Six of us met up in Portland for three days this past weekend for the sole purpose of eating our way around the city. Our friends Kye and Eric initially proposed the idea so that we could all try their favorite Portland restaurant, Tanuki, and we were immediately on board along with friends Michael and Robin. All six of us like to fully research our food stops before we travel, so soon we collectively had a list that would take us at least two weeks to tackle. We somehow managed to whittle it down to these:
Making vacuum pot coffee at Barista; macaroni and cheese at Laurelhurst Market; drinks at Beaker & Flask.
Laurelhurst Market – This is a new restaurant and butcher shop owned by the same folks as Simpatica Dining Hall, where we had an awesome brunch a few years back. We checked into the hotel and headed straight here for dinner. Some of the highlights were the pork chop sandwich with tomato sauce and arugula, the cod fritters, their super-tasty fries with herbs and the perfect amount of salt (though not crispy enough), and sweetbreads with gnocchi. We heard the boudin blanc sandwiches were great, but the menu changes weekly and these were weeks-gone by our visit. But you can buy the boudin blanc and other amazing-looking charcuterie from their cold case in the front of the store.
Beaker & Flask – We stopped at this month-old bar for cocktails after dinner. They offer a tasty-sounding dinner and happy hour menu, but we were pretty stuffed already from dinner and so we stuck with drinks. The vibe here is great, while we found the cocktails hit and miss. Eric liked his Philo Bione, while the Coltrane! Coltrane! Coltrane! was too medicinal for everyone’s taste.
Barista – First stop on Friday morning was this vacuum pot coffee brewer in the Pearl District. Not only is the brewing fun to watch as the heat pushes the water into the upper vessel, but the bitterness of the coffee is completely removed, making it smooth to drink. Even one of the non-coffee drinkers in our group was impressed with the coffee and loved how smooth it was.
Broder – For a taste of Sweden in Portland, we headed to Broder to try their aebleskiver pancakes and Swedish meatballs. The aebleskiver are round eggy pancakes served with lemon curd (my favorite), lingonberry jam, and maple syrup. The meatballs come in a lovely sherry cream sauce.
Slathering lemon curd on aebleskiver at Broder Cafe; Nong, of Nong’s Khao Man Gai street food cart; sour cherry tartlette with vanilla bean whipped cream and aged balsamic caramel at Beast.
Next, we moved straight on to lunch, a tour around Portland’s street carts. Seattle has been all abuzz with the new street carts opening recently in our fair city, but we’ve got nothing on Portland. Really, I had no idea there could be such a variety of carts scattered all over a single city. On their own, or more commonly, in clusters together taking up an entire parking lot (Skillet is working on starting Seattle’s first such street food market later this year), there is every possible variety of food to be found on the streets of Portland. There are so many carts that there’s an entire site devoted to reviewing them: Food Carts Portland. Get yourself down to Portland. Now. There is nothing to match the experience of a sunny summer day sitting on a curb eating street cart food.
Koi Fusion – Only a few months old, this is Portland’s Korean taco truck. Kogi is the famous Korean taco truck in L.A., and Seattle has our own Hawaiian-Korean truck, Marination Mobile. At Koi, Eric and I tried a kimchee quesadilla and beef bulgogi taco. The kimchee here definitely beats Marination’s. Bo is the owner and face of the truck, while his mom is the cook behind the cart, making the marinated meat, kimchee, and tortillas by hand. Many of the carts in Portland have fixed locations, but Koi is a cart on the move. You can keep up with their location by following them on twitter @koifusionpdx.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai – Following suit with the style of the traditional street carts in Thailand, this cart only offers one dish, unlike most of the other Portland carts. At first, the steamed chicken (gai) and rice (khao) dish looks simple and perhaps bland, but the secret to its addictive goodness is in Nong’s garlicky sauce, with flavors of ginger, chili, and galangal in perfect balance. Served with a clear broth to slurp between bites, you have yourself some seriously good Thai street food. You can add an option of chicken liver, but she ran out by the time we got here at 1:30. In fact, as soon as we placed our order, a sign went up telling people they were completely out of food for the day.
