When Kevin picked the Portland, Oregon for this birthday trip, I could not believe how easy it was to plan – it basically planned itself. There is something different within each direction of the city- west is the Pacific coastline, south is the Willamette Valley Wine Country, east is the Columbia River Gorge for endless hiking opportunities, and north is Washington State. A perfect four day adventure! This was our first time to the Pacific Northwest and we were excited to try it all.
We caught a flight after work on Tuesday hoping to take advantage of the three hours we would get back with the time change. An easy flight got us into Portland Airport around 6PM By the way, gorgeous airport Portland!). A noteworthy change to the ride share model- instead of individually ordering a car, you get a code that grants you access to a queue and as the cars come, you get in. This was super efficient and I hope other airports catch onto the trend as it benefits the riders and the drivers. It is also a quick 15-20 minute ride from the airport to the city so there is little time wasted in transport.
Our Airbnb is located in the southeast corner of the city in between Hawthorne Blvd and Division St which is a great location with easy access to two downtown hubs. With self check in (our favorite Airbnb feature!), we dropped our bags and headed south to Division St (Pro Tip: always hit the ground running to avoid jet lag if the time zone permits!).
It was cold, wet and cloudy, not at all what was predicted nor what I had expected / packed for – I was eternally grateful for some last minute additions of long sleeve shirts and jeans. As we walked around, everyone was in a rain jacket so I fit in just fine with my Northface rain jacket. I really did not think Portland would resemble the stereotype of Seattle but apparently this clouds and rain are a staple here as well.
I had read that Pok Pok was a must eat stop in Portland and I knew Kevin would enjoy authentic Thai food (there is always rice if I needed it!). Unbeknownst to me (shockingly), this establishment was one of Andy Ricker who guided Anthony Bourdain in his Thailand episode – Tony, you little sneaker, wasn’t even trying and somehow you continue to intercept our trips!
I made reservations at the original Pok Pok for 8:15PM and our flight arrived early, it was a Tuesday so we headed there early hoping to get seated (exploring the area in the rain was less appetizing). Surprisingly, the place was mobbed and they were unable to seat us until our reserved time – must be an amazing spot to be completely booked on a Tuesday night!
We were seated inside and handed a lengthy menu with detailed narrative of each dish. Kevin and I had two different problems – he wanted everything and I needed a picture book to figure out if I could eat it. After much deliberation and a helpful server, we decided to keep it simple. Kevin ordered the Kaeng Hang Leh.
This Northern Thai dish featured sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry with ginger, palm sugar, turmeric, tamarind, Burmese curry powder, pickled garlic and he added a side of stinky rice. Kevin’s dish was savory low simmer spicy lingered with strong heat (low burner but hot fire), thin broth that made the rice perfect, tender meat, good fat on the pork belly, perfect dish.
I ordered the signature dish, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings which is half dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Vietnamese fish sauce and garlic then served with Do Chua (pickled vegetables). I also added a side of white rice (just in case). I have to admit, I was nervous- I was hoping this meal would help me get more comfortable with future travels to Southeast Asia as many items on the menu were spicy. Pok pok wings, you are my only hope.
Kevin took the first bites – the face he made after trying a wing was questioning. He confirmed it wasn’t spicy but was curious if I would like it. As long as it was not spicy, I was game. After my first bite… I was hooked! While the garlic and fish sauce made the wings super salty, the caramelization balanced with sweetness. It was so rich in flavor so the portion size of the wings was great to split. You must get these when visiting Pok Pok.
We declined dessert at Pok Pok in eager anticipation of the famous Salt and Straw. Having had it once before in San Francisco, Salt and Straw is known for their creative, out of the box flavors such as Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, Arbequina Olive Oil, Pear & Blue Cheese (don’t worry, they have more traditional flavors as well). But if you have read any of my dining reviews, you know my heart belongs to chocolate and my flavor of choice always and forever is Chocolate Goey Brownie. All the noms for the walk home.
*Pro Tip: If you know your flavor and want a pint, you can cut the line by grabbing a pint out of the freezer and getting the ultimate FastPass to the register to avoid long lines and big crowds
Good night Portland, we like what we see so far!
Time for some car rental logic- the earliest pick up time was 8AM and I wanted to be on the road to hiking or the coast by that time given the popularity of those locations. Since wineries do not open until 11AM, this was the perfect activity for the day we picked up the car rental.
