Planning a trip to Portland any time soon? A couple of Fridays ago I headed off down the I-5 at the crack of dawn in search of hipsters, birds, excellent food, perfect coffee, imaginative shops, and no sales tax, and was not disappointed. The Friday was spent shopping with girlfriends, then the Minx and the Husband drove down to meet me and we stayed on for a great weekend.
If you’re thinking of going to Portland, here’s what you should do.
When you arrive head first to Barista in the Pearl District for one of the finest cups of coffee you’ll have anywhere (and I live in Seattle), together with an extremely acceptable almond croissant.
You’ll need fortification before browsing through the crazy that is Cargo. Just round the corner from Barista, Cargo calls itself a ‘showroom, flea market, and international bazaar’ and features bizarre and beautiful finds from Indonesia, China, Japan, Thailand and Mexico. I guarantee you’ll find nothing in here that you need, but plenty that you’ll want. I bought some antique scissors and a small lucky waving cat charm for the Minx’s backpack. See what I mean?
Next cross the river and go to The Meadow in North Portland’s Mississippi district. This tiny shop sells salt, flowers, chocolate, wine and bitters, all personal passions of owner Mark Bitterman, author of the wonderful cookbook Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes.
I met Mark when he came to Seattle and, together with Myra, hosted a creative and delectable salt-based dinner.
This shop shouldn’t work, but it does, beautifully, because so much knowledge and passion has gone into the carefully curated selections. Just look at those walls of salt and chocolate. I was tempted to buy a block of pink Hawaiian baking salt, but our kitchen has enough clutter. One day.
I contented myself with a big bag of sel gris instead.
Then head off for lunch at Pok Pok, which serves carefully authentic regional Thai and Vietnamese streetfood under a heated awning.
Photo by Lilian Speirs
For some reason I didn’t manage to take any photos here. However, here is Lilian’s detailed review, with a ton of photos. Like her I would have been happy to eat the phat si ew, a classic dish of stir-fried rice noodles, succulent Carlton Farms pork, Chinese broccoli and egg, all day. Pok Pok is a fun, enjoyable place for a Portland pit stop, with great food and a buzzy atmosphere, deservedly a renowned Portland hangout.
After a hearty lunch it’s time to start shopping in earnest.
First go to Flora which sells a girly selection of scented candles, jewellery, stationery, art, apothecary items and general nicknackery. I came away with a gorgeous fig-scented Tatine candle. I wasn’t familiar with this range before, but loved the simple glass containers and the beautiful perfumes. The Minx also liked Flora very much when we went back the next day.
Then head over to Canoe, by way of glorious yarn shop Knit Purl. I forgot to take pics again, but did come away with two skeins of gorgeous naturally-dyed laceweight linen yarn. One has to have priorities.
Anyway, back to Canoe. This shop has a wonderful selection of modern tchotchkes and home accessories, chosen with taste and flair. The Husband particularly liked this shop when we returned the following day and it’s a particularly great place to browse for gifts for men. I ended up with a new litter bin, a pink piggy bank for the Minx and some little glass bowls.
After visiting more shops that I’ll get to in part 2 of this guide, we finished up at modern furniture shop Hive before settling down for a very well-earned and again excellent coffee at Cafe Allora, a little bit of Milan in downtown Portland.
Finally we braved the immensely long line at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. We had to wait for over two hours, fortunately seated at a back table where we could drink plenty of wine, but the pizza was worth it when we got it, which means it’s VERY good pizza indeed. Particularly the bacon pizza. Man, that was yummy.
The Minx and the Husband made it down the freeway in time to join us for an extra bacon pizza and dessert and we then waved goodbye as Myra and Lilian headed off into the night. I was left wondering why I don’t do day trips to Portland more often.
Find out what the Minx, the Husband and I got up to in Part 2.