Happen to be in town for Feast too? Thinking about planning a trip anyway? Here's how to eat (and drink) your way through Portland's best.
Welcome to Portland! Photo by scott1346 via Flickr.
Portland and I had a good run: I turned 21 at a now-thriving cider bar where my roommates and I tried to start an under-handed darts league, I slung cupcakes while taking a postbac class in archeology, and I built my own bike.
Honestly, I moved to Portland, Oregon on a dare, before Portlandia had aired or Pok Pok had become famous. It was there I witnessed “put a bird on it” first hand, watched as the small restaurant Jam grew to five-times its size, and benefited from classic food carts going brick and mortar. It’s been about three years since I called Portland home, but I go back every year—here are the places I cannot miss when I visit. (Please add yours in the comments, too!)
More: Our community has slew of recommendations, too. Find them here.
The shelves at Powell's City of Books. Photo by Kenny Louie via Flickr.
To get around Portland like a pro, you’ll need a crash course in PDX navigation. Portland is divided into quadrants: Southwest, Southeast, Northwest, and Northeast (which, for this purpose, includes North Portland). Each “quadrant” has a few different commercial streets where you’ll find most of the shopping, eating, bookstores, coffee shops, and other ephemera. And look out for Burnside, the street that divides the city north and south on both sides of the Willamette river.
Southwest: You’ll find downtown Portland, Powell’s books, the farmers market, and the biggest food cart pod in Portland. Don't stay here, but do check it out at least once.
Southeast: I lived here, so I speak with an acknowledged bias when I say it’s the best. The main streets to check out are Hawthorn, Division, Clinton, and Belmont. Sellwood is a little further south, but it’s quaint and worth the treck.
Northwest: This part of town is a little more mainstream, but if you're looking for a fun day of shopping and pastries, 23rd Ave is hard to beat.
Northeast: N.E. is hip—get lost in art fairs, independent bookstores, and beer bars; Mississippi, Williams, and Alberta are all worth exploring.
Getting Around: Portland is best seen by bike or foot. (The more exploring you do, the more likely you are to find a bungalow that will have you calling your realtor.) Remember, if your legs are tired, or you are trying to go the distance, public transit (buses and the MAX) is your friend.
The Must-Do List:
Drink coffee at Heart. Go to the Burnside location—this is a coffee shop that knows how to cortado. Give yourself a little extra time, get your coffee to stay, and snag a sidewalk seat for one of the best Portland pastimes: people watching.
Shop at New Seasons Market. You may not be on vacation to go grocery shopping, but New Seasons Market is a fun stop all the same. They sell local produce, have an amazing sampling policy, and I like to use their home goods section as a souvenir shop.
Spend an Afternoon at Powell’s City of Books. If you haven’t heard of Powell’s, better late than never: This Portland book store takes up a whole city block, has color-coded rooms, a café, and everything your book-loving, board-gaming self could ever desire. If you're only in it for the cookbooks, they have a store dedicated to the home on Hawthorne.
So the line is long. This one is worth it—we promise.
Satisfy your sweet tooth:
- Salt and Straw (NW/SE/NE): This ice cream joint lives up to its hype. Lines can wrap around the block, so do what I do: Buy a pint, skip the line, and eat ice cream straight from the container with friends. If you want the full experience—a cone, and lots of samples—the line is a must.
- Blue Star (SE/NE/SW): I’m telling you what I tell all of my friends. Voodoo Donuts isn’t worth your time. The line is too long (even for Portland standards) and the donuts are often stale. Instead head to Blue Star—they have four locations, bless them—and their donuts are some of the best I’ve had.
- Ken’s Artisan Bakery (NW): Please go here, even if it’s the only reason you go to NW. Get the morning buns, and a loaf of bread if you're planning a picnic for later.
- Two Tarts (NW): The cookies here are excellent, but tiny—so get five. (At least.) I go for the salted chocolate chip.
Say it with us: Brunch early, brunch often.
Your new motto? Brunch early. Brunch Often.
- Jam on Hawthorne (SE): Jam’s build-your-own-hash brown bowls and squeeze bottles of inventive homemade jam at every table make me swoon every time.
