Thanks to Aaron’s conference and a couple extra weekend days, I got to spend 5 days eating my way through Portlandia. The Dream of the 90s, whatever that is, is alive!
Landed at PDX, stepped into the terminal, and was greeted by a lady playing an accordion. That’s how I knew this trip was gonna be good.
Checked into the Sentinel, which was just across the street from the Alder Street Food Cart Pod. Popped down there for lunch, where I came across Bing Mi, a jianbing cart. I’ve been wanting to try one of these ever since I heard about them. Noms numero uno was a success.
There were lots of homeless folks in the area asking for money. Kind of like in SF. The Dream is part nightmare for some. Portland is no different from other urban locales in that respect.
We went for a walk in the afternoon, but not before we stopped at Public Domain so Aaron could get a coffee. He said he liked their logo.
On our way to check out the Portland Saturday Market we passed by Voodoo Doughnuts. There was a ridiculous line outside. I was glad we went there years ago on a quiet weekday morning, because I would have been sad to have had to wait so long for average tasting donuts. (Cool designs, though. Kind of like Psycho Donuts here in the Bay Area.)
I quite liked the Portland Saturday Market. Lots of art that resonated with me.
Afterward, we stopped at Donut Byte Labs. Not much of a line and super tasty mini donut creations. Voodoo tourists, you are missing out!
As we enjoyed our various donut bytes, a lady started handing out samples by the cart.
Me: Look! Samples! Kind of want.
Me, a while later: Wait… is that a drag queen?
Indeed, it was Bolivia Carmichaels. She was super nice and sooo enthusiastic. <3
I clearly care way more about donuts than I do about how people dress.
After our donut bytes we continued on to Chinatown. It had the requisite gate, but only a couple Chinese restaurants. And I was the only Chinese person on the street.
Chinatown was super meh. And it smelled like pee.
Around this time, I noted that Portland isn’t covered in poop like San Francisco is.
Headed for the Pearl District. Came across a pastry shop so of course we popped in. Picked up a couple canelé and a double chocolate cookie from Nuvrei. Would eat again!
After Aaron did some beer shopping, we stopped for ice cream at Cool Moon. I had a scoop of pleasantly natural tasting coconut. The employees were super nice.
Everyone in Portland is super nice. Perhaps it’s part of the Dream?
Walked some more and came upon Powell’s City of Books. It’s an entire city block, several stories high, of books. Every display and end cap is thoughtfully curated. We spent 1.5 hours in there and could easily have stayed longer. I left with one book, and a list for 7 more.
It is perhaps one of my most favoritest stores evars on teh face of dis planet.
I’ve not quite leveled up to drinking vinegars yet.
Aaron discovered Beer O’Clock next door to Grassa so we got our food to go and ate there. He got to beer while I got to watch the Warriors game.
Strolled over to Tasty n Alder just before opening and got in line. We hadn’t actually planned to stand in line, but we got lucky with our accidental timing and wound up with a seat overlooking the kitchen.
The food was good. All of it. And they serve beef bacon. I didn’t know that was a thing.
After brunch, we got our bike share on with a Biketown ride along the Waterfront Park Trail. There were lots of people out and about by foot, bike, rollerblade, etc. When we reached the southern end of the trail, we headed for Tillikum Crossing. This bridge is for light rail, buses, bikes, and pedestrians only. It was a really enjoyable ride.
I’m happy to report that I did not endo in any light rail tracks.
We returned to the Sunday edition of the Portland Saturday Market so Aaron could revisit a shirt he wanted. The Sunday live music was a xylophone quartet! As if an accordion greeting at the airport wasn’t awesome enough.
There was a local ice cream stand at the market, so of course we had some.
Aaron bought a bike shirt, and then another bike shirt. I got to revisit an artist stand that fascinated me the day before: Tessmer’s Studios. It’s burned wood art. Scenes of trees burned into chunks of tree. I bought a magnet. Todd signed the back.
As we left the market, I heard someone yelling out a window about boiled bagels. Boiled bagels! I had not had one of those in over a decade. So of course I stopped to have one. Charlie’s Bagels. I enjoyed it muchly.
One Stumptown sarsaparilla iced latte, Chrome store visit (they’re leaving SF for Portlandia, like so many of us), and MadeHere PDX (they’re into local stuff here, and their local stuff is fantastic) visit later, we headed for Division Street.
