To a girl raised in sunny, seaside suburbs, the Pacific Northwest has always seemed wildly romantic. I imagine cozy gray mists that line the coast and green forests that drip with dew and perfumed with peat. In my mind’s eye, it’s all so rustic and untamed, and yet familiar and comforting. After a lovely trip to Seattle, I was desperate to cross another PNW city off my list. Portland it was.
Unfortunately, as the day approached, I began feeling more than a little anxiety. Snow (!!!) had recently fallen across the city, and a dreary forecast ruined my hopes for an outdoorsy vacation. Not only that, but I was fresh off a month-long, super-strict dietary cleanse. Portland is the land of milk and honey, if milk were booze and honey was street food. I certainly wasn’t going to deprive myself of the city’s legendary cuisine, but I also didn’t want to shock my body with tons of unhealthy food. Well, I’ll tell you right now: I did the latter. My FOMO (fear of missing out) got the better of me, and I indulged. A lot. Let me recount the ways…
Our AirBnB studio was in a building that was clearly older but not without its charms: private, cute, homey, affordable, and, most importantly, accessible. Based in Goose Hollow, we were but a 10-minute walk away from the trendy Pearl District and downtown Portland. We also took public transit quite often; Portland’s TriMet system is impressively clean and efficient, but I’m guessing the city benefits from being less congested and impacted than San Francisco.
For those unfamiliar, Portland is bisected into east and west by the Willamette River, and then further divided north and south. We began the day by exploring Northwest Portland, first with a late lunch at Gabriel Rucker’s beloved Little Bird Bistro. The food was great and the ambiance adorable, but truthfully didn’t blow us away. Perhaps the hype was a bit overblown or maybe Jay and I simply aren’t big fans of fancy French fare.
My grand re-entry into the world of gluten: a daily special, roasted bone marrow served atop squid-ink flatbread. I was totally into the flavor-packed chorizo, calamri, and oregano-pistou garnish.
The moules-frites with chermoula, jalapeno and mint were excellent. Jay and I, however, typically prefer less buttery broths, like the citrus-saffron soup at Cha Cha Cha in San Francisco.
Each component of the legendary burger, popularized at sister restaurant Le Pigeon, was fantastic: the seeded brioche bun, griddled onions, and butter lettuce made Jay swoon and the beef totally satisfied my red meat craving. Unfortunately, a too-thick slab of pungent goat cheese overwhelmed the flavor balance.
After our meal, Jay and I walked around the area, stopping by Stumptown Coffee. Jay enjoyed his espresso and I enjoyed taking a breather in the lobby of the adjacent Ace Hotel. Across the way was the Union Way Shopping Arcade, an enclosed, airy alleyway that smelled of pine and opened into a handful of curated boutiques and eateries.
I knew what I had to do next: get it over with and have a goddamn doughnut from the world-renowened Voodoo Doughnuts. Mercifully, there was no line… and thank goodness. I would’ve been pissed if I had to wait more than ten minutes for the abomination that I received. Taking a tip from Anthony Bourdain, we had the Old Dirty Bastard, a raised (chewy) donut covered in (bland) chocolate glaze, (stale) crushed Oreos, and (plasticky) peanut butter. I’m certain it would’ve tasted better fresh, but, as it was, I actually struggled to finish the yeasted doughnut, which says a lot. Regret set in the minute I had my last bite. There are tourist traps and then there are tourist traps, and I fell into one of them.
Mercifully, our next destination was more than just hype. Powell’s Books, a four-story warehouse, spans an entire city block and is stuffed to the gills with books of every possible persuasion. The space is divided into departments, each with its own unique feel; there’s a chic gallery-type space in the art section, an in-house cafe near the sci-fi area, and a magical “rare books” room on the top floor, among others. Jay and I made off with a deeply discounted book each: him, a coffee-table tome on Jeff Buckley, and me, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I only wish I had more time to lose myself among those shelves.
Little Bird Bistro
219 SW 6th Ave
Portland, OR 97204
22 SW 3rd Ave
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
1026 SW Stark St (multiple locations)
1005 W Burnside St