Ultimate Food Weekend: Portland, Oregon

By Kathleen Squires  |  September 17, 2013

As the satiric comedy show Portlandia so astutely points out, Portlanders take their food and drink seriously. Some visitors come to the City of Roses solely to eat and drink. In fact, an estimated 10,000 food lovers will descend upon PDX’s Downtown area starting Thursday, September 19 for the three-day Feast Portland. Events include the Sandwich Invitational, where chefs from across the country compete to make the best bites between bread; two days of an elaborate Grand Tasting, highlighting local product and an atmospheric Night Market, conjuring the streets of Southeast Asia after dark. Whether or not there is a food festival happening, great culinary experiences abound throughout the year. Here are our picks of Portland’s best; mix and match these suggestions for a perfect dining weekend.

  • The City’s Signatures
    Wild salmon season is May through November, so now is the time to enjoy coho, sockeye, Chinook and king varieties. Salty’s, right on the Columbia River where the salmon swim upstream, serves a straight-up grilled version with warm orzo and feta salad, baby artichokes, celery leaf pesto and olive vinaigrette. Meanwhile, Roe gets creative with an olive oil confit of salmon flavored with gin botanicals, tonic gelee and ponzu.

    Food carts were a thing in Portland well before the mobile food craze swarmed the rest of the country. There are over 500 around town, many grouped into “pods”; find them on this handy map. Among the most beloved: the new Tiffin Asha, devoted to Indian Dosa; the legendary Grilled Cheese Grill; Francisco’s Taqueria (at the 3rd and Stark Pod); and PDX 671, which offers food from Guam.

  • The Top Toques
    Gabriel Rucker of LePigeon and Little Bird Bistro took top honors for Best Chef Northwest at the James Beard Foundation Awards this past year for his offal-forward cuisine. He releases his first cookbook, Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird, this week. Naomi Pomeroy of Beast, a Top Chef Masters contender, recently unveiled Expatriate, her ode to “drinking food.” Cathy Whims’s Nostrana and Oven & Shaker are regarded as the city’s best Italian destinations. Jenn Louis of Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern, a Food & Wine Best New Chef, releases a gnocchi-themed cookbook this year, while Beard Award winner Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place, Imperial and Portland Penny Diner, and Chris Israel of Grüner have been mentors to many of the city’s best young chefs.

  • The Markets
    Portland hosts eight farmer’s markets throughout town nearly every day. Saturdays at Portland State University is a favorite of chefs, and it runs weekly through December 21. A winter market pops up in Shemanski Park in January through Februrary 23.

    Union Way, an alley that connects the West End with the Pearl District, offers a gallery of nine shops, including Boxer Ramen and Little T American Baker, just rolling out this fall.

  • Brunch
    Brunching is like a competitive sport in Portland. And many places do it well. The hordes competing for tables at Tasty n Sons were relieved when its sister restaurant, Tasty n Alder, debuted, as more seats became available for the hearty fare. Mother's Bistro is “all about the love” and comfort classics such as crunchy French Toast. Paradox Organic Café is a favorite for vegans and the freshly-opened Trinket (2035 SE 39th Ave.) is the city’s first brunch-only restaurant.

  • Credit: Pok Pok

    Ethnic Eats
    Though it has a reputation as one of the more homogenously white cities in the U.S., Portland does have its pockets of immigrant groups, and attendant eats. Thai-o-phile Andy Ricker is serving some of the city’s best Asian food at the four restaurants within his Pok Pok empire, while Sok Sab Bal is turning locals on to Cambodian cuisine. The city’s oft-overlooked migrant working community is well-represented by spots like Autentica and Nuestra Cocina. Ya Hala serves the rising Lebanese community.

  • The Sweet Stuff
    Artisan creamery Salt & Straw may have made its name on salted caramel, but their limited edition flavors are what’s really shaking up the ice cream scene. This month, their chef’s collaboration series includes Michael Voltaggio’s “Loaded Baked Potato,” with a sour cream base and bacon and chocolate crumbs, onion juice caramel and white cheddar cookie dough. Recently-opened Roman Candle Baking Co., owned by Stumptown Coffee founder Duane Sorenson, is all the rage for morning pastries. And there’s no better place to feel like a kid in a candy store than at Quin, with its amazing selection of caramels, lollipops and gumdrops.

  • Old School Favorites
    Huber’s Café holds the distinction of being the city’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1879. It’s a go-to spot for classics such as a roast turkey dinner and a Spanish coffee. Elsewhere, Dan & Louis Oyster Bar provides bivalves on the half shell, in a stew, or pan-fried, and has been doing so since 1907. A more modern classic, Wildwood, founded in 1994, has launched the career of many an accomplished chef.

  • Where to Feel Like an Extra on the Set of Portlandia
    The famous “Is it Local?” skit was filmed in The Gilt Club, while plenty of plaid can be spotted at The Sweet Hereafter. Chef Jason French of Ned Ludd nods to the Luddites by using only a wood-fired oven for cooking, which might have given Fred and Carrie some fodder for uber-specific artisans. Same goes for Lightbar, which apparently serves up light therapy with food and drink. Locals poke fun at The Picnic House because it “never seems open,” and supposedly serves “Oregon Trail cuisine.”  

  • Wash It All Down With..

    Stumptown Coffee Roasters is the local superhero of java, served in a slew of restaurants, and with five café locations around town.

    Steven Smith is Portland’s own artisan teamaker. Pick up tea and accessories, or settle in for a pot in the Northwest café location.

    Bailey’s Taproom is a great stop to sample two dozen rotating brews from the US’s most beer-fixated state, while Widmer Brothers offers free brewery tours, complete with tastings.

    The year-old SE Wine Collective is a great spot to enjoy the wine of five local wineries. Their “flight and food” menus feature wonderful pairings.

  • Credit: David Reamer

    And Don't Forget the Cocktails:
    Clyde Common’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler is Portland’s main mixologist, and his carbonated cocktail program has inspired a nationwide trend. Try the Bottled Sparkling Americano: Campari, sweet vermouth, water and orange oil, carbonated and bottled. The Penicillin #2 cocktail -a combo of tequila, lemon, ginger, agave and mescal - makes Irving Street Kitchen a worthy drinking destination.

  • Where to Stay
    Portland has an abundance of hotels, from chains to grand classics to the hipster-centric, of course. The Ace Hotel, which was founded in Seattle, embodies Pacific Northwest cool, while the Hotel deLuxe is the city’s glam grande dame. The conveniently-located Hotel Modera is one of downtown’s most stylish, with sleek outdoor firepits creating the perfect happy hour setting. Hotel Monaco is pet-friendly while providing many creature comforts for people, such as complimentary happy hours featuring local wines and microbrews and on-site bike-rental. The boutique Jupiter Hotel is the favorite for visiting rock stars.