Eating like a local:- More Exploring of the Rip City aka The City of Roses
Regional food specialties
Regional food specialties
Little do most you know I almost ended up a resident of Portland, Oregon this past winter. My wife got a very nice job offer from one of the worlds biggest brands and we had to seriously consider the move. So much so we flew out there on the company's dime so she could meet with some of their higher ups and we could explore Portland and it's neighborhoods. I'm not going to lie I found the idea of moving there to be pretty exciting. First and foremost for the adventure that comes with moving somewhere new and also bc the region itself is one of the prettiest and most relaxing places in the country from my experience. Not to mention the food is pretty damn good. It's not as big as Chicago but this wasn't necessarily going to be a permanent move. All this said there were a few things going on here that we couldn't up and leave and so we decided to stay in Chicago for now. You never know.
Seeing as how we had just visited Portland for the first time less than a year ago this was a quick return trip. We have so many spots we want to go that I wasn't sure I'd be back to Portland anytime soon despite the fact I thought it was awesome our first trip in. This trip was no different. In fact I fell further in love with the area which is pretty much a 180 from what I'm used to as far as the outdoors go. We ate great that first trip but I think this time around the food was even better. We had less time as we were only in town for three nights but I'd already had a thorough guide handy of where to go. It was mid January and the weather was really nice with it reaching the 60's during the day. So that of course was another thing I could get used to. Yeah it snows but their winters are much milder.
Sights from Portland
On our first trip to Portland last year this place was near the top of my list. Then I learned it closed. Hot damn. Well as luck would have it they reopened at some point in between my visits. Their downtown location makes them a popular lunch stop for those that work in the area. But judging by the nighttime crowd they still bring them in when the sun goes down. Japanese style Katsu Curry is the specialty of the house. Curry is big all across Japan including in Kobe where the owner is from. They make baked Katsu (cutlet) here which is common at alot of spots in Kobe. One of my favorite Yoshoku dishes (Japanese style western cuisine) is Doria which is one of a few things on the menu here. Doria is the name for this dish consisting of baked rice with beef curry, melted cheddar and mozzarella. I chose to add a baked chicken tonkatsu on top. This was a glorious dish. I loved it.
Japanese Doria with Tonkatsu at Kale
We missed Pok Pok on our first trip in. For those that don't know this is probably the most well known restaurant in Portland. The type of spot that probably has more TripAdvisor reviews than any other restaurant in the city. Thus it's loved by some and not liked so much by others. Most tourists with a taste for good food will make it into here while many locals will tell you there's better here or there. All that said one cannot discount the influence that Chef Andy Ricker's flagship restaurant has had on the city. Some people think it's typical that a white guy is charging $16 for chicken wings cooking the food of somebody else's people. But it's kind of ignorant to dismiss the fact the kitchen here is run by mostly Asian immigrants many of whom have put their own touch into the food. That's the case for the famous Pok Pok wings which became so popular they now have their own restaurant with a few locations across the country.
Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok
Nicknamed ‘Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings’ after a daytime cook named Ike who shared his family recipe from Vietnam. These are marinated in fish sauce and sugar, and then deep fried, and tossed in caramelized Vietnamese fish sauce and garlic. I thought they were a bit salty but still pretty damn good paired with some local beer. I also really enjoyed an order of Cha Ca Long which is a famous dish from Hanoi. It’s catfish marinated in turmeric and sour rice, fried in turmeric oil with scallions and dill, served on rice vermicelli noodles with peanuts, mint, cilantro, and mam nem. While that took me back to the Vietnam capital, an order of Kung Op Wun Sen took us back to the Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market in Bangkok. Wild caught gulf prawns are baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, lao jiin, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery, and bean thread noodles. It’s served with an out of this world naam jiim (dipping sauce) made from cilantro root and equal parts raw garlic and Thai chiles among other things. Say what you will but these dishes show both dedication and respect to a couple of the worlds greatest cuisines and I'd happily go back.
