The food scene in Portland, Oregon, is one of the most exciting in the entire country; the self-dubbed “Weird City” is a bastion of the pioneering spirit and fresh ingredients that characterize life in the Pacific Northwest. Traditional restaurants abound and there are more than 500 different food trucks. We recently buckled up and drove down to our favorite sister city (from our home in Western Washington) to chart a few of the tastiest spots Portland has to offer.
Food trucks galore
Our experience started with food trucks. Portland was one of the first cities to embrace this form of dining, and, today, the toughest part of surveying the scene might be figuring out where to begin. With the help of the Internet, you can find a truck near you regardless of which part of the city you’re in.
One of our favorites: Big-Ass Sandwiches, an iconic food truck in Portland’s culinary world. The titular Big-Ass Sandwich is a behemoth. This king-sized meal comprises slow roasted beef that has been carefully grilled and spread out on a ciabatta bun. The meat is served enrobed in a creamy bechamel cheese sauce, and wrapped up in a forest of hand-cut fries.
Another truck we love is The Grilled Cheese Grill. This isn’t just one truck, but rather a school bus-themed collection of food trucks that all specialize in grilled cheese sandwiches. Cheesy delights range from the familiar cheddar on white bread, to something as exotic as the Mondor, which features Tillamook pepper jack cheese, avocado, fresh red onion and roasted red peppers on Portland French Bakery multigrain wheat bread. We like it when the most difficult decision at an eatery is to have crust or no crust.
A third truck we like is the Cultured Caveman, which offers an array of paleo options. (By “paleo,” we mean the trend of a Cro-Magnon diet that comprises nothing but meats and unprocessed foods, such as nuts or vegetables; basically anything that a caveman could find.) Our recommendation for this truck is to start with the bacon-wrapped, almond stuffed, dates, then move on to the Brazilian Beef, which includes grass-fed stew meat, olive oil, coconut milk, cabbage, shallots, broccoli, and spices.
Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to search online to find where a particular food truck will be. They tend to move around, but always post their locations on the web.
Of course Portland is renowned for its traditional restaurants, too. On our visit, we swung by a handful of classic restaurants that offer a little more opportunity to sit down and savor the city.
The Heathman Restaurant and Bar, inside The Heathman Hotel, is a classy establishment that was featured in the hit novel (and forthcoming movie), Fifty Shades of Grey. Aside from the restaurant’s delicious Fifty Shades-themed packages, the new Loire Valley menu is not to be missed. With this menu, Master Chef Michael Stanton has taken the flavors of the French countryside and conveyed them to his patrons with extremely localized Pacific Northwest ingredients. Dishes such as Noisettes de Porc aux Pruneaux (braised pork, hazelnuts, and prunes with vouvray jus), and the Petit Poisson de Mer (house-smoked rock fish, creamed onion, and tomato olive tapenade) illuminate the flavors of fall in Oregon with the elegance of France.
For a more eclectic experience, The Pied Cow Coffeehouse is a great stop. This renovated Victorian era home that has been repurposed into a chic urban hangout with a bold menu and a collection of light fare. The restaurant’s selections of hummus, cheese plates, and savory deserts (including a teacup full of truffle chocolate) create more of a tapas-style environment than a full traditional meal. The mismatched conglomeration of chairs and the Oscar Wilde-inspired decor are the perfect complement to a meal that is guaranteed to be local and fresh.
This is only the tip of the culinary iceberg in Portland. Our fellow Viewfinders continue to probe the gastronomic depths of this great city, and we’ll do the same. Be sure to check back as we discover more great eats.
What kind of dining experiences do you seek when you visit a new city?