It is fast approaching that time of year when the travel bug starts biting us British Columbians and we begin exploring our beautiful province and country, whilst also venturing south of the border for trips to Seattle or Portland. I thought this was a good time to condense all that I’ve learned on my trips to Portland and share them here on the old blog. You know, just in case you were looking for a bit of inspiration for your trip.
In my experience, Portland is all about the food and the drinks. Sure, there is an indie scene worth exploring but that ain’t my jam so I am sticking with telling you about the food and booze. On the two trips that I did last year, Portland lived it up to its reputation of being a city all about the beer and donuts (seriously, is it spelt doughnuts or donuts?!). Let’s start with the donuts (or doughnuts, whatever you prefer).
Everyone knows about the famous Voodoo Doughnuts, these are the gimmicky, sweet, brightly-coloured donuts that come with a variety of toppings and funny names (a Cock-N-Balls or Old Dirty Bastard doughnut anyone?). If you see people carrying a pink “Voodoo Doughnut” box around Portland, you know that they are pretty happy with themselves as they have survived the long line-up and now have their doughnut bounty. Consider yourself warned: there is a line-up at almost every hour of the day and they are open 24 hours a day so that’s saying something. There are two locations in Portland and they accept cash only.
A cabinet full of Voodoo Doughnuts
The Loop Doughnut from Voodoo
The Marshall Mathers Doughnut from Voodoo
Once you have visited Voodoo, the donut store that started it all, you should definitely make room to sample Blue Star Donuts. These were the donuts that I actually enjoyed the most and would recommend over Voodoo. Voodoos were fun, but gimmicky, whereas the quality of Blue Star was obvious. They make their donuts from a brioche recipe that takes 18 hours to make from scratch (which they do every day). They speak with pride about the quality ingredients that they use and that they avoid artificial flavours and preservatives (maybe not a big deal for some but I like to know what I’m eating). Their recipes aren’t crazy innovative, yet, they are still intriguing. Some of the flavours are pistachio cheesecake with raspberry hibiscus glaze, a blueberry bourbon basil (delicious), and a blackberry compote with peanut butter powder, amongst others.
Lemon Poppyseed from Blue Star
If you are looking for a coffee to wash down your donuts, the coffee that is most famous in the city, and that you’ll be offered almost everywhere, is Stumptown. Personally, Stumptown isn’t one of my favourite coffees (each to their own) but the Stark location, which is in the lobby of the Ace Hotel, is a great spot for people watching and lounging about in the cool space.
Stumptown Coffee at the Ace Hotel
I had actually been trying to find Heart Coffee Roasters (one of my favourites) but I got lost so unfortunately I didn’t make it. I did, however, find Courier Coffee Roasters, which is a tiny little coffee roasters not too far from Powell Books (another must visit) that does great coffee. Other coffee shops worth a visit are Spella Coffee and Barista.
If you are looking for a brunch spot, look no further than Clyde Common. I went here with some girlfriends and we enjoyed a long boozy brunch where you get to make your own mimosas at the table (complete with a choice of two juices). Loved the open space of Clyde Common and the laid-back style, I would definitely return for another meal (they also do dinner).
Breakfast from Clyde Common
If you’d rather have your breakfast fast and on-the-go, drop into Nuvrei. I hadn’t heard about this place before arriving in Portland but whilst walking around the Pearl District in the early morning, I caught a whiff of the smell of baking pastry (probably the best smell ever). I followed the scent and discovered a small line-up at this chic little café. I joined the line (I can never say no to a food line-up) and was rewarded with a buttery, flakey croissant and a bagel sandwich. Other places that I’ve heard do a great breakfast are Pine State Biscuits and Tasty n Sons (I’ve not been to either so I can’t say for sure).
Salt & Straw serves scoops of unique and delicious ice-cream flavours worthy of waiting in the fast-moving, but consistent, line-up. Flavours change but can include Pear and Blue Cheese, Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, Stumptown Coffee & Burnside Bourbon, and Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbon. Yum! Try and save some room after eating at Pok Pok for a scoop or two from Salt & Straw. You won’t regret it.
So now that we have indulged in coffee, donuts, breakfast, ice-cream, and more donuts, let’s move on to alcohol! Woot! I was pleasantly surprised with the drink scene in Portland. If I’m not drinking wine, I can be found enjoying some cocktails and boy, did Portland deliver on the cocktails!
My girlfriends and I wanted to drink all of the cocktails on the menu at Saucebox. Seriously, check out the cocktail list here, don’t you just want to sample them all? I can’t narrow down which one was my favourite but I really enjoyed some of the spicy ones (the Jade Scorpion and Kickboxer, for example). The pan-Asian food from Saucebox is decent too, but with the dark, sexy vibe, I would even go just for the cocktails and atmosphere. On a side note, the service we received at Saucebox was outstanding. We had a reservation and the guests before us were late leaving, which wasn’t a big issue for us, but they still offered us all a complimentary cocktail whilst we waited. Excellent customer service!
Another place that does great cocktails, is Departure Bar, which has a roof top bar and serves delicious mod-Asian dishes. Go for the view, stay for the drinks! Trader Vic’s is a tiki bar that offers ridiculously cheap happy hour cocktails (from 3pm to 6pm). Their regular cocktail menu has over 80 cocktails so you will surely find something you like. Try to snag a seat on the patio for some people watching.
Drinks at Trader Vic’s
When in Portland, you must sample the beer. The city is known for it. I’ve lost the taste for beer over the years but I decided to give it a go whilst I was in Portland. When I was there with my girlfriends, we decided to do a fun brewery tour on this:
Ha ha! Yep, lots of fun was had sitting around this bad boy for an afternoon. You pedal your way to three different local breweries, where you are able to sample the different beers on offer. We found this very social and a fun way to see the city, whilst enjoying an afternoon beer tour.
When I was there with my parents, it was in the middle of winter so doing the BrewCycle wasn’t an option so we popped in to Deschutes Brewery, a local brewery, instead. For someone who thought that they were over beer, I sure did knock back quite a few glasses of the Zarabanda brew (the brewery partnered with Chef José Andrés to make this brew).
I loved it. It has been my experience that the food at the breweries has been quite disappointing, so perhaps stick to the beer and eat at one of the great restaurants that the city has to offer.
So there you have it. My trips to Portland in summary. I still haven’t even scratched the surface of Portland’s restaurant scene but when I return, I have a long wish-list to hit up. Feel free to make a comment if you have any questions about any of the places that I’ve mentioned above. Safe and happy travels!