Our first big trip as a couple was to New York City in 2014. Neither of us did much research going into it. Each evening, we would look up a yummy-looking coffee shop in a different neighborhood and go from there. This non-plan resulted in great coffee, thousands and steps, and no stand out meals. Can you believe it?! A trip to NYC for many includes excellent food in addition to amazing experiences.
Fast forward to 2016 - Kevin had a conference in Portland, Oregon that ended on Friday, so we decided I would hop on a flight to join him for the final banquet and then we'd spend the weekend there. To safeguard against less-than-blah meals, I did a deep dive into researching all things food and drink in Portland. The result was a three-day whirlwind of amazing eats. As I took notes on my iPhone about what we ate and loved, I titled the list 'Eating in Portland - Aggressively Good.'
I am embarrassed to say that yes, it has taken me three years to write this post. The upside is that we've shared these recommendations with lots of friends who've also had great experiences. So... here goes!
Happy Hour - Altabira City Tavern at Hotel Eastlund
As conferences often are, Kevin's was hosted at a beautiful hotel. Hotel Eastlund is situated in Portland's fast-growing Lloyd District on the city's East Side. The funky chic decor extends from the lobby to the guest rooms and doesn't stop there.
Kevin was on an afternoon break from the conference when I arrived, so we decided to check out the hotel's bar and restaurant. We often do this when we arrive in a city to get our bearings, make a plan, and meet a local or two. We were happy to find out that Altabira City Tavern is no simple hotel bar. Floor to ceiling windows and a roof-top patio on the hotel's top floor offer stunning views of the city while their beer-focused menu by chef and restauranteur David Machado offers yummy bites in an upscale yet comfortable atmosphere. Let's remember that I'd just gotten off a plane people.
Stumptown Coffee at Ace Hotel
On Saturday morning, we checked out of the beautiful Hotel Eastlund and headed downtown to check into hip Ace Hotel. We stayed in the London Shoreditch location when we got engaged and loved it so much, we couldn't wait to book another stay with the chain.
Kevin and I share many interests, and a top one for both of us is coffee. I enjoyed Stumptown for the first time on that coffee-fueled NYC trip in 2014 and have been head-over-heels ever since. Every location is cozy, and the attention to detail means that every latte will be perfect, no matter where you are. (Read their story here.)
Many Ace Hotel locations have a Stumptown Coffee in them, which is such a treat. You always know that a fantastic pour-over awaits just a short elevator ride away. We suggest the Nitro Cold Brew or a warm mocha. Trust us.
Lunch at Jake's Famous Crawfish
After spending some time wandering in downtown Portland, the group decided on seafood for lunch. Kevin and I live near the Gulf Coast in Texas, so even though we have access to fresh fare, we always jump at the chance for east or west coast fish. That being said, I am not a huge fan of crawfish, so the name didn't exactly draw me in, but one look at the menu and I was hooked! (pun intended) With a gorgeous menu full of seafood and non-seafood options, our entire group was satisfied and stuffed.
Aperitifs at Multnomah Whisky Library
According to their website, "Multnomah Whisky Library holds an exhaustive collection representing all major, and lesser, styles of distilled spirits known to the modern world." At first glance, MWL seemed open only to members with a couple's membership at $850 a year, but upon closer look, you have an option to purchase a Hall Pass, which allows non-members to make a one-time reservation, perfect for out-of-town visitors like ourselves and the friends we were with.
As you might have picked up, we are book lovers, spending afternoons both while we travel and at home browsing big box book stores and second-hand shops alike, so the library theme was just up our alley. The dim room was lit only by green glass library lamps set along the center of long, dark wooden tables. Booths for bigger groups lined the large room, giving us a great view of everything. Reservations are required, both for members and Hall Pass holders, so the room did have a quiet air about it since no one was allowed to stand at the bar.
Although dinner is available, we focused on the drinks. I opted for a whiskey flight. These aren't set on the menu -- your knowledgable server asks questions about your tastes and price point to help you choose an array of options. The rest of the group ordered a cocktail from their libations menu, which offers a variety of spirits as a base, meeting everyone's taste.
A few moments after we ordered, a vintage library cart outfitted for mixing drinks was wheeled over tableside. The whiskeys I had chosen were presented to me with some information about tasting notes. Then came the fun -- the drinks were mixed in our view with explanations throughout! The service was impeccable and the atmosphere unique, making this stop a memorable one.
If the Hall Pass doesn't fit in your travel budget, don't fret! Just downstairs from the MWL, you'll find The Green Room, which serves casual cocktails and light bites with the same attention to detail in an easygoing atmosphere.
Dinner at Saucebox
Whether traveling or at home, we do our best to rely first on recommendations, either from friend's previous trips or (especially) locals, then on what looks good as we walk down the street, and last on online/app resources. So, in the absence of the first two, we turned to Yelp to find a new plan for dinner after our first option was disappointing. (Travel Tip: If you walk into a place and don't like the vibe - find something else!)
As we wandered, hungry and ready to eat, I happened upon Saucebox. Any type of Asian cuisine will always be my first choice, so I called to check availability, and amazingly, they had a table for 6 ready and waiting. Saucebox is a deejay-cafe that entices all of your senses with flavorful food, yummy cocktails, glamorous ambiance, groovy music, and energetic staff.
