Portland dining month tempted me, along with Travel Portland*, to hop on the freeway from Seattle and soak up our sister city. It is always full of fun finds, great neighborhoods and apparently a race for: as many new, farm-friendly restaurants you can stuff into a a mid-size city. Can I just say? Portland is happening.
I have a tattered map I carry with me when I visit Portland. It isn’t the standard hotel-issued map (though those are infinitely helpful); it is a handwritten list from one of my best friends of must-see lunch spots and street walks, boutiques, pastries and funky shops. This hand-drawn map slices Portland into SW, SE, NW and NE via the Willamette River (running east/west) and Burnside Street (running north/south). I love locating myself on her map.
Almost a month ago I visited Portland with my mother, aunt and cousin; we hit a few spots on my friend’s map including the Hawthorne District (full of vintage clothe shops and Pastaworks, Powell’s Home and Garden store and more vintage shops—bohemian comes to mind). We ate lunch at her recommended Kenny & Zukes, and gawked at Clyde Commons even though it was closed for lunch (on weekends). We walked up to 23rd street and found fanciful home and boutique clothing shops, specialty paper, pottery and garden stores. Add in well-placed restaurants with outdoor seating and ample shoe stores—we decided 23rd street was a great find. Off her map we scooted through the infamous Pearl District, landed ourselves for a proper tasting at Rogue Brewery and ate at the Farm.
I talked them into dining at Aviary—a restaurant on my short list and in the queue for June Dining Month. (In case you haven’t noticed June is running out: so go to Portland and nab some dinners! Dining month has 60 participating restaurants, each with a $25 menu including app/main/dessert). And all of that was all before this visit.
This visit James and I took my friend’s folded, torn map and discovered even more (my friend lived in Portland for years!): we had coffee from Spellas, drove to Mississippi Avenue and ate lunch at Por Che No, peeked at the rebuilding center and hit countless boutiques. Downtown we enjoyed the Saturday/Sunday farmer and flea market. At the market we found some talented artists—my faves were the welded roosters and a guy who made belts from old bike tubes—and of course we bought token Portland t-shirts.
We didn’t have time to fully walk Alberta Street but it is top of my list for next visit. We had just enough time to drive Alberta for a quick peek and some ice cream from Salt & Straw. Portland is all about its specialty ice cream and so far: they are my fave. I had two scoops: cinnamon snicker-doodle and sea salt ice cream with caramel ribbons.
Other highlights: walking along the river (see pic of the boat/maritime museum top of post), ogling the many bridges connecting Portland’s North and South, and eating lunch at the Urban Farmer restaurant inside the Nines Hotel. (Two thumbs up for the hotel, and three thumbs up—I don’t care if I don’t have 3 thumbs—for their Bloody Mary garnish bar. It included candied bacon. Need I say more?). Also: we loved stumbling across a few more ‘food cart pods‘ (aka dedicated parking lots and/or blocks full of food carts). The nicest shiniest pod we found was on the north end of Mississippi Street North. Actually, this whole street had fantastic shops and countless outdoor beer garden/outdoor dining spots. Portland just gets it. Life. dining. friends. outdoor spaces. This might be my fave new street.
Dinners. After all: we went because it was Portland Dining Month. We landed in Portland just in time to enjoy Ping. They close a bit early (10pm on a Sat night), so we extended our night out by going to Teardrop for a round of specialty drinks and dessert at The Departure—a cool rooftop bar and view on top of The Nines Hotel.
The second night was my fave: The Bent Brick. I have a thing for ambiance that is created by light, space, bricks, cement, metal… and I recommend it. And not just for the mood of the place but for the service and the food. Even though The Bent Brick had a $25 menu to honor dining month, we opted to ‘taste the whole menu’ for $55 person. That was a pretty good deal considering I didn’t have to pick and choose, and ache over only trying some things and not others. Little bites of everything were plated with care and shuttled to our table in parade form. It translated to an uninterrupted evening of good tastes, memorable bites, fluid conversation and easy laughter. Plus: their cocktails were generous and spot-on (and well: I am picky).
Try to go for dining month but egads if you miss it: go anyway. Portland is hopping and the food beckons. And if you need me to send you a copy of a very special, tattered, hand-written map—just lemme know. Maybe it’s time to make a copy.
*Although my trip was sponsored by the wonderful Travel Portland, my opinions and experiences are my own.