An abundance of culinary delights is not yet my hometown of Boise‘s strong suit. I’m particularly hungry for all kinds of Asian food: Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese. For this reason, I recently met my friend Nikki in Portland for a kid-free #asianfoodtour of Portland.
Food Carts Galore
I drove from Boise to Portland and purposefully arrived hungry, so that my first meal would taste undeniably great, heightened by appetite. Our hotel was situated a half block from a couple dozen food carts. I hadn’t really understood that the carts are semi-permanent; not trucks really, but more like trailers. The selection was dizzying: Middle Eastern, Indian, Greek, Korean, Mexican, Cajun, Vietnamese, vegetarian. I had done my research on Yelp and grabbed my first (medium spicy) Pad Thai at Khob Khun Thai Food as well as spring rolls with a peanut sauce. Would definitely go back. Next time, I would get the glass noodle pad thai and probably the Pad kee Mao.
Swanky Stay at the Boutique Courtyard in Portland
We stayed at the swankiest Courtyard by Marriott I’ve ever seen. The official title of the hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Downtown – A Boutique Hotel. It was in a great location — near the Saturday Market, the waterfront, great restaurants, shopping. The room was clean, well-appointed and the service was friendly and smart. Smart. How often can you say that? We didn’t go to the restaurant downstairs, The Original, but it was consistently busy and reasonably priced. And they had whole pies to go. (Ahem.)
Parking was pricey ($30/night), but the hotel valets told us that we could park around the corner for $15. Give that guy a tip!
Traveling by Footmobile to the Portland Waterfront
We wanted to explore our new neighborhood, so we took off on foot to the waterfront. Not much going on for a late Friday afternoon, but the weather held, the people were interesting to watch and we got into our heads the idea of renting bikes for Saturday. We cut back toward the City Center and took a Streetcar ($1) to Powell’s Books. I’m more of a library person myself, but there’s something about Powell’s that makes you want to own books. There are miles of them, reaching floor to ceiling. There’s a map to the store and little suggestions here and there, handwritten and stuck to the shelves. You will find any book you can think of — and you can take unpaid-for books into their cafe and read them. I guess it’s kinda like a library. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.
Locavore Ground Zero
At Higgins Restaurant, we ate in the loud, crowded bar (we had no reservation, alas — this is a place where you need one.) The girl in the dress shop told us to go there and, as she had good taste in dresses, we trusted her. At the forefront of the locavore movement, chef Greg Higgins, a James Beard Award Recipient, stays true to his strengths and does not disappoint. We ate zucchini fritters, carrot tzatziki alongside sugar snap peas, fava beans sauteed with fennel and bread from Grand Central Bakery. I tried not to eat the bread, but this was perhaps the best thick and crusty sourdough bread I’ve ever had. A smart glass of SeaGlass sauvignon blanc from Santa Barbara was a terrific accompaniment. I highly recommend this restaurant — even though I wanted only to eat Asian food this weekend, I’m so glad I went here.
I wasn’t going to go to Voodoo Donuts. Everyone told me it was overrated. But it was just a few blocks from my boutique hotel and I wanted to see what all the hype was about. As I neared, I kept seeing people carrying pink Voodoo Donuts boxes. Everyone gets a box? The answer: yes. The line was short, they told me. Only 20 minutes. For a donut. I got the official Portland Donut, which is a raised yeast doughnut filled with Bavarian cream, toppped with chocolate and two eyeballs, “representing the vision of our great city.” Here are the photos of the ones I didn’t get. Yes, I asked to photograph other people’s donuts.
Meet the Artists of Portland
To get a real appreciation of the bubbling creativity in Portland, you should shop the Saturday Market on the waterfront. It’s not just t-shirts and tchotchkes (although there is some of that), but rather serious artists, who front their own booths and sell their wares. From jewelry to glass to beautiful clothing and caramels.
I Want to Ride My Bicycle!
After the market, we walked a few short blocks to Pedal Bike Tours. We rented a couple of bikes instead of taking the guided tour. Portland on a Saturday is super easy to navigate and has designated bike lanes. Even if you’re not used to riding in a city, there is not much traffic and again, we got the benefit of a clear, sunny day. (Is it always like this in Portland?) The bikes were well tuned and came with a lock and a helmet. We rode all over central Portland. There are relatively few hills. Come on! You can do it! You cover so much more ground and get exercise to boot.
Thai Food — Not To Be Missed
Pok Pok, a (formerly) humble Thai eatery, is now famous, with a location in New York. Although the waiter was a bit aloof, he warmed up during the course of our meal. He treated us as if we were being flat-footed tourists when we ordered the chicken wings, their signature dish, as if we were so obtuse to be ordering croissants in Paris. There’s a reason why it’s the signature dish. Them wings were GOOD! It’s like not ordering Pad Thai in a Thai restaurant because you don’t want to seem ignorant. Pad Thai is delicious. Although we didn’t order it at Pok Pok. Another wonderful item to order is one of the drinking vinegars — lychee in particular. Sounds gross, tastes great! This is one of those restaurants that should not be missed in Portland.
You’d think there was a food shortage in this city, what with all the lines. Salt & Straw is an ice cream shop that has lines. The flavors are so interesting. I had honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper and pear with blue cheese, among others. Usually I avoid what I deem as fussiness in a flavor, but these concoctions are a celebration for your tastebuds.
The quality, availability, and diversity in the food scene in Portland should make any foodie put it on their short list of must-visit places. At every economic level, there is serious food to enjoy. People in Portland, you have it better than most people in this country. Keep eating, and we’ll keep visiting.
Please note that media rates were provided by Courtyard by Marriott and by Pedal Bike Tours. Everything else was on my dime. All opinions are my own.