Letter of Recommendation: Portland, Oregon
When I travel to a new town my goal is to cover as much ground as possible, leaving little room for error. That approach doesn’t always work out exactly as intended, but last weekend in Portland, Oregon, it did! I was there for two full days, had four stellar meals, some snacks worth mentioning in between, and I can’t decide which to write about. So, I’m giving you my short but sweet weekend guide to PDX—an incredible food city, very worth visiting. Here goes.
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
Nong’s khao man gai is perfect in every sense of the word. You see a picture of this deceptively simple-looking chicken-and-rice dish, and you think, 'Just how good could it be?’ Then you try it, and it blows your mind. The poached chicken is soft, tender, and thoroughly flavored with the subtle combination of ginger, pandan leaves, and garlic. It’s plated over a bed of silky, chicken-y rice and accompanied by a small bowl of salty-soothing broth and an addictive sauce layered with ginger and a hint of spice. Each element works together so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts—especially since each part is so fine-tuned. This plate of food quite literally warms your soul. As you’re eating it, you can’t help but feel like it’d cure any sickness. This headline sums it up well.
609 SE Ankeny St Suite C*
Salt & Straw
Salt & Straw’s almond brittle with salted ganache is officially my all-time favorite ice cream flavor. That’s all.
2035 NE Alberta St*
I wished I could’ve eaten here with a group of at least four. The restaurant is meant to feel like a Russian dinner party in someone’s home. Hence, you'll find yourself ordering shot after shot of infused vodka (I generally don’t drink vodka, but can wholeheartedly vouch for Kachka’s horseradish stuff) to chase yeasted blinis with butter and trout roe and luscious Siberian pelmeni in “fancy” (read: beef) broth.
960 SE 11th Ave
The vibe was low-key at noted sommelier Dana Frank's still-new wine spot when we arrived around 10 pm on Saturday night. The bar was full, but all of the tables were empty. I presume that Portland is not known for late-nights and also, since it’s August, that many locals were out of town for the weekend. The wine list boasts at least ten options per category by the glass. We each chose a red, then shared a caramelly amaro on the rocks, which we selected from Frank’s collection of 60s-era “old amari.” When we finished, the street outside was almost pitch-black; minimal light emanated from a few neighboring watering holes, all to close at midnight. It was the most peaceful night I’ve had in a while.
2615 SE Clinton St
Montavilla Farmers Market
Speaking of August, let's not forget that farmers markets across America are brimming with stone fruit and blueberries and tomatoes. We picked up a few CBD-laced honey sticks to suck down before our flight, I bought and then immediately ate a just-ripe peach, and then we walked to nearby Mt. Tabor Park—all forest green and beautiful, with picturesque reservoirs and a killer view.
7700 SE Stark St
Admittedly, our Sunday morning plan was to get pho at Ha & VL, but we were met with a dark restaurant and summer vacation signage. So, we pivoted to lunch later on at Hat Yai, a shop named after the Southern Thai city near the Malaysian border. Hat Yai specializes in fried chicken and curry with roti. I recommend the namesake combo, which comes with both. The ground pork with turmeric, kaffir, and lemongrass is like larb, but more spice-driven and less tangy, and as the menu conveys, it is THAI spicy. The heat is tolerable until you finish a bite and it continues to build up in your throat, then linger. Order it if you dare—it’s delicious—but know that I’ve warned you, and be sure to enlist the help of a Thai iced tea.
1605 NE Killingsworth St
Pip’s Original Doughnuts
I’m not big into doughnuts. The exception is anything in the vein of the apple cider kind. I also love mini things (who doesn’t?) and at Pip's, instead of a display case full of giant, hyper-sweet yeast bombs, they fry their miniature cake-based guys to order. Then, each unit is rolled (in raw honey and sea salt or cinnamon-sugar) or dolloped (with Nutella or seasonal jam). To go with, choose from six different kinds of chai, made with your choice of milk (they have oat!) and served hot or iced.
4759 NE Fremont St
Laurelhurst Theatre & Pub
Get your tickets to whatever indie flick you want to see, then order a $14 pitcher of beer from a local brewery. Each theater is equipped with low counters in front of each set of seats, where you can rest your glass and refill when needed.
2735 E Burnside St
I’ve written a lot about pizza here, and this pizzeria is one for the books. The sourdough crust is extra-dense and enriched. Compared to that of Una Pizza or Ops, it’s darker, doughier, dusted with flour, and boasts layers upon layers of air pockets. Truthfully, it tastes more like bread than it does of Neapolitan pizza. And the Sungold tomato confit pie is a revelation. The addition of shaved summer squash, Reggiano, orange agrumato (a citrusy olive oil), some basil, and a sprinkling of edible, purply-pink flowers make for a pretty picture—and a slice tastes like peak-summertime. Pace yourself: after three or four, you’ll feel like you’ve eaten an entire loaf of sourdough. And you'll want to save room for dessert because there is homemade ice cream (including soft-serve). I didn't, and it's my only regret of the weekend.
4039 N Mississippi Ave
On our way home we received some sad news: Pok Pok, one of our favorite Brooklyn restaurants and a Portland import, is closing. Alas, it's another reason to return to PDX.
Things I read and liked (some related, some not!):
The above article on Nong's gives more color to why the dish is so exceptional [Eater]
It's fun to read local reviews when dining in a new city, and I liked this take on Lovely's [PDX Monthly]
But, given that I'm back in New York... has anyone heard of the "Pizza Principle" theory, which correlates the price of a slice with the base fare for a subway ride? Also, as far as I'm concerned, everyone's goal in life should be to reside in a "prosciutto zone." (h/t Saarim)
Brette Warshaw writes a fun TinyLetter where she compares two similar things, and I particularly liked last week's edition on lox, nova, and smoked salmon. [What's the Difference]
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