Table of Contents
- Portland Food Favorites
- Portland Quick Facts
- Plan Your Portland Stay
- Hungry for More in the Pacific Northwest?
- Pin It for Later
- About the Authors
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Portland is the kind of city that gets under a visitor’s skin. As satirized in the Portlandia TV show, the city fully embraces the green lifestyle. Young people flock to Portland, many deciding to permanently stay after falling for the city’s progressive vibe.
Beyond being a green city, Portland serves some of the country’s finest coffee and beer as well as more artisan food than we’ve seen in any other American city. Sure, it rains a lot, but everything can’t be perfect. Plus the rain adds atmosphere.
Like many, we extended our Portland stay, in our case from three days to a week. This extra time allowed us to leisurely visit book stores and museums while eating and drinking our way around the weird yet wonderful city.
Portland Food Favorites
The food scene in Portland is nothing short of exciting. In our opinion, it’s one of the best food cities in America.
Chefs create hyper-local dishes using products sourced from Oregon farms and the nearby Willamette Valley. But don’t rule out global cuisine in Portland. If a food exists in the world, you can probably find it at a restaurant or food cart somewhere in the city.
Portland’s dining options are both glorious and overwhelming. We recommend that you start your culinary exploration with the following Portland food favorites:
1. Portland Food Carts
Portland didn’t start the food truck revolution. That credit goes to Los Angeles and Roy Choi.
However, Portland not only embraced the concept but took it to the next level. Ranked as the number one food truck city in America by Food Truck Nation, Portland has more than 600 food carts clustered in pods all over the city.
Food carts sell some of the best Portland cheap eats in cuisines from all parts of the US and around the world. Popular carts include Bing Mi, Koi Fusion, Matt’s BBQ, MF Tasty Food Truck and Nong’s Khao Man Gai.
After visiting numerous food carts pods around town, we ate enough street food to pick Bing Mi and Nong’s Khao Man Gai as our favorite Portland food carts. Dedicate some time exploring the city’s various food cart pods on a Street Food Tour or on your own to discover your favorites.
2. Classic Portland Restaurants
Portland’s food scene transcends the city’s many food carts with a slew of outstanding restaurants. Though more expensive than the city’s mobile eateries, these restaurants offer the chance to eat excellent food while sitting down and with real silverware and table service.
Though not yet at the level of New York and San Francisco, Portland’s culinary scene is far from under the radar. James Beard has recognized chefs at Portland restaurants including Ava Gene’s, Beast, Le Pigeon, Ox Restaurant and Paley’s Place.
We’d be remiss not to mention Ned Ludd, a self-proclaimed ‘American Craft Kitchen’ with a wood oven and wonderfully eclectic menu suited for both vegetarians and carnivores. We also recommend eating house-cured charcuterie with glasses of Oregon’s finest wine at Olympia Provisions in Southeast Portland.
Plan your Portland restaurant meals wisely. A week isn’t enough to dine everywhere and the best restaurants require advance reservations.
The nearby Pacific Ocean offers a seafood bonanza with world-famous salmon as well as halibut, crab and other fruits of the sea. To nobody’s surprise, most Portland restaurants feature seafood on their menus. Some take it to the next level by exclusively catering to pescatarians and fish fanatics.
Fitting in the second category, we ate loads of fish and other seafood in Portland. We sucked down oysters and gobbled sushi in our march through the Portland food scene. Our only regret was not having room and time for more.
Plan to eat flavorful mussels at La Moule, silky sushi at Nimblefish and everything else at Jacqueline. At least that’s our plan when we return to Portland.
4. Hipster Food
The word ‘hipster’ has different connotations with different people. Some consider hipsters to be counter-culture trendsetters while others consider them to be pretentiously bearded posers.
Though we aspire not to judge groups of people, we associate Portland hipsters with certain foods. Kale is one of those foods. And Sweedeedee is the restaurant that served it to us along with a mishmash of other vegetables, lentils and chicken.
With its adorable space and flanneled clientele, Sweedeedee is a great spot to people-watch while eating brunch. Plus, if you eat a big plate of greens, you’ll have room to eat homemade pie for dessert.
5. Thai Food
Pok Pok isn’t the only excellent Thai restaurant in Portland. It’s not even the only Thai restaurant mentioned in this article. See Nong’s Khao Man Gai above. However, Pok Pok is the number one Thai restaurant to eat at when you visit Portland.