Once we had the car, we made our way for breakfast – given a full day of wine tasting ahead of us, we needed something substantial in our stomachs. On our way out of the city we stopped at Pine State Biscuits. I must admit, we were still biscuit’ed out from Asheville – the obnoxiously stacked biscuit sandwich were not appetizing. Instead, we ordered a biscuit with honey butter and a biscuit with mushroom gravy.
The mushroom gravy was insanely flavorful and savory, I think it caught us both off guard how much we enjoyed it. The honey butter was perfect to enjoy our second biscuit – have to really mix the honey and butter all together to make the perfect spread. We were so pleased with ourselves in not gorging, even though the enormously stacked sandwiches looked delicious.
Off to explore the Willamette Valley! This wine region is known for their Pinot Noir – over half of all vineyard real estate is devoted to Pinot Noir grapes. This varietal thrives in the cool, misty, moist climate resulting in berry flavors with a lighter body which is a different expression than the California counterparts in Sonoma or Santa Barbara where the climate is warmer. There are seven sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley AVA and requires 90% of the grapes to be Pinot Noir to be called “Pinot Noir” wine – high standards!
Read about our wine tasting day!
The drive back into Portland was less enjoyable than the morning commute. With our time in traffic, we began to day dream about our dinner choices. Unlike our other trips, I did not have reservations or plans for every meal but rather had a bunch of stars on the Google Map to choose from. The wine inspired a carb hungry vibe so we searched for pasta.
Not far from our Airbnb was our dinner spot, Tasty n Daughters which was highly rated for their home made pastas. I remember looking at this menu weeks ago and struggling to choose a dish as they showcased all my favorite pasta options.
We did not have reservations but were lucky to get seated right away – it was a bopping spot! Reading the menu, I was struggling to choose a dish to eat as all my favorite pasta options vanished from the menu. I looked up at Kevin with my saddest puppy face. I know a rotating menu is wonderful for the local folks but I really wanted a carbonaraaaaaaaa. Pouting aside, it was a great menu.
Kevin had his heart set on the Bucatini Amatriciana with a house guanciale and spicy tomato sauce.
It smelled as amazing as it looks! I was so sad it was spicy because I really wanted to try it – the pasta noodles looked so perfect. Kevin shared that there was a low, lingering heat from the guanciale and the hearty tomato sauce created a savory, tummy happy dish. He was a happy camper.
I finally decided on the Linguini Primavera with Italian butter, fava bean pesto, morels and English peas. While pesto is generally not my favorite, butter and morels are so I was willing to give it a try.
The dish arrived and it was covered in red pepper flakes. Why??? It was not listed in the ingredients and it really changes the entire intent of the dish when you add this. I had Kevin try it and he shook his head, turning to get our server’s attention. I hate (hate hate hate) asking to remake the dish but I would have never ordered it if red pepper flakes were mentioned (or at least asked for it to be left out). Fortunately, they were very accommodating and remade the dish. The pasta was wonderful, swimming in a pool of butter and cheese. Logistically, the linguini shape with the fava beans and peas were a bit clunky to eat but the flavors were great. The morels were my absolute favorite part – a reward for trying new things.
While I was super tempted to see the dessert menu, Chocolate Goey Brown was calling my name. A quick walk to our neighborhood Salt and Straw to cap off a fantastic day.
We were so excited to explore the Columbia River Gorge! There are endless number of hiking trails and waterfalls – it was difficult to pick which ones to see. I read that the trail head parking areas are very limited so we rolled out of bed early, hitting the road before 7AM for a scenic drive east.
That was one surprising thing about all of our stops is that the falls were right off of the main road and hiking wasn’t required to get to the waterfall but instead to climb up to the top of it.
Read all about hiking the Columbia River Gorge!
After a long morning of hiking and climbing, we were starving! I read about a great stop that is conveniently off the highway on our way back to Portland – Sugarpine Drive-In.
Even though we arrived after lunch hours, it was mobbed – guess it was not the secret spot I thought it was! We quickly parked and got our place in line with menus in hand. While we expected hot dogs and hamburgers, Sugarpine offers a more sophisticated approach to drive in food with items such as sandwiches, salads, and daily specials. Not the mention the most perfect soft served ice cream I have ever seen.
