The Road Less Travelled #6

Food trucks are a mainstay in Portland’s culinary scene


Portland, Oregon

I am so surprised by Portland, you sly devil, you.  I didn’t think I would like it.  I have always thought, “Portland?  What’s in Portland?”  Let me explain this by saying that as a teenager I worked up a resentment towards the west coast.  In high school, I moved from Japan to Yuma, Arizona.  I hated Yuma, and by greater extension the entire west coast.  Family trips took us to Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas frequently, but I turned my nose up.  I went to college in Tucson for a little while before moving back east to Florida, where we are originally from.  Then I moved to DC for a job.  I have always hated coming out west to visit my parents.  I just saw the west coast as a dreadful bore.  I lived in California prior to going to Japan, but I had never been further north than Fresno.  But everywhere is not the same.  You really can’t apply such broad generalisations across 1500 miles of coastline and three states.  Trips like these can open your eyes a little bit.  I now see that the Pacific Northwest is NOTHING like the desert southwest.    You really cannot even compare the two at all.  It’s like apples and kumquats.


I was up very early to switch hotels.  It was unfortunate that I could not stay at the hostel for at least another night.  I don’t know if I could stay in a hostel for a whole week or so, but a few nights to help offset the costs of hotel prices is great.  I was able to find a reasonable rate at a Quality Inn by the Convention Center.  This turned out to be a good location for me.  I notice other travellers prefer to stay in boutique hotels.  One day I will too–right after I win the lottery.

The morning time weather was not as pleasant as yesterday evening’s weather, but I believe it is because my body chemistry is out of whack.  When I left Kuwait it was about 125 degrees.  When I left Yuma, it was about 110 degrees.  I absolutely HATE being hot, but right now, anything below 90 degrees feels freezing.  I had the heat on full blast as I drove up Grand Ave to the hotel.  I even had on a hoodie.  I don’t typically wear socks but I had my Army socks in the trunk, and I was seriously considering pulling over to put them on.  It’s that ridiculous.  Because of how cold I perceived it to be, I decided to drive over to Washington Park after checking in.  I was thinking, “What if they have the AC on in the bus?  I’ll DIE.”

Washington Park was beautiful, and because I was there so early (around 8AM), it was like I had the whole place to myself.  There was a jogger or a dog walker, but it was basically empty.  I like the houses.  Do people actually live there?  I went into the International Rose Test Garden.  I had absolutely no idea there were so many varieties of roses.  I’m not big into flowers (I prefer candy or diamonds), but every girl appreciates a pretty rose on a special occasion.  I don’t think you’re allowed to pick these though.  I’m sure that’s a great way to get a fine and booted out of the park.  A huge tour bus had rolled up so that destroyed the peaceful solitude I was enjoying.  I think I got some great photos, and I got to listen in on master gardener talk.  A volunteer group was there, beautifying the roses, and I sat on a bench and listened to them for a little bit.

I wanted to go to the Japanese Garden and Pittock Mansion but I was there way too early.  One opened at 10 and the other 11.  It was hardly 9AM.  I could have waited around, but to be frank, I lived in Japan for a long time.  I’ve seen my share of Japanese gardens.  A pity about the mansion though, I was reading there were some spectacular views.  I kept telling myself to go back but I never did.

As it was warmer in the day, I returned the car to the hotel and decided to get on the bus.  I found the Portland bus system to be very easy to understand.  They have a mobile website you can use to get to your destination.  You do have to understand which direction you need though.  Courtney from the hostel told me that I should go to Alberta Street because it was more mellow than Hawthorne.  I found the appropriate bus easily enough but I got on in the wrong direction.  No big deal.  The bus took me up Trilligrew?  Twilliger?  Some parkway that starts with a T that goes up by all the hospitals.  This was not a bad way to see some of the city.  The bus passed Pioneer Square, food carts, and a shopping area, so that saved me the trouble of trying to figure out where some things were.  And I already know what bus to get on!

This bus did loop back around and I did eventually get to Alberta Street.  Courtney was right.  Way more mellow.  Not as crowded and still rather hip.  I felt like Hawthorne was trying hard not to be cool, while Alberta was like “whatever.”  I stopped to get a waffle at Waffle Window and meandered down for a little while, window shopping.  So far my impression of Portland is a great one.  I wonder if the rents are expensive?

I got back on the bus and went to China Town.  I am sure there is a better way to sightseeing, but my method is “do whatever strikes you.”  Since I was not driving, I did not care that I was going back and forth from one end to the other.  The day warmed up greatly and I was just having a good time.  I went to Lan Su Chinese garden.  Lovely place.  Tranquil when there aren’t kids screaming.  Some lady brought her kids and I don’t think they were having a good time.  They wailed from one end of the place to the other before they finally left.  And they were like 8 years old, way too old to be carrying on.  Everything isn’t for everybody though.  I bought a post card at the gift shop and then walked up and down the area for a little while.  I’m told that this is where the best night spots are, but I never did get a chance to party in Portland.  That just means I’ll need to come back again.