Pok Pok’s Portland connection started when Andy Ricker opened the original Pok Pok in 2005. More than a decade and James Beard award later, Pok Pok’s Northern Thai dishes like Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings and Kung Op Wen Sen tickled our tastebuds while tempting us to book the next flight to Chiang Mai.
Plan to dine family-style when you eat at the original Pok Pok. The restaurant has additional locations in Portland worth explorations. Superfans can even buy a Pok Pok cookbook or two to recreate the experience at home.
Southern Thai food also has a place in Portland’s food scene. You can eat some of the best at Hat Yai. Be sure to order the restaurant’s acclaimed Southern Thai style fried chicken.
6. Japanese Food
With daily flights to Tokyo, it only makes sense that Portland’s Japanese restaurant scene would be robust. This is a city where you can eat excellent ramen one day and equally excellent sushi the next day. However, if you want both on the same day, Portland izakayas have you covered.
We ate ramen and gyoza at quirky Noraneko, a local spot open under the Hawthorne Bridge since 2015, and satisfied our sushi fix at Masu, a local downtown favorite since 2004. Start your Japanese food exploration at these two but don’t feel limited if you’d rather eat at a Japanese outpost or want to splurge on a special omakase meal.
7. Chinese Food
Portland’s commitment to global cuisine is blatantly evident in its comprehensive selection of Chinese food. Chinese restaurants in the city’s Chinatown and beyond serve food inspired by the mammoth Asian country and its territories.
As soup lovers, we couldn’t resist a visit to deceptively non-descript Kenny’s Noodle House for comforting bowls filled with hot broth, wide noodles and juicy dumplings. And we weren’t alone. The restaurant was filled with a range of diners, mostly of Chinese descent, slurping their own bowls of soup and devouring savory Chinese donuts.
Pick a Chinese cuisine, whether it be Shanghai dumplings, Hong Kong dim sum, Taiwanese xiao long bao (soup dumplings) or Sichuan hot pot. With a little research, you’ll find your favorite Chinese dishes in Portland and they will likely taste good.
8. Russian Food
Despite its distance exceeding 5,000 miles from Moscow, Portland has an affinity for Russian food. This connection is particularly obvious at Bonnie Morales’ super-popular Kachka and its spin-offs Kachinka and Lavka. No flash in the kastryulya (pan in Russian), Kachka has been recognized by the likes of the James Beard Foundation, Bon Appetit and the Wall Street Journal.
As third-generation Americans with ancestors from the former Soviet Union, we took a trip through time at Kachka where we ate meat-filled dumplings and drank glasses filled with infused vodkas. The restaurant’s creative menu is a treasure trove with items like its signature Herring Under a Fur Coat layered dip and Pickle Juice.
Start your own Russian journey at one of Morales’ restaurants. If your schedule aligns, continue with a special DaNet Dumplings + Vodka experience at Paley’s Place. You can shop for Russian food at Portland’s Roman Russian Supermarket to complete the on-site journey.
You’ll want to finish the experience at home by cooking dishes from the Katcha cookbook while you dream about the next step – a trip to Russia.
Voodoo Doughnut didn’t introduce donuts to Portland but the version they created certainly cemented the city’s obsessively weird reputation for wacky ideas… and donuts. When Voodoo opened in 2003, the over-the-top doughnuttery ignited Portland’s donut obsession by adding funky flavors like bacon to their sweet doughy treats.
Remember way back then when topping a donut with bacon sounded like a radical idea? Now, bacon donuts are commonplace in donut shops in Portland and beyond.
From old-school bakeries to artisanal salons, Portland sells enough donuts to satisfy donut fanatics both young and old. Start your Portland donut tour at Voodoo Doughnut and be prepared for a wait of up to an hour for the chance to order fan favorites like Voodoo Doll, Bacon Maple Bar and Portland Cream.
We’re partial to the m&m topped Marshall Mathers pictured at the top of this Portland food guide.
After Voodoo, head to the slightly haughtier Blue Star Donuts for varieties like Valrhona Chocolate Crunch (our favorite), Cointreau Crème Brûlée (served with a miniature shot of Cointreau) and Mexican Hot Chocolate (spiced with cayenne). You may have a wait here too but the rush of flavor satisfaction will be worth it.
Continue your tour at Pip’s Original Doughnuts & Chai, a local favorite that makes their miniature doughnuts fresh to order. You can eat donuts by the half dozen and wash them down with a chai latte or matcha latte.
Can you handle even more of the country’s best donuts in Portland? If so, where you go next is up to you.
