Feature

7 Food Trends That Started in Portland, Oregon

By Alia Akkam  |  September 17, 2015

Long before Portlandia satirized the city’s hipster fetishism of food, Portland, Oregon, was a mecca for quirky, niche culinary businesses — the ideal complement to its plethora of breweries and the top-notch wines made in the nearby Willamette Valley. An enterprising, DIY spirit coupled with a devotion to quality products­ — often bordering on preciousness — ­­has fostered a distinctive food- and drink-obsessed culture that other cities (like Brooklyn) are often falsely credited with originating. In short, Portland was a key player in proliferating the unstoppable wave of "foodieism" currently sweeping the U.S. Here are seven hipster food trends with PDX roots. 

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  • Next-wave Thai food

    Once-mysterious Thai food has now become as widespread as Chinese, and Portland-based chef Andy Ricker played a major role in exposing diners to the flavors of Northern Thai cuisine. Although the Vermont-bred chef is an unlikely ambassador, his devotion to recreating vibrant Thai cooking has significantly catapulted American diners out of predictable chicken pad Thai territory. On his myriad travels to Thailand, Ricker encountered intriguing regional dishes that he painstakingly recreated and put in the spotlight at the Division Street cult hit Pok Pok. Whether it's via his famed fish-sauce wings or his spicy khao soi, Ricker delineates the depth and nuances of Thai flavors. His growing empire, which also includes the noodle joint Sen Yai, has now spread to New York and Los Angeles, where the reception is equally enthusiastic. He's also inspired other chefs around the country to explore Northern Thai and Isan flavors.

  • Urban cider

    There is now a full-fledged cider bar in New York (pictured), and folks from Michigan to Virginia are crafting impressive versions of the fermented apple juice, yet the first pub to prove that cider could have more gumption was Bushwhacker, located in an area of Portland comparable to Brooklyn. Here the refreshing beer-meets-wine quaff gets the limelight via an extensive collection of nearly 200 bottles and housemade concoctions like the tart Alice, made from estate-grown Granny Smith apples. 

  • Hipster donuts

    Newfangled donuts, from dulce de leche to spicy maple praline, now dominate bakeries across the country. But a predilection for flavors beyond old-fashioned powdered sugar was undoubtedly forged at Voodoo Doughnut, the late-night institution (now with outposts in Eugene and Denver) for confections tricked out with the likes of bacon, grape dust and Froot Loops. The city's pervasive donut culture is further amplified by Blue Star, whose own are sprung from brioche dough, and Pip's, known for petite-size fried-to-order ones to accompany from-scratch chai. 

  • Craft coffee

    Although Portland teems with stellar java joints, it wasn't until 1999 that Duane Sorenson debuted Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Southeast Portland, forever transforming the city's coffee culture. Sorenson's dream was to convince Portlanders to care about beans from small family farms that yield transcendent pour-overs. They have been believers from the get-go. At his rock 'n' roll–inspired coffee bars, which can now be found in New York and Seattle — along with countless national wholesale accounts — he has reinforced the importance of quality roasting. Whether it's by attending an enlightening cupping held at the public tasting annex or by sipping on a bracing cold brew served in a chubby glass bottle, it's obvious Stumptown was integral in America's craft-coffee revolution. 

  • Trendy tea

    Just because most Portlanders like to wrap their hands around a premium cappuccino doesn't mean the tea scene isn't just as solid. Much of this has to do with Steven Smith (who sadly passed away earlier this year), the visionary behind Tazo, Stash and most recently, Smith Teamaker. Made with herbs and botanicals from small farmers, the beautifully packaged sachets and loose-leaf teas in blends like Big Hibiscus reflect the craftsmanship and provenance synonymous with Portland. 

  • Artisanal salt

    While salt shakers are ubiquitous props on dinner tables, a few Portland aficionados have taken the condiment to new levels. Consider Mark Bitterman, who sells more than 100 different types of finishing salt at The Meadow (there's a New York location to boot). Likewise, Ben Jacobsen proved there was more to standard-issue Morton’s when he launched Jacobsen Salt Co. in 2011. His collection of flake and kosher sea salts are uniquely harvested from the Oregon Coast’s Netarts Bay, and available in such varieties as black garlic, habanero and tomato basil. The chef-revered salts are adventurous ways to spike food, best sampled in the sleek Southeast PDX ​tasting room. 

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    Barrel-aged cocktails

    Many a bar flaunts a barrel-aged Manhattan these days. The man behind the trend is Jeffrey Morgenthaler. The Clyde Common barman was feeling experimental when he started throwing complete cocktails like the Negroni into barrels for six weeks. His musings on these oft-successful developments gave bartenders the country over the impetus to unveil their own aged libations. In an industry where flash-in-the-pan drinks often take center stage, the ever-popular barrel-aged drinks underscore patrons' devotion to deep, balanced flavors of vanilla and spice.