Monday, August 27, 2018

Eating BIG in Portland

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring Rip City aka The City of Roses

It somewhat shames me to say it but US travel doesn't quite do it for me like international does these days. Probably due to my love for the unknown. Don't get me wrong I still love travel in all forms and can find joy in exploring all places but what really gets me going nowadays is immersing myself in an entirely new culture. But if there's one place in the United States where the culture is a bit off and unlike most other places it's probably Portland. A city long on my list of places to visit. But bc flights aren't exactly abundant it's not an easy spot to get to. Sometimes the price can be equal to an international so for that reason we never went until the opportunity (tickets less than $400) arose.

Neon in Portland

Portland is an interesting place. As the old show Portlandia loved to point out. It's been in the news of late for clashes between groups that disagree on some things. It's always kind of been a place where radical thinking is done freely. That goes for both sides. It's location in the middle of the Northwest is about as good as it gets for those of us who like to take in the great outdoors. I was surprised how close some amazing getaways were to the city. Waterfalls and such just 20 minutes out. But then there's also some really nice places to visit within the city. Two of the spots we checked out were the Rose Garden and also the Japanese Garden. I rec both of them. I'm not going to lie I could probably get comfortable in a place like Portland. There's alot of natural beauty and the food is pretty good too.

Sights from Portland

Chez Dodo

My first stop after checking into the hotel would be a popular lunch cart parked downtown. Bc of it's downtown location it's not open on the weekends so I only had limited time to try them. Them being the folks at Chez Dodo, a place I'm pretty sure is the only Mauritian restaurant in the States. Mauritius being the African island nation that's a melting pot of culture from Africa, Asia, India and elsewhere. We actually flirted with the idea of going there on our honeymoon trip to South Africa but it became too much travel to handle. There's a few Mauritian restaurants in Paris but other than those it's pretty hard to come across this eclectic cuisine off of the island. The owner of Chez Dodo is from Mauritius and he's cooking food from his childhood. Dishes like this wonderful box of fried noodles called Mine Frire mixing pan fried yakisoba noodles with meats and veggies. Topped with a terrific chutney sauce this had flavor undertones from both China and India. I wish I could've tried more.

Mine Frire at Chez Dodo

Mama Chow's Kitchen

Here's another downtown cart that closes on Saturday and Sunday. Owned by a guy who moved up from San Francisco and brought his city favorites with him. The menu is simple with lollipop wings, wontons, and a couple other things being your options. I got the lollipop wings over garlic noodles. Really good. I guess you could describe it as the perfect example of food cart food. These carts are somewhat limited in what they can do but the food can still be tasty which these fresh fried wings that were more sweet than spicy. I left wondering if the wontons were the better choice. Next time maybe.

Lollipop Wings at Mama Chow

Bing Mi

One of the hottest food trends of the last couple years is the US birth of Jianbing. The famous Beijing street food started to appear on both coasts as recently as a couple years ago. Now there’s Chinese crepe spots in places like St. Louis and Portland. The popular breakfast snack always comes with a bit of a show. The savory crepes are made on a hot stove which legend has it was originally developed by Chinese soldiers who lost their woks in battle and instead used their shields to make meals. The main ingredients are a batter of wheat and grain flour with eggs and sauces. It can be topped with different fillings like thin-crispy fried crackers, chopped mustard pickles, scallions, chili sauce or hoisin sauce depending on personal preference. It is often folded several times before serving and thus eaten like a wrap or burrito. As someone who prefers savory to sweet when it comes to breakfast this is something I would eat often if given the chance. We had a great little spot in Chinatown making them but it’s no longer there. So I was happy to get a good one from Bing Mi.

Jianbing at Bing Mi

Nong's Khao Man Gai

Here we have one of Portland's most famous carts. Nong's had just opened a brick and mortar when we were there. But I wanted to make sure we did the truck that is one of those responsible for putting the city's food cart scene on the map. Nong's is owned by a Thai immigrant who cooks her family recipe Khao Man Gai which is Thai style Hainanese chicken rice. That's all they do here. Boiled chicken and rice cooked in it's fat juice. It's a simple dish in terms of looks but it's by no means a boring one in flavor. I had this in SE Asia a couple times and Nong's was on par with those offerings. They use quality chicken as it's important to have good chicken in a dish where the chicken makes up for almost all of the flavor. I was too late for the option to add on crispy bits of chicken skin but what I got was rewarding enough. Dump the bowl of fat laced broth over the rice and start eating.