- Screen Door (SE): Have brunch here, but bring a coffee because chances are good the line will be long—Portlanders know it’s good.
- Olympic Provisions (SE): This sausage maker might be better known for the saucisson sec sold nationwide, but it's also one of the best brunches in town. Get there right when they open.
- Pine State Biscuits (SE/NE): These are some of the best biscuits in the north. (Bonus points for combining them with a trip to the farmers market on Saturday morning.)
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- Big Ass Sandwiches (NE): The name of this food cart does not lie. Their sandwiches are huge and house layers of meat, fries, and cheese sauce.
- Fried Egg I’m in Love (SE): Go for breakfast. Get the Sriracha Mix-a-lot.
- The Big Egg (NE): This beloved breakfast cart is moving on to a brick and mortar—which is good news because sometimes it can take over an hour to get one of their ridiculously good breakfast burritos. Pro tip: Always go with the bacon.
- Honkin’ Huge Burritos (SW): This is known as the food cart that started it all—it’s been in operation for over 20 years. Each vegetarian burrito is made by the cart owner herself, Shelly, and they are the best burritos in town. The best. Order an Andrea.
- Viking Soul Food (SE): This cart, which makes wraps out of lefse, is in the Belmont pod which hosts other gems like Namu.
Bring all of your friends here, and try everything.
Where to take your dinner date:
- Toro Bravo (NE): Get a “French Kiss” and a few plates before heading to a show at the Wonder Ballroom next door.
- Bollywood Theater (NE/SE): This restaurant is a Portland institution. Always start with an order of Papri Chaat, then find a table in the warehouse-like space. The best part is sharing, so bring a crowd—that way you can try everything.
- Lardo (SE/NE/SW): Lardo started as a food cart and has grown into a mini sandwich empire. Everything is great, but I go for the meatball báhn mì with a Moscow mule.
- Sizzle Pie (E Burnside/SW): Did things go late? Grab a slice here.
- Sen Yai (SE): Head here for lunch or dinner. You can walk down the street and enjoy the Whiskey Soda Lounge and Pok Pok to make a crawl of it.
Apex has 50 brews on tap. Photo by Simon Wright via Flickr.
Where to grab a beer:
- Belmont Station (SE): Known for having the biggest beer selection in Portland, this is a place you can’t miss if you’re a fan of fermentation.
- Cascade Brewing Barrell House (SE): If you like your beers sour, this place is for you.
- Basecamp (SE): Basecamp is a newer brewery, but they have things figured out. I recommend coming with a board game in tow to take full advantage of their front yard.
- Apex (SE): If you're a beer and burrito person, this is the bar for you. Apex is located right next to Los Gorditos, a vegan (and non-vegan) friendly burrito joint with an amazing salsa bar.
Things to do when you can’t eat anymore:
- OMSI After Dark (SE): This over-21 event happens at the Museum of Science and Industry. It happens every last Wednesday, and happy hour starts at 5 P.M—the theme changes every month, but they always have exciting vendors and events.
- Forest Park and The Rose Garden (SW): Portland has been named the Rose City for good reason. You can head to the Rose Garden to see the city's best blooms and catch a great view of the city. If hikes are more your style, check out the rest of Forest Park, where you can wander through lush greenery for hours.
- Overlook Park (NE): Here is the best sunset spot in the city. Hands down.
- Happy Hour at Portland City Grill (SW): Order a drink and take in the unobstructed views from Portland’s highest, pinkest skyscraper.
- First Thursday and Last Thursday (NE): If you love art, this is a fun way to see Portland. First Thursday is downtown in galleries, and Last Thursday is an outside street fair.
- Beer and Bike Tour (SW): If you love biking and drinking, than these bike brewery tours are for you. Don’t worry—you are not responsible for steering.
- People’s Food Co-op (SE): Portland has a great food co-op scene. Check out People’s to stock up on snacks, and if you're there at the right time, there will be a juice food cart out front.
- Sunshine Tavern (SE): Free arcade games, soft serve, shuffleboard, and beer—be sure to stop here to get your fix of all four.
Do you have a favorite, can't-be-missed spot in Portland? Tell us in the comments!
All photos by Hannah Petertil unless where otherwise noted.