by Andrew Morrison & Michelle Sproule | It’s long been rumoured that Vancouver is romantically attached to the American city of Portland. The truth of it is that the two cities love each other deeply. Portland is drawn to Vancouver’s mountains, beaches, health care system, and permanent air of fresh possibility (our vast hinterland helps), while Vancouver has fallen hard for Portland’s irrepressible weirdness, transportation networks, lack of a sales tax, and especially the “fuck it, let’s do culture-first” approach of its comparatively permissive civic government. We also enjoy common affections for interesting food trucks and independent eateries; drink our region’s wines, coffee roasts, spirits, and craft brews with critical, shepherd-like concern for their excellence; and share anxieties about gentrification, heritage-preservation, and the cost of living — all while enjoying long walks under big trees, wandering tranquil Chinese gardens, perusing farmer’s markets, and giving zero shits about what the rest of our respective countries think of us (we see your Portlandia and raise you our own Prime Minister).
And yet it’s the little differences that tighten our bond. Portland, for example, can boast movie brewpubs, whiskey libraries, laundromat bars, and countless other awesome entertainments. Vancouver is world famous for its high-potency marijuana and has a lower drinking age, plus it has more sushi eateries per capita than any city in North America. Portland, in contrast, has the most strip clubs per capita of any city in North America. Among these are Casa Diablo, a “dark, vegan playland” where no animal products are shed or served, and The Black Cauldron, where the dancers are witches. So it’s basically a tie game.
Clearly, we were meant to be together. It’s just too bad about the distance, 505km to be exact, which is to say nearly a full day’s travel by car. But think of it this way, Vancouverites: it’s roughly the same travel time to Tofino or Kelowna, and neither of those has a Casa Diablo, or a laundromat that’s fully licensed. Of course there’s the matter of the international border to take into consideration, but we’re all issued passports to overcome such obstacles expeditiously.
So if you haven’t been to Portland in a while, it’s time to go…
We’ve put together the following guide based on the best experiences we had over the three trips we’ve made since March. Exhaust it at your peril and leisure, and check out Travel Portland for more.
Much like us, the people of Portland seem willing to give just about anything a try, and it shows in the diversity and vibrancy of its restaurant scene. Portland’s most interesting eateries – also much like Vancouver’s – share a distaste for formality; they are as casual in spirit as they are accessible in price point.
This was most evident on our last trip at Ava Gene’s , the farm-to-table Italian trattoria from Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson. It was packed but not crowded, disarmingly cool (hard to be pretentious with Cindi Lauper on the soundtrack), and mesmerizing in its capabilities. We don’t have anything like it in Vancouver. To achieve an Ava Gene’s of our own, we would need to combine the vibe of Chambar, the larder of Farmer’s Apprentice, the farm connections of Burdock & Co., the fealty to tradition of La Quercia, and Cioppino’s confidence in experimentation. When you go, sit at the kitchen bar and watch the cooks put on a clinic with their wheel-finessed wood-fired grill. Must haves include any vegetable/salad plate in the “giardini” section of the menu (the produce they source is superb); the spiced calamari fritti zinged with Meyer lemon; the duck egg carbonara; and anything that has the good fortune to kiss the dreamy grill.
The down-home, woodsy, Whitman-esque aesthetic on display at Ned Ludd (2) made us feel the most at home (so named after the legendary founder of the Luddites). The mise-en-scène – complete with hagiographic murals, firewood stacked broad across the kitchen’s frontage, barrels, and greenery – felt purpose-built (even in the restrooms) to please vintage Americana fetishists of the first order. After a drink or two (we recommend their take on the Americano), one can easily imagine the likes of Ken Burns, Stephen Ambrose, George Black, and Dayton Duncan occupying the room’s crowded corners story-boarding new documentary films and taking notes for new histories while ducking the ghosts of John Muir and Jedediah Smith haunting the rafters above. But it’s chef/proprietor Jason French’s food that strikes the most authentic notes with menus morphing weekly to reflect the ever-changing bounty of his local suppliers. This was deliciously evidenced on our most recent trip (last week) with bang-on expressions of the moment: strawberries sweetly allied with rhubarb against arugula and sheep’s cheese; little radishes spread with smoked butter and sprinkled with Jacobsen sea salt; and little mouthfuls of cold asparagus soup anointed with charred leek oil (served in spoons pre-powdered with bacon). The dishes – even the combinations of cheese and charcuterie – had an experimental quality to them, and yet, at the very same time, they were bound up in intangibly delicious deja-vu — as if we’d somehow read or dreamed of them before. For Vancouverites, it might be helpful to think of Ned Ledd as Oregon’s version of our Farmer’s Apprentice. While both eateries confidently nail the ingredients of the West Coast to the wall with resounding authority, the difference lies in the hammers used. If Farmer’s Apprentice employs a precision machinist’s ball-peen to concentrate on detail and presentation, Ned Ludd takes care of business with a wooden mallet, a la bang! It’s not as studiously pretty, but the taste is louder and more impactful.
