Must Try Portland Oregon Foods and Drink Experiences – Episode 132

Portland Oregon Foods
Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Portland, Oregon, is known for its mouthwatering food scene. Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, a meat lover, or a pescatarian, Portland has something for everyone, satisfying any budget – big or small. From high-end restaurants and upscale cocktail bars to cheap eats at food carts, Portland is known for craft beer, coffee, chocolate, donuts, wine, and more. Weaved into the city’s fabric and identity, Portland Oregon foods push the boundaries of creativity and innovation, celebrate diverse ethnic culinary traditions, and there’s a real sense of community and collaboration from foodpreneurs, chefs, and food artisans supporting one another. 

Wanting to see if the claims were true, I set out to explore if Portland is indeed a foodie town and if we should believe the “hype.” Is Portland one of America’s top foodie cities? To narrow things down, I’ve broken down “The Four Tastes of Portland” into these categories: savory, sweet, sour, and bitter.

Eating and drinking my way around the city, in this podcast episode, I share where to eat in Portland and my favorite must-try food and beverage picks in these four categories. You’ll also hear from Portland foodpreneurs and food tour operators who share how they got their start and why Portland’s culinary scene is unmatched. 

Listen to the podcast episode here.

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In this episode, we cover Portland, Oregon, foods and culinary experiences:

  • Portland food culture
  • Best food in Portland
  • What to eat in Portland?
  • Is Portland a major foodie city, and why?

I’ve teamed up with Travel Portland to discover Portland’s incredible food and drink scene and share inspiring entrepreneurial stories from some of Portland’s talented foodpreneurs growing thriving businesses.

Best Portland Food and Drink Experiences

Nicknamed ‘The City of Pop-ups,’ for its pop-up food scene, Portland is community-driven, resourceful, and scrappy to its core. You’ll quickly notice the city’s collaborative spirit as pop-ups tests their concepts saving up to eventually open their own brick-and-mortars.

For example, long-standing establishments are becoming collaborative kitchens, inviting fellow entrepreneurs to use their space to serve their food on the days their restaurants are closed. It’s such a beautiful thing to see.

About Portland Food Carts 

You might be familiar with food trucks, but “food carts” are what you can expect in Portland. 

Food carts are small mobile eateries you can walk right up to, place an order, and start chowing down within a few minutes. 

These are great for budget-conscious diners or if you’re looking to grab a quick bite on the go. 

Portland food carts offer affordable and delicious street food, from quesadillas and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to tacos, dumplings, and crepes.

While you can find individual carts around the city, it’s common to see groups of carts together in a “pod.”

Portland is home to hundreds of food carts, and according to recent studies, it is the #1 food truck-friendly city in the country. 

Why are there so many food carts in Portland? 

Starting a food cart is an affordable and accessible way to break into the Portland food scene, start a business, and share culinary creations. 

Many Portland food carts have moved into brick-and-mortar locations across the city due to their following and financial success. 

This brings me to my first recommendation. 

For my lunch-time, Portland food cart pick, check out Fried Egg I’m in Love at Pioneer Courthouse Square for some yolky sandwich goodness.

With fun-named items on the menu like “Free Range Against the Machine,” you can’t miss the bright yellow cart.

1. Coffee Shops in Portland: Portland Ca Phe

For the best cafes in Portland, Oregon, visit Portland Ca Phe, owned and operated by Kim Dam in South East Portland.

While there are a lot of Portland coffee shops, Portland Ca Phe is where you can experience the rich Vietnamese coffee culture.

On a mission to destigmatize and challenge the narrative that Vietnamese coffee beans are of lower grade, Portland Ca Phe is Portland’s first Vietnamese specialty coffee shop specializing in robusta and other beans from Vietnam.

Walking into Portland Ca Phe, you’ll be greeted by the familiar smell of coffee brewing. There’s a full menu of traditional lattes, cappuccinos, and Vietnamese-inspired drinks like coconut coffee – all made with beans from Vietnam.