Spella Caffe – On our walk to our next stop, we grabbed chai teas from the Spella Caffe cart at SW 9th and Alder. Normally served hot, we got ours over ice, since there’s no other way to drink it with the 90 degree heat. Milky with a nice blend of spices, this was a good thirst-quencher.
BrunchBox Food Cart – Our street food guide joining us for lunch today, Patrick Coleman (writer for the Portland Mercury), steered us to BrunchBox to satisfy our grilled cheese sandwich burger cravings. Initially, we were planning to head to The Grilled Cheese Grill to try this monstrosity of a burger, but he said the version at BrunchBox was less greasy, plus it was a convenient short walk away from Nong’s. The Youcanhascheeseburger! is a burger served between two Texas-toast grilled cheese sandwich buns. The burger was initially a joke written on the menu, but it has become a regular menu item since people actually ordered it! The latest joke at BrunchBox is the Redonkadonk: a burger with egg, ham, spam, bacon, and American cheese between two Texas-toast grilled cheese sandwich buns for $9. People are ordering that, too, so they’re now offering a double Redonkadonk.
Discussing the merits of the Pine State Biscuit breakfast plates; talking with Bo at Koi Fusion PDX; soppressata pizza at Ken’s Artisan Pizza.
Rogue Distillery – The heat was getting to us by this point, so we looked for a place to hang out indoors and rest our feet. Rogue was a great place to try a sampling of beers, along with the Rogue root beer. As we were sitting there, we saw a stout ice cream float delivered to the neighboring table – that would’ve been ideal for a day like this!
Beast – Dinner this evening was six courses at Beast with wine pairings. We’d all tried Beast for brunch previously, but this was our first dinner there. The chilled cauliflower velouté was a tasty start to the meal. The was followed by a charcuterie plate, where the highlight was the foie gras bon-bon: a melt-in-your-mouth dome of foie on a tiny shortbread cookie, and topped with Sauternes geleé. The duck leg for the main course was very nicely balanced with a green tomato confiture, and this was followed by a lovely shaved fennel salad with Parmesan crisps, then a cheese plate, and a tiny cherry tartlette.
Ken’s Artisan Pizza – We were stuffed after Beast, but with so little time in Portland, we couldn’t pause on food. Several of us have previously been to Apizza Scholls and consider it the best pizza Portland has to offer. But none of us had been to Ken’s, another highly acclaimed Portland pizza. The two aren’t exactly comparable apples for apples – Apizza is aiming more for NY-style, while Ken’s is inspired by Italy. We ordered one Margherita pizza for the six of us, figuring we’d each get a taste. The waitress gave us a funny look and started to tell us that one pizza may not be enough, until we explained how this was dessert after our six-course meal, and we had to try it before we went back to Seattle. After realizing we were serious, she steered us toward the soppressata instead, since we were only going to have one. This was a great recommendation: crunchy around the edges of the thin-sliced soppresata, and the right ratio of toppings. However, everyone agreed the crust at Apizza is better. The best part was when the waitress comped our meal after we provided her a list of our favorite restaurants in Seattle for her upcoming trip north.
Whiffies Fried Pie Cart – We had one last stop to make before heading to bed. Opened two months ago, Whiffies’ street cart specialty is fried pies. I had trouble picturing what a fried pie would be like until they described it to us as shaped like an empanada. It’s really a gourmet version of the Hostess fruit pies from your childhood. We hear the savory pies are great, such as the BBQ brisket, but just thinking about one of those or a Beans & Franks fried pie after our food rampage made us all groan in pain. Instead we split two sweet pies among the six of us: a guava and a strawberry pie. Everyone besides me preferred the guava, but I loved the strawberry. The pies have a super-flaky crust that I could tell would be perfect with a savory flavor. On the corner of SE 12th and Hawthorne, the cart is open evenings until 3am. The lot draws a crowd of people until the wee hours of the night.
