Last April I visited Portland, Oregon for the first time. If you’re a foodie, you know already that this city has a reputation for amazing food, craft beers and specialty coffee. With just two days at my disposal, I had to narrow down my long list to just a handful of places. Still I managed to get a good idea of what Portland is all about. Here’s my guide to eating out in 48 hours in Portland.
The biggest city in Oregon, Portland is located in the Pacific Northwest corridor, nestled between the mountains and the ocean. It lacks the scenic views of Seattle and the picturesque houses of San Francisco, but the city makes up for it with a incredible energy and vibe.
I fell in love with Portland the minute I started walking through its streets. I can’t really explain why it is special, but it’s the way I felt as soon as I arrived. Comfortable and at home.
Portland residents are friendly, welcoming and open-minded. As a foreigner arriving in Trump America, it was refreshing to see signs like this one pretty much everywhere.
Portlanders are also incredibly cool people – and they know it – but they are also very chilled and laid-back. I have been to places around the world that were so full of ‘cool kids’, that I felt out of place (eg. Melbourne…). With Portland, I felt at ease and honestly never wanted to leave.
Food plays a big part in making Portland a fantastic travel destination and place to live. The choice for good eats is so vast, that as a first-time visitor you will likely feel overwhelmed. I did a lot of research before going and I have put together a guide of all the food spots I tried during my (way-too-short) 48 hours in Portland. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a good start.
My Guide to Eating Out in Portland
Day 1 – The Grilled Cheese Grill
Street food is a huge part of Portland’s culture, so naturally the first thing I did as soon as we arrived in Portland was to look for food carts. Alder Food Carts offers the largest collection of carts in Downtown Portland. It was a short walk from our hotel and it’s literally a big parking lot surrounded by trucks (between Southwest Alder and Washington streets, from Southwest Ninth to Southwest Tenth avenues).
In London , food trucks are part of street markets or music festivals. In Portland, the carts are parked on the street, usually several next to each other, but sometimes you see just one.
They are open for lunch and dinner like traditional restaurants, thought opening times vary and they aren’t always clear on the joint’s website or social media channels… my first choice (tacos!) was closed and that’s how we ended up trying The Grilled Cheese Grill. Who doesn’t love cheese toasts, right? Theirs come with a vast choice of cheese, meat and veggies. We loved th
For more on Portland’s street food carts, read this article by Marina O’Loughlin. Nong Khao Man Gai comes highly recommended for their Thai chicken and rice.
Day 1 – Stumptown Coffee Roasters
I challenge you to find a cooler spot in Portland than the lobby of The Ace Hotel. The very-Instagrammable, laid-back, boutique hotel is part of a collection of hotels for creative people (mostly located in US, but also on our shores, in Shoreditch).
Inside The Ace Hotel you will find a branch of Portland-born Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Opened in 1999, the coffee roasting company was at the time a pioneer in the North American specialty coffee scene. Today it’s part of a bigger coffee company with retail stores all over the country (including Portland International Airport, which is great!). It’s not a small batch independent coffee shop anymore, but it still serves good, seasonal coffee.
Day 1 – Blue Star Donuts
Blue Star Donuts is a ‘gourmet donut concept’ originally founded in Portland, using a classic French brioche recipe and the highest quality ingredients to make their delicious donuts. I love their Salted Almonds and Dark Chocolate Ganache Donut so much, I went back the next day to get another one! If I were back in Portland, it’d be the first thing I would want to eat.
They have a couple of Blue Star Donuts cafés around town (they all serve batch-brew coffee). We visited two of them: downtown near the Ace Hotel and on Hawthorne (near Por Qué No taqueria).
I have to mention that the most famous donuts in Portland are Voodoo Doughnuts, but I decided not to buy them nor recommend them here. I did go to Voodoo Doughnuts with the intention of getting a donut, but I was not impressed by the shop itself and by the fried buns covered in marshmallow, smarties and sugary cereals. They didn’t look very appealing to me. I am sure they are very tasty, but for me they didn’t look worth my time, money and calories.
Day 1 – Pok Pok
Everyone I spoke to about Portland recommended Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant aiming to “serve food found at pubs, restaurants, homes and the streets of Southeast Asia”. Everyone also warned me about the long queues as the original Pok Pok on SE Division doesn’t allow reservations. Luckily for us, the new Pok Pok NW (in northwest Portland) had just opened a couple of days before we arrived and guess what? They take reservations and so we were able to get a table for dinner on the same day.
We ordered Pok Pok’s signature dish which is actually from Vietnam: Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings. It was fantastic! Half dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelised Vietnamese fish sauce and garlic and served with Cu Cai (pickled vegetables).
