Before I went to Portland I knew I would like the coffee shops and the cycling but I was a bit suspicious about the food. Outside of a few coastal cities the food in the U.S. is simple stuff. Nothing particularly inventive or really revelatory apart from Mexican cuisine’s glory everywhere and some BBQ down South.
So, I was wrong, the food in Portland is great. Which I suppose makes sense given that it drizzles all year long and there isn’t anything substantive to do in Portland apart from brunch, coffee and micro-brew. As we ate 4 or 5 meals a day for a week there is a bit too much for one post so we are going to do it in top to bottom order. Best at the top and then onwards until I can’t be bothered any more.
Podnah’s Pit Barbeque
As I am from Europe I know nothing about Southern style BBQ apart from the fact that I like it. Podnah’s is famed in Portland as the hipster’s choice as it does great BBQ and cocktails. And it really does; punchy, clever cocktails and great angry portions of BBQ in a beautiful room.
If this kind of place was in London, or Seoul, or anywhere outside of the U.S. it could just print its own money. Apparently the rough and tumble equivalent to Podnah’s is Screendoor Restaurant which I gutted that we couldn’t make it to. Next visit I will.
Ironically the same day I went to Lardo in Portland my home town, London, had a new ‘it’ charcuterie open called Lardo which is apparently rather good. This is, however, about the Portland version and it is amazing. The backstory is that this used to be a food cart and was a perennial favourite in Portland which is basically where the whole movement originated. And then it was so popular it laid down roots.
And people were entirely sensible to love this place. It does pork orientated sandwiches which are succulent perfection and riffs or rips off influences from around the world. So I had a Vietnamese banh mi inspired one and Jen had a Middle Eastern influenced one. I loved everything about this place; the decor, the food, the cocktails, the staff, the cheap prices. Lardo should be everywhere. I sure as hell wish it was in Seoul.
Tasty N Sons
Brunch is probably Portland’s number 1 past-time part from being vegan and stopping work at 6pm and getting rained on. There are a lot of good options but Tasty N Sons was my favourite as it slammed home an overambitious menu with powerful cocktails.
When you first read the menu you might get a bit nervous as it is doing Spanish, Mexican American, general European etc.. but really surprisingly it manages to pull it off. My potatoes bravas with aoili and eggs was fantastic.
Whisky Soda Lounge/ Pok Pok
Korea is the land of fried chicken which is ironic as the initials also stand for that enemy of good fried chicken – KFC. So when Jen said that the fried chicken at Whisky Soda Lounge/ Pok Pok were some of the best she has ever had it means something.
Whisky Soda Lounge/ Pok Pok are famous outside of Portland as the chef – Andy Ricker – is white and cooking Thai food. This has led to useless and tiresome articles about white people cooking ‘immigrant food’. Forget those, eat the wings. The other food is very avoidable and the cocktails are thoroughly disappointing though.
Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen
If you are dorky enough to follow food trends in the U.S. you might know that vintage sodas are ‘in’. What this means is all those radiation colour drinks you had as a child full of the stuff your mum didn’t want you to drink is now a legitimate choice.
Kenny and Zuke does these and big portions of traditional American-Jewish food – too big – like pastrami sandwiches. You won’t need to eat for the rest of the week if you actually finish them so go as a table of five and order one dish.
Every time I go to the U.S. I realise I really shouldn’t have gone there and should have gone to Mexico as the best food is always Mexcian. When Jen was living in New York and we were doing NY-LON my favourite place in the whole of the city was at the back of deli in Hell’s Kitchen called Tehuitzingo Mexican Deli and in my last trip to Colorado it was only Mexican food which saved me from the crude muck otherwise available.
And Porque Non? is the fun and young (and white) place to eat Mexican in Portland. I am sure there is a beat up old taco truck which is far better and I wish we had time to find it. However, the advantage of this place is that all of your friends with tattoos are there and it does killer margaritas.
Please note that Flavour Spot is spelt properly despite being a Portland based operation (for Americans note the ‘u’!). It is also the only true blue food cart that we visited. They do waffles with various fillings. I choose sausage meat and maple syrup for my final breakfast in Portland. It is probably good I didn’t try one on my first day there as I would have got pretty fat eating them for a week.
When you arrive in Portland from Asia the first thing you think is “where the hell is everybody”. The city is basically empty with a population density equivalent to a national park in China. Broder is probably one of the two or three exceptions to this as people actually queue for it. For a long time like one to two hours. Which means it must have one of the highest population densities in Portland.
It is very fashionable, loved by the NY Times and locals and apparently Scandinavian. Quite honestly the foods ok and you can kind of see the Scandinanvian influence-ish, the Bloody Marys are outstanding but the real win is the atmosphere. It is a great place to actually queue, drink and make noise.
Ok, I haven’t got it in me to do too much more of this so I am going to end here as these were the highlights. You will notice that this list doesn’t really feature some of the restaurants which Portland is proud on an national stage of as they have crept into the James Beard etc. awards like: Andina, Le Pigeon, Beast, Nostrana, Pok Pok, Gruner, Little Bird. There are a couple of reasons for that: (1) the ones we have tried (Pok Pok, Nostrana) are pretty average by international standards and I think what Portland does best is the more local things rather than trying to do French/ Italian as well as… well the French or Italians or people in NY/ London/ HK or Tokyo. (2) Friends who live in Portland were pretty unimpressed with the ones we haven’t been to. (3) Countless dorky hours looking at pictures of the food from those places just reminded of early 90s food.
The one I was most tempted by was Gabriel Rucker’s Little Bird as it seemed to be a bit less French 90s pastiche than Le Pigeon but I couldn’t convince myself to miss a meal at somewhere I felt more confident about.