This past August and December, my parents and I traveled to Portland, Oregon, where we ate like kings, dressed to kill and took a myriad of photos like the tourists we were. Due to this last fact, I am dividing my account of our Portland adventures into two blog posts–one about our summer exploits, and another about our winter shenanigans.
The summer weather in Portland is very pleasant and reminds me of San Francisco: either sunny or overcast, but never hot. But before I get into what we actually did in Portland, I should tell you how we got there. In late June, my parents were talking about how they wanted to take Amtrak somewhere, anywhere really, to see beautiful landscapes while relaxing on a train. After doing some research, we decided to to take Amtrak to Portland, stay there for a few days and take the same train back. The train we took both ways is called the Coast Starlight, which runs from Los Angeles to Seattle. Unfortunately, since its route does not pass through the San Francisco Amtrak station, we had to get a 40-minute car ride to the Emeryville station, where we would board the train at 10 p.m. 18 hours later, we arrived at Portland Union Station. Now, 18 hours on a train might sound like an eternity, but it actually passes by quite quickly, especially if you board the train as late as we did and immediately go to sleep.
As soon as I woke up, I walked towards the back of our car (which was the last one in the train) and saw this:
It’s nothing special, really, but I just wanted to give you an idea of what the scenery on the trip up in the summer is like–almost entirely forests.
Here is a regrettably poorly lit photo of what coach is like. I was surprised by how comfortable traveling in coach is; not only do you get more room than you would on a plane, but the seat cushions are quite comfy and the seats can recline way back. Each car has four or five restrooms with outlets next to every window seat, and you can choose to sit on the lower or upper level. If you want to enjoy the scenery, I recommend sitting on the upper level.
After we arrived at Portland Union Station, we called an Uber (our main mode of transportation besides walking throughout the trip), went to our hotel, dropped off our belongings in our rooms and took another Uber to the Portland Japanese Garden.
Entry to the Japanese Garden ranges from free to $9.50, depending on your age group, but since my parents and I were there on the first full weekend of August and each had a Bank of America credit card, we got in for free! As you can see, there are so many different types of Japanese art that make this garden amazing to experience in person. These included arrangements of stones (see above), koi fish swimming around a huge pond,
Immediately across the street from the Japanese Garden is the International Rose Test Garden, where admission is free and about four-and-a-half acres of land are covered in a variety of roses!
All this walking around made us exhausted and hungry, so my parents and I decided to get dinner at Tasty n Alder, one of Portland’s most famous and best restaurants. Its fame and success translated into a 20-minute wait, during which we decided to walk around the neighborhood, which in turn, led us decide to get doughnuts from Blue Star Doughnuts, another one of Portland’s most famous places to grab a bite. What makes Blue Star Doughnuts especially unique is its funky flavors, so we ordered (from left to right) two passion fruit doughnuts, two piña colada doughnuts and a blueberry, bourbon and basil doughnut to eat for dessert after dinner. Although these are decidedly strong flavors, the doughnuts themselves are light, which I particularly liked not only because they allowed my taste buds to focus more on flavor than texture, but also because it meant I could eat more of them.
Almost as soon as we had bought our doughnuts, the hostess at Tasty n Alder called us to let us know that our table was ready, and we headed over for what would be an absolutely delicious dinner. Between the three of us, we ordered three items to share: wagyu skirt steak,
and crab dip.
Without a doubt, the wagyu skirt steak was the best of the three. We ordered it medium rare, and the steak was so juicy and easy to chew. Yum yum! In fact, we liked Tasty n Alder so much we went there the next day for brunch, for which the restaurant is just as, if not more, famous. This time we ordered:
Budapest coffee cake,
Hot Damn! omelette,
Korean fried chicken,
Bim Bop bacon and eggs (a.k.a. “stir like crazy”)
and Auntie Paula’s French toast.
While Tasty n Alder’s KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) is probably their most popular dish, our favorite was the Bim Bop, because it was more flavorful and the clay pot made the rice nice and crispy.
After brunch, we walked around the Pearl District of Portland, a neighborhood near downtown with many unique boutiques, such as this furniture shop, the organization of which I can only describe as having a method to its madness.
We popped into a vintage shop, where we saw this bust that reminded my parents of me:
Next, we wandered over to Tanner Springs Park, which is supposed to resemble a marsh. It’s in the middle of a financial district in Portland, and I can see why so many people find it relaxing–it has a simple design that meshes nicely with its natural aspects.
Pretty water lilies.
After this park, we were supposed to walk to the Alphabet District, but out of nowhere, it started pouring, so we had to call an Uber to drive us there. Since my dad loves burgers, I decided we should try Little Big Burger, a fast food burger chain with a simple but scrumptious menu. While my mom got ramen across the street (which she unfortunately didn’t snap any photos of), my dad and I ordered two hamburgers with bacon and blue cheese and shared a root beer float and order of truffle fries, the latter two of which were not aesthetically attractive enough to merit including their photos (though they were hella good). 🙂
As you should have guessed by now from the name of the chain, the burgers themselves are quite small–about the size of a woman’s fist–but pack a lot of flavor, a manifestation of sorts of quality over quantity. However, as a Californian, I must say that they’ve got absolutely nothing on In-N-Out.
Besides restaurants, the Alphabet District (like the Pearl District) consists of many small businesses that sell an array of items, so we strolled through here as well. Below are a selection of some of my favorite photos from this neighborhood:
Looks like Gretchen Wieners’ dreams finally came true.
Okay, these socks are actually from Urban Outfitters, which obviously isn’t a small business, but I love them since they merge subtlety and repulsion, a phrase that I feel perfectly summarizes my favorite type of humor.
