I knew I was never going to be able to eat at all the hot spots in Portland, OR over one weekend, so I was glad to have experienced the food festival, Feast (click to read) to get a sample from many restaurants in one place. Between tasting times, I ran around Portland, not only to make room for the next meal, but to also see the city sights and neighborhoods.
Lan Su Chinese Gardens
The Lan Su Chinese Gardens are a welcome respite from the city action. Located in the middle of downtown, Lan Su is considered the most authentic Suzhou-style Chinese garden outside of China. In fact, 65 workers came from Suzhou to live in Portland for just under a year to create the gardens. The majority of the materials are from China, including the not so easy to transport 500 tons of rock. It really is a peaceful and impressive place to take a break.
If you need a sugar rush after all that tranquility, Voodoo Doughnut is just down the street from Lan Su. People still line up here for sweet treats, but many think it's overrated and have moved on to other spots like Blue Star and Pip's Donuts.
Food trucks are indeed still a thing in Portland, and actually thriving, but instead of needing to follow schedules and locations, many of set-up semi-permanent shops in specific areas. They call these areas pods and one of the biggies to hit is at 9th and Alder. This pod is supposedly the largest concentration of street food in the U.S. with over 60 food carts.
The one that you'll read about most, and definitely want to pay a visit to, is Nong's Khao Man Gai. I heard about their chicken and rice and will admit I wasn't too excited about the bland sounding dish, but blind faith turned me into a believer...and of course tasting this chicken. I was happy to learn that they use Mary's organic chicken and they poach it in chicken stock, rice and herbs, making it really moist. It's served with a great ginger, garlic, chili sauce, along with a light soup that you can throw your chicken and rice in for the best chicken soup you may have ever eaten. They serve only one thing, and they serve it well.
Portland Japanese Gardens
On the other side of town are the Japanese Gardens, another great hideaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. Built in in 1963, it includes floral gardens, streams, ponds, bridges and several stone gardens. When the former Ambassador to Japan saw them, he proclaimed the gardens to be, "the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan." I enjoyed these gardens even more than Lan Su.
Just underneath the Japanese Gardens are more gardens, and here you'll find free flowing roses that you can freely roam through. A nice stop
After you've had enough gardens, you need to stop at the largest independent bookstore to peruse section upon section of specialty books and magazines, along with a few fun quotes at the top of most aisles.
Portland Saturday Market
Don't get confused like we did and think that the Saturday Portland market on W. Burnside will have fresh produce. No, you'll find more arts and crafts and cheap shirts and hats, but if you're in the market for any of that, this is your place.
Portland University Saturday Farmer's Market
Located along SW Park Avenue, this farmer's market shows the bounty of the area. From locally picked mushrooms to on the spot roasted peppers, this place did not disappoint. There are samples everywhere and food for purchase so you can make a morning of it.
Northeast Portland & Aviary Restaurant
Crossing over the Willamette River into the Northeast, we discovered some more Bohemian neighborhoods. Coop stores, coffee shops and small boutiques line a few block street on NE Alberta, and this is also where we had dinner at the interesting restaurant, Aviary.
Sparse in its decoration, the place made up for it with its unique food pairings like heirloom tomato french toast - as a starter, or cauliflower flan with raw sea urchin. I loved the salty and smooth bigeye tuna tartare with heart of palm, tobiko and candied cumin.
The miso eggplant was solid, but then there was the crispy pig ear that was actually tender to the bite. It was rich with the coconut rice and avocado, but the Chinese sausage gave it more balance. Quite a treat.
Further south, but also east of the River is another new up and coming area with bakeries, shops and restaurants on SE Division. Famed ice cream shop Salt & Straw had a beautiful shop where you could smell their homemade waffle cones from the next store down. Salt & Straw has now landed in LA as well as the other big name on the street, Pok Pok.
I had heard about this place for a long time and was surprised to see its funky house with colored lights running inside and out. I got to try the coconut fried rice at Feast, but with limited time to eat before catching my flight home, I had to get one of their namesake items to go, the Papaya Pok Pok. Cool and crunchy papaya intermingled with the spice of peppers and then the lime and fish sauce calmed and complemented the entire dish. Beats plane food any day of the week!
Next up, we venture into the vineyards of Willamette Valley.