Next I went through the Pearl District, or the Pearl, as the locals say.  Upscale, luxury, trendy coffee spots, and the like.  This is my scene, or what I wish was my scene.  I kept walking until I found some food carts on 5th.  There were about four Thai spots, and I couldn’t decide.  I picked one, ordered and then was immediately mad at myself because the other one looked better.  Oh well.  It was still good though, and cheap.  I can see that a person can get real fat here in Portland, but what I notice is that nobody is fat!  That’s because everyone bikes everywhere.  I love that.  I love how the city has incorporated biking into its culture.  There are bike lanes all over the place, not just on one street.  There are places to park the bikes.  You don’t have to scrounge around for a street sign or a light post to lock it up.  If only people in DC would bike more, but I also notice that Portland is so much more laid back.  Everyone is very chill and casual.  Even the office workers in downtown Portland aren’t all stuck up and snobby like they are in DC.

I like this place.

But you know, every city has its seamier side.  Way too many vagrants.  I don’t call these people homeless because they probably technically aren’t.  Most of them are teenagers and young adults that probably ran away from decent homes because they didn’t want to do their homework.  I’m sure a few of them escaped abusive homes, but there’s way too many of them to say they all came from bad circumstances.  They were EVERYWHERE, loafing on street corners, busking and begging for money.  There was a group of kids near Pioneer Square that had this gigantic cardboard sign that said they were missing children.  Get a job.

I walked down to the waterfront, and even though it’s early yet I’m really tired.  I walked back to the hotel to get on some homework and an early night’s sleep.

Next day I woke up early to workout in the hotel gym.  Hah.  That was a joke.  The hotel gym turned out to be one 1970s treadmill that didn’t even work.  Very randomly, right then and there I decided to go to Multnomah Falls instead.  I had been reading about the Columbia Gorge area, and I was thinking that I might have to give it a pass because I saw it as going backwards in my itinerary.  Glad I didn’t.  I took the scenic route to view the different falls in the area:  Horsetail, Wakeenah and Multnomah.  I could have kept going, because it’s really only about 60 miles but I didn’t want to get too far away and I had some other things planned.  I turned around at Cascade Locks and went back to the city.

Time to find more food carts.  I wanted the ones on 10th and Alder because someone said those were the best.  I’ll be the judge of that.  I used some website to find out what was available and I decided that I wanted a crepe from Snow White House.  I notice that I only eat crepes when I’m out of town.  I got on the bus, the wrong bus, actually, and ended up somewhere.  I don’t know where I was but it wasn’t too far away and the neighbourhood was cute!  It reminded me of the gentrified parts of Brooklyn.  I could live there, most definitely.  I think I was in NW somewhere.

I walked back down, and just happened upon Powell’s City of Books, another place I intended to visit.  That’s a lot of books.  I’m up to my eyeballs in reading right now so I didn’t buy anything.  You could really be in there all day long, browsing through stuff.  If you can think of it, they have it, and if not, they’ll know how to get it.  They have book signings and discussions and all kinds of stuff going on in there.  Nice place.

I found my food carts, and there were a TON of them.  Unfortunately, Snow White House was closed.  That’s fine.  As I stood on the corner, struggling between a bulgogi taco or Hawaiian plate lunch, my eye fell on a cart that had both crepes AND Filipino food.  I haven’t had good Filipino food since I left Japan.  I know that sounds weird, but my mom had a Filipino friend who made us the best dishes all the time.

Remy, the owner of the truck was probably the nicest person I have ever met.  I told her I wanted a crepe and she said, “Okay, let me make something really special for you.”  And boy, did she make me something really special.  She made me the mother of all crepes.  That thing was gi-normous.  And she did it with such love, too!  While she worked, we talked a minute and she told me that she graduated from a culinary school around the corner.  When she was done she presented me with a lovely golden crepe with nutella, strawberries, chocolate sauce and cinnamon.  She wanted to add caramel but I begged her not to.  The calories, my God!  That thing was heavenly though.  I also ordered vegetarian lumpia rolls.  She actually cut up fresh vegetables right there before my eyes.  I doubt they do that in restaurants.  Usually eggroll type things are premade and frozen.   These weren’t even the skinny ones.  She made them fat.  God, they were so good.

She took a picture of me and the crepe, and told me that she was going to put it on her digital picture frame thing she has in the window.  I’m gonna be Portland famous!  I ate the crepe at her window because there was no way I could carry that thing and walk around.  I enjoyed my lumpia rolls at Pioneer Square.  I went back there because I actually needed to do a spot of shopping.  I don’t have any “winter” clothes.  I know it’s not winter but I checked the forecast for San Francisco (the next major leg of my trip) and I was dismayed to find that the average daily highs are in the 60s.  Might as well be snowing!

