A (Short) Portland, OR Guide
I spent two weeks in Portland, Oregon this summer. I fully expected to come home determined to move up there to live a flannel-covered life.
That was not the case. The city is…fine. It has a great food and drink scene, and I don’t think a trip to Portland is complete without visiting Washington Park (think of it like their Forest Park; it’s home to the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, and more).
My recommendation: go up there with a day or two of solid eating and drinking planned, then get out of town. Spend your time in the woods, on the coast, or drinking copious amounts of wine in the Willamette Valley. Scroll down to see some of the places we went.
There a few places we ate at where I didn’t have my camera on hand that are worth mentioning.
Lardo: What I imagine a future Bolyard’s sandwich shop will look like. These sandwiches were glorious, and picking was nearly impossible. I went with their pork meatball banh mi, which will never let anyone down, but their special “chefwich” of the month was absolutely the winner: thinly cut steak, grilled, then tossed with chimchurri, along with fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. Perfection.
Departure: Located on the top floor of the swanky Nines Hotel, Departure feels like a giant spaceship. I mean this literally: the restaurant design seems like some kind of 1960s-meets-2000s space vessel. The bathrooms, with their aluminum walls and neon lights, look like some lost sets from Blade Runner. Chef Gregory Gourdet’s (who you may recognize from Top Chef) menu primarily riffs off of Chinese and Japanese fare, with things like tataki, smoked octopus, and koji-brined chicken. It wasn’t my favorite spot in town, but the atmosphere is neat and the drinks were excellent.
Le Pigeon: Every single chef I talked to told me I had to go to Pigeon, and after going, I get it. This tiny restaurant— 24 seats, maybe?—looks like it came straight from Paris. The chefs are cooking in the dining room, actually. Had I realized this, I would have requested a seat at the bar so I could watch them in action. This place will mess you up with food, though. They’re taking all the richness of French food, adding some contemporary American flair to it, then using that to fatten you up like a foie gras duck. Our meal was impeccable: a seared foie gras and escargot starter, a spicy pork ribeye with chorizo gravy, then their foie-on-foie-on-foie profiteroles for dessert. Then I had a heart attack and died.
I’m a firm believer that we’re entering a period of time where the best restaurants are the ones where chefs are cooking simple food based on what they grew up on. That deeply engrained knowledge combined with the techniques they’ve learned in culinary school or on the job often lead to the most memorable, satiating dishes. Kachka is one of the only contemporary Russian restaurants in the U.S., and wow, does it hit the mark. The interior mixes modern design with a Soviet-era home, making you feel a bit like you’re on a movie set. The menu is heavy on small plates—cold dishes, hot dishes, dumplings, skewers, and then a few mains. My recommendations: the classic Siberian Pelmeni dumplings and the lamb lyulyakebabs. Splurge on some caviar if you’re feeling particularly oligarchic (we did the Tsar Nicoulai Select white sturgeon).
The Pine Street Market is a food hall located on Pine Street. What’s particularly nice about this one is that a number of the restaurants inside come from Portland’s heavy hitters. Grab NY-style pizza and pastries from Ken Forkish’s Checkerboard pizza, soft serve from Salt & Straw’s Wiz Bang Bar, Spanish-style rotisserie chicken from Josh Scofield’s Pollo Bravo, all the meats from Olympia Provisions, and more.
When I saw there was a brand new modern Indonesian restaurant open, I knew I had to go. The menu was a good mix of traditional fare and modern interpretations, some within the same dish, like the Roti Canai served with curry or coconut creamed corn. The dishes are fairly small, which makes it another great choice if you’re willing to share. End your meal with their Kaya Cake—this sweet coconut and pandan custard tasted exactly like the shops in Singapore. I wish I hadn’t shared my piece.
I can’t recommend a trip to the Mercado enough. This Latino-focused incubator helps entrepreneurs refine their business plans, raise funding, and more—plus, it’s full of great food. The interior has a few businesses, plus a bar, but the nine food stalls outside are where it’s at. There’s Oaxacan, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Peruvian, and more. I went twice; Tierra Del Sol’s mole tacos plus a plate of Que Bacano’s Colombian patacones will not let you down.
God, St. Louis needs Spanish food.
Bar Casa Vale takes the amazing local seafood, meat, and produce, and serves it up Spanish style. For the St. Louisans reading this, think Taste Bar if it was in San Sebastian. We loaded up on the tapas—it was one of those meals where the final bites were accompanied by groans—but I would go back there in a heartbeat. The patatas bravas were crunchy, spicy, creamy…pretty much everything you want from fried potatoes. The fried frog legs with chimichurri and grilled lemon were the best I can remember having. But those Spanish cheese fritters…my lord. They give Dia’s Cheese Bread a run for its money. These manchego and mahon filled golf balls might be the single best bite I had in Portland.
JETTY FISHERY & The oregon Coast
Get the f out of town. Seriously. We drove through the Tillamook Forest, which was stunning, then hit up Cape Meares, Rockaway Beach, and Cannon Beach. Incredible. Apparently, a lot of famous writers rent these coastal homes in winter so they can find inspiration in isolation. I think I’m going to try it this year. I’ll return to St. Louis with memoirs: Coal Miners, Diners, and Dives.
We stopped at a place called The Jetty Fishery in Rockaway Beach for lunch. I’d seen it written about a few places online as a no-frills, seaside spot to grab some freshly seafood. We were not disappointed. On the day we were there, they had fresh Dungeness crabs, oysters, and clams, so we got a few pounds of each. You just tell the guys in the shack what you want, they grab them out of a huge tank and throw them into the massive cauldron of boiling water behind them. Fifteen minutes later, they call out your number and you get to eat it right on the shore, throwing all your spent shells into the ocean. The clams dipped in the crab fat *chef’s kiss*.
In between your huge meals, you should probably get some exercise. Head to Washington Park and visit the epic Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden that will transport you to Kyoto, the Oregon Zoo, and more.