Nong's Khao Man Gai


I wanted to try PDX 671 since first reading about it years ago. Must've been a decade maybe. They're one of the only spots in America doing recipes from Guam. That's where the owner is from and he opened a food cart a while back that showcased some of his favorite family recipes. Crazy enough when I was in Portland it was PDX671's last day and I just so happened to be headed that way. So by the time I arrived all that was left was lumpia. Which was a bit of a buzzkill as I really wanted to try his Guam style chicken salad or maybe the grilled chicken. Either way it was nice that I got to try something. The lumpia style egg rolls were really good and the garlic black pepper dipping sauce was was exquisite. From the looks of their site they're doing pop up's now. I wouldn't be surprised to see a restaurant open sometime in the future. This place had a long run and thus earned lots of big fans.

Lumpia at PDX671

Viking Soul Food

Pretty much anything that is or was a trend can be found in the form of a Portland food cart. So the option for some Scandinavian cuisine is of course there. I think in more than one cart actually. Viking Soul Food was in a park with a few other trailers. One of their lefse wraps sounded good on what was a pretty hot day. Lefse being a durable Norwegian flatbread made from potatoes. It's super versatile too as it can be made into wraps and such like that which you see below. It's a lefse with smoked salmon, dill creme fraiche, pickled shallots, mixed lettuces and green cabbage mixed in it. I was right about this being a really good snack at what was a really hot day. Lots of fresh flavors.

Smoked Salmon Lefse Wrap at Viking Soul Food

Sherpa Nirvana Momo

I have this thing where before I visit a city I'll search yelp for certain dishes I love. Like dumplings. But I like to get more specific than dumplings. You know stuff like momo aka Tibetan dumplings. Of course Portland has a few spots serving these severely underrated treats. To me they're as delicious as Potstickers and Xiao Long Bao when done right. But lots of spots only use chicken in the filling. In Tibet and Nepal the traditional filling is yak but beef works best here in the States where yak isn't readily available. I chose Sherpa Nirvana bc they had beef as an option. To me it works best with both the green and red sauces that should come with all momo. One green chili. One red chili. The momo are usually seasoned with ginger, turmeric, cumin etc. The combo of them all is wonderful.

Momo at Sherpa Nirvana


Considering Portland's love for food carts and also for pasta it's no surprise to find the two together at Gumba. "The Gumba food cart was opened by two life long friends Robin and Jesse, both raised in the small town of Silverton, Oregon. They often talked even in their teenage years of opening a business together, no real plan, just a dream shared between the optimistic youth. Many years later with no business experience, and a shoe string budget, in late July of 2016 Gumba opened…a menu of 3 items written on a paper bag, with ingredients that were bought at the co-op across the street of what last remained in the bank account…." Your choice is usually limited to a few pastas but all of them are made in cart. We got to try the made in-cart spaghetti with calamari, prosciutto, bread crumbs, and Parmesan. Really nice. Next time I hope I can try one of their Napoli style pizza frittas.

Pasta at Gumba

Voodoo Doughnuts

Every city has a stop that just about every first time tourists makes it to. In Portland that place is Voodoo Doughnuts. It's an independent owned eatery that's open 24/7. They employ over 600 people with outlets in Portland, Eugene, Denver, Austin, Universal City, and Orlando. They're known for eclectic decor, pink boxes and some fantastic donuts. Most of which reflect the shop itself and are weird, colorful, and unusual. I walked by quite a few times and surprisingly my first encounter with them there were no lines. This was during the day. By the time I was out it was forming through the night. It goes fast though and the donuts are indeed really good. I went twice and loved each one I tried. TO give yo an idea on the offerings they have a Marshall Mathers made with a cake doughnut and vanilla frosting with mini M&M’s sticking to it. The namesake features a raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stick. But all characteristics of Voodoo Dolls are all different. My favorite was a Guava Colada on special. The hype is real.

Doughnuts at Voodoo Doughnuts

Afuri Ramen & Dumpling

Like I said I like to know whee to go for dumplings. Afuri is a Japanese ramen chain that chose Portland as their first US location. Something about the water. Well as I also mentioned it was hot. No ramen this trip. But I saw they do a lattice style gyoza native to the region the chain is from. So I had to try some. They were really good but perhaps not as crispy as hoped. It felt like they got steamed after being crisped up and thus lost some of that crucial crunch. I still ate them all. 

