Update on Portland: Eat, See, Shop, Do, Stay

International Rose Test Garden image courtesy RoseGardenStore.org

Update: My neighbor just returned from her trip to Portland, tried some of my tips, and added a few more of her own. I’m also preparing for a visit in September and am adding some tips to my list of things I want to check out.

Jenny’s tips:

  • While in Washington Park to see the Portland Japanese Garden (more below), they checked out the Portland International Rose Test Garden. Portland is, after all, the City of Roses. Did you know that Portland is the only North American city to give awards for the best rose introduction? Sounds well worth visiting, with a garden dedicated to Gold Medal winners, the Rose Test Garden, a miniature rose test garden and the Shakespeare Rose Test Garden. Washington Park is about a 15 minute trip from the Pearl District.
  • Based on a tip from a nutritionist they met dining at Andina, they located and ate at a fab food truck in the Pearl District called “Savor Soup House.” It is permanently located at 1003 SW Alder Street, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Portland is the epicenter of the mofo (mobile food) movement! Here’s a link to the menu: http://www.savorsouphouse.com/the-menu
  • They enjoyed walking in Washington Park (where the Japanese Garden and Rose Test Garden are located) – 15 miles of trails there!
  • Up on the hill with a gorgeous view or Portland, they visited The Pittock Mansion. One way to get to it, on foot, is via a 7 mile loop called the Wildwood Trail in Washington Park described here but you can also drive (about 3 miles from the Pearl District). Note the website’s caution that some GPS directions aren’t correct; follow the signs off Burnside. I agree with Jenny; based on the pictures, it’s a “wow!” (Admission fee: $8.50 for adults)

Pittock Mansion courtesy pittockmansion.org

What else they tried and loved from my recommendations:

  • Hotel Monaco – great location, loved the doggy friendliness and quirky atmosphere
  • Clyde Commons (hubby’s favorite)
  • Andina

Jenny said the line was too long for Salt and Straw (the farm-to-cone ice cream place described below) in the Alberta district (but worth it IMHO); however, now there are two other locations: 3345 SE Division (new!) and 838 NW 23rd. The Division store replaces the food truck they had there last summer and it’s supposed to be quite a bit bigger. Pok Pok (more below) AND ice cream?? I’m there!

Having said that, on my list for places I’ve wanted to eat anyway is the Bollywood Theater, in the same block as Salt and Straw’s Alberta District location. So I may stick with visiting the Alberta District location. The Oregonian has named Bollywood Theater its 2013 restaurant rising star of the year. No movies, by the way, just atmosphere and great food! Here’s the Oregonian review.

Original post (May 24)

This morning, a member of the neighborhood “snoop patrol” asked me for tips when visiting Portland. Would a weekend be enough time, she asked, or should you spend longer?

Whether for a weekend or longer, Portland is a great destination. I’ve been there twice in the past year: for a couple’s trip in combination with a wine-tasting trip in the Willamette Valley, and with my young adult daughter as a break before she began her new job (permanent! with benefits!).

Eat

Portland is foodie paradise, beer drinker’s paradise, pinot-noir lovers’ paradise and even ice cream lover’s paradise. Before I head out on trips, I usually check out Yelp, Chowhound boards, Zagat’s, Trip Advisor, and talk to my friendly gourmet, Dorothy, who plans entire trips around restaurants.

Fine dining (but not stuffy):

  • Andina – Not to be missed contemporary and traditional Peruvian cuisine. Even if you don’t have any idea what that might taste like – I didn’t – let me tell you it’s very, very tasty. When we visited in September, we lucked into a seasonal specialty, roasted peppers. These aren’t the red piquillo peppers that are always on the menu but some green roasted seasonal ones called “padron.” They’re mild and delicious. Any of their timbales are excellent, and you can’t visit without trying a cocktail you won’t find anywhere else: “Sacsayhuamán” made with habenero vodka, pureed passion fruit and served with a sugared rim (ask for “sexy woman” – they’ll know what you mean). All of our entrees were excellent – I loved my duck – and paired beautifully with an Adea 2008 Pinot Noir from the Fisher Family Estate vineyard (Yamhill Carlton region). Here’s a longer writeup they received when they were named Portland Restaurant of the Year… Don’t worry, it’s still just as good. Reservations well in advance a must.
  • Jamison’s – Jamison’s was recommended for lunch (brunch, actually) by the Monaco when we checked in – a pleasant 20 minute walk. It’s across from Jamison Square Park. If you eat outside it’s fun to watch children play in the innovative fountain that slowly fills up and then drains. Makes me sound like a lush but one of my favorite items was the “Jamimosa” with grapefruit, elderberry and sparkling cava. We sampled breakfast plates and salads, but seriously, you have to get the chive biscuits with black pepper honey butter. We walked in for brunch but it’s pretty popular so reservations strongly recommended.
  • Clyde Commons – I’m told by a local that Clyde Commons, “a European style tavern,” is the place to see and be seen, popular with touring musicians who come through town, but I didn’t see anybody famous when there with my daughter. We sat by the upstairs balcony and had a birds eye view of the fashionable diners at the big tables below. Food and service was excellent. Reservations a must.

