travels

Midwest Mermaid Travels: A Long Weekend in Portland, OR - What to Do & Where to Eat

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Portland, the city you've heard you should like.
(I actually bought a book with that title while visiting!)

But really, all I've ever heard are reasons why I should visit Portland, OR (not to be confused with Portland, Maine, which is where my friend Brittni originally thought we were going!).  Everyone who has been there raves about it.  The food, the people, the sort of hipster culture...  It's a famously "weird" place, but definitely weird in a good way!  So here is how I experienced Portland in 5 days (2 being travel days) with my friends.


At the beginning of February, four friends and I took a trip to Portland with one thing on our minds: food.  My friends (not me) are vegan.  Portland is known as like, the vegan mecca of the world, so of course they wanted to visit.  I, on the other hand, have also heard great things about the Portland foodie scene.  Being the foodie I am, I knew I had to visit.

I approached this trip differently than I usually do!  If you've read my other travel related posts, you might remember that I am a self-proclaimed complete psycho when it comes to planning.  I like to create a Google map laying out exactly where I want to visit.  I didn't do that this time!  Part of me knew that it wouldn't be hard to find fun things to do and good things to eat.  Also, I just didn't have time to do my usual Pinterest/city map stalking!

So overall, we mostly ate.  
We also visited a few different spots that I'd encourage you to visit if you're in the area.
And we stayed in the cutest Airbnb ever!

So read on for my recommendations and my thoughts about this awesome city.

Where We Stayed


All I can say is that we made a great choice in where we decided to stay.  It wasn't downtown Portland,  but it was just a quick Uber ride to pretty much everywhere we needed to go.  The place itself was adorable and furnished beautifully.  Everything was monochromatic except for the gorgeous art on the walls.  Perfect for photoshoots with wine and your friends...

The host was cool, the check-in was super easy.  There was a nice patio in the back too!

The thing that was most enticing to us when deciding on where we were going to say was obviously the price.  I think Airbnb is an excellent deal as opposed to staying anywhere else we looked.  We spent less and got more.  A full kitchen and a fridge to keep our leftovers.  Plus dishes to use to eat them later!  A coffee pot and coffee provided to us (hallelujah).  A separate living room space to hang out, as well as bedrooms to go if we wanted to chill for a bit.  And just the vibe in general is enough for me.  Can't wait for more Airbnb travel in the future!


Funny story though.  The street we were staying on was apparently really long.  We were staying on the SE end.  From the airport we accidentally typed into Uber that the address was on the NE end instead.  Uber driver just dumped us off and said, "I think it's right there!"  Well, he was wrong.  Luckily, no such address existed because we probably would have just walked right in!  So there we were, 5 girls and their wheely suitcases pacing up and down the sidewalk, looking for their home.  Which was certainly not there.  We got lots of weird looks from the schoolchildren walking down the street, and even were offered help finding the address by the lovely people of Portland.  Then we realized the mistake and called a new Uber.  Okay, we probably could have done a little more research.  Oh well!

What We Did



The Portland Art Museum is a nice little museum that you can easily get through within a couple of hours!  It's the oldest art museum on the West Coast.  We really enjoyed their special exhibit, Animating Life, which was about the Portland-based animation company Laika and their stop-motion animation.  I always have loved those Christmas movies made with stop-motion animation, so it was especially cool to see how Laika has revolutionized the art of this process with 3D printing.  Laika's most popular films include Coraline, Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings.  


Portland Farmer's Market

We went to the farmer's market on the campus of Portland State University.  It was a quick walk through for us because it was our first stop of the day and we weren't planning on carrying a lot home.  There didn't seem to be a lot of options in terms of hot and ready food, but it was a nice market.  But I would suggest going at the beginning of your trip and grabbing a few things to take home to snack on if you have a fridge available!  They also had gorgeous flowers which I totally would have bought if I didn't have to fly home.

Shopping (TAX FREE SHOPPING, PEOPLE.)

We weren't totally sure where the good shopping was, so we asked a lot of Uber drivers for advice.  We ended up walking down NW 23rd Avenue, which I guess is called the "Nob Hill" area.  There were lots of cute boutiques as well as more well-known chain stores.  I found quite a few things to take home!  And it's just so weird to only pay what the price on the tag says, instead of tax...and then a stadium tax...ha.  Really nice shopping experience for those of us who can't do math (me).

