Portland Food Scene

Portland is a food lover’s haven.  Whether you are looking for something healthy like grilled fish and veggies, or something decadent like poutine (french fries with cheese curds and gravy), Portland has you covered.  Any sort of special dietary needs, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, kosher, halal, nut allergies etc and Portland has you covered.  Any kind of ethnicity you can think of, to the standard Greek, Chinese, Mexican, to some that I have never seen before like Peruvian and Lebanese and ironically enough even “Southern” and Cajun/Creole.  I’ve yet to try the “Soul Food”/”Southern” to see how it stacks up to the real thing.   Here is just a slight taste of some of the good eats I’ve tried in the two weeks I’ve been here.

Food Carts:

There are food carts/food trucks EVERYWHERE in Portland serving everything from Crepes to Cajun.  I’ve been to three so far.  The first two were in the same place off of 12th Avenue.  We couldn’t decide what we wanted so we got some different stuff to try.  First from a cart called Potato Champion we got an order of Poutine which I’ve always wanted to try. It was really good, but the gravy was a little thin, I would have been perfectly happy with just the fries and cheese curds.  The fries were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Then, from a cart called Pyro Pizza we got a wood fired four cheese pizza with a paper thin crust.  It was amazing, and totally worth the 20 minutes we had to wait for it (we were eating our fries anyway).  The third cart we ate at was in Downtown at the Saturday Market and it was called A Taste of Poland, and that’s exactly what I got.  They offered several different sampler platters and the one I got came with pirogis, potato pancakes, a kielbasa link, and chicken meatballs.  My only complaint was they forgot to put the applesauce on my potato pancakes but they were good with the sour cream that came with it.  It was amazing!

Burgerville:

Burgerville is a fast food burger chain here in the Northwest, most of their locations are centered around Portland.  What makes them different from your typical chain is that they source everything locally.  They use local grown beef for their burgers, Tillamook cheese and local veggies.  They offer seasonal specials based on what’s in season, which right now is strawberries.  They also offer some special items such as a turkey burger, a veggie burger, and a gluten free bun is available.  They also compost and recycle most if not all of their waste.  (Commercial curbside composting is available in many places in Portland alongside trash and recycling which is something I had never seen before).

McMenamins:

McMenamins is another chain, if you can call them that, of casual restaurant/bar locations here in Portland.  The reason I hesitate to call them a chain is, while they have many locations, they are all different and have their own flair.  They’ve taken over several old theaters, one that plays movies where you can eat dinner while you watch the movie, and one that hosts live music concerts.  They’ve turned several old buildings (including a former school) into hotels that they run along with their pubs.  In true Portland fashion, they also have several breweries and they brew their own beers.  The different locations will stock different beers as well as rotating seasonals so it certainly behooves you to visit as many of the locations as you can.  So far Lisa and I have been to two different ones.  One in Clackamas off Sunnyside road, which is a standard strip mall restaurant location, and then the one in Oregon City which we’ve been to multiple times.  I don’t know what the Oregon City location used to be, but the porcelain in the men’s room is dated 1919 (which is a copyright date and may not be when it was actually made, but it’s still old!).

Coffee:

If you love coffee, Portland is the place to be.  Sure they have chains like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, but who needs those?  There are HUNDREDS of independent coffee shops around town.  There is quite literally one on every corner.  Portlanders, like those in her sister city of Seattle, love their coffee and are damn serious about it.  I’m honestly surprised the mega chains like Starbucks stay in business but I guess enough people go there to keep them afloat.  Lisa loves coffee and so we’ve already stopped at 3 or 4 different spots while we were out and about.  I’m not a huge coffee drinker, usually just a cup in the morning, but I’ve always dressed my coffee up with cream and sugar since (like beer and other things) the bitterness of coffee takes some getting used to.  Since I’ve been here there’s been several occasions where I’ve drunk my coffee black since getting actual fresh coffee that was roasted 3 days ago and ground that morning is such a HUGE difference to coffee that has sat in a grocery store shelf for 6 months.  The coffee is mild and even slightly sweet, with almost no bitterness at all.  Also, if you are in a hurry (as most people are) dotting the roads everywhere (even out in tiny Canby) are drive through espresso stands.  There’s one in the parking lot of pretty much every grocery store and strip mall and some just on a pull off on the side of the road.  I used to make fun of the people who would pay 4 to 5 bucks for a coffee drink, but I have to admit, every once in a while I have to get a mocha because they are just SO good.  Now I get what the fuss is about.  And the mocha’s here, even with the chocolate you can still taste the coffee, unlike the “warm chocolate milk” mocha I got at EPCOT, or as Lisa would say “Around here we call that hot chocolate.”  A lot of the local shops carry either Stumptown Roasters coffee or Portland Roasters coffee, both of which are very good, and sometimes you stumble into a shop (like we did at the Water Avenue Coffee Co.) that roasts their own in house!

