Buckets of rain.
Apparently, what they say about Portland is true. It rains. And rains. Even so, it supposedly rained harder during my two day visit than it normally does. Well, what can I say? I traded a particularly terrible New England winter for an uncharacteristically warm, dry season in Berkeley, CA. I think that means I can’t complain.
I visited the city on a whim, taking a solo 17-hour train ride up the coast. 17 hours, you say? Oh, you can fly to Australia from LA in 17 hours, you say? And you just went to the next state? Ha. Ha. Foolish girl. In any case, the train ride was beautiful, especially when we rode through Narnia.
So what does one do, in Portland on a whim for 48 hours? Eat, read, walk, shop, drink, eat, read, walk, shop, rinse, repeat. The following list is real and factual. I really did manage to eat at all these places in such a short time. And yes, all that eating has only trained my stomach to expect more and more food. Even for me, my appetite has been strangely insatiable since returning from this trip.
My favorite thing about traveling and dining alone is that you can do whatever you want, go wherever you want, and waiting is rarely an issue. There’s almost always a single seat available at a restaurant’s bar just waiting for you to gobble up something tasty, even at places with a long wait. Success!
Lots to eat
- Pok Pok – the first meal I had in the city. I had so recently arrived, I still had my teeny tiny suitcase with me, which they so kindly stowed for me (ha!) I read bits and pieces of the stunning cookbook on the train ride up to get excited. I got Papaya Pok Pok, their signature spicy green papaya salad, and my mouth was happily on fire from a) being Irish/Jewish/whatever it is that makes me sweat when I eat spicy food, thanks Dad, and b) from months of eating “California” cuisine — delicious as it is, it’s not heavy on the spice. Also, their Spicy Vietnamese Fish Sauce (deep-fried) chicken wings. Oh MAN. I need more Pok Pok in my life.
- Tasty n Alder – Brunch. Super yummy Bloody Mary and the Hangtown Fry, which was an omelette with cheddar, bacon lardons, fried oysters, and a biscuit. The bartender kind of looked at me like “really?”, a la Amy Poehler, when I ordered it. Even more so when I finished it. Super yummy, and I’d definitely recommend going there, but their fried oysters were cornmeal-dusted and didn’t really have the crispiness I look for. Maybe that’s an East Coast thing?
- Kask for cocktails. Really great atmosphere, knowledgeable and approachable staff, great drinks. Their restaurant Gruner, next door, is supposed to be really great as well, serving “Alpine” food.
- Bollywood Theater – SO good! Owner by a former Chez Panisse cook, this is great Indian street-style food, in a really fun format. There’s two locations now, and the one I went to on SE Division Street has a little market next door, Bollywood posters everywhere, a movie being projected, and all around deliciousness. I got pork vindaloo and dahi papri chaat, which is housemade crackers with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, cilantro, and tamarind chutney. Spices! Flavors! Happiness. I love casual places with really great food: order at the counter, put the number on your table, bus your table. Focus on the food.
- Salt And Straw – bold statement, but I think this is the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Flavor is important, but the texture was perfect. Super creamy and just the right balance of airiness and density, never a hint of iciness. I got a scoop each of Olive Oil and Black Pepper Strawberry. Perfection.
- Lardo – pork, pork, pork. Obviously. Got a meatball banh mi on my last day, which was really good, and I’d totally go back there, but oof. I was starting to reach my limit after my eating marathon the previous day.
- Coffee at Heart and Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Both excellent.
Other places to visit
- Powell’s City of Books. Oh my word. This place is incredible. Independently-owned with floors and floors of any book you might ever need. Their cookbook section alone had probably 5 aisles, and then there was the garden/agriculture/food section. Once I finally pulled myself out of the store that takes up an entire block, I saw their technical annex across the street, with so many wonderful scientific books. One of the books I picked up is What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, an incredibly sobering book that basically calls bullshit on all of us for the current and future state of the world. Including you, including me, including the authors. Live simply – great, but don’t think personal lifestyle changes are going to save the world (and so many more messages.) Should be required reading for anyone who cares about the world, and a visit to Powell’s should likewise be required!
- Portland Japanese Garden – called the most authentic Japanese garden outside Japan. So beautiful and tranquil. It’s 5.5 acres and you really feel like you’re in another world. Unfortunately, I didn’t check out very much of the garden. I was super excited and slowly poking around, winding my way towards the nature garden, when it began raining LIKE CRAZY. Downpour. Decided it wouldn’t feel great to be soaked to the bone on my flight back to SF. Will go back!
- Lan Su Chinese Garden. I stopped in here before heading to the airport. Beautiful, and a nice little sanctuary inside the city walls, but I was really craving the garden-meets-woods feel that the Japanese Garden had. If you have time and are in the area, I’d stop at the Chinese Garden for a peek, but you do still feel like you’re in the city. Between the two, I’d recommend the Japanese Garden first.
- And, of course, Portland has lots of great quirky boutiques with handmade jewelry, ceramics, prints, clothes, etc. I also did a quick walk through the Saturday farmer’s market – lots to choose from.