Tattoos, nose rings, murals, trees, food carts. These are all characteristics that make Portland so quirky and fun at the same time.
I knew nothing about Portland before arriving here, except the fact that this was where Nike was born. From my blog post in Athens, we learn that the name Nike belongs to the Greek goddess, the goddess of Victory.
Prior to travelling here, I researched more about this city – about what to do, what to eat, where things are located, and more. One key interesting fact is that Portland is one of the more ‘active’ cities in United States – currently for those who commute, the current percentage of people who bicycle to work is 7%. The state’s target is to aim as high as 21%, and that means making infrastructure so that it becomes more cyclists’ friendly. A second fact is that it tends to rain a lot… lucky for me though, I experienced only an afternoon of light rain and that was it.
Compared to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, and many other cities in this world, Portland is actually very quiet. Like very. So quiet that from where I lived, you can pretty much find street parking almost anywhere, and you may be the only person on the streets for several blocks, or so it seems. I believe this is the case for anywhere in Portland except for downtown.
The people here are extremely nice and friendly, so even though the neighborhoods were a bit quiet, as I began accustomed to this place, I found myself letting my guard down little by little throughout each day.
What’s also extremely nice and friendly is that there are no sales tax in Portland! Do all your shopping here before you move on to other states.
What I find most interesting about Portland is that it incorporates many elements from other countries. Some of their street names are the cities of Canada, like Vancouver and Alberta. They have tourist attractions that represent the Asian cultures, such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden and the Shanghai Tunnels in Old Chinatown, and the Japanese Garden in Washington Park.
After comparing the hotels and Airbnb, I decided to book Airbnb due to its location and pricing. The hosts were extremely helpful, friendly, and responsive.
If I had to choose an accommodation again though, I’d probably choose somewhere more downtown. Portland is interesting because for the main part of the city, they are split into four sections – NE, which was where I stayed, SE, NW, and SW, which was where downtown, Pearl District, and most of the happenings were located. Not that my location was bad, it was ‘somewhat’ close to Alberta Street and Williams Street, which both had boutique shops and restaurants, but it gets really dark at night with minimal lighting, and it’s not as busy as downtown as I could imagine.
That said, this Airbnb wasn’t perfect. My first impression of it was, wow! Lots of vacancy, it has everything including a washer and a dryer, the bed looks comfy etc. The more I lived in it, the more I found out about its flaws. It’s like dating a hot girl, only to realize over time that there were nuances about her personality that kind of turns you off.
These nuances in the accommodation included insects like spiders and flys, plants dropping seeds, a dirty iron that when I began to iron the shirt I noticed brownish soil on the shirt after I pressed on it etc. Not anything that made this place inhabitable, but it could have been better.
The hosts were kind enough to give me some of their IPA from their keg from a party the night before I arrived. So this glass bottle is a growler, and in Portland, you carry this to breweries and shops to fill up the beer that you want. The beer inside isn’t from Lucky Labrador Brewing Company however, it is actually freshly squeezed IPA from Deshcutes Brewery.
Guess what. I actually didn’t rent a car here! Thought I could get by with public transportation. In the end, almost 80% of my transportation was walking. I definitely felt I lost some weight in Portland, so I’m participating in Portland’s culture of being fit as well.
That said, if I were to do it again, rent a car! Some places get dark at night and there’s so much street parking that you could just park anywhere.
Restaurants and Foods
As stated in the beginning, Portland is known for its food trucks. They had food trucks almost everywhere! Well, at least at the more busy areas, I noticed they were often congregated together like a coterie – mainly in Downtown at Alder street and 10th and also at Alberta Street.
Portland is also known for having good food. Some weren’t fantastic, but some were mouth watering, and you often get to eat at better prices than some of the larger cities.
What Portland isn’t known for is for their cuisine; it doesn’t seem to exist. Again like their street names, it seems that they incorporate many other international cuisines as part of their ‘food culture’, such as Thai, Mexican, and Southern.
Pok Pok Noi (website)
Pok Pok Noi was supposed to be the restaurant to go to for Thai food in Portland. Read the reviews, saw the images, everything looked astounding.
I had this restaurant the second last night at Portland, and thankfully it was only about a 12 minute walk from where I lived.
Pok Pok Noi tried to be authentic and served authentic Thai dishes. It could be just my taste, but I thought the flavors presented were too strong and often too salty.
