Wednesday, March 4, 2009

For Those of You Who May Be Visiting Portland in May.

I could spend a week eating out three meals a day in Portland, and just skim my favorites. So please write if you're looking for a tiny, industrial-style French appetizer joint or a grand, city-chic four course meal or the perfect Czech lunch cart (oh, Tabor, I write sonnets for your schnitzelwich). But if you're doing Portland in 2 or 3 or 5 days, here is my highlight-reel version. For additional help planning a fun time, see:

My Favorite Places To See

  • Japanese Gardens and International Rose Test Gardens: The Japanese Gardens take about an hour total, they're gorgeous in any season and any weather, and a wonderful interlude in Portland. (I've been in heat, in rain, in the fall, in the morning and late afternoon. They really are always amazing.) The International Rose Test Garden is free, and across the street from the Japanese Gardens. It is, literally, one of the gardens in the world where new rose hybrids are tested, designed, pollinated and grown. It is really amazing, and a great place for a picnic or for pictures.
  • The other "must-see" spot is Powell's Books... in the next section!

My Favorite Neighborhoods
You can't get a feel for Portland without walking these two neighborhoods: Hawthorne and the Pearl District. They're totally different, equally fun and in very different price ranges.
  • On SE Hawthorne Avenue, I recommend parking around SE 32nd, and walking up the street. If you can please eat breakfast, brunch or lunch (or dinner!) at Chez Machin, SE 35th Place and Hawthorne. It is a darling, rustic, delicious French creperie and bistro - the service is slow, but it's worth it. All along Hawthorne there are little shops and galleries, and the street is perfect for people watching, shopping, eating and coffee. All the way up to 50th it is great, but my favorites are 32nd to 38th and 46th to 50th.
  • In the Pearl District, the shopping is expensive, the people are pretty, the restaurants are hip and delicious --- I recommend Happy Hour at any of the fancy places: roughly, 4 to 6 pm, $5 to $8 cocktails and $1 to $4 small plate of food. But the Pearl also contains Portland's biggest landmark, and you cannot miss it. You must take the time to visit it. Beware, it can swallow you up. Make a game plan of where to meet your friends because someone inevitably gets lost. It's Powell's Bookstore, Portland's legendary City of Books. It is an entire city block and while I love the Red Room, the other colors are great too. Please visit it, and enjoy! The Pearl is a big square - on the map it is bordered by NW 6th, NW 14th, W Burnside and NW Lovejoy. Drive through till you can find parking, and Powell's is at W Burnside and NW 10th. It's magical.

My Favorite Restaurants: High and Low
  • If you only want to spend a bit, say between $8 and $13 for an entree, you must visit La Buca, on NE 28th and NE Couch. It is Northwest-style Italian - pasta, soups, panini. If you can, eat in the bar - it's kid-free and much quieter. Otherwise, it is plain wooden chairs and fresh, simple food at great prices. A full bar, beer and wine, too. No reservations, first come, first serve.
  • My other favorite low is an experience. It's called Biwa, a nontraditional Japanese izakaya with grilled meats, fish, rice dishes, even some Korean specialities and the crowning dish... homemade ramen. Noodles like you've only dreamt of for $9 and they're filling, handmade each day and sublime. Beer, sake, cocktails and no reservations. First come, first serve.

On the high end, if you're ready to shell out over $20 per person (and up to $50, depending on how many courses and how hungry you are), there's a lot to choose from. My personal favorites are Toro Bravo and Le Pigeon.
  • Toro Bravo is Spanish tapas... I always order too much and it's great. In a very up and coming neighborhood, this is the darling of the restaurant scene. They open at 5 PM and if you get there after 5:15, you're guaranteed at least an hour wait - they're first come, first serve. The cocktails are amazing, the food is award-winning, and the atmosphere is hip and fun. You can spend only a bit of money if you snack lightly, or you can go all out. Dishes are small and to be shared, ranging from $4 to $15 each.
  • Le Pigeon is another national food scene darling - a young chef, creative dishes, family style seating and French inspired. It is like going to France, actually, and the food is something you'll always remember. In a bustling, growing part of town full of hipsters and traffic! (But parking is easy, actually.)