We wandered up and down Division Street, taking in all the cool shops and eating establishments. I was hungry, so we stopped at the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden for a snack. It’s an inviting neighborhood food and art cart pod that’s sort of a microcosm of the neighborhood around it. The perimeter was surrounded by parked bicycles, many of them with kid trailers. I had a super noms Bacontella (Nutella and bacon) waffle sandwich from Smaaken. Aaron had a local craft brew.
With noms in our bellies we headed back up Division Street. I spied a little shop filled with notebooks and pencils. Special notebooks and writing instruments from around the world. Little Otsu, it was called. I spent a while looking at every pencil, and left with a couple I’ve been wanting to try, but only able to find in bulk online. Then I wrote about their notebooks and pencils in my beloved travel notebook.
More walking. We came across a Townshend’s Teahouse. It was laid out like a cafe, but for tea. I love tea. I love being able to order a fresh brew of milk oolong and sit and slowly enjoy it.
Finally, dinner time! Everyone said to try Pok Pok, so we did. Their fish sauce wings lived up to the recommendation. We got a couple other dishes, the papaya salad and a boar collar dish that was so spicy they served it with a side of greens and ice. Ice. Yes, ice.
Fortunately, eating ridiculously spicy food is my new superpower, and I managed to eat, even enjoy, all the dishes. I even ate all the diced chili sauce that came with the boar collar because it had such good flavor.
We took the bus back across the river after dinner. It was clean and air conditioned and everyone that boarded or left said hello and thank you to the driver. The driver, in turn, kept track of people’s questions and stops, gave thoughtful routing suggestions, and made sure not to start the bus until all new passengers were seated. Dis bus, is Dream?
This was also our first experience with TriMet. You can buy your ticket on your phone. Brilliant.
Aaron started his conference Monday, so I was on my own. I started with an hour of work from Heart Coffee. Next, I migrated to Coco Donuts, reputed to have tastier donuts than the ever popular Blue Star. I walked in just before 11, and the entire store was empty. And clean. “Sorry!” the lady behind the counter said, “We’re all sold out.”
“Wow,” I said, “What time do I have to get here for donuts?”
“Well, we open at 6… but sometimes we get another delivery around 10 or 11.”
“Will you get one today?”
“I don’t know, I’m here waiting for the call.”
“So you’re just gonna be here waiting for donuts to maybe appear?”
“Can I work in the corner over there in case donuts show up?”
“Yes! Of course! Let me know if you want a coffee or anything.”
So I worked in a totally empty Coco Donuts for another hour. And then donuts arrived. And I had one. And it had the most bestest fluffy donut texture. (More accurately, what I wrote in my notebook upon tasting said donut was, “Omg Dis donut So fluffy.”) Totally worth the wait.
Also worth the wait was the steady stream of customers who came and were bummed about not getting a donut, but were invariably super duper upbeat and nice about the situation. Moar Dream.
I remembered seeing a pair of Chuck Taylor-esque high tops in a Doc Martens window display the evening prior, so I stopped there to check them out. I had an extended conversation with a super friendly sales guy who told me they felt it was important to be nice in Portland, then recommended a nice neighborhood for me to check out, and that I could walk there since it was a nice day. I almost forgot to ask about the shoes. But ask I did, and I now own a pair of bright yellow Chuck Martens high tops with a red stripe down the back.
Met Aaron at the Alder Street Food Carts for lunch so he could try a grilled cheese sandwich. I picked up some dumplings from The Dump Truck, then some green tea & azuki balls from Zendako for dessert. Again, more Dreamy interactions with the food cart folks.
Back to Stumptown after lunch where we discovered cans of sparkling cold brew. Ginger Citrus flavor! Sounds weird, tastes amazing. I really hope we start getting these here in the Bay Area soon.
Picked up some local candies at QUIN. I love local. And yes, our visit was Dreamy.
Worked and worked out, then ventured to Breakside Brewery in the evening. Aaron had a bunch of beer, and left with a cool hat.
We then walked down 23rd Ave, which is the street the Doc Martens guy recommended to me earlier. It had an artsy neighborhood vibe. I strolled merrily along, looked to my left, and saw a guy on a porch playing what Aaron described as a Weber.
