Putting fresh before food, craft before cocktail, and hip before ‘ster, Portland is no place for the term, “cookie cutter.” Rooted in a pioneering spirit, the City of Roses starts trends – food trucks, urban bike culture, hipsterdom – and other cities follow suit. So I set out to discover Portland’s independent soul, one step, stay, and bite at a time.

Stay

For my first visit to Portland, I stayed at the Ace Hotel, an ode to all things up-cycled, artsy, and army green – in other words, my hotel muse. Surrounded by Oregon-made Pendleton blankets, just-brewed Stumptown coffee, and locals tickling the ivories of their MacBooks, I settle in and follow suit in the lobby, which is more gathering place than transient space. Pacific Northwest uber-hip not your aesthetic? You’ve got options. Consider a couple alternatives, such as the swanky Hotel deLuxe, swathed in antique Czech crystals, or the whimsical Hotel Monaco, with its complimentary nightly wine hour.   

Ace Hotel Portland

Shop

As much as I could become a permanent fixture in my Portland perch, getting out and about is priority one. Armed with a list of must-stops (plus my husband and travel BFF Nathan and pup Mr. Nacho King), I ask my Ace attaché to confirm my list’s cred. Adding a few restaurants, the suspender and oxford shoe-wearing twenty-something proceeds to rattle off some boutiques in the area, including Frances May, Alder & Co., Beam & Anchor, and Appetite Shop + Studio, just to name a few. All of his picks are bang on, producing a bounty of no-sales-tax evidence! If only I could train Mr. Nacho King to carry my parcels.

Caffeinate

About to cut my credit card into tiny pieces, it’s all about the commingled forces of culture and cuisine going forward. Each day starts with a visit to an independent coffee shop like Heart Roasters or Coava Coffee Roasters – both of which work raw beans on site. In each case, my freshly roasted coffee is enhanced by my barista’s near-academic, five-minute slow pour, a process with a precision and patience I’d rarely seen applied to coffee. While I’m waiting for my coffee, I chat up my coffee artist and we talk about his Canadian tuxedo (denim-on-denim) and Portland’s coffee culture.

Cuisine

High on caffeine, I buzz over to Tasty n Sons, and wait in line for the open of one of Portland’s busiest breakfast stops for potatoes bravas with over-easy eggs and aioli – all housemade and locally sourced. Walking off my rich breakfast along the Willamette River, I step into the eclectic tarp-covered stalls of the Saturday Market in an effort to distract from my gourmet yearnings. Right on cue, my stomach grumbles as if it knows I’m in one of the USA’s premier food cities – thank goodness for the urban center’s walkability and bike paths, or my calorie consumption would have given homegrown Nike a run for its money.

Viewfinder Tip: Kickstart your own exploration with the Epicurean Excursion Walking Tour.

At lunchtime I take a seat at Olympic Provisions, a restaurant that epitomizes the city’s food philosophy. Walking the talk, the region’s provisions decorate the space – think wheels of cheese, meats suspended by rope, and an entire wall of local wine – and rule the menu. Celebrating the land, I order an all-local BLT sandwich and a glass of Oregon’s famous Pinot Noir, and wish lunch would never end. Seriously, if I was local, I’d be a regular. 

Later in the evening, my curiosity leads me away from downtown to a tiny corner store bistro named Luce, crowned one of Bon Appetit Magazine’s best new restaurants of 2012. The low-lit space glows from the inside, where a no-frills Italian menu unapologetically uses the fewest ingredients possible to craft purist dishes like spaghetti with garlic and hot peppers. At this point in the evening, I’m thankful my pants are stretchy.

Cocktails

Back at the Ace, I walk 30 steps from my pillow to the hotel’s in-house restau-bar, Clyde Common, for a nightcap. In the same pioneering spirit as everything else I’ve encountered in PDX, my drink isn’t just a drink, but rather a barrel-aged negroni topped with a floating lemon rind, mixed and mastered by one of the USA’s foremost authorities on craft cocktails, barman Jeffrey Morgenthaler. My cocktail is in one hand, my Portland list in another, I review my must-dos and realize there’s no white left on the pen-filled page. Time to start a PDX-themed notebook.


What is the first thing you do upon arriving to a new city?