I consider myself weird. Portland, OR prides itself on being weird. Therefore, I was stoked to find myself assigned to work an event in Portland back in December. After having a trip to Eugene, OR aborted halfway across the country the week prior (thanks to snow in Minneapolis), I was excited to actually make it to Oregon on my second try in less than a week.
Whenever I fly west, I attempt to take the earliest flight possible for a few reasons:
- Taking an incredibly early flight means you wake up sleep deprived and are more likely to snooze away some time in the air. (Side note: I never understand the super long line at the airport Dunkin’ Donuts at 4am. Countless people shooting themselves in the sleepy foot. Coffee kills the plane nap mojo.)
- The time change gives you a few bonus hours to explore your new destination.
- Flight delays don’t push back bedtime as much. An 8pm landing in California for an east coaster like me feels like 11 on the body, and that’s just a drag. Getting that few extra hours of sleep in the morning to take the 9a instead of the 6a just isn’t worth it if you get to your destination tired as anything. That’s a full day wasted in the air.
Where I Stayed
Portland was a business trip, so I was at the mercy of our corporate travel department for accommodations. They chose well and put us up in the Marriott Portland City Center right in the heart of downtown. Anything I saw and ate (aside from the Moda Center) was within extremely convenient walking distance from the hotel.
Best parts of said hotel? Marriott bed, Free hot chocolate in the lobby (marshmallows included).
Unfortunately, an icy storm passed through the day before I got to Portland, and the city does not have the infrastructure to speedily take care of said ice. Lots of my walking was closer to shuffling, and I almost ate it a few times trying to maneuver my way around town. For those of you who are planning to travel there in the winter months, keep an eye on the forecast. Portland doesn’t deal well with the frozen wet stuff.
What I Saw
I’ll admit, I had food on the brain en route to Portland, and didn’t think much about what types of sights there were to see. In the limited time I had to explore (not to mention it was about 25 degrees and icy), I managed to come across a Rockefeller-sized Christmas tree in Pioneer Square, the center of downtown Portland.
In addition to the early 1900s architecture running rampant, Portland is also home to impressive street art and murals in unexpected locations. You never know what kind of scenery a random donut search will lead you past.
What I Ate
Here’s the good part. As many of you know, Portland is known for its incredibly diverse food scene… and I showed up hungry!
As soon as I checked into the hotel around 1pm local, I made a beeline for one of the many collectives of food trucks in Portland, referred to by locals as ‘pods’. For more intel, Food Carts Portland can provide a plethora of information.
The nearest pod to my hotel happened to be one of the larger ones in town, the Alder Street Food Cart Pod. After a slow and icy walk around the block, I paused for a moment in front of the Grilled Cheese Grill, and I almost gave in to some melty goodness.
A Baby Cheesus was looking good, as was a Gabby. Alas, I told myself “You can make a kickass grilled cheese at home on your own time. Keep walking until you find something you most definitely won’t cook for yourself!”
A few doors down was Number 1 Bento, and Korean BBQ sounded pretty tasty that day. I ended up getting quite the generous lunch platter that included short ribs, rice, slaw and some amazing transparent noodles which I can’t name but downed in record time.
The ribs and noodles went down fast, and I felt badly for having so much rice and slaw left over. I did my best to eat enough to assuage any food waste guilt, but I still ended up unable to finish such a generous portion. I had donuts on the brain, and didn’t want to stuff myself with guilt rice and ruin my sweet tooth’s fun at my next stop: Blue Star Donuts.
*GASP* I know. This is where you all chime in and say “WHAT. You didn’t go to Voodoo?”
I’ve heard mixed bag reviews on Voodoo Donut. Some call it an institution, some call it a cliche tourist destination that isn’t that much better than other places in town. I called it a mile away from my hotel, too icy to safely walk and I was far too content with already having handed over the car keys to the valet for the day. Parking in cities is such a bear.
Blue Star Donuts popped up in many Portland donut searches I’d run, and it was only a few blocks away. I mean, they’ve even got locations in LA and Japan, so they must not be a bad time. The steady stream of tourists taking selfies inside led me to believe this place was worth its confectioners’ sugar.
Opting for a latte and a lemon poppyseed donut, I was in tastebud heaven. I wish I’d have gotten two of these. I forget the second flavor of donut that I got and saved for the next morning. It clearly wasn’t as amazing as the lemon poppyseed, or else I’d have remembered what it was. If I weren’t nursing a bit of a hangover on my way out of town, I probably would have thought to pop by the Blue Star at PDX to grab a few more on my way back east. Instead, I wanted Aleve for lunch.
Dinner was a forgettable experience, because I filled up on BBQ & donuts all afternoon. I met up with some coworkers at a little hole in the wall Thai place, but was not in the mood for even MORE food, so I barely managed to choke down some ginger chicken & vegetables.
The next morning, 6:00a and I was ready to go because jet lag. What’s that you say? Time for more donuts? Next stop a few blocks away in the other direction was Coco Donuts.
At Coco, I opted for a Classic Lavender Glazed Donut, because nobody in Connecticut is making lavender glazed donuts. The latte art was a nice touch, almost as nice as the donut hole that comes with every coffee order at Coco, because who doesn’t love free things?
Coco’s donut was fluffier and doughier than Blue Star, and tasted much sweeter. If I had to give the edge to one of the two, I’d recommend Blue Star over Coco. I have a bit of a sweet tooth, and even the Coco donut was a little too sweet for me.
After breakfast… work happened. Day spent at the Moda Center!
Working at Moda for a day made me realize I attend too many sporting events for work and not enough for pleasure. Mental note: do that more often.
After work, I ventured out for a true ‘hipster restaurant’ experience, and I found exactly what I was looking for at Imperial. The late night happy hour menu doesn’t seem too extensive at first, but that’s because countless options aren’t necessary. While it sounds boring, the two words ‘fried chicken’ don’t do the dish justice. TRY IT.
I washed it down with a ‘Left of Center’ (which I had to google all the ingredients of… what exactly is cocchi americano and peche liqueur?) and followed up with a Double Mountain Brewery Killer Red. (Note to self… 7.2% beer gives you more of a hangover than 4.2% beer does.)
Sunday was airplane day, so the fun stopped after Saturday night. In short, Portland was good to me, despite the squeezed schedule and short time I had to explore. The food carts are indeed all they’re cracked up to be, and Voodoo isn’t the only place that can deliver a good donut time.
If I have it my way, I’m going back to Portland for more. In the meantime, I’ll be drooling over instagrammable food until I can secure myself a return ticket back to Rip City.