As you all know, this week’s blog post will be focused on the winter portion of my trip to Portland, Oregon this past mid-December. For the sake of not being repetitive, I will gloss over the minutiae of how I arrived at the train station and boarded the train because the schedule was almost exactly the same, with the exception of my parents and I deciding to leave for Portland on a Friday as opposed to a Saturday.
Unlike my first trip to Portland, I took so many more photos of the scenery the second time around because it was more stunning. Most of the ride mostly resembled what you see above–brown-green hills with slush near the tracks–but a third of the ride made me feel like one of those professional photographers that only shoots in black and white because the landscape was covered with snow as far as the eye could see:
I wish I could convey to y’all the elevation at which these photos were taken and the extent to which the snow covered all that land, but since (1) I have practically no idea how to take good photos, (2) the train was moving so quickly and (3) you have no idea how challenging it is to attempt to eliminate your reflection from a photo, these pictures will have to suffice.
After the train had descended from the mountains back to civilization, we were getting closer to Portland. One of the stations that the train stopped at was Eugene. During the embarking and debarking period, a fellow passenger (who had two ridiculously cute granddaughters, one of whom couldn’t stop randomly smiling and walking over to me to say “hi” throughout the ride) told me that the house pictured below is a “mystery house.” As far as I can tell through my five minutes of Google research, the house is a local attraction indeed; it’s known as the “Castle on the Hill” or the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House. However, there does not seem to be anything mysterious about the house–in fact, its curators still assert that the house is in no way haunted. I know, I’m also disappointed, but I promise to give you all something sort of spooky by the end of this post
The aforementioned Castle on the Hill, a.k.a. the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House, the Victorian style of which reminds me of the painted ladies of San Francisco.
Perhaps it’s because I rarely experience cold weather, but I was mesmerized by the tree pictured above, which is covered in ice. The photo doesn’t transmit it, but since the sun is out, the ice is melting and shimmering simultaneously.
Our train ran a few hours late this time, meaning that by the time we got to Portland on Saturday, the sun had set and it was practically dinnertime, so Momma and Poppa Quach and I decided to try Wei Wei – A Taste of Taiwan. As the restaurant’s name denotes, we had Taiwanese fare that night, which included:
braised pork belly baos (buns),
two orders of beef noodle soup
and salt and pepper chicken with basil.
Since my dad basically never eats dinner and opts instead for a few pieces of chocolate as dessert (I suspect that’s how he stays so slender…), my mom and I were the only ones who tried what Wei Wei had to offer. While we both found the braised pork belly baos to be simply delicious, the beef noodle soup and salt and pepper chicken with basil were surprisingly good, but not wonderful. The quality of the beef and the flavor of the soup were both impressive, but we didn’t really dig the noodles. As for the chicken, we felt that it could have been crispier. I should, however, disclose that my mom spent most of her childhood in Taipei, Taiwan, so her standards for Taiwanese food are really high. Nonetheless, I believe that you should never compromise your standards. All things considered though, we were impressed that Portland even had a Taiwanese restaurant and furthermore, that it had good food! You’re probably going to realize this soon, but most of the food my parents and I ate in August was American, while most of the food we ate in December was Asian (or burgers because my dad loves them to bits). Similarly, while a majority of our August trip was spent in West Portland, a majority of our December trip was spent in East Portland.
Side note: if you’re ever in San Francisco and want to try some authentic, yummy Taiwanese food, I highly recommend Five Happiness in the Inner Richmond.
This should come as no surprise, considering the high praise I showered upon Screen Door in the precursor to this blog post, but my parents and I unanimously decided to brunch at Screen Door the next day. Our order was almost exactly the same as it was last time–we got an order of three pieces of fried chicken with a waffle, an additional piece of fried chicken, an order of banana Foster French toast and an order of praline bacon, the last of which is not depicted in the photo since we were so ravenous we finished it before it even occurred to us to take a photo of it.
Please note my mom’s choice of apparel–Cornell represent!
After brunch, we decided to go for a walk, since the weather that day had improved. Oh, yeah, I really need to let you all know that despite Portland’s situation on the West Coast, it’s surprisingly cold up there! For the greater part of our trip, the temperature was in the low forties/high thirties with periodic snowfall, but our Uber and Lyft drivers did inform us that Portland has an exceptionally cold winter (like this one) every few years…nothing compared to an Ithaca winter though…
Anyway, as I’ve established that I’m a creature of habit, I wanted to stop by Redux Boutique again. While there, I saw some of their new products and displays, including this impressively creative picture frame/earring rack (see below). My favorites are the Hillary Clinton and Edgar Allan Poe ones in the top row and the chicken and waffles ones (for obvious reasons) in the seventh row. However, I did not end up buying any earrings–I got a pin (for my collection) of a well-manicured hand flipping the bird and a medium-sized notebook covered in drawings of famous writers dressed in goth and punk styles. At the moment, I seem to have displaced both items, but if it makes it any better, I do remember a Marcel Proust with David Bowie’s iconic lightning bolt on his face, a Langston Hughes with Gene Simmons’s (of KISS fame) eye makeup on and a Virginia Woolf with a nose chain and spike-studded choker as being on the cover of that notebook
Since we had not been able to make it to the Portland Saturday (or Sunday) Market in August, we decided to cross the Burnside Bridge (to Southwest Portland) to get there. As this was mid-to-late December, the Festival of the Last Minute was taking place, meaning the market was open for the entire week up until Christmas as opposed to only the weekend. The market predominantly sells groceries, prepared food, and arts and crafts, but the following are what I found to be the coolest booths:
For the Birds, a shop that sold intricate birdhouses and bird coffins,
and Spoonman Creations, a store with merchandise that demonstrated the creative ways in which kitchenware can be adapted for use outside of the kitchen.