Yes, I love pins, and I love books, but these were a little too expensive for me, so I’ll just have to look at them. I think my favorite is the one second from the left, in the top row, The Elements of Style, which is a book my first English professor at Cornell had us buy since he always referenced it in class or in his comments on our essays. I am speaking, of course, of the one and only Professor Harry Shaw. Take a class of his before you graduate or he retires!
Unsurprisingly, my dad got hungry again, so we went to Papa Haydn for a light meal. He ordered asparagus salad
and chocolate truffle cake.
I wanted to save my stomach for what you shall see in the next photo, so I only took a bite each from the salad and cake, but I can easily say that those were the best two dishes I had all day.
Now, I will move on to what is my comfort dessert food–ICE CREAM. Portland’s most famous ice cream chain is Salt & Straw, so much so that the company will soon be opening a branch in San Francisco (lucky me!). It was pretty warm outside, and they had a branch in the Alphabet District, so I thought I should get some ice cream that day. To be honest, I probably waited about 40 minutes for my ice cream, which is insanely long, but I didn’t have anything else to do while I waited for my dad to finish his food at Papa Haydn, so I just stayed in line. When I finally got to the register, I ordered one scoop of honey lavender and one scoop of Stumptown coffee and Burnside bourbon in a waffle cone.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the ice cream dream:
Here’s another photo to give you a better idea of just exactly how huge this is:
Yes, people, it was just as sweet and exquisite as I imagined, and all I can say is that I’m really looking forward to trying it again in San Francisco. Since my parents and I felt that we had a lot to eat that day, we walked back to our hotel, where we had dinner later that night. The hotel restaurant food was terrible, so I’m not even going to include photos of it.
The next day’s meal more than made up for our heinous dining experience the night before, as we brunched at Screen Door, another staple of Portland’s food culture. Screen Door is a Southern restaurant known for its fried chicken and waffles, a dish that can compel people to wait outside for up to an hour and a half during the weekend rush. Luckily, we came on a Monday morning, so we were immediately seated and able to order right away. When our food arrived, you should have seen the look on my face.
Feast your eyes on this beauty!
To break it down, we ordered banana Foster French toast,
and three orders of fried chicken and waffles.
To answer your questions, yes. Yes, it was the most amazing dining experience of my life. Yes, I ate as much as I could. Yes, I almost cried. Yes, the praline bacon was simultaneously sweet, oily and crunchy. Yes, the chicken was juicy and tasty all on its own. Yes, I bathed my waffles and French toast in as much maple syrup as possible. Yes, I got diabetes that day. Throughout this entire trip, I loved every meal I ate (except for that exceptionally crappy dinner the night before), but Screen Door is tied with another place (which I will soon mention) for having the best food in Portland. Seriously, if you’re ever in Portland, do yourself a favor and go to Screen Door. Do it.
Following this foodgasmic event, Mom, Dad and I knew we had to walk back to the hotel to burn off some calories, an expedition that included walking past the offices of a professional cuddler,
perusing more boutiques, such as Redux Boutique, which featured these baby plants (get it? GET IT?)
and mushroom people,
enjoying the creative ways in which the residents of Portland choose to decorate their property,
reading inspirational painted messages on office buildings,
snapping a photo of the city’s White Stag sign before we walked into Old Town Chinatown
and observing the ridiculously long line for Voodoo Doughnut.
For dinner that night, we went to Saucebox, an Asian fusion restaurant in downtown Portland. There, we ordered oxtail bao (oxtail meat with steamed buns),
green papaya salad,
roasted Javanese salmon,
black pepper hanger steak (I think)
and Korean baby back ribs.
Saucebox was probably the most expensive place we ate at throughout our entire summer trip, but when you take into consideration just how rich their flavors are, how beautiful their presentation is and how fresh their ingredients are, it really is worth its price point. Of the five items we ordered, my favorites were the oxtail bao, Korean baby back ribs and the roasted Javanese salmon (which is actually more than half of our total meal) because they were so mouthwateringly flavorful and tender.
The next day was Tuesday, and our train was scheduled to leave Portland at 2:25 p.m., so in addition to packing, we didn’t have much time to do anything besides eat. Since we had such a great time at Screen Door, we went there for brunch again the next day, and on our way back to the hotel, we went to a food truck, Mama Chow’s Kitchen, to buy ourselves dinner for the train ride back to Emeryville. Mama Chow’s Kitchen is the other place I was talking about earlier that was tied with Screen Door for having the best food in Portland. While my dad and I were walking back to our hotel to meet my mom after having picked up our orders of lollipop (chicken) wings over spicy garlic noodles, we could not stop smelling our food. When we brought the wings and noodles to my mom, she immediately started eating them, and even I had a bite because I wanted to know what they tasted like hot and fresh. Guys, you need to go to Mama Chow’s Kitchen, ASAP! If you want savory Asian food that will make you drop your jaw and drool all over your lap, try their wings and noodles.
A close-up shot of what tastes like heaven.
With our bags packed and our food picked up and partially, we took an Uber to the train station. I don’t have much to write or show you about the train ride back since the train is the same, and I didn’t sit near a window that time, but I do believe that the train ride up is slightly better than the ride down. Oh, I should tell you that I sat next to an Amish (or Mennonite?) family from Michigan, specifically a boy named Matthew who was probably around my age. We talked about the differences between our lifestyles — he had never seen a palm tree before! Speaking with Matthew made me realize just how exciting and enlightening traveling can be for anyone, and that besides being able to appreciate the scenery that passes by, traveling by train is a wonderful experience because it is so much more peaceful and comfortable. Furthermore, between the observation car and spending so much time in a space with strangers, riding a train encourages people to socialize with each other. All in all, I would definitely give my entire experience five stars!
Until part two, I wish you all a great first week of spring semester!