks. I think it says a lot about a city when even the food at the airport is worth eating.
If there’s one thing to take away from my month of gastronomic excess in Portland, it’s that … well, it’s that it’s apparently impossible to get a bad meal at Tasty n Sons no matter how often you dine there.
If there’s one other thing I can take away from my month, however, it’s that Portland has the best dining scene of any city I’ve visited in the US. I’m sure people will disagree, but for me the relatively low prices (no sales tax – yay!) and consistently great food make eating out in Portland an absolute delight. Given how small the city is, mealtimes really shouldn’t be as good as they are.
I’m sure it’s possible to get a bad meal in Portland, but if so, I haven’t yet found it. Perhaps that can be my challenge for next time — and there will be a next time.
Oh yes, there will be a next time.