Since we had a big dinner ahead, we decided to split a sandwich and each get an ice cream of choice. We didn’t want to wait in this line again for the ice cream so we figured we would order it all together and just eat the ice cream first so it didn’t melt. But upon approaching the ordering counter, Sugarpine offers the most brilliant thing – you can pay for your ice cream now and put it on layaway. Then when you are ready for it, you tell the ice cream window and they will make it for you fresh.
First up was our pulled pork sandwich – slow smoked pork shoulder on a buttery sesame seed roll with summer slaw, Sugarpine BBQ sauce, and whole grain mustard aioli.
I can’t even tell which singular thing made it so flavorful but it worked together so well. The meat was super juicy without being doused in sauce so you really got to taste the meat. The toppings and the slaw sauce used complimented perfectly. I could have definitely had my own sandwich with this one.
The time we were both waiting for – ice cream! I went to the ice cream counter and gave our name to activate our ice cream order and about two minutes later, the ice cream was ready – magic. These were the most perfectly swirled soft served ice cream cones – just look at that goodness!
My chocolate ice cream was topped with a chocolate cookie crumble (which ended up crumbling everywhere) and Kevin’s vanilla chocolate twist was topped with snicker doodle cookie pieces. We sat so content with our day – an early start allowed us to knock out four hikes and now enjoying these victory ice creams.
If you do the the Columbia River Gorge on your trip, you must stop at Sugarpine Drive-In, even if just for a drive through ice cream.
It was an uneventful drive back into Portland (thank goodness) and after rinsing off and a quick nap, it was time for our fine dining experience in Portland. It was difficult to pick and while I was tempted to just book more than one, I know our stomachs and wallets would be thankful to stick to one. After much research, we decided on Le Pigeon for French inspired fine dining.
Read the entire Le Pigeon dining review!
Full and content, we did a lap around the block to help our digestion before call a car back to our Airbnb.
It was harder to get out of bed as early this morning after that meal. Today was the last day with the rental car and the plan was to complete the radius around Portland by heading west to the coast. With a quick stop over to Stumptown Roasters for Kevin’s morning brew, we were on the road by 8AM.
The drive west took a little over an hour and though it was another cloudy day in the Pacific Northwest, the drive was scenic. The route navigates through Tillamook State Forest which lines the roads with thousands of massive trees and windy one lane roads traveling up and down through the forest. As we approached Highway 101, we both expected the trees to pull back and the coast line to magically appear but that was not the case- just more trees.
Read about our day trip to Oregon’s north coastline!
After several hours admiring the scenic landscape of the trees meeting the ocean, we moved onto our lunch spot. Tillamook Creamery was ubiquitously acclaimed by the locals we encountered as a must do. It was a bit out of the way but we were reassured it was well worth it.
Read about the Tillamook Creamery experience!
I opted to drive us home as an attempt to ignore my dairy guilt and what a horrible drive it ended up being. Closed roads in downtown Portland doubled our drive time back. Kevin navigated us through some ridiculous windy roads (thank god I was driving or the car would have become Tillamook on wheels). The traffic around Portland had been unreasonably bad all trip but this was excessive. Over two hours later, we dropped the car off (thanks for allowing a later return!) and we were happy to be on foot. While our original plan was to go back to the Airbnb, the city was so gridlocked that we decided to walk around downtown for a bit. I am convinced the city has poor city planning because if one road goes down, there needs to be a way the city can absorb the traffic instead of shutting down. One good thing that came from sitting in the parking lot of cars is that due to the sunny day, we were able to see Mt Hood in the distance and it was gigantic! It is kind of a scary thought that it is there all the time but is not visible. Wish had time to get down to see it up close- save it for another trip!
While there was no way we would be eating again tonight, I could not help but notice how close we were to Voodoo Doughnut. Portland has a crazy doughnut scene and we had been trying to fit it in all trip. With at least one more doughnut place to try and only one day in Portland left, I strategical got us over to Voodoo with the intent that the doughnuts would be tomorrow’s breakfast.
After a healthy walk, we made it to the bright pink building- impossible to miss. Distracted by the decor inside that resembled a Lisa Frank folder, we were directed to the rotating glass case of the more than 50 doughnut selections. Probably not the most efficient way to communicate the offerings to a massive group but luckily the store was empty when we were there and I stood in front of that display for several minutes.