Radishes at Portland Farmers Market; a fried Whiffie pie; eating a Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwich.
Portland Farmer’s Market – The next morning, we took the street car down to the Saturday market. First stop was waiting in the long line for Pine State Biscuits. We tried the Reggie deluxe (fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and a fried egg topped with sausage or mushroom gravy – we ordered two to taste both gravies), the McIsley (fried chicken with pickles, mustard, and honey), and a biscuit with Marionberry jam. All were great. Many were fans of the McIsley, while I preferred the Reggie with sausage gravy. Then we wandered around the stalls, purchasing Marionberries to eat out of (purple) hand, pimientos de padrón which we broiled with oil and salt Sunday night, and fresh squeezed mint lemonade. We also split a baker’s dozen of Two Tarts’ tiny little bakery treats.
Navarre – This was our stop for lunch, a small restaurant serving food inspired by Spain, France, and Italy. You order by filling out a sheet with your choices of small or large items from the ever-changing menu. Our favorites here were the boudin blanc, the kohl rabi with sheep’s cheese and blueberries, and the pile of artisan bread, toasted and served with fresh butter and cherry preserves.
Portland International Beerfest – After a stop at Powell’s, the guys walked over to the Beerfest, where they tried a number of draft and bottled beers of all styles. Eric enjoyed the wheat beers he sampled but was disappointed that the cask-aged beers he was looking forward to were already gone.
Our lunch order at Navarre; upside-down peach cake at Navarre; a couple enjoying dinner at Tanuki.
Tanuki – Finally, the meal that we had planned the entire trip around: an omakase dinner at Eric and Kye’s favorite place, Tanuki. The two of them travel down to Portland about once a month for Chef Janis’ izakaya food, and have been spreading the word ever since their first visit at the New Year. Matthew Amster-Burton tried it on their recommendation and was impressed enough to do a write-up for Gourmet. He made a special trip down to Portland to meet us for the dinner, since Janis promised to source some special items not offered on the menu. Janis kept the food coming for hours, and even after we were stuffed enough to roll home, we wanted to keep tasting all of the amazing plates she set before us: 20 courses in all! Her food is very traditional in the flavors of Japan and Korea, and her repertoire is vast. Highlights included oysters with kimchee granita, albacore hand rolls assembled by us at the table, skate in cinnamon-tea sauce, and spicy tantan udon. We couldn’t believe that she only charged us $50 a person, including all the incredible sakes! This hole-in-the-wall is a must for your next visit to Portland. But get there this summer, because Janis is planning some changes very soon.
Dishes at Tanuki: oysters with shaved kimchi granita; albacore tuna, cucumber, and nori; cabbage and vegetables with wasabi.
Clyde Common – Since it was only a couple blocks from our hotel, we stopped off here on the way back. Everyone enjoyed their cocktails, and felt that the drinks here are well-balanced, making this one of the top places in the city for cocktails.
Bakery Bar – Matthew persuaded us to meet here in the morning, to try Bakery Bar’s house-made English muffin breakfast sandwiches. We wanted to see how they compared to Dahlia Bakery’s egg sandwiches. They definitely have some creative flavors here – I enjoyed my fried egg sandwich with cheddar and bacon-apple-caramelized onion jam, although I think Dahlia still has the edge on the muffins. Our group was pretty divided on this, though. The scones were the perfect combination of crusty edges and fluffy insides, and I gobbled up mine made with blue cheese, caramelized onions, and apples. We all split a banana chocolate mousse cake to take home. The cakes are beautifully decorated, reasonably priced, and tasty, too.
Kenny & Zuke’s SandwichWorks – Last stop before hitting the road was to the new branch of Kenny & Zuke’s, SandwichWorks. We grabbed sandwiches to-go and said our good-byes before heading back to Seattle.