To someone who’s only been in America, this restaurant may be considered good for Thai restaurants. To someone like me who’s living in Southeast Asia and gets good Thai food made by Thai in Hong Kong and having been to Thailand multiple times, it does not meet the standards of amazing good Thai food.
Not only that, the bill came out to be pretty expensive for two dishes and a beer from Laos.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a disaster or terrible. But, not only did it not live up to its expectations, it didn’t live up to a really good Thai restaurant. It is OK, pretty good, but short of expectations. Definitely overrated, and not worth its money.
Pine State Biscuits (website)
OK so Portland is also pretty popular with Southern food as well. This Pine State Biscuits has 4 restaurants scattered around, and the one I went to was on Alberta street. See their website for all their locations.
Unlike many other restaurants that open till late, Pine State Biscuits opens early and closes early, from 7am to 3pm. Which means, it is ideal for me to come here for breakfast.
To get my fitness on, it usually takes me about 25 minutes to walk to Pine State Biscuits. I decided to jog that morning, so I jogged there, ate my biscuit, and jogged back home.
Bibingka is a Filipino food truck situated middle of the restaurants located on Alberta street. It was my first night at Portland, and of course I wanted to try something that was common in Portland, which were food trucks. The reviews on yelp showed that this place seemed to be legit and authentic, and the menu items seemed quite special, so why not?
I really liked this place, except for the fact the foods were a little bit salty, but I love the food combinations that they put together was extremely unique, and it actually worked!
And just like the food truck name, this is the bibingka. You get to choose to eat it with rice cake, with salted duck egg, or with ube ice cream. I chose ube ice cream, curious as to how it would match. Thought it needed something sweet, but the ube ice cream was the perfect match for bibingka, pppperfect. It’s just sweet enough to match the flavor of bibingka. Must try!
Tasty n Sons (website)
If I had to pick the best tasting restaurant for the Portland trip, it would have to be Tasty n Sons, on the first time I tried it.
I was so dazzled by what I ate the first time I came here, this was the only restaurant I ate twice for my entire US trip so far.
So Tasty n Sons is a Southern style restaurant located on North Williams avenue. From my airbnb, it was about a 12 minutes walk, and I stumbled upon this restaurant because a) there weren’t many restaurants and b) there were so many people in this restaurant. You can say that many people doesn’t necessarily mean that a restaurant is good, but from my personal experience it at least means that the restaurant has passed some sort of prerequisite on how good it has to be before it can attract this many people, whereas an empty restaurant can be anywhere on the spectrum of how good it is.
Tasty n Sons does do both brunch and dinner, but I believe that it is more popular for its brunch menu. Brunch and dinner have two different menus so you would want to look it up to see what’s offered for both times.
Anyway, so the restaurant doesn’t even say Tasty n Sons, there’s a sign that just says Hello my name is Tasty, and I believed it, and in I went.
Unfortunately I didn’t take a pic of the second time I came back, but I ate a Chicken Fried Pork Cutlets, meaning that the pork was fried like chicken style, with venison gravy, over easy egg, and biscuit.
Salt and Straw (website)
The first night I was at Alberta street, there was a long line forming outside of Salt and Straw. It was one of the most popular ice cream chains in Portland, and it was highly recommended to go. Its reason for its popularity is expressed below:
Luckily that night, after eating bibingka, I was too full, so I decided I’ll go another time. This was the right decision because as it turns out, there were absolutely no lines in the afternoon!
Anyway, as with the hype with this one, I’d say it did live up to it, and that it wasn’t terribly expensive or anything compared to other boutique ice cream stores. Yum.
The Grilled Cheese Grill (website)
Must get in Portland because they only have three locations… all in Portland!
Again, I went to the one on Alberta street since it was the closest, and it was again highly recommended by locals around the area.
If you love a grilled cheese sandwich, you have to come here. They have different kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches.
Voodoo Donut (website)
This is also a very popular store in Portland. Voodoo Donut is located in Downtown Portland, walkable distance from Lan Su Garden, and let’s just say I’m really impressed with the theme.
From the moment you see the exterior of the place, you get that tingling feeling of a voodoo sensation. Step into the store, and everything revolves around this theme of “voodoo-ness”. I love it, the donuts were great; I was never a big donut fan but this was pretty good.