Since my younger brother wasn’t able to come up to Portland with us, my parents and I bought him a present from Spoonman Creations–a fork that had been welded to the pointy end of an antenna, which could be extended so that the fork could reach further.
Aside from collecting pins, I also have a sunglasses collection, though it’s not nearly as prolific as that of Elton John. I find sunglasses so awesome because they’re a simple yet stated way to convey one’s style…plus, I have super-sensitive eyes. Anyway, when I saw the eyewear Spoonman had created, I knew I had to try on a couple of them. The ones I am wearing below are aptly named “Peacock.” If you look closely, the figure towards the back on the right is the one and only Spoonman!
Please excuse how weird my face looks in here; I was about to sneeze.
After the Festival of the Last Minute, we walked around downtown Portland, and guess what? GUESS WHAT? I GOT ME SOME VOODOO DOUGHNUTS!!!
For those of you who read my last blog post, you know exactly what I’m talking about–Voodoo Doughnut is one of the most famous bakeries in Portland because it’s got weirdly named, shaped and flavored doughnuts. The line for this place back in August was too damn long, so my parents and I just skipped it, but when we returned in December, it was cold outside, so the line was miles shorter.
Who couldn’t fall in love with such a perfectly pink box?
I ordered the Memphis Mafia doughnut (top left), Diablos Rex doughnut (top right), their signature Voodoo Doll doughnut (bottom left), and a glazed doughnut (bottom right) from Voodoo Doughnut.
While I’ve got to give Voodoo Doughnut points for uniqueness and creativity, I found their flavors to be quite normal and that the establishment did not live up to all its hype. However, maybe I would have better understood their popularity had I ordered more exotically flavored doughnuts, such as the Ain’t That A Peach fritter, the Mango Tango doughnut or the Grape Ape doughnut. Ultimately though, I’d have to recommend Blue Star Donuts over Voodoo Doughnuts, as the former provided more appealing flavors and a lighter consistency.
After we had taken a nap at our hotel, my parents and I headed over to Pho Oregon Restaurant for dinner and ordered
#49 bun tom thit nuong cha gio, which according to their menu is composed of char-grilled skewers of shrimp and pork with a fried spring roll over vermicelli noodles,
and #1 Pho Oregon, or as the menu breaks it down: sliced round steak, flank, fatty brisket, tendon, tripe and beef meatballs with noodles in soup.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR!!! As someone who has grown up eating Vietnamese food (my dad is mostly Laotian and part Vietnamese, my paternal grandma frequently cooks Vietnamese food and Vietnamese cuisine is something literally everyone in my family loves), you have got to believe me when I say that Pho Oregon has some of the best Vietnamese food I have ever had the pleasure of eating! I love how fresh and simple the composition of each dish we tasted was because it meant that their deliciousness derived from the combination of the ingredients in each bowl rather than a special sauce or method of preparation. Guys, this right here is straightforward, no-nonsense, exquisite Vietnamese cuisine.
Another side note: if any of you have vegan relatives (like I do in my older sister), I highly recommend you bringing them to a Vietnamese restaurant because while the Vietnamese can cook and prepare meat wonderfully, their reliance on and abundant use of vegetables means that they can still prepare an appetizing vegan dish that will appeal even to those of us that are omnivorous.
Inevitably, the next day, my parents and I returned to Mama Chow’s Kitchen for three orders of lollipop chicken wings over spicy garlic noodles.
Scrumptious, as always.
But my dad was still hungry and since we had sat down in Pine Street Market to eat our wings and noodles, he decided to peruse the Market in search of more food. I’m hesitant to call Pine Street Market a food court because it’s so much smaller and of a higher quality than what most of us would conceive, but I haven’t been able to think of a better term, so I’ll call it what it’s website calls it–a “food hall.” Anyway, as my dad is a burger fanatic, he ordered the Bravo burger from Pollo Bravo, one of the restaurants within Pine Street Market.
The restaurant’s online menu says the burger contains manchego, romesco and smoked bacon, the former two of which my uncultured self has never heard of before. Despite this verbal setback, I was able to enjoy the bite of the burger my dad offered me. I don’t know if it was the flavor of Mama Chow’s Kitchen, but I found the Bravo burger to be good, but nothing special, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for an extraordinary burger. Furthermore, the burger cost eight bucks but was the size of a man’s fist, so it just wasn’t worth it.