While playing an intense process of elimination in my head, a group of young kids stepped up to the counter asking if any buckets were left. My eyes skimmed the price board and I did not see anything about a bucket. The staff member said she had to look and then returned to the counter slamming an enormous white bucket onto the counter. My mouth dropped- what is that??? The bucket is a secret menu item of about 30 “day old” doughnuts that is available only if the store had day old doughnuts left. The cost? $10! Full disclosure, I do not know the condition these doughnuts are in but that is quite a concept. I think the staff member noted my amazement and offered the final bucket to us but I respectfully declined. Just thinking about 30 doughnuts was making my head spin.
Kevin did not have a strong opinion on a flavor so I ordered us the Old Dirty Bastard- a raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreo cookies, and peanut butter. But the tasting would have to wait until the morning- what a cliffhanger!
The traffic had finally died down a bit so we hitched a ride back to our Airbnb. Still enormously full, we decided to end the night with a walk down Hawthorne Blvd which is lined with restaurants and stores. We really grew to love this part of the city and super happy that we picked this Airbnb!
Our final day of the trip and dedicated to exploring downtown Portland! The first order of business was trying that Voodoo Doughnut – the Old Dirty Bastard- a raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreo cookies, and peanut butter.
It was incredible – the doughnut itself was well made and something about the peanut butter really threw it into high gear. While it was sweet, it wasn’t as bad as I expected – could have been thanks to that peanut butter. Well worth the trip, bravo Voodoo!
To continue the donut tour, our first stop in the morning was to the other popular donut spot, Blue Star.
This was a very different vibe than Voodoo- this was the professional donut or as they put it “donuts for adults”. The static display case shows the 20 different kinds and the flavors are far more sophisticated and unique.
We ended up ordered two donuts to try:
- Chocolate Almond Ganache – A fresh brioche ring is glazed thickly with rich, delicious dark chocolate made from scratch with 100% natural cocoa powder. Sweet, gooey, and topped with chopped salted Marcona almonds.
- Buttermilk Old-Fashioned – A delicious buttermilk old-fashioned cake donut, crispy on the outside and creamy-fluffy on the inside, simply adorned with their signature “O.G.” topping.
I was so excited to give this chocolate donut a taste! The thick ganache looked like it was going to be dangerous to eat so we called in assistance with a fork which helped tremendously – it was too early in the day to dirty our clothes.
First bite can only be described as gourmet. The donut itself was very light, the ganache had the bite of bitter chocolate, not sugary or sweet, and the almonds offered a nice texture contrast. The old fashioned was very dense and while why OG glaze topping was incredible, I did not prefer the base donut as much but I know Kevin really enjoyed the cake like consistency.
And some fun donut humor before we leave:
Needing his morning joe, we walked down the street to Case Study Coffee where Kevin enjoyed the rest of his old fashioned donut. This ended up being Kevin’s favorite coffee (ding, ding, ding congrats!) of the trip as it portrayed the complex flavors of coffee when roasted and brewed properly. There are so many coffee roasters in Portland – I think it is difficult to get a bad cup of coffee anywhere!
Rounding out to 9AM, we headed a few blocks where Powell’s City of Books was getting ready to open for the day.
If you read some of our previous trips (such as Paris or Manchester), we know we can spend hours in a book store and Kevin could live in one. This has to be one of the largest bookstores we have visited to date. It takes up an entire city block and is home to 1.5 million books scattered in 8 different colored coded rooms over three floors.
I will save you the boring details but we spent an hour rummaging through what felt like a fraction of the store.
One of the main attractions we wanted to visit downtown was the Portland Japanese Gardens. We arrived shortly after the 10AM open and while I really wanted to visit earlier in the day, the park is only open to members from 8-10AM. I also thought the price of admission was a little steep at $18.95 (and more if you need to park).
It was difficult to believe among all of these enormous trees and in the city an entire garden was hiding. After paying for tickets, there is a walk way that takes visitors up several switchbacks (Portland and their switchbacks!) before entered the welcome area. There are different ways to walk through the gardens and we chose to go clock wise around the outer loop.
The gardens are made up of several sections, each one specifically groomed and sculpted. The bonsai display shows several types of trees along with their age- one was 75 years old and still less than 3 ft tall.
There are two large zen gardens that I wanted nothing more than to rake (no such luck).