Gyoza at Afuri 


Always on the prowl for happy hour oysters we found a good one at Jacqueline. They had a variety of local West coast oysters available during their happy hour which features them for $1 each. I've always found the cold water west coast oysters more favorable to the East but my real preference is cold water over warm water. Jacqueline is a trendy seafood spot with an ever changing menu however the Vietnamese inspired shrimp salad is always available. We were told it's very popular. Which was easy to understand after eating our first order. They used little Bay shrimps in it. Fantastic.

Oysters and Shrimp Salad at Jacqueline


Portland surprised us with their pasta game. Having just come from Italy a few months before this trip we were really impressed having used that trip to Italy as comparison. I made sure to make some room on our schedule for Thursday gnocchi nights here. Run by one of the country's best Italian chefs. Cathy Whims has been nominated for a James Beard award six times. She's very respected in the industry and if there's one dish she's known for it might be her gnocchi. Every Thursday for lunch and dinner they offer said gnocchi a few different ways. When I saw one of those ways was with Marcella Hazen's famous marinara I knew which one I wanted. Hazen's recipe is easily found and online and is easily made but this Nostrano version was somehow better. Hard to say what made it. Was it the addictive sauce or the perfect little pillows of potato goodness that was the gnocchi?

Gnocchi Night at Nostrano

Wailua Shave Ice

I've never been to Hawaii. But one day I'll eat my way through the islands regional eats and when I do I cant wait to get shave ice. Notice it's not shaved ice. If you see a place selling "shaved" ice it's a generic representation of the real thing which I finally got try this trip. That's bc the folks at Wailua Shave Ice have three locations. The original is on the island of Kauai. Then they have two main land locations, One in San Diego and the other in Portland. I was very excited to try what they advertised as real shave ice made with real fruits and juices. No high fructose favored syrups in these. I got the orange dream which came with fresh squeezed OJ as well as pineapple juice. But the key to a great shave ice (if this is one) is the ice itself. It was so light and airy and downright fluffy. I loved this treat.

Shave Ice at Wailua Shave Ice

 Han Oak

There was really only one place I knew I wasn't going to Portland and not trying. Han Oak has been on my radar since it was named best new restaurant in America or something to the likes by some publication. It doesn't really matter anymore bc the secret is out. You need a reservation to dine here. Run by a family who got sick of the constant restaurant business grind and decided to move on. But not from the restaurant biz but rather from the constant travel to and from work. So they opened a restaurant at their house. I should note it still feels like a restaurant it's just that their backyard is now a dining area with the inside being an attachment they put on for the restaurant. To really give it the feel of being at someone's house there was a little baby (maybe 8/9 months) just chilling in a baby seat right at the check in desk. From what I read this place is a true family biz in every sense.

Asparagus in Ume Shiso (Banchan)

First thing out the kitchen was the days banchan. It's basically the bread service of a Korean restaurant. Many times the banchan will be multiple handfuls worth of offerings but this isn't one of those spots. It's elevated Korean and this banchan with an Ume Shiso Mayo like dressing was proof. One thing I couldn't wait to try were the kimchi dumplings. Of which were off the menu on our visit. DOH! Still they did have a traditional pork filled option and they were as wonderful as they look.

Pork & Chive dumplings, black vinegar & ginger broth at Han Oak

Wherever there's good dumplings, good noodles usually aren't far. In the case of the menu at Han Oak they share a section. Anytime I see hand pulled noodles it's hard to resist an order. Han Oak makes a Biang Biang style noodle in the form of a style popular in China's Shaanxi province. These noodles have characteristics of being long and thick and the perfect amount of chewy. Traditionally these are tossed in the chile oil sauce that's an integral part of many Chinese recipes. Han Oak adds crispy pork belly into the mix which is never really a bad idea. This was another really good dish.

Hand-Pulled Noodles in chili oil (‘biang biang’ mian) twice-cooked pork belly, cabbage, onions, garlic chives

Final plate of the night was a bowl of Korean style ssam. Which translates to wraps. Usually this dish will consist of little lettuce wraps or sometimes rice paper which is what we were served here. You use the wraps to hold the greens and pork which is made with belly/coppa. Served with a side of sticky purple rice I wanted to eat these little DIY wraps all through the night. Best meal of the trip.

