This city is home to an astonishing array of food trucks and carts, indie coffee shops, brewpubs and world-class chefs. So when our son, Greg, a longtime resident, proposed a June trip, my husband and I started planning immediately.
By “planning,” I mean checking out restaurants and making reservations. In anticipation of the glorious weather we had experienced in previous summers, we crafted an extensive outdoor itinerary.
When we landed here on a Friday afternoon, our outsider status became apparent.
It was raining off and on, a probability locals understand and ignore — and a possibility we didn’t anticipate.
No matter. The rain turned to drizzle (or “mizzle,” as the hotel doorman called it), and Portlanders continued with their eating, drinking and smoking throughout the evening, all outside.
We experienced a lot of mizzle during our four-day stay, but we pulled up our hoodies and were undeterred.
Who needs the sun when you can have Oregon cherry pie, tamales oaxaqueños or a chimichurri steak salad with tomatoes?
Finding Mexican comfort food
As a longtime Angeleno, I was a little dubious about a Mexican restaurant in the Pacific Northwest, one that (according to Eater.com) “makes some of the best tamales in town.”
But I had to acknowledge — and banish — my doubts as soon as the food arrived.
Seconds after we ordered at the counter, a server came to our table with a mortar and pestle and all the ingredients for guacamole molcajete, with avocado, dried chile oil and roasted sunflower seeds.
The tamales oaxaqueños (masa filled with slow-roasted pork) arrived soon after and fulfilled our need for comfort food on a damp evening.
Our favorite dish was the torta de cochinita (roasted pork in citrus juices and achiote and served on a toasted telera roll with avocado, pickled onions and an over-easy egg).
The earthy pork, combined with the bite of the onions and richness of the avocado and the egg, was something to celebrate.
Many of the diners chose to eat outside on a large patio, listen to a local guitarist and sip on micheladas (house-made tomato juice, beer, a shot of tequila and a sublimely spicy salted rim). After a couple of those, no one seemed to care about the mizzle.
Info: Tamale Boy, 1764 NE Dekum St.; (503) 206-8022. Prices about $3 to $16.
Throughout the weekend, we encountered locals who ignored the rain in pursuit of food that has allowed Portland to be anointed as a foodie paradise.
On Saturday, we detected the irresistible aroma of barbecue in the parking lot of a Safeway supermarket in the North quadrant of the city. (The others are Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. Yes, Portland has five “quadrants.”)
We encountered a woman cooking ribs — in the rain — and a line of customers waiting patiently for their turn to walk away with a Styrofoam container of baby backs.
We joined them and started to inhale the smoky, sinewy meat.
The sun emerged later in the day as we strolled down Alberta Street in the Northeast district, where many restaurants have outdoor seating.
We spotted sandwich shops, food trucks, pizza joints, brewpubs and insanely long lines at Salt & Straw ice cream, a Portland-based company (with Los Angeles locations) known for its unconventional flavors such as pear and blue cheese and arbequina olive oil.
Info: Salt & Straw, 2035 NE Alberta St.; (503) 208-3867. From about $4.
Hooray for pie and Bollywood
On late Sunday afternoon, we returned to Alberta Street, where our party of five split into subgroups to experience Oregon cherry pie and blackberry and apple pie at the Random Order Pie Bar, and curried shrimp and rice at a restaurant called Bollywood Theater.
Both pies were noteworthy for their flaky, buttery crusts that would be a sublime dining experience without any filling at all.
The curried shrimp had a nice bite, but the real reason to stop by Bollywood Theater is the ease with which customers can move from indoors to outdoors and back again; it feels like a picnic.
Info: Random Order Pie Bar, 1800 NE Alberta St.; (971) 340-6995. $5.50 for a slice; $30 for a whole pie.
Bollywood Theater, 2039 NE Alberta St.; (971) 200-4711. About $3 to $19.
A little history with your food coma
During our stay, we ventured into the Northwest part of the city for a variety of meals, two of them lunches.
One day, we met a longtime friend at Meriwether’s Restaurant & Skyline Farm, a cozy space with portraits of Lewis (thus the Meriwether) and Clark hanging above a fireplace in the bar area and a welcoming outdoor patio distinguished by pink and red roses at their peak.