Restaurants we haven’t tried but recommended by Dorothy (everyone should have a Dorothy to ask for dining destinations): Gruner, Nostrana, Serratto, Blue Hour and Luce.

Further afield:

  • If you’re up for a side trip (within 45 minutes or so of Portland), I strongly recommend Recipe in Newberg. Wonderful wine list and delicious spot for lunch. If the weather’s nice, it’s especially lovely outside under the big shady tree.

Casual fare:

  • PokPok – This just might be the restaurant that came up most frequently when I did my research. It’s casual and doesn’t take reservations. And, it’s pretty small, so you should expect to wait a while on weekends, but boy is it worth it. We went for lunch and loved it – especially Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings and Khao Man Som Tam (green papaya salad). Salt & Straw ice cream has a mobile food truck a block or so away from PokPok, but it’s only open during the summer.
  • Mobile food trucks are clustered in several destinations in the Pearl District and other locales in Portland. Here’s a blog devoted to reviews of Portland food carts and a link to Yelper’s reviews of Portland food trucks.

Cocktails with a view

  • My daughter’s friend told her to meet her at Portland City Grill atop “The Big Pink.” We couldn’t figure out why they called Portland’s tallest building that nickname but apparently we were viewing it in the wrong light. It does look pink. Maddie said the view and the drinks were worth it – fun spot.

Ice cream:

  • Salt & Straw. Boom. So different and sooooo good. It’s about 15 minutes from the Pearl District and worth the trip. Sea salt with caramel ribbons. Strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper. Coffee and bourbon. Honey lavender. Pear with blue cheese. Some of the combo’s sound strange but you’ll fall in love. I promise.

Brew pubs:

  • I’m not a huge brew pub fan, so I’m probably not the best source, but I did find a lot of recommendations for these two: the Green Dragon, which has been named one of the best 100 places to drink beer in America (by whom, I have no idea), and Cascade Brewing Barrel House. When you visit, no doubt you can find an “Oregon Brewpub Guide” in one of the tourist literature racks. LOTS of choices.
  • Though not bad, I don’t recommend Henry’s in the Pearl District, convenient though it may be.

Everyone talks about Voodoo Donuts. I’ll grant you it’s not everywhere you can get an anatomically correct (kind of) voodoo doll-shaped donut but the donuts aren’t special and the lines are ridiculously long. Skippable unless you have teenagers.

See

I’ll admit I wouldn’t have done this on my own, but my daughter’s number one trip wish was to visit the Portland Japanese Garden, which is widely considered to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. Although we visited in winter, it was magnificent. It actually is five distinct gardens in one, and is intended to appeal to all of the senses; as much care has been put into sounds, scent and texture as into its visual appeal.

Shop

Parks, restaurants, and fabulous boutique shopping, the Pearl District must be one of the most interesting places in America to shop. I particularly love Cargo. I mean, I could just move in there. I love the little stuff, the big stuff, the expensive stuff, and the cheap stuff – collected from all over the world. Special favorites: the handcrafted jewelry in the counter at the front, and the card section. And you can’t go to Portland without visiting Powell’s Bookswhich occupies a full city block and is really a city of books.

I also love strolling Alberta Street. Interesting galleries, unique bistros, and where else could you find a brassiere store for well-endowed women, The Pencil Test (2407 NE Alberta)? We stumbled across the district on our search for the amazing artisanal ice creams made famous by Salt & Straw.

Do

Though I don’t typically go to movies when traveling, I make an exception for the Pearl District’s Living Room Theater. Independent movies plus cocktails delivered to your comfortable arm chair make for a great combination. (I really am starting to sound like a lush, but hey, it was a vacation.) Clyde Commons is across the street, which makes a great pre-movie dining destination.

On a more active note, my husband has loved running along the Portland Willamette River Walk. Here’s a blog post with a great description. Frankly, walking anywhere in the downtown Pearl District is a great thing to do!

Stay

Long ago, I stayed at The Benson, which really scratches my historic hotel itch. But on my last walk through town, I think it’s lost a little of its luster.

Hotel Monaco is rated #1 on Portland and I have stayed there. Great staff, wonderful complimentary wine reception, quirky guests, good location but DECOR THAT PRACTICALLY SHOUTS AT YOU. You have to like orange and purple plaid, but if you do, this is a great hotel. I’d stay there again, but I’ll make sure I bring my sleep mask. Tip: request a room that is NOT on the south side to get a little more peaceful sleep. Our rate in September 2011 was $169 for a deluxe king, a great value.

So… a weekend in Portland is dandy, but you’ll come back for more. I did, and I will.

(You can click to enlarge photos in the gallery.)

 

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