Pork bo ssam koji marinated belly/coppa, pickled daikon, rice paper, scallion salad
Providore Fine Foods

We stayed at a hotel but I'm pretty sure there's some beautiful AirBNB's in town. You may want to look around the Kerns neighborhood if you go. It was one of the city's many interesting areas with lots going on as far as food and fun. If you like da ganja it's where the start of the city's Green Mile gets going. It's also where Providore Foods is. This would be a great place to shop at should you have an AirBNB. It's a wonderful grocery store that had some really nice stuff. They have a wine section with knowledgeable people when it comes to local wines. We just couldn't resist a bottle and a plate of cheese from the cheesemonger which we enjoyed outside. I forget the price but we got a wonderful plate of fresh local and international cheeses for something that was more than reasonable with the wine. I really wish we had a spot like this. It was like Whole Foods but you know, actually good.

Cheese Plate at Han Providore Foods


This spot was located next to one of those just turned 21 bars where the music was loud and the drinks made to seem cheap. You could hear the music blasting from next door into the dining area here. Owned by Chef Gabriel Rucker this is his third establishment and the second sibling restaurant to his regionally famous Le Pigeon. Rucker who is from California moved to Portland when rent became too high in San Francisco. Lucky for him he doesn't have to worry about rent hikes these days. Not with his three spots proving very popular to all. Canard has early and late Happy Hour. We went late and munched on local oysters, fresh cut fries, and little sliders on Hawaiian rolls. Not bad.

Happy Hour Food at Canard

Daytrip to Wine Country

Willamette Valley

Just 30 minutes out side of the city is the Willamette Valley. This is where many of the states pinot grigio is made. It felt a bit like Sonoma with all the wineries located in the hills. We ended up taking a really relaxing daytrip over he holiday wkd. Bc of the holiday most of the spots had tastings going on so we set out to try a few. I forget exactly which ones but I would recommend the trip to all.

Sights from the Wineries

Red Hills Market

No matter which Wine Country you're in you can always find a spot like Red Hills Market in Dundee. You know the drill. Fresh local goods with a menu featuring pizza, sandwiches etc. All made with those same fresh local goods. Sometime these places are better than others but honestly most of the time they're all worth a stop for one or another. You have to support the places willing to put stuff that's not mass produced on their shelves. This breakfast sandwich with bacon, egg, greens was nothing extravagant as far as prep. Me or you could've made it. As long as we had access to good ingredients. I wish every neighborhood and town had access (and the means to shop) spots like this.

Breakfast Sandwich at Red Hills Market

Ruddick/Wood Tavern

A town or two over in Newburg was this hip bar with a decent looking drink menu. We made a stop and opted to sit outside and enjoy what was a beautiful day. We also opted to try the shrimp and grits. I wasn't expecting anything too special as we're a ways away from the South. It wasn't special but it was pretty good. Maybe a tad much tomato. The use of bay shrimp gave it that regional feel.

Shrimp & Grits at Ruddick/Wood Tavern

Taqueria Kopitos

Another thing you can find in all Wine Country's is tacos. The wineries employees need to eat. Often times Mexican immagrants will start off as grape pickers and then move on to open their open taquerias and supermercados. The spots where you'll find good tacos. Taqueria Kopitos was mentioned for having really good made in store tortillas and people seemed to like the shrimp on them. Good call Yelpers.

Shrimp Taco at Taqueria Kopitos


Located in the city's hip Eastside is this hip little pasta spot popular with Portlanders and tourists alike. It's a large space at Renata where the made in-house pastas and also the wood fired pizzas are popular. We thought about getting a pizza but ended up going for two pastas and app of artichokes.

Artichokes with Garlic and Herb Butter

The menu at Renata is seasonal o you wont find these beautiful artichokes on the menu anymore but it gives you an idea on the type of Italian food coming out of the kitchen. It's simple in ingredients but not so much in prep. I'll use the pasta cappelletti below as an example. Anytime you're doing hand stuffed pasta I have to take a try. Maybe not my favorite combination with it being meatless. I prefer a little bit of meat stuffed in the middle. This was mild with flavors of Summer showcased.

Cappelletti with Potato and Cream

Next pasta out was their signature Bucatini all’Amatriciana. We scarfed this Roman favorite down real quick. I don't know if it's any better in the region of Lazio itself but I felt that Renata's take on the classic was something I would have been very happy with in Rome. It was order another round good.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana at Renata

Pepper Box Café

Portland was right at the top of list of US cities I still needed to visit. Now that's off I'm pretty sure Santa Fe (and Albuquerque) are now at the top of the list. This is almost solely based off food but they say the views and culture is pretty terrific too. Well no trip to New Mexico this year but it was nice to see Portland has a few New Mexican restaurants of their own. We don't have any in Chicago so I wanted to get some green chile spice while in PDX. I talked to the owner of the Pepper Box who said he was from New Mexico. Santa Fe I think. I went ahead and tried two breakfast tacos to start.