10. Ice Cream
Donuts aren’t the only sweet treats that require a wait in Portland. Stumptown’s best ice cream shop, Salt & Straw, stays busy all year long.
Open since 2011, Salt & Straw follows the Portland playbook to a tee. The successful scoop shop churns ice cream using local ingredients starting with milk sourced from nearby Scott Brothers Dairy. Resulting flavors skew unique with options like Arbequina Olive Oil and Chocolate Gooey Brownie, though purists can order Double Fold Vanilla without sacrificing flavor.
Don’t skip feel left out of the ice cream party if you’re a Vegan. Though you’ll have to wait with the rest of us, you won’t be disappointed by the gelateria’s Vegandulgence® Series once you get to the front of the line.
Chocolate may not be as famous in Portland compared to desserts like donuts and ice cream, but that doesn’t make the sweet confection any less worthy. Plus, as expected in Portland, the best local chocolatiers don’t take shortcuts when crafting their products.
We stumbled upon Cup & Bar, an ‘insta-ready’ oasis that serves Trailhead Coffee and Ranger Chocolate as well as cafe fare like avocado toast and smoked trout. But, to us, small-batch artisanal Ranger Chocolate is the star at Cup & Bar. You can choose to drink it from a cup or eat it as a bar.
Depending on your level of chocolate obsession, you can participate in a chocolate tasting at Cup & Bear or dive deeper with a three-hour Portland chocolate tour that spans 1.5 miles and includes 15 tastings. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with chilling with a cup or bar on your own.
A lot has changed since 1999 when Stumptown opened its original roastery in a former hair salon located on SE Division Street. Stumptown is now owned by a German conglomerate and Seattle‘s Starbucks continues its world domination with hundreds of Portland coffee shops.
But what hasn’t changed is Portland’s obsession with drinking coffee brewed with locally roasted single-origin beans. The city literally has thousands of local third wave coffee shops brewing the good stuff.
We started our Portland coffee journey at Stumptown where the Portland coffee scene began and, despite its mega growth, the quality of Stumptown beans remains superior. You should start your Portland coffee tour at Stumptown too.
Be sure to stop at Courier for a caffeinated pick-me-up before or after you shop at Powell’s City of Books. You’ll also want to stop at Heart where you can pair your flat white with a korvapuusti. Their cardamom flavored Finnish pastry rival those we’ve eaten in Helsinki.
People who prefer tea over coffee (who are those people?) can drink tea at spots like Heart Coffee Roasters and Kachka (see above). However, true tea aficionados will want to visit one or more dedicated Portland tea shops. The city has more than its fair share of purveyors selling both traditional tea and more modern, colorful versions.
We dove deep into our tea with a tasting at Steven Smith Teamaker, an experience that came with ample tea choices, a cozy fireplace and a hipster server. Though the tasting didn’t fully convert us from coffee to tea, we enjoyed it nonetheless. Plus, it was a convenient stop after our lunch at Olympia Provisions (see above).
Budget your tea time wisely in Portland. You will likely have more tea choices than days to choose them.
With access to dozens of breweries and brewpubs, Portlanders are some of the happiest (or should we say hoppiest? Ouch!) people in the world. Portland breweries produce a staggering array of beers from simple IPAs to complex sours.
We started our Portland beer quest at Deschutes Brewery’s brewpub in downtown Portland. Not only was the commute downtown easier than taking a 3-hour drive to the Bend brewery, but we were also able to pair our beer with chicken wings and an IPA pretzel.
You can start your Portland beer tour at Deschutes or 10 Barrel, another Bend-based brewery. However, purists will want to keep it more local with brewers like Hair of the Dog and Widmer Brothers. If you schedule your trip for June, you can blow it out at the city’s annual Portland Beer Week and try them all.
Despite the plethora of beer establishments and the city’s proximity to Oregon wine country, don’t count Portland out when it comes to cocktails. The city has no lack of lounges and clubs serving gin, vodka and other potent potables.
Portland bar hounds welcomed us to their scene with open arms. We drank with them at Angel Face, a bar with plenty of charm but no menu. In addition to Angel Face, cocktail connoisseurs can imbibe classic concoctions at Clyde Common, tiki drinks at Hale Pele and beachy beverages at Palomar. In other words, go to Portland thirsty and bring a straw.
Portland Quick Facts
- Country – USA
- Continent – North America
- Currency – US Dollar
- Language – English
- Restaurant Tipping – 15 to 20%*
* Tips are expected and comprise a large component of a server’s compensation.
Plan Your Portland Stay
Pin It for Later
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.