Spicy tofu sandwich.

Ordering a creamy hot latte, the tofu sandwich was delicious. The spicy sauce, while unexpected, was approachable and finger-licking good. 

The coffee shop is bright with greenery and features a captivating mural of Vietnam highlighting major cities like Hanoi and Saigon.

Kim Dam: “Portland, Oregon, is one of the best coffee cities in the world. I may be biased, but I really do think that we have amazing coffee here.

We have a great coffee scene, and just growing up here, I’ve never seen Vietnamese coffee beans in any specialty coffee shop. And I never really thought twice about it because I am a big fan of Ethiopian, Colombian, and Brazilian coffees.

I left the coffee world back in 2016 to switch gears to go into social services work. During that time, I started to miss the coffee world, and I wanted to learn how to roast.

While doing some research, I saw a Reddit thread about coffee production in Vietnam. I realized Vietnam was the second largest coffee producer in the world behind Brazil and then the number one robusta bean producer in the world.

Mind blown — although they are leading coffee producers, they’re not well represented in the specialty coffee field. I wanted to change that somehow.”

At Portland Ca Phe, you can also find Vietnamese-inspired donuts by HeyDay PDX, one of the best donut shops in Portland.

Follow @portlandcaphe on Instagram.

2. Donuts in Portland: HeyDay PDX

Soft and chewy, HeyDay donuts are Vietnamese-inspired baked donuts crafted with care by Lisa Nguyen.

Lisa Nguyen: “Our donuts are made with rice flour and are naturally gluten-free. They represent desserts I’ve grown up eating all my life. Vietnamese baked goods I’ve eaten have all been made with rice flour, whether steamed, fried, or baked.

Donuts have been a family thing since we were kids. This was how my dad showed us, love – our thing was donuts every Sunday. I’ve brought that over to my kids. And so when we decided to do this, it was just a conversation I had with my mom, actually. We were eating donuts, and she’s like, I think you can make these better. And that was it.

While there are a bunch of different donuts in Portland, they all have their special thing; their special touch.”

Follow @heydaypdx on Instagram.

For more sweet treats, I cruised around on the Portland food tour, “Donuts of Portland Bike Tour” by Pedal Bicycle Tours which has unfortunately closed down (Update: May 2023).

Portland waterfront views!

Biking is a phenomenal way to see the city, cruise through several of Portlalnd’s neighborhoods, and try all sorts of specialty donuts around town.

3. Portland Brewery: Cascade Brewing

Moving into sour, make your way to Cascade Brewing, the “House of Sours” — a must-do for sour beer lovers on a quest for tartness. 

Specializing in brewing sour beers with a high level of acidity, I suggest building your own flight so you can sample a variety of hand-crafted, fruit-forward sours from simple and mildly acidic to more complex, aggressive tart flavors.

Add this laidback brewpub to your itinerary if you’re open to an intense sensory experience. 

4. Portland Vegan Restaurants

For Portland Vegan restaurants, consider Obon Shokudo and Mama Dut.

Try vegan plant-based Japanese comfort food at Obon Shokudo. For rich and savory, tempura udon will check off all your boxes: handmade noodles in a soy-mushroom broth, fried tofu, and scallions hit the saltiness spot. 

Started as a pop-up selling vegan pork belly, Mama Dut by Thuy Pham features Vietnamese vegan dishes. Items on the menu include pork belly, oyster mushroom sandwiches, and Chik’n Fried Mushrooms, which I enjoyed. 

You’ll enjoy Mama Dut’s dishes if you’re looking for flavorful, healthy vegan cuisine.

Fun Fact: Mama dút means “Mama will feed you.”

Helpful Tip: Be mindful that there’s no seating available at Mama Dut. However, by becoming a patron, you can go next door to sit down and enjoy your meal.