Alder St. Food Cart Pod
Nearby the Pioneer Courthouse Square, on the intersection of Alder Street and 10th, is the Alder St. Food Cart Pod. On all four sides, food carts are lined side by side right next to each other, offering a variety of different cuisines, such as Thai, Greek, Chinese, American, Hawaiian, Mexican, Vietnamese etc.
In a sense, it’s like street eating in Asian countries, except there’s nothing local about these food carts, and the food quality for these is just OK.
That said, I ended up trying out a Hawaiian food cart. There are no tables or seats there, so you would have to walk somewhere else to sit down and eat.
Feeling lazy, there was one night I looked at Google Maps and found a restaurant nearby that was within 5 minutes walking distance from airbnb. That restaurant turned out to be a Cajun-Creole cuisine.
Dazzled and impressed? No. Sufficiently tasty? Better than that. I’d use the phrase… more than satisfied on the taste buds to describe this place.
Things to Do and See
Still managed to get this far and not get hungry? Well good for you because now, we are going to talk about some of the things you could do in Portland, and as always some pictures to accompany them.
Unless you are really into hiking and trees, I’d say most tourists and visitors can finish seeing Portland within a week’s time. There really isn’t much to do there… as you can see from the things I ate, I even visited Alberta street multiple times.
If you can come to Portland, of course I would suggest you to come. I can see why the local residents love staying there, if you’re into quirkiness, craft beer, quietness, healthy lifestyle, then Portland is really a good city for you.
Otherwise, here are some things you can do when you come visit here.
Visit the Knockback (website) on Alberta street with some craft beers
One aspect of Portland is that… you’ll notice the pictures I posted, there aren’t a lot of commercial ads or whatever. In fact, these wall murals are basically the ‘marketing’ of these restaurants and shops usually. In the next few pictures, you’ll see a lot of pictures of murals.
A short intermission – but a lot of neighbors have put up signs like they respect all races, everyone’s equal, and you see this sign here that immigrants and refugees are treated and celebrated. You don’t feel racism or any sort of discrimination here, everyone here is genuinely actually very nice. In my life, I’ve never had someone say hello to me while walking down the street randomly.
I took an eBike tour around Portland. I found this activity on Airbnb experience. The hostess, Sarah, was very informative and friendly. You must at least know how to bike because you will be biking around downtown and other crowded places as well. You will also be going uphill but don’t worry, because it’s an eBike, it helps power the bicycle so that it is much easier to bike these difficult slopes.
One of the rebuilding centers where you can find stuff to rebuild your home. Because you cannot demolish buildings and homes in Portland, so you are only left to ‘rebuild’, or known as deconstruct. Pretty much the anti-Home Depot. By the way, this rebuilding center is also having a location in Japan as well.
What’s cool about the Peninsula Park Rose Garden is that since it’s shaped like a bowl, the smell is carried out more easily as the water vapors carry the smell and they don’t have resistant chemicals on it so you can easily smell the roses. The same cannot be said for the International Test Rose Garden, which you’ll see later.
Powell’s Books! Now this was probably one of my favorite things to do during my time in Portland. So I’m actually a big avid reader and this place was tremendously huge! I could spend my whole day choosing books, or everyday just coming here to read. Yes, you can sell your used books here too. I bought like 3-4 books from here, not sure how they can fit into my luggage now.
I debated with myself a few minutes as to whether to enter Portland Japanese Garden. I mean, it did cost USD 15 per adult and I’ve been to Japan and seen their gardens many times. My decision was made based on the fabulous pictures of this place on Google Images.
And that’s pretty much there is to do in Portland, in terms of the major attractions. At first I was excited by this place, and even during that time I was thinking that yeah I could come back here again for the food and its quirkiness. Now that I have had some time to reflect back on my time in Portland, well, I don’t know, it’ll be optional and must have some sort of incentive for me to come back.
Other things to do not shown on this post: Portland Art Museum, Pittock Mansion, Shanghai Tunnels (you must join tour for this), see the Cherry Blossom Bloomm at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, movie brewpubs, Multnomah Whiskey Library
This was an extremely long post, but if you made it to here, I really want to thank your time for reading this and hopefully you’ll give Portland a chance to visit it there, especially if you’re on the West Coast anyway! Their airport does stand out from other US cities’ airports by the way.