The most surprising restaurant was Ataula, a family-friendly Spanish tapas joint owned by chef-savant Jose Chesa . It’s tucked away in Northwest Portland and looks/feels very much like an average neighbourhood bistro, only the food is bewitchingly good. Think hot croquettes stuffed with jamón ibérico de bellota, rossejat (toasted noodles) with chorizo and garlic mayo, and the best, most complicated patatas bravas dish known to man (mandolined russets reassembled, vacuum-bagged and hot water bathed with pimenton and chorizo oil, and fried to order).
The lunch we most enjoyed was at Meat.Cheese.Bread, an earnest-to-goodness, super relaxed sandwich shop in the Buckman area  where admission – seemingly – is by hangover. They cured us with a turkey sandwich lit brightly with sweet onion and a hottie loaded with green beans, parmesan, bacon relish, and a soft boiled egg.
Another winner was Division Street’s Roe , a tiny, refined and creative charmer hidden at the rear of a popular fish and chip joint called Block + Tackle. Vancouverites would feel at home here with dishes like spot prawn crudo with togarashi in green apple-lime broth and fatty salmon saddled with basil-poached mussels. Chefs Patrick Schultz and Trent Pierce work their magic front and center in their open kitchen, and the service glides with rare expertise.
Ava Gene’s | 3377 SE Division St. Portland | www.avagenes.com
Ned Ludd | 3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd Portland | www.nedluddpdx.com
Ataula | 1818 NW 23rd Pl. Portland | www.ataulapdx.com
Meat.Cheese.Bread. | 1406 SE Stark St. Portland | www.meatcheesebread.com
Roe | 3113 SE Division St. Portland | www.roe-pdx.com
Bollywood Theater | 3010 SE Division St. Portland | www.bollywoodtheaterpdx.com
Grassa | 1205 SW Washington St. Portland | www.grassapdx.com
Le Pigeon | 738 E Burnside St. Portland | www.lepigeon.com
Pok Pok | 3226 SE Division St Portland | www.pokpokpdx.com
Portland has alcohol pretty well figured out. They make the stuff, mix the stuff, and drink the stuff with a purpose that we’re only beginning to approach in Vancouver. Though some might say that that has everything to do with our city/province long suffering under the yoke of tee-totalling fun-killers and Portland being a freedom-loving magnet to pioneers since it was incorporated in 1851, the truth of it is…well, that’s actually the truth of it. Portland’s drinks front is a pleasure to explore, starting with Pepe Le Moko , a sexy little hideaway that serves up killer takes on old school sippers like the Long Island Iced Tea and the Grasshopper (the latter made like a milkshake with Fernet and sea salt). If you dig beer, check out Upright Brewing for French/Belgian farmhouse-style brews , and the aptly named Beer (next door brother to Meat.Cheese.Bread) for a variety of local craft and international pints, not to mention a friendly crowd . For wine, we loved the SE Wine Collective, an urban winery that doubles as a tasting bar on SE Division Street , and if whiskey is your thing, you’ll be totally blown away by Multnomah Whiskey Library, to which we recently penned this love letter (recap: 1,500 bottles of whiskey, fireplace, flawless Devils On Horseback).