5. Portland Cocktail Bar: Fools and Horses

My bitter pick takes us to Fools and Horses, a cocktail bar and kitchen in the Pearl District specializing in Hawaiian Paniolo cuisine. From a culinary standpoint, the menu embraces the traditions and techniques from chef Alex Wong’s background and childhood growing up in Hawaiian cowboy culture.

Walking into Fools and Horses for dinner and cocktails, the space is intimate, dark, and sophisticated.

Absolutely perfect for date night.

Portland Oregon Foods

I recommend starting with the Paniolo Range, a snacking spread with cheeses, jams, and lilikoi, and ordering the bacalhau, seasoned perfectly.

Memorable Quotes:

[1:14] Portland has become this hub for young chefs to bartenders to operators. But I feel like Portland became this hub of a city that allowed for this creative expression and growth.” – Colin Nicholas, owner of Fools and Horses and Pink Rabbit Bar in Portland, Oregon

[11:52] We wanted to be with people who were inclusive and people who understand what we believe and what we stand for beyond the donuts. – Lisa Nguyen, owner of HeyDay PDX

[12:31] Chocolate is the new wave of cool things in Portland. We now have several chocolate factories where they’re actually making chocolate from cocoa beans. – Todd Roll, owner of Pedal Bicycle Tours

[13:25] My mission is to show people how easy, safe and fun it is to explore a city by bike and hopefully to spur people to go back home and ride their bike more often or buy a bike if they didn’t have one and also to get involved in their local bike community to push their own communities to become more bike-friendly because I really do feel that it is the best way to explore. – Todd Roll, owner of Pedal Bicycle Tours

Listen to this podcast episode on Spotify.

Final Thoughts: Does Portland have a good food scene? 

Portland, Oregon, has a thriving food scene with diverse and evolving offerings, from yummy street foods to gourmet creations, making it a great destination for foodies and culinary enthusiasts. Throughout my trip, I loved exploring the creativity put into the food and experiencing different cultures.

In addition to visiting popular Portland, Oregon, food spots, keep an eye out for pop-up events and lesser-known Portland restaurants or carts that may not make it to popular lists.

Kim Dam: “We have really amazing food here. And it’s not the popular stuff that you hear either, which is the really cool part of Portland too. We have a lot of mom-and-pop, very, very small business owners that are cooking amazing food.

We don’t have to travel very far to get good food. Now when I travel to other places, I’m like, home has pretty darn good food. I recommend trying something that’s not as popular, you know?

Portland is now becoming the land of pop-ups. If you can catch one of those amazing pop-ups that are happening on your trip, I would definitely go to one.”

Lisa Nguyen: “I would like to emphasize that we have a lot of amazing mom-and-pop Vietnamese shops and just in general mom-and-pop places that don’t get a lot of coverage.

Go and try these other places that are not getting the love that big-name places get.”

As a recap, some of the best places to eat in Portland (and drink) include:

  • Fried Egg I’m in Love – gourmet egg sandwiches
  • Portland Ca Phe – Vietnamese specialty coffee
  • HeyDay PDX – Vietnamese-inspired donuts
  • Cascade Brewing – Sour craft beers
  • Obon Shokudo – Japanese vegan comfort food
  • Mam Dut – Vietnamese-inspired vegan
  • Fools and Horses – upscale cocktails

Be sure to pack stretchy pants because you’re going to need them.

Book Flights To Portland

Find affordable flights to Portland, Oregon using Thrifty Traveler Premium, a reputable email flight deal notification service that sends you cheap flights domestically and internationally. Use the promo code ‘TC10’ to get $10 off your first year.

Book Your Accommodation

Conveniently located near attractions, coffee shops, and plenty of restaurants, I enjoyed staying at The Bidwell Marriott Hotel (~$169 per night) in Downtown Portland, which features spacious rooms and amenities like an onsite bar and gym.

Planning a trip to Portland, Oregon? Interested in visiting any of these establishments after listening to this episode? 

Let me know in the comments below, or leave me a voicemail with your thoughts.

Portland Oregon Foods Resources

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