A city in the lush Pacific Northwest, Portland is famous for green nature and equally green (i.e. environmentally friendly) culinary options. While Portland is also known for a consistent rainy drizzle during the winter months, the summer and fall are among the most beautiful in the country. Even when taking the rainy winter into account, Portland is worthy of a visit for the absolutely ridiculous culinary scene. I say culinary because it’s not just food. It’s food, coffee, beer, and everything in between. Let’s start with food. Named as the Best Food City in the United States in 2015 and only grown more savory since then, Portland is a food-lover’s heaven for so many reasons.
First, as a result of Portland’s liberal attitudes and green footprint, an environmentally friendly menu with locally sourced products is a must in the city so you don’t need to leave your values at the door. Using local products alone won’t make a place outstanding but rather, it’s the minimum, the foundational plate upon which an eatery can build your meal.
Second, I hesitate to use the word “restaurant” rather than the more general “spot” because quite frankly, many of Portand’s top spots aren’t even brick-and-mortar restaurants – they’re food carts. With the best food cart system in the country, Portland’s signature food cart pods are no back-up option for when you don’t get into the restaurant of your choice. Rather, food cart pods like the one on NE Alberta or Hawthorne are bona fide destinations on their own. A trip to Portland is incomplete without hitting a few of the best food carts in the city.
Third, the city has options for everyone – vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options galore! Often called one of the best vegan food cities in the country (there’s that environmental and ethic ethos again), nearly every Portland restaurant will have more than just a token tofu dish for vegetarians and many spots (Ichiza Kitchen and Homegrown Smoker) offer entirely vegan takes on traditionally non-vegan cuisines (pan-Asian, barbecue). For meat-lovers, there are still plenty of mouth-wateringly good options for you. As you might have noticed, I’ve called Portland the best for several things already so you can tell, I might be biased – I grew up in Portland. But I’ve traveled to many cities and quite honestly, Portland still ranks #1 on my Flavor per Square Mile index, a homemade indicator of the amount of good food, adjusted for the physical size of a city (a close relative to the Flavor per Capita statistic, which measures amount of good food per person in the city). For the non-food aspects of the culinary scene, don’t forget to check out the plentiful coffee shops and breweries in the city. While Seattle has the more famous chains, Portland has some of the best individual roasters and coffeeshops in the country and our flagship coffee is Stumptown, which can be found all over United States. Breweries? Sure, there are some strong contenders in San Diego so I might be content with a top 5 finish for beer but there are so many breweries in Portland that if you like beer, you should just do a daylong biking tour from spot to spot. Preferably in the summer. It’s amazing.
When you come to Portland, there are a few things you should try. Coffee and beer are absolute musts. Salt & Straw, the wildly popular ice cream chain sweeping the West Coast with crazy flavors, started in Portland as a food truck (classic) so you should check that out. Voodoo Donuts, while not even close to the best donuts in Portland, is a fun stop for tourists and a famous one as well. If I were you, I’d head over to Pip’s or Delicious Donuts. Pok Pok has helped redefine Thai food with its Vietnamese Fish Sauce wings. While Portland’s fine dining scene is more casual than other cities, the casual food scene is as fine as any city.
To summarize, try coffee, beer, vegetarian cuisine and the food carts. And literally anything else that looks good because, unlike some bigger cities, it’s actually hard to find mediocre or bad places to eat – the good places just drive them out. The Portland food list took me two weeks to put together and I still feel it’s inadequate. Seriously, eat your heart out.