Grocery Store Produce:

I haven’t done a whole lot of grocery shopping yet but I’ve noticed a few things in the produce aisle that has caught my attention.  Lisa and I were discussing some of the things and it makes sense, but it’s still shocking to see the major differences.  Bananas here are about twice as expensive as in NC (still only 64 cents a pound, but I’m used to 35-40 cents a pound), but offsetting that, the apples are WAY cheaper.  The “plain” varieties like red delicious, granny smith, etc are 99 cents a pound, and fancy varieties like Fuji and Gala are $1.49-$1.99 a pound.  Lisa got some organic Fuji apples for something like $2.49 a pound which is cheaper than I’ve paid for non-organic apples back in NC.  I’ve never seen apples for under 2 dollars a pound much less under a dollar a pound! Considering most of the apples come from Washington state, this makes perfect sense.  I’ll probably never have to worry about running into apples from Chile around here! Strawberries here are also way cheaper.  The 8oz packs are about two dollars, which would have run 4-5 dollars at home unless they were on special.  The strawberries come mostly from California, so this also makes sense as being close.  The Williamette valley is home to berry central, so they have a huge variety of berries grown locally including raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and local cultivars of Boysenberries and Marion berries which only grow around here.

Beer:

Of course, it wouldn’t be Beervana without beer right? There are so many micro/small brewers around here it will make your head spin.  There’s quite a few brewpubs where you can only get the beer on tap at the place it’s made, there’s also a few that are big enough to ship nationwide (Rogue Ales and Full Sail to name two) but are still independently owned.  So far I’ve tried beer from Full Sail (which I got back in NC), Portland Brewing Company (Brown ale and McTarnahan’s amber), McMenamins who make their own I’ve tried several off, had a taster tray at Rogue Ales which included a hefewiezen, brown ale, amber ale and nitro stout.  Lisa, Lexie and I went to a place called Roscoe’s which had a very cool set up.  They had 16 beers on tap, but they only had one keg of each so once it was gone it was gone, and they tapped a new one, so the beer selection is constantly rotating. The happy hour food is great and dirt cheap.  The beer I got there was a belgian Dubbel and I recognized the brewers name, but now I can’t remember it.  Next up on the list of places I want to try are the Hopworks Urban Brewery which makes organic beer (and from what I hear amazing food), Sasquatch Brewing company just because it’s cool and several others.

So there you have it.. come visit Portland and Eat, Drink and Be Merry!!

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2 Comments

  1. I saw curbside composting for the first time a couple years ago in San Francisco – it definitely surprised me too.

    Re: the southern food, I have another NC-transplant who lives in Portland and she was just raving about the southern food at Southland. So it might be worth checking out if you want a taste of home. http://southlandportland.com/

    sounds like you are having fun checking out all the options out there! enjoy!

    • I think Lisa may have mentioned Southland before. There is also a cajun cafe near her apartment called Delta that she says is really good, and she’s been to New Orleans multiple times so she’s not gonna fall for something that’s not authentic.


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  • About Me

    I am a recent graduate in Food Science (NC State, 2009) and I work for a major food manufacturing company. I love food, but I can no longer eat anything that crosses my path. About 24 months ago I begin a serious struggle to get my obesity under control and reduce my chances of developing Type II diabetes. Since September of '09 I have lost 50 pounds and I still have a long ways to go. I've started eating better and exercising more, including taking up running.