Our group opted to order multiple dim sum and small plates to share so everyone could experience lots of flavors. Everything was terrific, but the stand out dish for me was the Tapioca Dumplings, filled with chicken and cilantro served with fish sauce, peanuts and garlic oil. Dear reader, if you go to Saucebox, please, order these. Don't miss out on this magic.
Breakfast at Mother's Bistro & Bar
Mother's is where you go for slow-cooked comfort food the way your great grandmother made it. They make everything from scratch and use the best ingredients available. Although they do serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we heard that a morning trip was the way to go. With a full bar offering mimosas and bloody mary's (and pretty much anything else you could want) paired with Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy or Wild Salmon Hash, you just can't go wrong.
We would love to go back for lunch or dinner, or at least coffee and dessert on our next trip. Homemade strawberry shortcake with fresh, locally-sourced strawberries... yes, please!
Liquid Lunch at The Big Legrowlski
After our gorgeous and giant breakfast at Mother's, no one was in the mood to sit down, so we decided to walk those biscuits off. We walked toward the water and were lucky enough to come upon the Portland Saturday Market. This local open-air market takes place every Saturday and Sunday from March through Christmas Eve. In addition to artisan crafts, there are food-tents-and-trucks-a-plenty, just in case you already need a snack.
The Big Legrowlski's website is simply letting you know what they're about.
BEER. WHITE RUSSIANS. MUSIC.
This intimate music venue and bar offers varied but great experiences each and every time you go. The house band... check. White Russians complete with a count of how many have ever been ordered... check. A great beer selection in a bar with a great vibe... check.
We visited at a random time in the afternoon, so it was near empty, but I can see how this small space can get crowded, especially when they're a live band playing. I have never actually seen The Big Lebowski (eek... I know), but this themed bar is a treat whether you're a fan or not.
After saying goodbye to our sweet friends who joined us in Portland, Kevin and I headed back to Ace Hotel for one of my favorite activities... a nap! Our philosophy of travel is to go at a pace where you're genuinely able to enjoy the place where you are. Sometimes that means a quick dinner and movies in the hotel room. We decided on a three-minute walk to Sizzle Pie for some pizza and garlic knots.
We went with classic pepperoni, or as it's named at Sizzle, the Ace of Spades, but with vegan and veggie options galore, this place is sure to please a crowd!
Brunch at Kenny and Zuke's Delicatessen
Let me just begin by saying that Kevin and I still talk about how fantastic the service and homemade everything is at Kenny and Zuke's. With a no-cell-phones-during-dinner policy (and an expectation that they're on silent for the rest of the day) this place aligns with our love of gathering over a meal and being present, even if you're dining solo!
On our first visit (yes, we did go back for breakfast before we flew out the next day) we ordered their legendary house-made pastrami hash with over-easy eggs with fresh baked rye toast and man-oh-man, it lives up to the hype.
The next morning, I opted for Latkes, and Lox and Kevin went for a Pastrami sandwich on a Bagel. You guys, I was floored by everything we tasted here, as well as the kindness of their staff and other patrons. When we revisit Portland, a visit here will be a priority for sure.
Shopping and Ice Cream in the Northwest District
After all the eating, it was time to get out and walk! The Northwest District is a sweet, tree-lined neighborhood full of cute local boutiques and trendy chains that are worth the time. Some highlights for us were Goorin Bros. Hat Company and Will Leather Goods.
Our planned destination was Salt & Straw Ice Cream. During my research for this trip, I was drawn in by their Pots of Gold flavor where they literally hand separate Lucky Charms™ marshmallows from the cereal pieces to create this flavor. We still have not had the chance to try it, so if anyone would like to ship some to us, we'll gladly and gratefully accept!
With their classic and seasonal flavors, there is always something new to try! I opted for Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper and Pear with Blue Cheese on a waffle cone while Kevin went for Stumptown Coffee and Bourbon in a cup - he's so responsible that way.
Salt & Straw has locations in Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, and Anaheim, and we suggest adding them to your wishlist in all of those cities!
Happy Hour at Clyde Common
We worked up an appetite spending multiple hours in Powell's Books, so we decided to head back to the hotel, which, in addition to a great coffee shop, is connected to a fantastic restaurant called Clyde Common.
Their menu offers both domestic and foreign fare and a vast array of nibbles and drink deals on their daily happy hour menu. We ordered popcorn and a couple of Bourbon Renewals and chatted with the bartenders about their city.
Dinner at Gilda's Italian Restaurant
Gilda's was recommended to us by one of the bartenders as a great place for Italian, which at this point seemed to be the only cuisine we hadn't yet tried. A quick ten-minute stroll got us here, and as luck would have it, they had a table for two available! However, they do suggest making a reservation to ensure space for your party.
Generous portions in a homey and comfortable space made for a glorious last night meal in Portland.
Nightcap at Pepe Le Moko
Another Clyde Common suggestion, Pepe Le Moko also made the list of places we will visit again when we return to Portland. You enter from the street and immediately proceed down a set of narrow stairs to a bunker-like wood-paneled room no wider than I am tall.
Once my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I felt like I was transported to another era - lamp-lit tables, beautiful cocktails and the urge to lean closer to Kevin to whisper our favorite things about our time in Portland together to one another. We loved it.
Portland feels comfortable and kind, and all our food and drink experiences were in line with that. Let us know if you have other Portland favorites that we should add to our list for our next visit!