One hundred miles south of Astoria, New York’s sister city, Astoria, Oregon, lies Portland, Oregon the City of Roses. As its moniker suggests, Portland is a gorgeous city, and food obsessed folks also know of its reputation for organic, local, seasonal, homemade and delicious eats.
I was lucky enough to spend two days in Portland on a recent trip to Oregon, and what follows are the best things I ate and imbibed while there. If you get to visit the City of Roses, be sure to put these places and dishes on your long list.
Best Brunch Dish Ever?
Portland restaurateur John Gorham had already hit home runs with Toro Bravo and Tasty n Sons when he opened his newest spot, Tasty n Alder, located right in Downtown Portland. We stopped in for brunch where my girlfriend ordered a most remarkable dish: the Tasso Hash. Juicy hunks of Tasso ham were mixed up with red pepper, onion, and brussel sprouts, with a generous dollop of onion sour cream on the bottom and an over easy egg resting on top. This was easily the best brunch dish I’ve had and I kept stealing forkfuls of it despite the total respectability of my own brunch selection.
Order Everything at Biwa
Since 2008, Biwa, located in Portland’s Southeast/Lower Burnside neighborhood, has been a lauded izakaya style Japanese restaurant. On our first visit there, we made a valiant effort to order everything on the menu. Highlights, of which there we many, included handmade (including the wrapper!) pork gyoza, a special seasonal salad of sliced apples and squash with sesame dressing, insanely tender yakimono (grilled) beef hanger steak, crispy daigaku imo, their famous honey glazed sweet potato fries, and the kara-age, Japanese style fried chicken served with hot mustard sauce for dipping.
This was an outstanding meal from beginning to end, and it’s worth noting that Biwa adds a 5% charge to each bill to cover health insurance costs for their employees. With restaurant workers across the country perennially uninsured, I thought this was a classy move and was grateful to be able to contribute.
In a city known for its craft beer scene, and where I managed to do a whole lot of, um, “research,” a couple of beers stood out for me on this visit to the Beertopia of Portland. My absolute favorite was Astoria, Oregon’s Fort George Brewery Vortex IPA. This strong (7.70 ABV) IPA is part flavor bomb, part multidimensional beer aficionado’s complex brew. I have no idea if you can get it here on the east coast, but I sure as hell am going to try. I was also bowled over by Cascade Brewing’s Oblique Black and White Coffee Stout, surely the most unique Stout I have ever sampled, with the pale color of a blonde ale and the strong flavor of pure black coffee.
Food Trend-spotting: The Local Style Hawaiian Food Carts of Portland
While in Portland we encountered no fewer than three food carts serving local style Hawaiian fare (Plate Lunch, Spam Musubi, Loco Moco, etc.). I’ve long wondered why we don’t have any such food carts here in New York City, and hope that we might be seeing one soon considering their clear popularity in Portland. We visited 808 Grinds (named for Hawaii’s area code) and had a totally outstanding Combo Plate Lunch with perfectly cooked Shoyu Chicken, Kalua Pork and the ubiquitous Macaroni Salad side.
And I Should Also Mention
We went to Pok Pok, of course, where I made the terrible choice to order the famous Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings non-spicy, a decision I will regret until I rectify that error at Pok Pok’s Brooklyn location. Across the street from Pok Pok PDX lies a new outpost of legendary local ice creamery Salt & Straw which is totally worth a visit. I tried the seasonal Pumpkin Custard with Spiced Chevre and the surprising Honey Balsamic Strawberry with Cracked Pepper which will have me craving vinegar ice cream for all eternity (though I will admit this flavor is not for everyone). Last but not least, no trip to Portland would be complete without a stop at Tabor for the one pound Schnitzelwich, breaded pork loin on a fresh ciabatta roll with lettuce, paprika spread, sauteed onion and horseradish.
Dearest residents of Astoria, Queens, let me know if you are visiting the City of Roses anytime soon. I have these and many, many more recommendations to share. Additionally, it turns out that my friend and Queens food writer Judith, aka Fooditka, was in Portland at around the same time I was. Check out her great review of Portland’s Olympic Provisions here.