Portland is wonderful not weird – Part Delicious

My dear friend Kimen and I had been wanting to go to Portland for some time. In fact, I recently found a card she sent me in 2011 congratulating me on my graduation from bschool and planning fun times again in SF and Portland.

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Portland had become a foodie and tourist destination the last few years, and we still hadn’t experienced it. We couldn’t wait any longer – we had to see what the hype was all about.

Kimen and I also decided that it was time to take our “Neighborhood” Gals Dinner on the road. Each month we get together with some of our dear Stanford gal pals – Kim, Tessa, and Jessica –  to enjoy quality girl time and delicious food. They, of course, were more than happy to travel to eat together an entire weekend. Chandra, a friend from NYC, flew across the country to join the fun.

Being the planners that we all are, we created a spreadsheet of flights, hotels, restaurants, and sights to enjoy for our Portland Gals Weekend. The internet was helpful as always – TripAdvisor for hotels, Yelp for food, etc. – but one of my favorite finds was the travelportland.com website. You can get a FREE Travel Portland magazine sent to you – http://www.travelportland.com/travel-portland-magazine/ – or download it for free to enjoy. I got my copy a couple of weeks after I requested it and read it cover to cover. There are great suggestions including hikes, restaurants, hotels, tours, shopping areas, food trucks, and festivals by neighborhood. If you’re planning a trip to Portland, order one…it’s a great read! It’s no wonder it was named the best visitors guide by the U.S. Travel Association last year.

During our 3 days in Portland, we ate, saw, and walked A LOT. So rather than have a ridiculously unwieldy post, I decided to break it up and focus on the food adventures first – yum!


We definitely did not go hungry during our 3 days in Portland. Not only was the food delicious, but it was so much affordable than San Francisco, New York, or Chicago.

One of the must dos in Portland is to eat at the food trucks. Portland has over 500 food trucks or carts serving up grub at any given time. Unlike some cities which have roving trucks which are hard to find, Portland’s carts are organized into what are call “Pods.” There are so many that they have sites and apps just for locating them! Here’s one: http://www.foodcartsportland.com/maps/

We went to the Alder Street food cart pod (S.W. 10th Ave & Alder Street) since it’s the biggest pod and was within walking distance of our hotel The Nines. It stretches nearly two city blocks and has every type of food you could want – Thai, Greek, grilled cheese, Chinese, barbecue, Mexican, salads, etc. IMG_0059_2 IMG_0060_2 IMG_0061_2 IMG_0062_2

Kimen and Jessica got delicious savory waffles (the crepe cart was closed), I got some dumplings (cart pictured above) and a gyro wrap (also pictured above), and Chandra enjoyed the Thai chicken rice box from Khao Man Gai. Overall the food was good, but we weren’t that impressed given that we’ve all had the opportunity to enjoy delicious food trucks in SF which tend to be much more imaginative and fusion-y. What most of us had was pretty standard food truck food. Chandra made the best choice by far. Chef Nong Poonsukwattana’s (featured on the front and in the Travel Portland magazine) Thai food was much more inventive and special.  Some of the smaller pods in Portland seem to boast some more creative fare, so it’s definitely reason to go back and try again and eat more!

After a considerable hike to and from the Rose and Japanese Tea Garden (next post), Jessica, Chandra, Kimen, and I wanted an afternoon snack. We decided that ice cream was the perfect treat on a gorgeous sunny Friday. And everyone had told us that Salt & Straw Ice Cream was the place to go. Being SF Bi-Rite ice cream fans, we had quite a bit of experience standing in line…but we were not prepared for the colossal line at Salt & Straw. It wrapped around in the store, out the door, and around the corner. Luckily we had plenty of time, great company, and many ice cream flavors to research before it was our turn.

Jessica and Kimen waiting patiently in line for ice cream.
The ice cream menu

After an hour plus wait, we made it to the front and finally got to order. Since there were so many flavors and we had worked up even more of appetite waiting in line – okay, we just really couldn’t decide on what to get – we ordered ice cream flights. For $9 you get to enjoy four (4) kids-sized scoops of ice cream. Here is Jessica grinning ear to ear with her flight. And a photo of both our flights side-by-side:

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Some of the flavors we enjoyed: Almond brittle with salted ganache, freckled woodblock chocolate, strawberry honey balsalmic with black pepper, chocolate gooey brownie, rose city riot, and honey lavender. My favorite were definitely the rose city riot and honey lavender. Who knew that flowery ice cream could be so delicious!

For dinner we were finally joined by our other  pals Kim and Tessa who flew after a day of teaching. At the recommendation of many people, we made reservations at Pok Pok, a famous street food Thai restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood of the city. As you can tell from the photo below, we feasted! Some of the dishes we ordered included the papaya salad, Vietnamese fish sauce wings (a fave!), Laap Meung, Hoi Thawt (crepe with mussels, eggs, and veggies), Kaeng Hang Lok (pork belly and pork shoulder with delicious spices), a salted whole fish, coconut rice, and sticky rice. There were more, but I can’t remember them all, and they barely fit on the table and couldn’t fit in the picture!
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On Saturday morning, we were hungry again. I don’t know how, but we were. We decided to check off the next must-eat spot on our list from friends – Blue Star Donuts. Many of you have probably heard of Voodoo Donuts, but apparently with the locals, Voodoo is out and Blue Star is what it’s all about. So we stood in line again to see why people were raving.

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After about an hour (people really like to wait for food in Portland), we made it to the front of the line and ordered 12 creative and delicious donuts to share. We ordered the blueberry basil bourbon (2), real maple with bacon, Mexican hot chocolate, chocolate almond ganache, Valrhona chocolate crunch (2), lemon poppy buttermilk, raspberry buttermilk, meyer lemon and key lime, and blackberry compote with peanut butter powder. Sadly they ran out of two that they are famous for – the apple fritter and the creme brûlée. Another reason to return to Portland!


We cut up the 12 donuts and shared them in the car on our drive to our hike. It was a messy but delicious endeavor. In the end, I believe we all enjoyed the fruity buttermilk donuts the best – the lemon poppy and raspberry – because they were had a delicious crunchy consistency – the more fried donut. 🙂

Saturday night we decided to enjoy a fancier dinner at James Beard Award Finalist Chef Justin Woodward’s restaurant Castagna. Featured in the Travel Portland magazine, the cuisine is described as culinary modernism – think dry ice and smoked powders. We were excited for our 10 course meal!

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But as the first courses came out, we were worried. We were six girls with healthy appetites and the portions were beautiful but tiny!

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Thankfully, the food was more than plenty, and we finished the evening completely satiated and happy. We were thoroughly impressed by the flavors, presentation, and creativity. In particular, we loved the two desserts – frozen ice rhubarb ice disc over more rhubarb and homemade granola and the goat’s milk gelato with grapefruit, lime and hazelnut. They were out of this world! We also enjoyed the leisurely pace of dinner and the company. It was 3 hour plus dinner but we old friends had a great time talking about the food, drink, life, and reminiscing about old and newer memories. Cheers to good food and friends!

In my next post, I will share about the non-food fun we enjoyed together in Portland. Stay tuned!

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