The Pearl District is another area you probably will want to stop.  There are lots of little shops around with things made in Oregon.  I bought a lot.  I got some really cool art made by Portland or Oregon-based artists, among other things!  Which brings me to the store that anchors this district...


I wish I had photos of this bookstore!  It's any reader's dream come true.  It's the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world.  It's almost overwhelming!  There are so many floors and so many books on each one, organized into sections and categories.  Sift through the books and you'll oftentimes find new AND used copies of the same books.  The used ones were in great condition and usually around $6 cheaper than the new ones.

I loved the variety in books that the 5 of us purchased!  It really showed the differences in our interests/personalities when I bought a watercolor book, a book about sociopaths, and a book about introverts.  So I looked like an introverted sociopathic watercolor artist, while Brittni bought a book about birds of prey...Courtney bought one about philosophy...and Amy bought one about Gabrielle Union.  In total though, we bought A LOT of books!  It's just so tempting when they're all right in front of you!

Vegan Mini Strip Mall

Heaven for my vegan friends!  You may have seen the Bring Me video on Facebook, but this is a little strip mall tailored exclusively for vegans.  There's a coffee shop/bakery, a gift shop, a grocery store, and a tattoo parlor that uses vegan ink.  They all stocked up at the grocery store for snacks to bring home!

Brittni Got a Tattoo!

She didn't get a tattoo at the vegan mini mall, but she got her tattoo that says, "compassion for all," at another Portland tattoo parlor that uses only vegan ink.

Where We Ate

We tended to choose restaurants that served both vegan and non-vegan options, and some that were entirely vegan.  But realistically, most of the time restaurants in Portland have vegetarian/vegan options on their menu.

For my friends who are vegan, eating at restaurants in Portland was EXTREMELY different from restaurants in Wisconsin (they live in Milwaukee and Green Bay).  They felt like they actually had options at restaurants without needing to ask for a million substitutions, or you know, just going hungry.  They felt like it wasn't weird to be vegan in Portland as opposed to being in Wisconsin - the land of cheese and sausage.

As someone who's not vegan, even I could sense the difference.  I recently wrote a list of the Top 15 Vegetarian Spots in Milwaukee on Female Foodie.  I feel like if I were to write that same list in Portland, it would be endless!

Now just a full disclaimer - I ate a combination of non-vegan and vegan options.  I order whatever I'm in the mood for and I'm not picky in the least.  In my everyday life, and especially when traveling, I like trying new and different types of food.  I'm always open to trying vegetarian/vegan meal if it sounds good to me, but I do not exclusively follow the diets of either of those lifestyle choices.

Food (all have at least some vegan options)


A fabulous spot recommended by my Portland-based friend Sue.  I asked her for recommendations for good vegan food, and she did not disappoint!  This was an Israeli inspired spot that offered plant-based fare.  As a table, we ordered hummus, which was very good.  I then ordered the shawarma bowl (hummus,  shawarma, pickles, tomato, cucumber, tahini, amba, and fries).  This was probably my favorite meal!  And then I accidentally left my leftovers on the table at the next place we stopped.  Hate when I do that.

Side note about Portland in general - We did notice that they must have a very low tolerance for 'spicy" in Portland?  Every time we ordered something "medium" spicy, it was super mild. Which is fine because it all still had great flavor!  But we noticed this at multiple restaurants.  Just an observation.



Homegrown Smoker is an exclusively VEGAN restaurant that serves BBQ!  This spot was at the top of my friends' eating list.  We liked it!  The vibe was unexpected, it was very bright and cheery for a BBQ joint.  I can't speak for any of their meals, but I ordered the Buff Burrito (smoked chikn, tempeh bacon, MacNocheese, mozzarella, grilled peppers and onions, spicy buffalo sauce, ranch, raw greens and diced tomato).  I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent flavor of this burrito.  I was intrigued by the fact that they included mac & cheese in it, so I had to try it.  And I was overall satisfied!  The chikn (faux chicken made of soy and pea) was probably the only part of this burrito that I was not a fan of.  Since I do eat regular chicken, it's a tough comparison to make.  But this was overall a very good and excellently flavored burrito.  The staff here were extremely friendly and even gave our table free cupcakes because we traveled all the way from Wisconsin.



