Portland’s Surprising Bites and Brews
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When you think of Portland, Oregon, you probably picture a quirky, rainy city in the Pacific Northwest. And while that reputation is fair, there’s so much more to this growing city. It has an innovative arts culture, fascinating historic sites, and more. Portland is also well-known for its thriving foodie culture.
One of Portland’s most significant subcultures is its food truck scene. The city is currently home to over 600 licensed food trucks where you can explore a variety of cuisines, including Thai, Indian, Cuban… the list goes on and on. The food truck scene in Portland has been growing steadily since its inception in the early 1900s. Born out of a need for cheaper and more easily accessible food options that popped up before and during the Great Depression, these mobile food trucks were created to benefit both the consumer and the aspiring restaurateur. Today, food trucks continue to be popular options, and many have grown into fully operational restaurants. Most restaurants in Portland also have gluten-free or vegan options, so you’ll be able to explore this foodie city no matter your dietary needs.
Here are some of the most unique and classically Portland restaurants, bars, and culinary experiences you should check out next time you’re in the City of Roses:
Fried Egg I’m In Love
This delightful breakfast place has a great punny name and an even greater menu of breakfast sandwiches, filled with a variety of ingredients including fried eggs, as you might imagine! They also have gluten-free and vegan options, including sandwiches made with their house vegan sausage. With multiple locations including a food truck in Pioneer Square, you have lots of chances to indulge.
When I lived in Portland, I went to Waffle Window at least once a week. It’s my favorite place to eat, and every time I go back to visit the city, I can’t leave before I’ve eaten my favorite option there: the Three B’s waffle, topped with basil, bacon, and brie cheese. They use liege waffles as their base, which are a type of waffle that has pearl sugar baked into it. You can buy them plain or with a variety of sweet and savory toppings.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
The owner of this Thai eatery, Nong, came to Portland from Thailand with $70 and two suitcases and created this beloved establishment. It got its start as a food truck and retains its original charm in its new location. One of their most popular recipes is Thai chicken and rice. This may sound like a simple dish, but the flavors and care that go into its creation elevate it to unforgettable levels.
Cubo de Cuba
This Cuban restaurant also began life as just a food truck, but as its popularity grew, its size needed to follow suit. Here they prioritize straightforward comfort food bursting with fresh flavors. They offer several meat options, but also have gluten-free and vegan dishes you can select from. Their rice, veggie, and meat bowls are excellent – enjoy them paired with a Mojito and a side of plantains.
Salt & Straw
Another example of food-truck roots, Salt & Straw has since grown into a beloved ice cream establishment with locations not only in Portland, but in Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco as well. Its popularity has grown particularly in Los Angeles and has caught the eye of some notable people – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is now one of the co-owners. They’re particularly known for their unique blend of flavors, such as Bone Marrow with Bourbon Smoked Cherries and Arbequina Olive Oil. Other favorites include Pear and Blue Cheese, or the tangy Raspberry Balsamic with Black Pepper. If you’re not sure where to start, you can try an ice cream flight, a small serving of four different flavors.
The Roxy is one of Portland’s iconic diners. It’s located on Southwest Harvey Milk Street and has a reputation as an LGBTQ+ friendly establishment, as well as a great place for a late-night meal, as it’s generally open 24-hours. Its dimly lit interior, with pink neon accents, is decorated in an incredibly funky and unique way.
Blue Star Donuts
Although Voodoo Doughnuts is Portland’s most famous donut shop, Blue Star Donuts is actually the go-to place for most Portlanders. Their yeast-leavened donuts come in a variety of flavors and are made fresh daily. Some of the most popular flavor combinations are Creme Brulee, Blueberry Bourbon Basil, and Mexican Hot Chocolate, which is a vegan option. These award-winning gourmet donuts are the perfect dessert or breakfast on the go.
Pine State Biscuits
While the biscuits served here can come with incredible sweet or savory toppings, such as marionberry jam or sausage and mushroom gravy, they’re just as amazing on their own. One of the best ways to enjoy them is in one of Pine State Biscuits’ signature sandwiches.
If you’re looking for a delicatessen with a focus on fresh and local meat, look no further than Lardo. Here’s the place to get sandwiches, loaded fries, and craft beers – just be aware that it’s definitely not a health food option, although in this case, that may be a plus.
This Northeast Portland brewery has a wide selection of beer, but it’s an especially great place to go if you’re a fan of IPAs. They also offer a pub-style menu with burgers, fries, and more that you can pair with your beer.
Gigantic Brewing Company
For a more unique brewery experience, try Gigantic Brewing Company. Get a taste of their off-the-wall flavors such as gin-barrel aged blood orange and tangerine ale. Ben Love and Van Havig are the owners and brewers here, and they are veterans of the Portland brewing scene. There are bike racks outside and outdoor seating when the weather permits.
This Southern-themed establishment specializes in down-home fried chicken and sides such as collard greens, pimento macaroni and cheese, and southern-style biscuits. You can also indulge in one of their cocktails which, like everything else here, are inspired by the flavors of the South.
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Sangeeta Ranade is a writer and digital content creator based near Washington, DC. She is passionate about travel and music, and you can follow her at SangeetaRanade.com.