I sat outside Nordstrom’s and listened to a busker.  Not one of those hooligan street kids, but a well-fed college guy who played the saddest songs I have ever heard.  I wanted to put a dollar in his guitar case but he left before I could finish eating.

I bought a long-sleeve thermal top because I planned a long run the next day.  I realised later how ridiculous I was being.  The top I bought was better suited for severe cold weather.  I tried it on at the hotel and immediately took it off because it was bloody hot in that thing.  It really is not that cold; I just can’t adjust.  I walked back to the hotel via the Burnside Bridge.  I enjoy how walkable this city is, and anyway I had to work off that crepe.  It was not my intention to eat so heavily because I planned a large dinner at Portland City Grill later that night.

When I got back to the hotel I took a long nap.  So, I didn’t realise how exhausting road tripping can be.  Almost every night you’re in a new city and you want to explore.  You stay up late and get up early.  You’re ripping and running from one to the other.  On top of all that, you’re not even eating right.  When you’re on the road, almost every meal is dined out.  Even if you avoid fast food, you’re still packing on the calories, not eating enough vegetables, drinking too much and everything else.  Lucky I’ve been running and hiking or else they might have to slather me in butter to squeeze me out of my car.  But all of this is taking its toll on me.  I’m whooped.  I see now that it was a good idea to delete Seattle and not even attempt Yellowstone.  (Those were my original plans.)  It’s time to start heading back home.

Dinner at Portland City Grill.  MY GOD.  Heaven.  Heaven.  Heaven.  I went early-ish to ensure that I could get a window seat.  When you dine alone, sometimes they like to stick you in the corner and save the best tables for couples.  What a great view.  I could see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen and could just barely glimpse Mt. Rainier.  The server pointed it out to me, or I wouldn’t have known.  Beautiful.

Service at Portland City Grill is impeccable.  The food is outstanding.  I have dined in several higher end restaurants, and I think Portland City Grill is now one of my favourites.  I went back and forth between steak and seafood.  I really wanted fish, but then I wanted a steak, but then I wanted fish.  Steak.  Fish.  Steak.  Yeah, steak.  I ordered the ribeye and a jumbo prawn accompaniment.  My server paired the course with a cabernet sauvignon out of Washington state.  Millbrandt.  WOW.  Since I didn’t want to look trashy, I tried hard not to guzzle it down.  You’re not supposed to guzzle wine anyway, but it was so good and complemented my steak so well.  I need to find their website to see if I can order something.  There is a decent wine seller around the corner from my office, but I’m pretty sure they don’t carry anything from Washington state.

I wasn’t supposed to have dessert, but my server talked me into the Oregon berry pavlova.  It’s really light so if you want something sweet but don’t want anything heavy this is the way to go.  I racked up a $100 tab, but this is why I tried to stay in hostels:  SO I CAN EAT!

The reason I didn’t want dessert at the restaurant is because I wanted to try this place Cacao that I read about on TA.  It was just a couple blocks up, so I went.  Lots of chocolate, but the best thing they have are these delightful little cups of chocolate.  Liquid dreams.  If you are a chocolate lover, you have to come here.  The guy behind the counter was really nice.  No one else was in there so we talked about Portland for awhile.  He wants to open his own restaurant and feels like Portland is on the edge of something big.  He talked me into buying some local chocolate, beans grown in Oregon.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t good.  Too bitter.  But my little cups of chocolate love were so good.  The one with cinnamon is the best.  Don’t turn your face up when you see how small the cups are; it’s all you need.

I had that food drunk feeling again as I stumbled to the bus stop.  I could have walked–well, rolled, but I was lethargic and satiated.  I slept so good which energised me for my 15 mile run in Forest State Park the next morning.  This is the longest I have ever run in training before.  I did the Leif Ericsson trail, which was supposed to be under construction at mile 5.25 but when I got there it was open so I kept going until 7.5 and then turned around.  It’s the longest I’ve run in training, and also the fastest I’ve done in distance.  That’s a great trail to run on.  My knees did not hurt like they usually do when I run on asphalt or concrete.  I’m so glad someone suggested it to me; otherwise, I would have been lazy and just skipped the run.  After last night’s dinner I don’t need to be skipping anything!

This is my last day in the city.  I only had two full days.  I know there’s so much more that I could have done but I’m happy with what I saw and I had a great time.  I really love Portland.  It was so unexpected.  It’s friendly and open, with food to die for.  I love the laid back atmosphere.  I will definitely be visiting again.

Tomorrow:  Wine country, fun with police in Corvallis, a scenic drive and the Oregon coast


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