We should have ordered one each with some rice on the side and it would have been perfect. Instead we decided to order one “appetiser” to share: Miang Kham. This will go down in history as the SPICIEST food I have ever tasted in my life. I wholeheartedly hope I will never eat anything as spicy as this dish. On paper it sounded unharmful: betel leaf wraps filled with diced ginger, lime, Thai chillies, peanuts, toasted coconut, shrimp floss, shallots and served with a sweet palm sugar-tamarind sauce. In hindsight, I should have focused more on the words “Thai chillies”…!
It was the wrong order for me, but at the same time I appreciate how Pok Pok keep their dishes authentic rather than trying to change them to make them more appealing for a Western audience.
Day 2 – Pearl Bakery
The sunshine that had welcomed us to Portland when we arrived had completely disappeared on our second day. You know those I Heart NYC t-shirts? In Portland they replaced the heart with a rainy cloud! Sunny weather is not something Portland is famous for…
It rained pretty much non-stop for the whole day, but nonetheless, we made the most of our time in the city. We ate, we drank coffee and we shopped (Oregon is one of the few US states not to have sales tax, so perfect to catch a bargain).
We started the day with a run alongside the river Willamette, which ended with a detour to the Pearl District to buy pastries at Pearl Bakery. The much-loved neighbourhood bakery has been open since 1997, offering pastries, sandwiches, bread, coffee and tea seven days a week. We bought a rhubarb danish and a gibassier (a Provençal sweet bread).
Day 2 – The Society Café
With a bag full of pastries, we walked back to our hotel The Society in the Chinatown district. The in-house coffee shop is open all day long and functions as a lobby, a café serving Heart Coffee Roasters espressos, a bar and music venue.
I loved staying at The Society Hotel and would recommend it to anyone. Our en suite room was pretty and functional, the café and rooftop terrace were great spots to hang out; the service was friendly; the location was perfect and prices reasonable.
Day 2- Por Qué No Tacos
Have I mentioned that my husband and I love tacos (yes, I have in this post…)? Portland is spoilt for choice of taquerias, but we fell in love with Por Qué No Tacos. They have two locations in North and Southeast Portland. We went to the branch on 4635 SE Hawthorne Boulevard and were lucky not to have to queue. You get assigned a table on arrival, order and pay at the till, then the food is served at the table (Nando’s style). They have a good selection of tacos and great horchatas! This was definitely one of the best meals we had on our 2-week trip to the Pacific Northwest!
Day 2 – Good Coffee
There are many specialty coffee shops I wanted to visit in Portland, but sadly our time was limited. Also I realised that the city is pretty much divided in four corners: downtown, NW, NE, SE. There is one overground train line (connecting downtown to the airport), but mostly people get around by car, tram or bus. Getting around on public transport takes time, so we decided to stick to two areas: downtown and South East (Adler / Division Streets).
We arrived at Good Coffee and found the space so beautiful and welcoming – and the coffee so good – that we decided to spend an hour sitting there (the fact it was pouring down with rain outside made our decision seem very wise). My husband ordered an Ethiopian filter, his coffee drink of choice, while I ordered a cortado, of course. I also chatted to the baristas about coffee shops in London and Seattle, which I was about to visit the next day.
Good Coffee is definitely off the tourist track, but worth a visit if you are into coffee as much as I am.
More coffee shops worth checking out in Portland: Coava Coffee, Heart Coffee Roasters, Ristretto Roasters Coffee, Albina Press Coffeehouse.
Day 2 – Marukin Ramen
I would have loved to try Tasty ‘n’ Alder or Luce for our last dinner in Portland, but neither me nor Sandy fancied walking too far in the rain.
We opted to visit Pine Street Market, which was just 5 minutes from our hotel. The food hall opened last year inside an historic building and features nine of Portland’s best chefs. We arrived there close to 9pm and some restaurants had already closed down. Luckily Marukin Ramen was still open!
Marukin is a Japanese restaurant specialises in handmade noodles, signature Japanese dishes, and locally sourced ingredients. They have nine restaurants in Japan and two in Portland, serving Hakata-style ramen (tonkotsu). We ate ramen and drank Asahi beer at the counter, watching the chefs at work.
Day 2 – Salt & Straw
Portland’s most famous ice cream parlour is Salt & Straw which I was desperate to try. They are famous for sundaes, hand-dipped cones, soft serve ice cream and concrete. The Wiz Bang Bar at Pine Street Market is their only dessert bar in downtown Portland. Other ice cream shops I was recommended, but didn’t have the chance to try are Pinolo Gelato and Ruby’s Ice Cream.
We were sad to leave Portland the next day and wished we could spend more than just 48 hours in Portland. When you get to the point of stopping by estate agents to look at house prices, you know you have truly fallen in love with a city… ;)