Fleece was the attire of the day, and almost everyone looked as though they’d answered a casting call (issued by a Southern Californian) for a movie about Portland.
We ordered biscuits and gravy (house-made biscuits, country pork shoulder, gravy and poached eggs) and house corned beef hash (with potatoes, kale, fennel, onions, green garlic and fried eggs), followed by double espressos to jolt us out of our food coma. Both dishes lived up to our expectations of comfort food.
The summer dinner menu includes halibut with fava beans, summer squash, tomato confit and lemon jam; chicken with Romano beans, blistered cherry tomatoes and Padrón peppers; and house-made ravioli with pistachio, zucchini, burrata, basil, pesto and guanciale.
Info: Meriwether’s Restaurant & Skyline Farm, 2601 NW Vaughn St.; (503) 228-1250. Brunch items $3 to $22.
A Paragon of goodness
On another day, we dined at Paragon Restaurant & Bar in the Pearl District, which has tables and chairs on the sidewalk outside and a sleek, modern bar and tables inside.
The customers (most of whom sat inside) seemed to be a mix of tourists, shoppers who were taking a break from their walkabouts and local businesspeople who understood that their meals would be pleasant, leisurely — and well-executed.
At lunch, we ordered a Bibb salad with house-smoked bacon, fried shallots, tomatoes and blue cheese dressing (serviceable); fried balsamic Brussels sprouts (memorable); and a perfectly prepared chunk of Chinook salmon with roasted beets, fennel, horseradish cream and sherry vinaigrette.
Info: Paragon Restaurant & Bar, 1309 NW Hoyt St.; (503) 833-5060. Prices about $6 to $30.
A kaleidoscope of offerings
Spend some time walking the streets of the Rose City and you may think that every block is a kaleidoscope of cocktails, pizza, craft beer, small plates, coffee and baked goods.
Food carts and trucks have a lot to do with that impression, and downtown’s Alder Street Food Cart Pod has a long list of offerings.
Before our lunch at Paragon, we visited the carts, where I indulged in a notable, unusual breakfast: the signature chicken and rice from Nong’s Khao Man Gai. It is served with a sauce of fermented soybeans, ginger, garlic, Thai chilies, vinegar, house-made syrup and soy sauce.
At 10:30 a.m., most patrons were ordering more traditional fare from other carts, but friends had urged me to try Nong’s, and it turned out to be better than anything you’d expect to find listed under “breakfast.”
One evening, after a day of nonstop eating, we detected an urgent need for pizza among some members of our party and made a stop at Atomic Pizza, a quiet little storefront in the North part of the city.
There were families, some dining outside, and their conversations led us to believe they had arrived under similar circumstances: Hungry children had hijacked the itinerary.
But our Paul Bunyan (tomato sauce, mozzarella, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, ground beef and sausage), consumed at a table on a lovely patio bordered by a garden with roses and other blooming plants, helped resolve the hunger crisis.
Info: Nong’s Khao Man Gai, 1003 SW Alder St.; (971) 255-3480. Prices for chicken and rice (the short menu consists of a large and small version of the dish with various add-ons). About $9 to $15.
Atomic Pizza, 1936 N. Killingsworth St., (503) 285-5490. Prices from about $5 to $30.
Don’t mind the mizzle
We ordered our last meal in Portland at the Produce Row Café, a gastropub in a Southeast neighborhood that may remind visiting Angelenos of downtown’s Arts District.
The Porklandia Dip (smoked pork loin, cheddar, baby kale and hazelnut romesco sauce), Row Burger (with provolone, crispy onions, lettuce and tomato) and chimichurri steak salad (house greens, pickled onion, tomatoes, Parmesan, radish and balsamic vinaigrette) made for an appropriate send-off from the city that never met a rainy day it didn’t like.
The outdoor seating was damp, but what’s a little mizzle when all that meat (and a pale ale) beckons?
Info: Produce Row Cafe, 204 SE Oak St., (503) 232-8355. Prices $5 to $17.
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO PORTLAND, ORE.
From LAX, Delta, Alaska, American and Southwest offer nonstop service to Portland; Southwest offers direct service (stop, no change of plane); and Southwest, Virgin America, Delta, Alaska, American and United offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip airfare from $136, including taxes and fees.