The real Portland(ia)
by Lynnette Ramirez
Many sites, newspapers and magazines have voted it as one of the ten best cities in the country and it’s even inspired a popular IFC show, Portlandia. So, I decided over the New Year holiday to check out this trendy or rather trending city. I knew there had to be more to it than the rain, the bikes and the cool factor that the said show above was aiming to portray as more pretentious than pragmatic. After my own 48 hours in Portland, I have to agree with my assumption there is a lot more to this city. I wish I only had a longer time there to explore it.
Fortunately for me my dear friend, Renata, who I first met because I sought to produce one of her feature scripts, lives between Los Angeles and Portland. A trend I see more and more between Hollywood types looking for an existence outside of California to raise a family or just find some diversity, as in everyone at the local coffee shop isn’t discussing their script ideas and recent box office numbers.
Nowadays any tourist with an iPhone may Google, Yelp, Urbanspoon their way to a great meal in about any city. Still it’s not always easy to find the latest or the underrepresented best. While there are so many options, these were the places I experienced or promised locals I met I’d visit next time.
For breakfast/brunch: little t baker
There are a couple locations and I went to the one tucked away in the new Union Way shopping annex. The larger location was brought up to me many times and comes highly recommended. This one is very near to the famous giant Powell’s bookstore.
For lunch: Nong’s Khao Man Gai (food truck)
There are over 60 food trucks on SW 9th and 10th Street and Alder in downtown daily but this one seems to get the gold standard recommendation. The chicken dishes are most ordered and run out if you wait until too late in the day.
For dinner: Tasty n Alder
This restaurant in downtown is not at all under the radar but service is great, food is superb and compared to L.A. prices for the ambience and the flavor, it’s affordable for an upscale dining experience. Also, I thought it was just me until I spoke to a few locals the next day but one of their best dishes is the Radicchio Salad with lardons, manchego, chopped six minute egg. Order it for the table.
Also recommended is their sister restaurant with the happening bar scene apparently that I missed but won’t next time.
For a drink: The Driftwood Room
Old school vibe also recommended by a local and the recent excitement was Kirsten Dunst was seen having a drink here. Almost didn’t make the list because of this hype, but a cool haunt anyway.
For anytime: Maurice
Small plates of sweets & savories plus wine open 10-10. We actually had dinner and dessert here as it had just opened. It was a treat! The owner/chef comes from Gramercy Tavern in New York.
What kind of shopping? Really all kinds from bike specialty stores to leather goods to clothing and furniture. There is definitely a lot more leather goods and upscale camping/outdoorsy stores than you’ll find in other metropolitan cities though. It seemed almost everywhere I went faintly smelled of cedar and leather. My favorite spots are as follows and the best part is that there is no sales tax.
Pearl District & Nob Hill
The hip shops not to be confused with hipster shops are in the Pearl District and Nob Hill, both which are in Northwest Portland. Coming from Los Angeles, it’s a little hit and miss to discover anything really that new. I did like visiting Brooklyn clothing store and browsing through the Jonathan Alder store to which I thought had a much better layout than the one on Melrose. NW 23 has a lot of chain stores if you forget something, like a sweater from the Gap.
Lower Burnside Area
There were few stores and unfortunately I was strolling here on January 1st so a lot of the retail boutiques were closed. However, Sunset Magazine had just done a spread on the area and I’d love to go back when everything is open. Also, the restaurant LePigeon is on this block and it also comes highly recommended.
This was by far my favorite and where I made some great, unique purchases. There are also a ton of eateries including some of the best-recommended coffee and ice cream stores the city has to offer (see below). The clothing stores are all boutiques and their staffs are friendly. There are some retail galleries featuring local artists. And a specialty bra shop called The Pencil Test to boot. Needless to say I was in heaven here. It’s an area just recently gentrified so it has a lot of character and pizazz. Boutiques I made purchases and can’t wait to go back include Frock and Amelia.
Ice Cream & Coffee Shops
Apparently it seems artisan ice cream is like the new cupcake in Portland. Every district/area seems to have two or three tempting shops with exotic flavors and creative recipes. Of the few I tried, Salt & Straw, with a few locations around the city, was most recommended. Rumor has it, it’s so popularly reviewed that Jones on 3 in Los Angeles is opening a counter soon that will be serving their tasty flavors. Ruby Jewel Scoops in the Pearl District isn’t too shabby either and seems like a fun place for kids.
Last but not least, coffee! My favorite! I wanted to try all the recommended coffee places and therefore it seemed I was chasing my coffee both days long with bottles of water to avoid caffeine headaches. Yes, I’m an addict. While Stumptown coffee is served at most bars, it’s just as much about the barista, the ambience and the crowd. Here are my top 3 picks in no particular order for taste, but hands down Barista on Alberta Street wins for setting.
Maglia Rosa Coffee inside West End Bikes
Charming and felt like I was really away from Los Angeles being served by a award-winning barista, while I lounged in a bike shop reading my new paperback from Powell’s.
I went to the one on Couch Street and opted for their brand, cold brewed.
The baristas were kind of serious here and made coffee buying seem like ordering caviar in Paris while speaking English, if you know what I mean. However, it tasted so good I even bought a few bags to bring home with me.
Barista on Alberta Street
Again, loved the décor, the charm, the goods and the baristas. They were so friendly it was like being at a local watering hole.Tags: Amelia, Barista on Alberta Street, Frock, Hollywood, Le Pigeon, little t baker, Los Angeles, Lynnette Ramirez, Magila Rosa Coffee, Maurice, Nong's Khao Man Gai, Portland Oregon, Portlandia, Ristretto Roasters, Ruby Jewel, Salt & Straw, Tasty n Alder, The Driftwood Room