On a recent press trip, I met the lovely Portland-based food guru Ivy Manning. Ivy’s passion for food and in-depth knowledge of Portland’s dining scene inspired me to invite her to guest post in my series. When I read her post, I wanted to book a flight to Portland ASAP to savor the spots she talks about. You can follow Ivy’s exciting culinary adventures on her blog, Ivy’s Feast. But first, let’s hit Ivy’s favorite Portland restaurants.
A GUERILLA DINING GUIDE TO PORTLAND, OREGON
I have never been the trendy type. In school, I did not sit with the popular crowd at lunch, in college, I lived in the “uncool” dorm. And in 1994, I enrolled at Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, probably the un-hippest culinary school in America.
Imagine my surprise then, when my adopted hometown suddenly became the darling of the culinary world. When I moved here, there were only a few great restaurants (Paley’s Place, Wildwood, and the now-shuttered Zefiro) that were doing interesting things with the area’s bounty. Then, in the late ’90s, the lowly cooks working in these great restaurants spread their wings and opened their own places. And the number of great restaurants using local ingredients has grown exponentially since. Now, I live in and write about food in arguably the hippest foodie town in the country.
Just page through The New York Times dining section on any given day and you’ll see writers like Maura Egan and Matt Gross gushing about Portland’s insouciant locavore culinary style. Flip through Food and Wine and you’re likely to come across an article about the charms of our farmer’s markets. And our food cart scene? There’s tons about that in the media, too.
Say you’re an intrepid traveler and foodie and you’re dying to visit Portland to taste what all the fuss is about. With so many great restaurants, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly dine in all of them. To borrow the famous Volkswagen slogan, think small. I offer you this short list, a “guerilla dining” guide, which recommends a nibble and a matching drink at some of my favorite spots in Portland. Of course, you don’t have to visit them all in one go, but it sure would be fun to try! Happy nibbling!
First stop: the sleek, elegant Ten01 in the equally slick Pearl District (just across from Powell’s Books). Ask Kelley the bartender to make you a Turn to the Prince – made with locally distilled Krogstad Aquavit, keffir lime leaf, lemon juice, and soda. Then tuck into the homemade potato chips with a creamy chicken liver dip, a luxury take on chips and dip.
Next, to Ping. Owner Andy Ricker’s casual joint (think plastic tablecloths, a wall of antique radios and open industrial kitchen) seems to be adding some much needed life to the dingy Chinatown district. His ode to Southeast Asian street food is perennially busy; your best bet for a table is around lunch or early happy hour. Try the crispy-chewy Indonesian lamb skewers and a Shochu cocktail, made with a Japanese libation that is positively addictive.
If the sun is setting and the weather is fair, ascend to Noble Rot. The terrace has gorgeous views facing west towards the city skyline and you can get a salad made with greens grown on the roof right above you. Trés green, yes? While there, pick from one of their wine flights; there’s usually an interesting Oregon Pinot Noir sampler on deck.
A few blocks south you’ll find Beaker and Flask. Wunder-mixologist/owner Kevin Ludwig has rattled his shaker at some of the best spots in town, so expect very interesting beverages like the “Daddy Issues,” a pleasantly tart mix of vodka, grape juice, Campari, and orange bitters. The food is serious, too. Chef Benny Bennington honed his skills at the lauded Paley’s Place and it’s apparent in dishes like his light ricotta gnudi with fresh sweet corn. It’s so commodious here; it’s become a second living room for Portland’s best chefs at shift’s end.
For something a little meatier, visit Laurelhurst Market. Only from the meat-centric chef/butchers behind Viande and Simpatica Catering could a spare butcher shop by day-steak house by night work. Here you’ll find the best locally sourced meat done up in sophisticated Portland style. For a quick bite, the roasted marrow bones with crusty bread and a beefy glass of Oregon Pinot Noir can’t be beat. But you’ll likely want to stay for the steak frites.
Finally, there’s Por Que No. These two colorful little taquerias (on N. Mississippi and SE Hawthorne) are all Día de los Muertos figurines and folk kitsch. Which sets the stage splendidly for their authentic Mexican tacos made with sustainably raised meats and handmade tortillas. I especially like their chipotle rubbed chicken version. To wash it down, the sangria (red or white) mixed with seasonal frui are just the thing. Mmm, tastes like vacation…