I LOVE ramen.  I think that any ramen place that encourages you to slurp your noodles is a must-try!  I had heard good things about this spot, so we decided to try it.  They have 4 locations throughout Portland and a limited menu that they do very well.  I ordered the spicy red miso (spicy pork broth, pork belly, soft-poached egg and scallions).  Very good flavor!  My friends ordered the only vegan option on the menu, the veggie curry (vegetable stock, coconut milk, yellow curry, broccoli rabe, mushrooms, corn and scallions).



Classic bar food.  The thing about this place is that they offered a FULL vegan menu alongside their full "regular" menu.  That's absolutely unheard of in Wisconsin.  This was the first restaurant we went to in Portland and my friends were basically in heaven.  It was everything they love but is not easily accessible as a vegan option in Milwaukee.  As for me, I can eat bar food all the time, so I decided to sample off of the vegan menu as well.  The vegan garlic cheesy bread was PHENOMENAL.  The pizza I ordered was just okay.  Since cheese is my favorite food and my first qualifying factor of good pizza, I tend to judge it extremely harshly.  But you do get to choose from a variety of vegan cheeses and I may have just chosen wrong!  And again, the vegan chicken just wasn't my fave.  My friends ordered wings and they actually use sugar cane for the "bone" part.  I thought it was hilarious and inventive.  They really loved their wings!


Another upside of being in Portland (or any big city, I'd assume), is Postmates.  I live in the suburbs of Milwaukee, so Postmates is available but literally nothing from downtown delivers here.  It was nice being at our Airbnb because we had options for delivery!  We ordered acai and pitaya bowls from Moberi one morning as we were getting ready.  They were delish! And v photogenic, if I say so myself.


I didn't get a photo of my tator tots at Hungry Tiger, but they were super good!  We stopped here because we wanted to go out, but we also wanted to eat.  I ordered the Tot-chos, like nachos but with tots.  They were corn chips and tator tots covered in cheese sauce, black beans, house-made salsa, and sour cream.  You can also make this dish vegan with vegan cheese and sour cream, which my friends did.  I got a tasty drink too, The lavender sour (bourbon, lemon, ginger liqueur, and lavender bitters).


I was starving.  Needed pizza.  Cheese pizza is basically my comfort food, so that's what I got.  I scarfed it down in like 2 minutes while we waited for the Uber to arrive.  It was good!  You have to wait a bit though, at least at the one by Powell's.  They also have a vegan menu of pies.


I had just eaten at Sizzle Pie at this point, so I didn't order anything.  But I did try the (vegan) mac and cheese and it was soooooo good.  It was one of the best mac and cheeses I've ever tasted!  This was the perfect amount of cheesiness.  And great flavor.

Dessert


Best donut of my life, I swear.  Bourbon blueberry basil.  They use a French recipe, and they are light and fluffy.  The glaze was a deep bluish-purple (blueberry) color and was incredibly flavorful.  I had Blue Star recommended as opposed to VooDoo.  I had heard their donuts are better and VooDoo's are really just good for a photo op.  I'd still be down to try VooDoo, but I'm so happy I got myself a Blue Star donut!  They usually have a vegan donut, but they had run out for the day.


Another best.  Some of the best ice cream I've ever had.  I love uniquely flavored ice creams, so I enjoyed their menu.  I mean, they have normal stuff too if you're boring.  You can sample as many as you'd like, too!  I chose the strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper and the arbequina olive oil (which tasted like a very rich and smooth vanilla).  I tried a few others too and loved them all.  They always have one vegan option, so my friends got that (I think it was strawberry coconut?).

Coffee



Another thing I love about Portland is the fact that they have tons of little coffee stands all over the city.  You don't even have to go inside a building to order!  This place, called Best Friend, was really cute.  It was entirely plant-based.  I got the lavender latte (French lavender flower espresso, with coconut milk).


We also stopped at a few other coffee shops, cafes, and bars that served food.


Things For Next Time

-We desperately wanted to visit the food cart pods, but we were SO full when it would have been convenient for us to eat there.  Then we checked again when we were hungry and many were closed for the night.
-If it weren't February, we would have wanted to go to the Japanese Gardens and the International Rose Test Garden.
-If we had another day, or visited in the summer, we would have made a day out of Multnomah Falls.
-The "Keep Portland Weird" sign.
-I would love to go to the festivals in the summer.
-There are quite a few restaurants I want to visit next time!  Lardo, Pok Pok, and anywhere my friend Sue puts on her Instagram (but really, if you're headed to Portland, follow her!).

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