Before going to Portland, Ore., I did my research. I knew I was traveling to a food destination, and I planned everything around my eating schedule. Oregon reawakened my love for innovative food combinations and the do-it-yourself spirit that powers the culinary scene. The theme of most restaurants (and food trucks) was “inventive and hearty cooking,” and many of the fantastic foods I tried were distinguished by better, local ingredients. This is the heart of Pacific Northwest cooking, and although my list doesn’t begin to cover all the wonderful foods (and craft beers and local wines) I got to taste, I’m eager to share some of my unique culinary finds that really embody what Portland is all about:
1) I started off my culinary Tour de Portland with brunch at Tasty n Sons. I heard about this restaurant from an episode of Unique Eats, and it’s true: This place is unique. This is not your standard breakfast of cheesy omelets and fluffy flapjacks.
Instead, I indulged in Chocolate Potato Doughnuts. The potatoes are cooked into a pastry cream when simmered with vanilla, milk and sugar. Then this is added to the chocolatey doughnut mixture made of sour cream, buttermilk and, of course, some dark chocolate. Finally, these warm sugar-coated doughnuts come to the table served atop crème anglaise.
Next I tried the Breakfast Board, a smorgasbord of house-made and local ingredients that you can mix and match. This includes a six-minute boiled egg, chicken liver mousse, house-made bacon, beef jerky, crisp apple slices, pickled beets and cold, creamy cheese drizzled with olive oil. I piled different, delicious combinations on crusty bread for a fun way to start the day.
And then came the Steak and Eggs. Though this seemed like it would be the most conventional of our breakfast dishes, it was anything but ordinary. The marinated and grilled steak was served in a cast-iron skillet over a slightly sweet, delicately crisp cornmeal pancake. The scrambled eggs were saturated with gooey cheddar and topped with a dollop of honey-jalapeno butter. The whole dish brought together sweet, spicy and perfectly indulgent flavors.
2) Then I went to downtown Portland, where a whole block was devoted to food trucks lined up next to one another like dominos. I’ve never seen anything like this. Though my food tour of Portland included wine tastings, hard cider tastings and even a salt tasting (I now have a small bag of pale pink Himalayan sea salt in my purse), nothing was quite as unique and fantastic as tasting samples of Thai food, Korean tacos and gourmet waffles from the many food trucks. This is the food cart capital of America, after all.
One of my favorite food trucks was Nong’s Khao Man Gai, which was featured on an episode of Unique Eats. Nong’s does one thing really well: Thai chicken and rice. The chicken is cooked in aromatics such as ginger, garlic and lemongrass, and then it comes to you wrapped in butcher paper. It is served with a special sauce containing pickled garlic, fresh Thai chiles, Thai vinegar and sweet soy sauce.
3) Pine State Biscuits is a must. Everything on this menu revolves around the humble biscuit. Most notable, in my opinion, was the Chatfield Biscuit Sandwich, consisting of a warm, glowing golden biscuit topped with fried chicken, bacon, cheese and homemade apple butter. This may have been the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Check out this Unique Eats video featuring Pine State Biscuits.
4) If you want to have some hands-on food fun in Portland, schedule a pie-making class at Pacific Pie Co. This little pie shop highlighted the local and seasonal bounty, inspiring me to arm myself with a rolling pin and turn out pies using new ingredients such as hazelnuts (or filberts, as the locals call them) and deep violet, plump marionberries, a local berry that’s a cross between two types of blackberries. Chocolate Bourbon Hazelnut pie, anyone? Yes. Or perhaps try this recipe for Marionberry Pie.
5) I took my afternoon coffee breaks at Courier Coffee. This local shop roasts great coffee on a daily basis, but I’ll be eternally grateful for the pastries. I came back twice for the canneles, which were perfectly moist and eggy on the inside while caramelized, dark and crunchy on the outside. Try this recipe for Canneles.
Voodoo Doughnuts: This iconic doughnut shop in Portland usually always has a line out the door. But thank goodness it’s open 24 hours, so you can get a maple bacon doughnut or a cereal-coated doughnut anytime you want.
The Country Cat: Go here for moist, succulent fried chicken that is pan-fried in homemade rendered lard.
Salt & Straw Ice Cream: This is the ice cream shop for adventurous eaters. Perhaps try the Pear and Blue Cheese flavor, or the Black Pepper and Chevre Ganache.