The coy fish pond has a decently sized waterfall with a walkway over the pond to see the large coy fish (insert Office coy fish reference) that attracted many people.
There are so many nooks and crannies to hide in. Many people take advantage of the many benches throughout the gardens, we even noticed a group meditation session. The environment is very peaceful as such as the rules that are displayed before entering the garden- no cell phones, low talking, etc. We spent about an hour here which seemed on par with the other people who entered the gardens around the same time.
And because we didn’t get enough of it the first time, we returned to Powell’s City of Books for another hour.
The four breweries Kevin had tagged to visit were slowly getting boxed out of the trip. Luckily, one was around the corner from the bookstore so we took to opportunity to visit Deschutes Brewery.
This location was a large pub house and the beer menu was very extensive- over 20 beers to choose from. To make things easy, Kevin ordered a flight of six beers and I got a glass of wine. Not wanting complete empty stomachs, we ordered the apple molasses pork belly appetizer to snack on.
Our next agenda item was exploring Portland’s famous food pods. A shared ride driver earlier in the trip had recommended a stand that we made sure we would check out. There is a pod on 5th and 3rd streets so we stopped by 5th street first.
It is basically a city block with fronts lining the streets with a majority of the stands serving Asian and Indian street foods. Not seeing anything that spiked our interest, we continued to 3rd street.
We successfully found the recommended pod called Abo Omar where Kevin ordered a chicken gyro. According to Kevin, “the gyro was a perfect, (very) filling mid day snack. Most tasty part was whatever sauce. If i could get a redo I would’ve tried a different meat instead of chicken, little plain.” Thank you Kevin for that deskrib feature!
I ended up walking around the corner to Bao Bao for handmade steamed bao buns. I ordered a large pork bao and enjoyed it tremendously. I wish I got the red bean one as well, those are delightful.
Down the street was an enormous outdoor arts and crafts market. A sign indicated it occurs every weekend and in looking afterward, I learned it is the country’s largest continuously operated outdoor market- impressive Portland!
We walked around browsing the artwork collections, handmade jewelry, scented lotions, and so many other arts and crafts tents. It is awesome to have such a great environment to showcase your craft!
With a few more items on the to-do list before the day was over, we left downtown and returned to our Airbnb neighborhood for one final Salt and Straw. Oh Chocolate Goey Goodness, I pray we meet again soon!
Since we had a concert later in the evening, we had to pack up our bags early to be ready for the 6AM flight (blahhhhh). After securing our backpacks, we headed out for a light dinner at Harlow on Hawthorne Street.
Immediately loving the interior rustic design, we both felt this would be a place we would hang at constantly if it was back home.
The menu is full of delicious healthy options and that is exactly what we needed after a three day eating marathon. We ordered the Mighty Bowl – quinoa, daily beans (kidney and pinto), steamed greens (kale), choice of sauce (lemon ginger) and added an avocado.
This bowl was everything and more- it was so light and filling with the vinaigrette really assisting in bringing flavor in a healthy way. I know when we get home I will be attempting this for some of our meals, as well as other tasty dishes on the menu. I have to be reminded sometimes that healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated.
We ended our last night in Portland at a concert over at the Hawthrone Theatre. It just so happened that one of the bands we have recently obsessed over, Planet Booty, was playing while we were visiting Portland. I highly recommend checking them out- such a fun group! There are so many musical venues in Portland so it is worth seeking out one you want attend on your trip (I hear the McMenamins Kennedy School is awesome! We would have went there if Planet Booty wasn’t playing.)
Sadly, the concert went to midnight and with a 6AM flight, it was a grumpy me knowing three hours of sleep was our best shot. Maybe this would kill the jet lag on the way back! Our flight was delayed getting out, as all of our flights leaving for 2019 have been – quite a streak we have going- but we made it back home later afternoon.
Portland really does have everything to offer and virtually plans itself. While we went for a more potpourri approach, it is easy to pick one facade to focus on. We really love places like Portland- you can make it as personalized as you want because there are so many options. For us, I would not have changed any part of the itinerary and feels that we were able to see and do so much in a short trip. There were still plenty of things we missed but its difficult to accomplish everything, especially when you arrive and find new things you didn’t know about. Thank you Portland and we are looking forward to future trips out to the Pacific Northwest!