It was a hang drum, and it sounded, well, Dreamy. Move over, xylophones and accordions (by then I’d encountered accordions on two separate occasions).
Lucky us, there was a Bamboo Sushi another few blocks down. Sustainable sushi, thoughtfully sourced and served. We loved it on our first visit in 2011 and loved it again this time around. Also, any place that serves you raw amaebi nigiri followed by a deep fried head is legit in my book.
We strolled back to the hotel, stopping briefly at a Fred Meyer to explore its everythingness. A couple blocks out from the hotel, things got dark. Really dark. When we finally saw our hotel, the entire building was dark.
As it turned out, downtown had lost power, and it didn’t look like power was going to be restored until the next evening. Fortunately for us, they were able to relocate us to the Westin, which had power, just 3 blocks away.
I had originally planned to visit the downtown Blue Star and Lardo locations to pick up food for my lunch meeting, but all of downtown was closed due to the power outage. Plan B: East side! Hopped on a bus to Hawthorne Blvd, yet another nice neighborhood to visit. As a bonus reward for my effort, I got to visit Waffle Window. I loved this place when I visited in 2011 and I continue to love it today.
Passed by a tea and massage place. I really wanted to go in but didn’t have time because of my meeting. TeaScape looks really cool, though. They even have a guayusa and mate menu! Adding to my list for next time.
Picked up a few Blue Star Donuts, then a sandwich and some fries from Lardo, and Google Maps’ed myself a different bus back to the hotel. Google Maps for public transit is the bomb. It’s served me well around the world. Major props.
Stuffed my face and worked all afternoon. Lardo was good. The Blue Star donuts were creative, but I didn’t think much of the actual donut base. It’s kind of like Humphrey Slocombe here in SF; I like their inventive flavors but the ice cream coats my tongue in a weird way.
Bussed back across the river for dinner with Candi and Steve at a Russian restaurant called Kachka. What a treat to see them! We tried all sort of dishes, big and small, fish and dumplings and crispy barley sprinkled here and there. I quite enjoyed this meal, both for the company and for trying dishes I’d never seen before.
Came across this garage door after dinner. I liked it very much.
Headed out a little earlier than usual to visit Pine State Biscuits with Aaron. We had blueberry cornmeal pancakes and a Reggie Deluxe:
It lived up to the hype. Also, weekday mornings are a great time to visit all the super packed weekend joints.
We took a light rail back to downtown. I took a detour to Powell’s on my return to the hotel. Coming here alone was a totally different experience. Powell’s is so dense with interestingness that I’m forced to slow down. Once I settled into moving slowly I enjoyed my visit that much more. On this visit, I discovered their Espresso Book Machine. Need a reprint? Want to publish yourself? Espresso Book Machine is at your service!
I bought another book.
Found an hour between meetings to meet Aaron at Sizzle Pie (or, as I called it, Foshizzle Pie) for lunch. Their pizza was similar to Speederia in the Bay Area, except Speederia stopped at pizza, while Sizzle Pie branded themselves and became an empire.
Swung by TILT for a quick bite of key lime pie dessert. Solid! Or not, since it was key lime pie.
We were both pretty beat by dinnertime, so we popped downstairs to Kalé, a Japanese curry joint. It was not something we had expected to eat in Portland, but I’m glad we went. And, of course, the lady there was Dreamy nice.
We flew out of PDX around 10 AM. I was bummed to see “just” a grand pianist performing in the terminal. After the accordions and xylophones and Weber I was expecting a harpist at the airport.
Paid a final visit to Stumptown and picked up some beans plus a Sparkling Honey Lemon Cold Brew. I wanted breakfast, and lucky for me there was a BAMBUZA in the terminal. I got a giant egg and Chinese sausage rice bowl. It was sooo good, and only $7.95. Portland food prices have been da BAMB.
The wrap: Five days of really nice people, really good food, and arts/music/books for the soul. I enjoyed my time in Portland more than in any other US city I’ve visited.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the stabbing that happened on the light rail the day after we left. I don’t normally react much to news, but given how I felt about so many of the folks I interacted with there this incident made me incredibly sad. And yet, it made me hopeful, because not only did several people do the Right Thing, the city’s immediate reaction was that they did the Right Thing, and that people should continue doing so.
I know some Portlanders may not like the whole Portlandia thing, but if there ever was a Dream, it really is alive in Portland.