Primo Breakfast Taco - cage free eggs, pastrami, pickled hot peppers, onions, pepperjack cheese, chipotle crema

The Primo breakfast taco was big enough to be breakfast in and of itself. I thought it was like something I'd find t a hip little spot in Austin Texas. I'm sure there are bad bfast tacos but I'm happy to say I've never really had one. What I was really here for though was the original breakfast taco with potato, egg, choice of meat, cheese and the option to have it smothered with green chile sauce or red chile sauce or both. This is the type of stuff I cant wait to eat in the Land of Enchantment.

Smothered New Mexico Chile Burrito

Daytrip to the Falls

Sights from the Columbia River Gorge 

I had really wanted to take a trip over to the coast. It's something I've always wanted to do is explore the area up and down there. Lots of little beach towns and some really terrific food to be ate and sights to be seen. But bc of the long trip there we decided to do a ride along the Columbia River Gorge instead. We took note of some popular waterfalls and were there within a half hour. Boy I could spend a summer out there on the river as its as scenic a landscape we have in this country.

Brigham Fish Market

We only had a lunch on this trip and it wasn't even planned. While heading back I took a scenic route through the town of Cascade Locks and happened to come upon a fish market. But not just any fish market. Fish N’ Chips with a sick, sick view. Sometimes the best spots are the spur of the moment ones.  We found this fantastic batch of Alaskan Fried Halibut coated in light breading by chance while cruisin’ the Columbia Gorge. Don’t skip the smoked fish (salmon). Roadfood at its absolute finest.

View from the outdoor dining area

Also great was the clam chowder. The food and the views up along the river looking over in Washington were both outstanding. In fact this batch of fried halibut might've been the best thing I ate on our entire trip. It was exactly what I wanted from a trip out to the coast so I was very happy I got it. I prefer battered fish to breaded but this being the house specialty I opted to go for it. Good choice. Probably the best breaded fish I can remember having. Everything here pretty much perfect.

Fried Halibut and Fries at Brigham Fish Market

Olympia Meats

Where there's hipsters there's charcuterie. Or in the case of Olympia Meats there's really good charcuterie. So good they've expanded from a small little shop to two large locations with both stores and restaurants. We went to one of them for a happy hour board and while it wasn't on the happy hour menu they were happy to hook us up with some pate as they had some made in-house. Wow. 'm on record as proclaiming my uncles to be the best of the best but this was right there with it. We were surprised by how much we liked it as more times than not we're let down when not on par with his.

Pate at Olympia Meats

The board of happy hour meats was also really good. This seemed like one of the best places in the city as far as food. They are highly skilled in their craft so I/m wishing we tried more. Almost as good as the pate was a Greek dried sausage that included flavor bombs of cumin. Whoa was it tasty. I had to get a couple to take home which was great in that I could just carry them on in my backpack.

Charcuterie Board at Olympia Meats

Hat Yai

One thing I didn't really get to do was explore Portland's Asian food scene. More particularly it's Vietnamese and Thai spots. Out in the suburb of Beaverton they have what are supposed to be some really good low key spots that cater to mostly clientele from the country who's food they cook. In the hip and happening areas restaurants like Pok Pok and Hat Yai cater to the younger crowds. I didn't make it to Pok Pok but I made sure to try some Thai fried chicken at Hat Yai. The owner named his restaurant after the southern Thai city where fried chicken is King. The recipe here includes marinating the chicken in soy, white pepper, cumin and coriander both fine-ground and whole, before deep frying with sliced shallots which take up flavor in the oil. Get your chicken with sticky rice and an order of both the Malaysian style curry and also the roti and proceed to dip everything into the silky smooth yellow curry. We both liked our meal here. It almost brought us back to Thailand.

Thai Fried Chciken and Roti with Curry at Hat Yai

Ate-oh-Ate Grill

Lots of Hawaiian options in Portland and really the entire west coast inland to Vegas for that matter. But they rarely make it further east than that. That said Portland isn't known for it's weather so interesting to see quite a few options for spam musabi and such. Ate-oh-Ate looked like one of the better ones with lots of the menu items tempting me. My call would end up being the stir fried saimin noodles with Roasted Pork Belly, Dashi & Vegetables. Saimin noodles are a noodle product of many different immigrant groups in Hawaii. It's actually the official dish of the island and usually ate in soup.

Stir Fried Saimin

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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