Eat, drink, and be quirky in America’s current bohemian capital.
Portland has earned itself a reputation as a hipster haven — thanks to the Portlandia stereotype. Most visitors expect to descend upon street after street of independent coffee shops, craft beer tasting rooms, brunch joints with lines snaking down the street, and boutiques peddling hand-made clothing festooned with birds and squirrels. As it turns out, all of this is absolutely true. Oregon’s largest city is full of artisans and independent retailers and it exudes a friendly, laid-back vibe. There’s a lot to see (and eat) and while one could easily spend much longer exploring Portland’s many neighbourhoods, it is possible to get a taste of Portland in a single, albeit jam-packed, day.
Portland has its share of interesting museums, spacious parks and kitschy tourist attractions, but when visiting the city on a tight schedule, finding the best food and drink is priority one. Portions in Portland tend to run pretty large, making it difficult to fit in more than a brunch, dinner and few snacks in between, but here’s a guide to hitting Portland’s best spots in a 12 hour period:
Brunch: Gravy (3957 N Mississippi Ave)
Portland has no shortage of cool bunch places serving variations on traditional omelets, bennies and pancakes. As the name suggests, Gravy is suitably indulgent, with huge platters stacked with eggs, meat and fried potatoes. (Those not used to American portioning should opt to share). Of course, the quality of the coffee lives up to Oregon standards and many of the dishes are served with the restaurant’s namesake white country-style gravy. Arrive early. There’s likely to be a line, even on weekdays.
Must-order: Corned beef hash and eggs
Break: Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside St)
You’re going to need to walk off that brunch, so it’s time to visit Portland’s world famous bookstore, which is so large it encompasses an entire city block and visitors are handed a map of the store as they enter. Different rooms in the store represent different genres of literature and used books are mixed in with reasonably-priced new copies. Powell’s is quirky and thoughtfully curated, making it a perfect representation of the spirit of Portland. And, if you’re not fully caffeinated after breakfast, there’s a café on site.
Snack: Blue Star Donuts (multiple locations)
Voodoo Donuts is Portland’s most famous spot for weird and over-the-top doughnuts, but Blue Star is renowned for its quality and sheer deliciousness via a selection of classy brioche-style doughnuts. It will be hard to just choose one, but with more eating left in your day, restraint is essential.
Must-order: Blueberry Bourbon and Basil Ring
Day Drinking: Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House (210 NW 11th Avenue)
One of Oregon’s most celebrated craft breweries, Deschutes, makes a number of commercially available beers, but the company’s flagship brew pub (a vast and bustling room with sidewalk patio seating that’s perfect for Portland people watching) also offers a few pub specialties that are only available in house. The food is pretty impressive, too — order some bar snacks like the local cheese board or brewery pretzel, designed to complement the flavour of the beers.
Must-order: A beer flight. Or two.
Dinner: Little Bird Bistro (215 SW 6th Avenue)
There are many fine dining restaurants worth visiting in Portland, but few encapsulate the beauty of the local food scene as well as Little Bird. The room is quaint and precious without been being cloying, with just a touch of vintage chic in both the décor and the dress of the attentive cast of servers. Chef-owner Gabriel Rucker’s love of surprising (and often whimsical) ingredients and combinations is apparent throughout Little Bird’s French-inspired menu full of goodies like Seared Foie Gras, Fried Chicken “Coq Au Vin,” and a juicy Double Brie Burger.
Must-order: Chicken Fried Trout.
Dessert: Salt and Straw (Multiple locations)
This is another one that’s bound to have a seemingly huge line-up snaking outside, but this locally made ice cream is more than worth the wait. Salt and Straw has built its reputation on seemingly wacky flavour combinations —Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper and Arbequina Olive Oil are on the “classic” menu, but the seasonal selections have included flavours like foie gras, veal stock fudge, chocolate-covered potato chips, and turkey.
Must order: A scoop of the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons.
Souvenir Stop: Eastside Distilling (1512 SE 7th Avenue)
Portland gets a lot of cheer for its craft beer, but the craft spirits industry also deserves some accolades. Belly up to the tasting bar and try out Eastside’s selection of vodkas, rums, and whiskeys, all of which barely resemble the mass-marketed booze you’ll find at most liquor stores. The flavoured spirits are particularly compelling — unlike some of the bigger players, Eastside’s Marion Berry and Cherry Bomb are made with real fruit and are not at all overly sweet.
Must-buy: Below Deck Coffee Rum