Side note 3: a lady walked past my parents and me on her way to get some napkins from a nearby napkin stand and when she went to get some more napkins a little later, she came over and asked us where we got our food (chicken wings and noodles) from because it smelled so good. She proceeded to ask us to show the rest of her family our food and told her teenaged son to look up Mama Chow’s Kitchen. Yes, people, Mama Chow’s Kitchen is THAT GOOD.
The Bravo burger. Meh.
Before we headed over to Portland’s Alberta Arts District, we did some more walking around downtown Portland and stumbled across the famous “Keep Portland Weird” sign, which I’m sure many of my fellow Portlandia fans will recognize.
When we finally got to the Alberta Arts District, my parents and I had a lot of fun checking out all the funky neighborhood had to offer, which included:
a biker garden gnome (what a stud) in a furniture store,
a cute display of Jane Austen books for children (in the same furniture store) that the English major in me appreciated,
trash cans made out of old street signs,
miniature caravans for rent,
not-so-miniature caravans for rent
and a plethora of vibrant murals.
This last mural is my favorite because it’s comparatively understated but still strongly conveys its message.
While my parents and I attempted to try the best and most affordable food in Portland during both of our trips, we were tired after a day of walking and knew that finding cheap and delicious Japanese food would be difficult anywhere, so that night, for dinner, we settled on a reasonably cheap and pretty good Japanese place near our hotel called Yuki Japanese Restaurant. There we ordered:
a combination bento dinner box with salad, tofu, skewered chicken, grilled beef, and tempura;
a dragon roll (left) and another roll (right), the name of which I have forgotten. That last roll looks like it has spicy tuna, avocado, lettuce, and cucumber with tobiko on the outside.
As expected, the food from Yuki Japanese Restaurant was ok in a you-get-what-you-pay-for way. It wasn’t at all expensive and tasted like your average sushi.
The day after was our last day in Portland, as we had to get to the airport later that afternoon, so we stopped by PDX Sliders for some burgers. Throughout this entire trip, my dad had been looking forward to trying PDX Sliders not only because it had great reviews on Yelp, but also because it been ranked as the fourth best burger place in America by National Geographic! Unlike most burger joints, PDX Sliders is a food truck, but there is outdoor seating provided in the form of wooden picnic benches. When my parents and I arrived, it was just before lunch hour so there wasn’t a line. We immediately ordered, and I got a Fremont (which according to the company’s menu is composed of beef, bacon, American cheese, roasted jalapeno and aioli on brioche),
while my parents each got a Steel (which according to the company’s menu has double beef, bacon, American cheese, caramelized onions and aioli on brioche) and an order of PDX fries for us all to share.
A closeup of the steel.
O…M…G…forget about In-N-Out, forget about Five Guys…who needs ‘em when you have PDX Sliders?! Seriously, PDX Sliders makes the best burgers I have ever had! Although each burger costs about four or five dollars and is no bigger than a woman’s fist, it is SO worth it because the quality and flavor of the burgers are so high and powerful. As soon as my dad and I had taken our first bite of our burgers, we knew we needed another one. To be honest, I’m not as into burgers as most people are, but PDX Sliders really forced me to reconsider my stance because those burgers were just that damn good! When we went back to order a second round, my dad got another Steel, and I decided to try the Sellwood (which the menu says has beef, bacon, aged cheddar, caramelized onions, butter lettuce and aioli on brioche), which was just as good as–though less spicy than– the Fremont. If I haven’t convinced you to try PDX Sliders whenever you’re in Portland, I’m afraid you’re condemned to a life of culinary incompleteness.
As all good things must come to an end, Mom, Dad and I eventually had to leave the world of delicious burgers for that of plane tickets and the TSA. As you will have noticed, we decided to fly instead of taking the train back home, since a flight from Portland to San Francisco would take less than two hours, whereas the train would take seventeen or eighteen. Moreover, our flight tickets only cost a little more than our train tickets, which were refundable.
We arrived in San Francisco International Airport (SFO) at night, and soon after debarking the plane, I came across this interesting and extensive display of what had to be at least fifty different Ouija boards, which were the “something spooky” I was referring to earlier.
A panorama of the exhibit on Ouija boards at the airport.
A classic Ouija board.
And of course, when we got home that night, we took out the chicken wings and garlic noodles we had brought back from Mama Chow’s Kitchen from Portland earlier that day and had them for dinner!
Mama Chow’s Kitchen rules supreme.
While I definitely feel like I ate more delicious and amazingly low-priced food in Portland during the winter, I must admit that summer in Portland is preferable to winter in the city, as the cold weather seemed to limit the amount of outdoor activities that I had enjoyed in the summer. The low temperatures not only detracted from the beauty of nature in parks and gardens, but also made walking around neighborhoods and markets less pleasant; it added a layer of uncertainty to long we could be outside for. It is for these reasons that I recommend traveling to Portland in the summer over the winter, especially if you’d like to hike through the surrounding natural areas, because the restaurants and food trucks are open year-round.
I hope I’ve convinced you all that Portland is a truly unique and fun place to explore, be it with your family or friends!
See you in two weeks’ time, and don’t forget to add or change credits for this semester by 11:59 P.M. tonight!