I moved from Albany, NY to Portland, OR in October 2010, mostly on a whim. Having just finished college (a degree in English), I needed a change and decided on a cross-country one. With my boyfriend of only 9 months in tow, I drove across the country to this lovely city. I immediately fell for the friendly people, the mild climate, the air quality and the enthusiasm about food; enthusiasm for the absolute bounty available in the Pacific Northwest. I believe that the choices we make regarding what goes into our bodies affects so much more than our bodies, and these choices are made thoughtfully and purposefully here. With so many choices available in this city, I have become somewhat spoiled.
Here is a list of some of my favorite places in the city, because even if the city has become a kind of cliche hipster-mecca, it really is a fantastic place with so much to offer. The list is categorized by the city’s five sectors. Here is a visual-aid before my ramblings confuse you. SW is south of Burnside and west of the Willamette River and SE and NW follow the same logic; N. Portland and NE Portland are north of Burnside but N. Portland is east of the river but west of N. Williams while NE is east of N. Williams. There are many, many more neighborhoods within the sectors but I think this is the simplest way to present the list to an out-of-towner. I hope to update this list over time as I continue to discover bits of what has become my home.
Downtown/Inner SW/City Center
- Portland Farmers’ Market (at PSU) – The Saturday market. This is the market your friend was talking about after visiting Portland. It is the market you go to if you’re in town for the weekend. It is Portland’s version of San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market or NYC’s Union Square Green Market. It is big and beautiful and you will get some great photos. For more than photos, get there early to beat the crowds, particularly in the warmer months, and do a lap to see what everyone has to offer. Starting in 2011-2012, this became a year-round market with a move to Shemanski Park (just a few blocks north) in the slower, cooler months.
- Portland Farmers’ Market (at Shemanski Park) – This is my weekly market. Open on Wednesdays from May to November, it has the best variety and selection of vendors of any week-day market, but it is set in a small park that can be easily strolled through. This is just a few blocks north of the PSU market (above) and it is the site of the Saturday winter market when most others have closed.
- Addy’s – An awesome little cart located in one of the city’s larger collections of food carts. Very French-inspired, ingredient-focused sandwiches with meticulously thought-out flavor profiles.
Hillsdale neighborhood – south of downtown with more of a neighborhood-feel than the inner portions of SW Portland.
- Hillsdale Farmers’ Market – This is a smaller market located south of what many consider “Portland-proper”. Open Sunday mornings year-round (bi-weekly in the winter months), this is my choice for a Sunday farmers’ market for its variety of vendors, the availability list that is posted each week to help me plan my meals, and the ease with which I can walk up and down the market to see what each vendor has to offer before I make any choices. It doesn’t get too crowded, so I don’t have to worry about getting there crazy early. Almost all of my favorite vendors can be found here.
- Baker and Spice – Rustic and beautiful seasonally dependent breads and pastries. Great coffee, sandwiches, soups. My absolute favorite bakery.
- Verde Cocina – The folks behind this Northwest inspired Mexican restaurant also can be found at a number of farmers’ markets both gathering ingredients and serving food from their own booth. But the brick-and-mortar location in Hillsdale is quite lovely too. The focus here is the vegetables of the season in a traditionally Mexican vessel. Big piles of vegetables are plated with wholesome grains using very flavor-driven techniques. Walking away, I feel really good about what I have put in my body. The specials change daily based on exactly what is available locally.
Richmond neighborhood – covers approximately Powell Blvd to Hawthorne Ave and 30th to 54th. This neighborhood consists of a few urban districts interspersed with residential areas. At the center is Division and 39th.
- Pok Pok – James Beard Award Winning Chef Andy Ricker’s reputation precedes anything I have to say, especially since he has expanded to NYC. However, it is important that visitors know that the hype of this authentic survey Thai food is real. This place simply should not be missed.
- The Hazel Room – This incredibly sweet tea house serves a great Bloody Mary (dubbed a Bloody Gina here) and has an incredible menu full of fresh and inventive flavor-driven items. In addition, it shares a building with Mag-Big, a truly amazing shop full of all kinds of products from local designers.
Sunnyside (Belmont) neighborhood – just north of Richmond. This eclectic part of town is more popular among locals than tourists, but there is a lot going on here. Plenty of tiny, local businesses among residential areas. Rather than just visit, an awesome place to live.
- Viking Soul Food – I had the pleasure of working at a food cart directly across from this cart for several months and I absolutely fell in love with their offerings. Traditional Scandinavian lefse (essentially a potato-based crepe-like flatbread) is filled with locally procured goods. These folks are some of the most genuine and passionate cooks I have met and come from very refined kitchens. They take their skills to create amazing flavors, constantly coming up with new ideas for what is in season just at the moment. Recommendations: everything. Seriously. Bonus: This is located in a very popular “pod” (term used to describe a lot filled with food carts/trucks) which makes this a fun place to bring a diverse group of people.
Montavilla neighborhoood – upper/outer blocks of SE approaching Burnside between around 7oth to about 90th
- The Observatory – A great little casual-dining kind of restaurant with an elegant atmosphere and a brief and simple menu. The Lamb Burger is perfect. The specials are always tempting.
Kerns neighborhood – Inner NE. From the Burnside Bridge to about 30th going east and up to around Sandy Blvd. going north.
- Screen Door – A survey of the American South done authentically with no apologies, but with a huge focus on the use our local bounty. This a common destination for out-of-towners due to their incredibly popular brunch (2 hour waits are not uncommon). However, I haven’t gone for brunch as I don’t feel the need when their dinner is so perfect. Shrimp & Grits, Pork & Beans, Buttermilk Fried Chicken and awesome, very vegetable-centric specials depending on the season.
- The Farm Cafe – I was wanting to visit this restaurant before I had even moved here based on great things I had heard. It is a very charmingly casual little place, made to feel like a farmhouse kitchen. They have an awesome menu that changes a bit with the seasons, complimented by a more seasonally inspired specials menu. Their “veggie burger” is amazing, mostly consisting of fresh, flavorful vegetables like eggplant, roasted peppers and caramelized onions, juicy and wonderfully textured. Otherwise, their specials are often the most interesting items on the menu (and that is where you will find more animal protein).
Boise-Eliot (Mississippi and Williams) neighborhood – This part of town is a bit isolated from other parts of the city and I kind of think of it – along with parts of NE – as its own thing entirely. Very unique and awesome area to hit for window-shopping, browsing and general walking-around on a nicer day.
- The Meadow – The Meadow now has a second location in New York, but it all started here in North Portland. I discovered this specialty shop when the proprietor came to my school to promote his book. This shop houses a few particular items that the owners are very passionate about: salt, chocolate and bitters. This is a great place for very unique treats and gifts (for yourself or others) or some intriguing browsing if the items are a bit out of your price range.