Regional SE Asian Dishes at Pok Pok
Stretch the Noodle
Portland's food cart scene is always changing so I was excited to check out some of the newer spots. First stop up was a weekday only noodle shop where a husband and wife team are making killer La Mian noodles. For those who have an instagram account I post videos from trips on my page @chibbqking. There you can see the wife in her cart stretching noodles by hand for some insanely good beef noodle soup. I got here right when they opened so I was the 2nd or 3rd customer but by 11:20a there was a line of at least 10 people. I've had some really good eats from Portland's food carts but none were as memorable as this soup. The noodles were all sorts of chewy in a way only fresh hand stretched noodles can be. They lose that chewiness after about 20 mins of shelf life. The best way to eat the noodles is in a Sichuan beef soup with extra tender beef and really potent broth.
Beef Noodle Soup at Stretch the Noodle
My last trip in one of more exciting stops I had planned was for some food from Guam. I ended up taking the bus over to this food cart parked in a pod on Sandy Boulevard and came to learn it was the last day for PDX-671. They were sold out of almost everything including a local chicken salad type dish I really wanted to try. Bummer bc where else am I going to try the food of Guam aside from the island itself? Enter Chochu Local. The owner of Chochu Local took over the PDX671 cart thus the area never really lost it's Guam food connection. As the owner of this cart told me if Guam was a nation then Chicken Kelaguen would be the National dish. It’s chicken grilled over mesquite and left in the fridge overnight. The next morning it gets chopped down into bite sized pieces and mixed with citrus, onions, hot peppers, and a touch of grated coconut. Turning it into some of the best chicken salads I’ve tried. I loved the smokey notes from the grilled bird. Super refreshing which isn’t something you tend to say when discussing grilled meats. Another fantastic foodcart worth seeking out.
Chicken Kelaguen at Chochu Local
With our visit coming in January I was able to browse thru all the Best of 2018 food lists from local publications. One spot that kept popping up was this Chinese restaurant in the Chinese part of town. I don't want to call them just a Jianbing shop bc they have more than that but that's the main thing people were talking about from here. Though there were tons of mentions for the wonton soup too. The menu is pretty small with a couple handfuls worth of options that mainly focus on Chinese breakfast. I was there for the Jianbing which lived up to the hype of Portland's food obsessed.
Jianbing at Master Kong
TM Banh Mi
I couldn't resist a picture of what sums up Portland's oddities so perfectly. This is a marijuana dispensary next to a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich shop. What a 1-2 punch! The dispensary itself didn't seem all that special but I looked up the Banh Mi shop and a local newspaper named it the best in a blind taste off. How do I pass on that? I'm glad I didn't bc not only was this a sensational banh mi sandwich but the older lady who owned the place was a gracious host. As she warmed the bread (crucial move) she gave me a list of spots to check out in town. Mostly breweries that she and her husband like to frequent. One of the best banh mi's I've had in the States and great hospitality.
House Special Banh Mi at TM Banh Mi
The food of Georgia is having a moment right now. So of course there’s a spot or two in Portland pushing it. These dumplings pic'd below are called Khinkali. They’re the perfect ex. of a cuisine that was built at the intersection of Europe and Asia. They’re freshly made with raw pork and beef which cooks when boiling. This also creates a little pool of broth inside each dumpling. Essentially making them soup dumplings. The little knobs on top are used to hold them to eat. It’s recommended you take a small bite out of the fat bottom part and suck the juice out. Back in Georgia the little knobs on top aren’t eaten but rather used to count how many dumplings each person ate when it’s time to pay. I thought these were great. I loved the subtle notes of both dill and cilantro. Pretty hip huh? Oh yeah.
Khinkali at Kargi Gogo
The wife really likes pasta so we usually try to check out the local pasta scene in cities were visiting. We had great success in the pasta department last trip in and this one was no different. I snagged a reservation at Ava Gene's which is a regular mention in the conversation of Portland's best restaurants. This place has made the rounds as far as national publications go so it's pretty much always packed. The menu is Italian with vegetables and pasta playing a big role. We had the fried calamari and two bowls of pasta - one of which was agnolotti which is a favorite of mine. Excellent.
