Seriously sustainable, wildly locavore, and with its own brand of offbeat fun, Oregon’s culinary capital is leading the way toward a twenty-first-century food sensibility.
By Michael Shapiro
A decade ago, Portland wasn’t on most foodies’ radar, but in recent years Oregon’s Columbia River-straddling city has become widely acclaimed for its epicurean delights. Case in point: In 2017, it took home 20 honors at the annual Good Food Awards, and two of its chefs jointly won Best Chef: Northwest in the prestigious James Beard competition.
But the Rose City isn’t focused on accolades or formal dining. “The traveler who enjoys authentic regional cuisine will appreciate Portland’s relaxed approach and uber-local sourcing of ingredients, grown in the nearby farm country,” says Cate Caruso, a Virtuoso travel advisor who resides an hour away in the town of Albany.
“Portland has great food without taking itself too seriously,” Caruso adds. “I don’t think it’s interested in deconstructing food – just constructing it.”
Following are a few of the premier places to sample the city’s diverse flavors. You don’t have to visit them all in one day, but you can: Here’s an itinerary.
A tribute to perhaps the most perfect of pairings – coffee and chocolate – Cup & Bar is a uniquely Portland café in a spacious building with roll-up doors to bring the outside in on sunny days. Its ethically sourced, small-batch coffee comes from locally owned Trailhead Coffee Roasters, which delivers its beans via bike messengers to shops across Portland. The chocolate, made locally by Ranger Chocolate, is found in fabulous cacao drinks such as the Dirty Charlie mocha. For added sustenance, order Cup & Bar’s signature avocado-ricotta toast for breakfast.
If Tea’s More Your Speed
Founded in 2009, Steven Smith Teamaker provides the “freshest tea outside of Sri Lanka and India.” The tea company offers daily tastings of blends such as a malted barley matcha (green tea). Also of note: Lover’s Leap, a Ceylon black tea with chamomile, rose petals, and bergamot (the essential flavor in Earl Grey). “There’s a lot of monotony in the tea world,” says teamaker Tony Tellin. “We just want to push that out of the way.”
Lunch for All
Located downtown in the city’s historic Carriage & Baggage Building, once a garage for horse-drawn carriages, Pine Street Market brings together nine of Portland’s top food and beverage purveyors. All affordable, options range from steamed pork buns and other Korean specialties at Kim Jong Smokehouse to chicken al carbon at Pollo Bravo. For classic American fare, try Bless Your Heart Burgers and hot dogs from OP Wurst. Top it off with a soft-serve cone from Wiz Bang Bar, which features ice cream from local favorite Salt & Straw.
Housed in a century-old brick warehouse on Portland’s east side, Wayfinder Beer opened in late 2016. The city has a proud tradition of serving craft beer and fine food in welcoming spaces, and Wayfinder’s lagers, hefeweizens, and stouts stand with Portland’s best brews. The company doesn’t view other brewers as competitors – instead it joins with them to make collaboration beers and offers guest taps on its menu. The pub’s hearty food options include steak frites, chicken schnitzel, and fried oyster po’boys.
What’s for Dinner
The TV show Portlandia spoofed the idea of hyperlocal meat, but chef Matt Christianson shows why local matters. His modern Urban Farmer steak house in the Nines hotel (525 SW Morrison Street) uses top-quality Northwest ingredients, such as Oregon grass-fed beef and wild Pacific salmon. From the bar, order one of the locally made spirits or Urban Farmer’s custom pinot noir, produced in partnership with Angela Estate winery, based in Dundee, Oregon. The restaurant also grows its own mushrooms in glass cases – it doesn’t get more local than that.
Time for (German-Inspired) Wine
Brainchild of riesling lover Barnaby Tuttle, Teutonic Wine Company produces wines typical of Germany’s Mosel Valley. Tuttle worked in wrecking yards before opening his winery in an industrial warehouse next to an auto shop. Don’t be surprised to hear Steppenwolf spinning on the turntable, a fine pairing for the riesling, gewürztraminer, and pinot noir blends poured at the tasting bar.
Open 24 hours, Voodoo Doughnut brings the city’s anything goes attitude to confections. Three sweet selections: the Voodoo Doll, shaped like a vampire corpse and filled with dripping raspberry jelly; the Bacon Maple Bar, with, you guessed it, bacon on top; and the Loop, a vanilla-frosted doughnut topped with … Froot Loops. “Voodoo Doughnut is really a thing here,” says Caruso. “Bring the kids – or anyone who’s a kid at heart.”
Beyond serving some of Portland’s best dishes, both of the Nines’ restaurants are Gold certified with the city’s Sustainability at Work program. Urban Farmer is a must, but locals also love the 331-room hotel’s rooftop Departure Restaurant for its modern Asian fare reinterpreted with seasonal Northwest ingredients, vast collection of handcrafted sakes, and views of the city, Cascade Mountains, and Willamette River. Start with cocktails in The Library, lined with 3,000 volumes from Powell’s Books, Portland’s legendary bookseller.
Your travel advisor can work with one of Virtuoso’s on-site tour connections, American Excursionist, to create a customized Oregon vacation. Pair your exploration of Portland with, say, a winetasting tour of the Willamette Valley, a visit to the Columbia River Gorge, and a trip to the mountain town of Bend to delve into its thriving craft-beer scene.
Sailing round-trip from Portland, UnCruise Adventures’ eight-day Columbia River cruise features tastings and estate tours in five Northwest American Viticultural Areas. A day in the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s largest AVA, provides ample time to meet its sustainably minded growers and sip award-winning wines. Crew on the 86-passenger Legacy include an onboard sommelier and a guest wine expert. We’ll drink to that. Departures: Multiple dates, October 20 through December 1, 2018.
Top photo: Courtesy of Urban Farmer.