More Food You Will Be Happy About: Please Check 'Em Out
  • St. Honore Boulangerie (please, please get a pastry from here! Or a salad! Sit and listen to the Portland French Club and read Le Monde!
  • Pok Pok/Whiskey Soda Lounge (This is probably the number one spot in Portland, and the Fish Sauce Wings will make you cry with happiness. It's affordable and busy - go early or order takeout.
  • Pix Patisserie (Two locations for the perfect evening of chatting, sipping champagne or a beer-and-ice-cream-float (homemade ice cream and stout beer!), and trying perfect, beautiful desserts. This is quintissential Portland.
  • Cafe Castagna (I just like it. A fun neighborhood, fancy without breaking the bank but higher end than other stuff. - there's the regular side and the cafe side.)

Best Trips to Take in Under a Full Day (6 to 7 hours each)
  • The Oregon Coast: It's about a ninety minute drive each way, a gorgeous drive from city through farmland and then through the rainy mountains of the Coast Range. Just when you think you should be there, Highway 26 West turns into Highway 101 South, and you arrive at Cannon Beach... the closest thing to Cape Cod you'll find. The whole coast is public property, undeveloped and gorgeous. The rocks and trees meet the beach, it's amazing. Park in Cannon Beach and walk to the shore -- it might be very busy on Memorial Weekend, but a simple walk, a simple meal and a doughnut at Cannon Beach Bakery are enough to restore your soul.
  • Wine Country: About forty minutes outside of Portland by car is some of the planet's best pinot noir wine country... and the pinot blanc, pinot gris and more is also fantastic. Most places charge between $5 and $15 for a tasting fee, and Memorial Weekend is when they roll out new releases. Almost every winery is open - a change from the rest of the time - and most have cheese, crackers, snacks and live music on Memorial Weekend. It can get crazy, so I recommend going early - being out there by 10 AM, and wrapping up in the early afternoon. The Willamette Valley Winery Association has all the information you need at, but my personal favorites are:
  1. Natalie's Estate Winery
  2. Argyle Winery
  3. Tyrus Evan Winery
  4. Penner-Ash Wine Cellars
  5. Ponzi Vineyards
  6. WillaKenzie Estate
Stick to one, or all, of these, and you'll be wowed by the wine, the scenery, the people. It's a fantastic experience.

Finally, I must add... if you need hotel recommendations, email me. But some comedian once said that any city with a Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, has a crappy part of town in it, which is: Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. This holds true in Portland: it's an ugly street, its a thoroughfare that gets you where you need to go, it has a few amazing spots on it ( is the BEST), but it's not "nice", as they say. So if you're staying on MLK, you're far from unsafe (its fine), but you're just on a street that's ugly. Sorry about this, but I promise you're a short walk, MAX (lightrail) ride or cab from something you will love.

I wish I could spend a week with each of you, sharing Portland's awesomeness, but since I can't, I know you'll be happy with these tips.


  1. This is GREAT!

    Also, anonymous posting is now allowed! (And if it's not then I messed something up and will fix it:)

  2. Thanks for the restaurant tips! We don't get up to Portland nearly enough, but we try to make the most of it and eat somewhere great whenever we do. This will give us more places to put on our list of "restaurants we must try."

  3. Awesome Emily! Even though I live in P-town, I often forget about all the cool places to eat/see!

  4. Dude, I LIVE here and haven't been to half these places. Gonna go ahead and work on that, as your recommendation carries a lot of weight. Yay!

  5. Oh friend,
    you have way too much time on your hands.

  6. I'd like to raise a hand in official protest of Meggie's comment! If you don't have time to die. If you don't have time to talk about die of boredom. Fit some sleep somewhere in there and you've got a balanced life. Furthermore...this is nothing! I've written explanations of Portland food of sufficient length to crush this like a compact car in a Japanese monster movie! (love you meggie!) you think we'd be such good friends if we didn't have the same taste in or attitude to food and the best ways to consume it? I mean seriously...I read all the time that Chez Machin sucks...but you and I think it's one of the best places in Portland and one of our favorites to recommend. I'm also terribly impressed that as your low choice you recommended Biwa over Pok Pok. That's brave. Of course...that does help to balance out the quantity of establishments on your list where it's impossible to get a table. I kinda sometimes think Portland is following us around. I have little doubt that by the time you get back the line for Kir will be out the door and we'll just have to hope that the recession forces Bar Avignon to lower their prices.

    So folks...take Emily seriously...when dining in Portland 5pm is the new 8:30. Eat early and often!