Dinner at Ava Gene's
Fried Egg I'm in Love
Another contender for best bite from a food cart came from a popular breakfast sandwich shop. Fried Egg I'm In Love had just opened a brick and mortar but we weren't far at all from their permanent cart parked downtown. Many of the downtown carts are closed on the weekends but Fried Egg I'm in love is not. They do breakfast sandwiches and serve them on delicious locally made bread. The star of the show and the sandwich that enabled them to open that B&M spot is called the Yolko Ono. It's made with fried egg, homemade pesto, Parmesan, and a hand-pressed house sausage patty. I think this was the best damn breakfast sandwich I've ever had. My wife went back for seconds the next day. I'll try recreating this but it'll be hard getting the toasted sourdough from Portland French Bakery.
Yolko Ono Breakfast Sandwich at Fried Egg I'm in Love
I have yet to get to New Mexico. It's probably #1 on my US bucket list. For whatever reason Portland has a few New Mexican restaurants. Considering we have none in Chicago I gotta get my fix of green and red chiles from somewhere. The couple that owns this cute little cafe in small strip mall is from New Mexico. So these are the dishes they cook for themselves at home. I'm always down for a Christmas Burrito (half green chile / half red chile) with pinto beans and pork pozole. A regional treat.
Christmas Burrito at Panza Cafe
Tehuana Oaxacan Cuisine
I came across this Oaxacan food cart in a popular trailer park sitting in a residential neighborhood. The yelp scores were near perfect with a few mentions of the mole. I gave that a go in the form of some chicken enchiladas. What a delicious plate of food. Yet another memorable dish from the trip.
Mole Enchiladas at Tehuana Oaxacan Cuisine
We did some Happy Hour drinking at this modern Mexican taqueria. It came on good rec from my guy José @tacotrail and was on my radar anyway just bc I'm always looking up tacos when searching through another city's food. Taqueria Nueve is your typical modern Mexican taqueria. Though the tacos were slightly better than most new school spots. Tortillas are made on site and all tacos are just $2 each during happy hour. I tried a few with the suadero shining brightest. A steal at just $2 apiece.
Happy Hour Tacos at Taqueria Nueve
This awesome little corner spot was the only place we returned to (along with Providore Fine Foods). Jacqueline is the type of place one dreams of having down the block from their house. It's a seasonal seafood-centric spot with lots of charm. They're home to one of the best happy hours in the city which includes local oysters at $1 each. Those were great as always but how about this picture of some crab toast below? KILLER. Local Dungeness crab meat piled high on some more of that fantastic locally made Portland bread. This trip was last minute and the hits were constant. The true sign of a good food city. Pound for pound Portland has to be considered among the country's best.
Dungeness Crab Toast at Jacqueline
I'd wanted to try the Thai tasting menu at Langbaan both trips in. However neither of them were planned that far in advance to where I was able to snag reservations. As a fallback we decided to try the little sister restaurant to Langbaan - Paadee. The Thai phrase “paa dee” means “to bring good things”. Well that's exactly what they're doing at Paadee. This is classic Thai comfort food slightly elevated as far as ingredients and atmosphere goes. My wife loved the cocktails here and we both lusted over the food. I wasn't sure what to expect as this is by definition a trendy spot and what not. Well the kitchen doesn't skip a beat as far as flavor. An order of Kor Muu (Kurobuta pork jowl) was yet another contender for best bite this trip. She had the Khao Soi (yellow curry noodles) which was it's usual kick ass self. I couldn't resist an order of Guay Tiew Kua Gai which is a wok fried noodle dish from Bangkok that I still think about often. It consists of flat rice noodles, chicken, egg, sprouts, scallions, and salted radish over romaine. Not quite as wonderful as those made in Bangkok at the dishes namesake alley but still really tasty. Overall this was a big hit. Do not miss that pork jowl.
Food at Paadee
Cameo Pancake & Steak
My final stop was probably my favorite of the trip. I got up bright and early (although it was extra foggy) and took the ride to this little blue collar diner in a random part of town. Owned by a Korean lady thus the menu has some interesting items such as kimchi hash amongst other things. We got a few of these types of spots in Chicago and they're all classics so no surprise to find the same in the Cameo Pancake & Steak. They serve all the breakfast regulars and then some of those previously mentioned Korean dishes too. I was there for the house special. Sue Gee’s Pindaettok - vegetables, beans, spices, and ground rice added to a mung bean batter and cooked like a pancake. Served with duck sauce, two eggs, bacon, and toast. Yo! Guy Fieri! Get in the red Camaro and get over here!
Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Portland.
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