Pepe Le Moko | 407 SW 10th Ave. Portland | www.pepelemokopdx.com
Beer | 1410 SE Stark St. Portland | www.facebook.com/BeerPortland
SE Wine Collective | 2425 SE 35th Pl. Portland | www.sewinecollective.com
Multnomah Whiskey Library | 1124 SW Alder St. Portland | www.mwlpdx.com
Upright Brewing | 240 N Broadway #2, Portland | www.uprightbrewing.com
The Commons Brewery | 1810 SE 10th Ave. Portland | www.commonsbrewery.com
Clyde Common | 1014 SW Stark. Portland | www.clydecommon.com
Doug Fir Lounge | 830 E Burnside St | www.dougfirlounge.com
Woodsmans Tavern | 4537 SE Division St | www.woodsmantavern.com
For beds and coffee, we’re suckers for the Ace Hotel  and The Stark Cafe (aka “Stumptown”) , which are umbilically attached to one another on Stark Street. The former is still as delightfully different as ever with its unique rooms, attached restaurant/bar (Clyde Common), vintage photobooth, rental bikes, and communal table in the high traffic lobby lounge, and the latter is a coffee front for our favourite wake-me-up, Stumptown. The Nines Hotel – all 331 rooms of it – is a gorgeous luxury alternative across from Pioneer Square . It’s a Starwood joint with a slightly more traditional vibe, a glassed in atrium lobby lounge, an Asian-inspired restaurant/bar (Departure) located on the roof, and an organic steakhouse (Urban Farmer) on the main floor. If you’re a coffee wonk already familiar with Stumptown’s offerings, skip it and make your way to the bright and friendly Heart on SW 12th  or the expansive, good-looking Coava Coffee Roasters on SE Grand . Both pull solid shots and offer unique environs for caffeination.
Ace Hotel | 1022 SW Stark St. Portland | www.acehotel.com/portland
Heart Coffee Roasters | 537 SW 12th, Portland | www.heartroasters.com
The Stark Cafe | 1026 SW Stark. Portland | www.stumptowncoffee.com
Coava | 1300 SE Grand Ave. Portland | www.coavacoffee.com
The Nines Hotel | 525 SW Morrison St. Portland | www.thenines.com
There’s much to taste between meals in Portland. Products by Jacobsen Salt Co., the first company to make salt from the Oregon Coast since Lewis & Clark, are diverse and delicious . We use their cocktail salt at home and stuff our faces full of their licorice whenever we get the chance. We’re also super thrilled about the summer opening of their new headquarters and tasting room on SE Salmon Street, which we’ve toured a couple of times over the last two months (see photos below). There are several farmer’s markets to check out, but the Saturday market sprawling out of Portland State University’s campus appears to be the most fun . And be sure to bring an appetite, as hot food abounds. Chef David Brigg’s Xocolatl de David is an essential stop for chocolate lovers . His inventions lean toward the savoury rather than the sweet (think foie gras, sourdough and olive oil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano), but it’s the high quality of the chocolate that has kept us pining. Of course, no visit to Portland could be complete without an investigation of its food cart scene . There are pods, squares, and stand-alones galore — far too many to list, so we’ve included a link to a handy guide below. Also worth checking out is Bee Local . Similar to Vancouver’s Hives For Humanity and Mellifera Bees, Bee Local produces hyper-local honey from neighbourhood hives across the city, with each one looking and tasting different – as they should – from the next.
Jacobsen Salt Co. | 602 SE Salmon St. Portland | www.jacobsensalt.com
Sat. Farmers Market | SW Park & SW Montgomery | portlandfarmersmarket.org
Xocolatl de David | 1406 SE Stark St. Portland | www.xocolatldedavid.com
Food Trucks | All around and across the city | www.foodcartsportland.com
Bee Local – Artisan Neighborhood Honey | 1810 SE 10th. Portland | www.beelocal.com
Save some time to do some shopping because Portland produces plenty of awesome stuff. Wildfang, a great place for tomboy duds, is headquartered on SE Grand , and if you ask nicely they might just let you carve your name into their back wall. In Northeast Portland, make your way to Jocelyn and Robert Rahm’s expansive and beautiful Beam & Anchor; a maker’s paradise filled with local craft products and a real joy to explore (so much to see, feel, and smell). When on Mississippi Ave, check out the camper-friendly Worn Path  for douk douk clasp knives, Poler backpacks, cozy blankets, and the always essential raccoon skull. They’ve always got interesting, quality stock. And speaking of quality, one of the more fascinating places we visited was the production facility of Tanner Goods, where we were lucky enough to see the famed leather crafters doing their exacting thing. Pay a visit to their Burnside retail location and you’ll likely find a keeper bag or wallet that will last you forever . Of course, spending an hour or two in Powell’s City of Books – the world’s largest independent bookstore – goes without saying . It’s easier to get lost in there than in the whole of Portland, and what a pleasure!
Wildfang | 1230 SE Grand Ave. Portland | www.wildfang.com
Beam & Anchor | 2710 N Interstate Ave. Portland, OR | www.beamandanchor.com
Powells | 9am-11pm | 1005 W Burnside St. Portland | www.powells.com
Worn Path | 4007 N Mississippi Ave. Portland | worn-path.com
Tanner Goods | 1308 W Burnside. Portland | www.tannergoods.com
Canoe | 1136 SW Alder St. Portland | www.canoeonline.net