The recent satirical TV series Portlandia portrays this Northwest American city as a hippy hangout where the ‘young go to retire’. A community of bicycle-riding, source-obsessed eaters; a bunch of liberal creatives who spend their days reading niche novels and making music. I’m pleased to report that in reality it is pretty accurate interpretation, but there is much more learn about this characterful city.
Ace Portland – The hotel that everyone wants to stay at in Portland. The standard room I called home was decorated with great vintage artifacts, stocked with Malin + Goetz toiletries and Wings & Horn dressing gowns. Enjoy fresh cookies from Maurice (a nearby cafe) on arrival and make sure you pop into the lobby photobooth for a black & white snapshot of your stay. If you are not lucky enough to be sleeping here, visit the hip café and cocktail bar Clyde Common for a happy hour snack, or stop-by Stumptown Coffee Roasters for your morning caffeine boost.
Beast – Brunch is the most popular meal of the day in Portland, and it is at Naomi Pomeroy’s Beast that the ultimate four-course brunch banquet is served. She originally ran an underground supperclub called ‘Family Supper’ before opening Beast in September 2007, one of the first on the fine dining establishments in Portland. Despite the finesse and artistry of the food here, the communal dining room has a comfortable Farmhouse chic feel. It was, without a doubt, my favourite meal in the Portland.
Ava Gene’s – setup by the founders of Stumptown Coffee this neighbourhood restaurant serves a menu of delicious Italian fare, and has won numerous awards since opening in 2013. Highlights for me were the bread topped with nduja, zucchini and lilies and the Sagna Riccia pasta with pork ragu and peppers.
Pok Pok – this Thai mecca by chef Andy Ricker began its life as a food cart and now has eight venues including two outposts in New York and two in LA. I visited the first eatery in SE Division and devoured a selection of treats from the menu. Don’t miss the legendary fish sauce chicken wings.
Salt and Straw – this ice-cream phenomenon was founded by cousins Kim and Tyler Malek in 2011 and has grown enormously since thanks to its successful innovative flavours. Try the truly unique and surprisingly tasty pear and blue cheese flavour.
Voodoo Doughnuts and Blue Star Donuts – everyone has their favourite donut place in Portland. For indulgent novelty cult donuts queue up with the crowds at Voodoo and order a bacon – maple bar (topped with a real rasher of crispy bacon). Foodies may prefer the more sophisticated Blue Star which offers culinary concoctions like the blueberry, bourbon and basil.
Food carts – in the short time I spent in Portland I managed to sample quite a few of the plentiful food carts. These are a few of my favourites with their signature dish:
Pyro Pizza – fennel sausage, basil and oregano pizza, with cherry phosphate soda
El Taco Yucateco – speciality panuchos
Dump Truck – Mr. Ma’s Special (pork dumplings) and Bacon Cheeseburger dumplings
Wolf + Bear’s – falafel wrap
Nong’s Khao Man Gai – poached chicken and rice
Stumptown Coffee – If you travel down the West Coast of America you will find Stumptown coffee beans in many of the best coffee shops and hotels. The brand was born in Portland over 15 years ago and the Ace Hotel are privileged to have a Stumptown coffee shop adjoined to the lobby. The coffee is wonderfully smooth and flavoursome, definitely the best I tried in Portland.
Coava coffee – the moment you walk into one of the huge Coava warehouse spaces you can see this team are experts in their field. Pouring precise cups of complex flavoured beans you will always get a great coffee in this speciality café.
Heart Coffee – this independent café is a favourite coffee stop with locals. They provided me with the perfect pick-me-up after lunch, a lovely strong but balanced flat white.
Angelface – this cute little bar has hand painted flowers on the walls and is always full… we were lucky to find a few empty seats. Open for dinner, but known more for their tailormade cocktails (there is no menu). Sit at the central bar to watch the bartenders at work.
Clyde Common – Connected to Ace Hotel this cocktail bar is a must especially at happy hour (3-6pm) when a selection of cocktails are just $6 each. I loved the Spelling Bee (reposado tequila, agave syrup, absinthe, bitters, grapefruit peel). If you are feeling peckish order a tasty Clyde Common Burger.
Evergreen Escapes – I highly recommend booking a city tour towards the start of your trip to Portland, it is a brilliant way to understand the city culture and get your bearings. Everygreen Escapes offer the ‘Explore Portland’ tour, a three and a half hour trip through the eclectic neighbourhoods of the city. A few of the highlights were the stops at Pittock Mansion, The International Rose Test Garden and Mount Tabor Park.
Food Cart Tours – It is no secret that one of Portland’s most obvious attributes is its thriving food cart scene. Local foodie Brett Burmeister has been offering comprehensive and exclusive tours since 2008, giving an insight into the history of the food carts and tastes from four of his favourite vendors.
Fingerbang – this fabulously wacky nail bar opened in the last few months and is already revolutionising the nails of Portland’s coolest kids. Open 12-12, make a booking with super talented Asa, and let her adorn your nails with her imaginative ideas.
Brick and Mortar – a trendy new barber set up following the dissipation of the popular Modern Man salon. Ask for owner Mikey or Calen and let them restyle your hair so you fit in with the Portland crowd.
Frances May – a chic modern boutique with a carefully curated selection of designer clothes and accessories for men and women. Started up by a very stylish grandmother and granddaughter.
Nike Factory Store – Nike began its life in Oregon, just outside of Portland in 1964. So their factory outlet store is one of the best places to pick up a Nike bargain. Items can be up to 70% off the original shop price.
Milk Milk Lemonade – I loved this quiet little shop in South-East Portland. It is the work studio of OLO Fragrance, a lovely range of perfumes made by shop owner, Heather Sielaff. The most famous scents are Lightening Paw and Bark Wave, though my favourite was Valens.
Multnomah Falls – If you fancy venturing out of town, the amazing Multnomah Waterfall is just 20 minutes’ drive from Portland and entry is free. The fall is 190 metres tall, surrounded by beautiful forest. Admire from the ground or take a short walk up to Benson Bridge for a closer view.