Our millennial daughter is a new resident of Portland. She loves her adopted state of Oregon and is exploring the Rose City as thoroughly as a Labrador Retriever on the trail of a bird scent. When she’s not out hiking alongside fern covered trails and cascading waterfalls, she’s discovering new restaurants and neighborhoods. On a recent visit, I was fortunate to join her on an Epicurean Excursion with Portland Walking Tours. Portland has an amazing food scene. Averaging between 650-700 food carts, Portland is considered to be the food cart capital of the United States. Portlanders take their food seriously, but not themselves. Their philosophy is simple – FLOSS – fresh, local, organic, sustainable and seasonal.
Our Epicurean Excursion took us to nine locations. We were a group of four fast walkers on this particular tour; eight to nine stops is the norm.
Cacao Drink Chocolate
Our first stop took us to Cacao Drink Chocolate inside the Heathman Hotel. The company, established in 2006, has two Portland locations for your chocolate drinking and noshing pleasure. Of course, you can shop their products online, too. Having recently returned from a cacao plantation tour in El Salvador, I appreciate that Cacao takes great care in sourcing their chocolate beans.
Benessere Olive Oils & Vinegars
As some of you may know, I live in Northern California. We have our share of high quality olive oil producers in nearby wine country. Benessere Olive Oils & Vinegars was cool because you could taste everything before purchase. My personal favorite, the 18 year old traditional balsamic vinegar.
Steak Your Claim
You know you’re in trouble when your mouth starts watering at the thought of the words “Steak Your Claim” pastrami. Owners Sam Mouzon and Matt Schiffman have staked their claim on hand-carved pastrami sandwiches served on marbled rye bread. Our group sampled one sandwich between us and had me dreaming of returning to this food cart located on Ninth & Alder.
Kargi Gogo PDX
Continuing on our food cart journey, we meandered over to Kargi Gogo, which means “good girl” in Georgian. This was my first time trying khachapuri, the national dish of Georgia. The warm, gooey, cheesy bread reminded me a little of the pupusa’s I devoured in El Salvador. There are several types of khachapuri served from this bright red food cart on Southwest Washington street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues; our sample included smoked ham. Update: The former Kargi Gogo food cart has opened Kargi Gogo Georgian Kitchen.
Courier Coffee Roasters
Did you know that there are more coffee roasters in Portland, Oregon than any U.S. city in North America? At last unofficial count there were over 50 roasters in town. While I’m not a coffee drinker, even I know that some Portlanders refer to Starbucks as “charbucks” because they supposedly over-roast their coffee. Our stop at Courier Coffee Roasters on SW Oak was very Portland, in my opinion. The name courier coffee comes from the fact that they deliver everything by bike. The folks behind the counter knew their coffee and the barista was friendly and happily agreed to attempt latte art that was instagram-worthy.
I’m a bakery connoisseur so when we stepped into Pearl Bakery on Ninth Avenue I knew we had hit the mother lode of bakeries. This place sources their craft batches of flour from two mills; Letti Roller Mills and Shepherd’s Grain. According to Adam Sawyer of Portland, “bakers are the CPA’s of the cooking world – science, mixed with art.” I couldn’t agree more, Adam. At Pearl Bakery we sampled a multi-layered buttery croissant, a chewy baguette boasting a perfect balance of yeast and salt, and my personal favorite, gibassier, a sweet bread originating from Provence, France.
McMenamins Ringlers Pub
Did you know that Oregon’s Willamette Valley is the best place to grow hops? With plenty of rain and volcanic soils, hops thrive here. It’s no secret that Portland’s craft beer scene is hopping and so is McMenamins Ringlers Pub & Crystal Brewery. Formerly the crown hall of dance rooms, this building, located on West Burnside, is full of history and the beer is brewed onsite. Pull up a bar stool and try No Bad Days IPA.
Lardo, bringing fatback seven days a week! What’s not to like about that? This swine-worshiping establishment has three Portland locations, but originally got its hooves in the ground as a food cart. We sampled the pork meatball banh mi and it was off the hoof tasty!
We ended our Epicurean Excursion on a sweet note at the family-owned Ruby Jewel. This hand-crafted ice cream maker has three Portland locations. We wolfed down honey lavender ice cream sandwiched between two soft lemon cookies.
Need to know:
We met our tour guide and “resident expert” Adam Sawyer, who also happens to be a freelance travel writer, under Pioneer Courthouse Square. Not only was he a font of information, (pun intended) he really did provide some great back stories on Portland and the local food and craft beer scene. The Epicurean Excursion lasts approximately 3.5 hours and was an easy, flat walk, with a maximum of 15 steps to climb and no hills. The walking tours are offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday, two times daily in the winter and on a more frequent basis in other months. As always, check the website for current pricing and to purchase advance tickets ($59. on my visit.)
I took an epic road trip from San Francisco through the Willamette Valley, ending in Portland, Oregon. I stayed at six hotels along the way – all of the reviews are on this What a Trip blog. My last night was at the pet-friendly and independently-owned Mark Spencer Hotel in the Pearl District. For additional insider tips follow Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and @TravelPortland for all things #PDX.
If You Go:
Portland Walking Tours (503) 774-4522
Article and photography by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Travel Portland, however all opinions are my own.