Portland – the land of quaint living, putting birds on it, and Shamu-protesting, at least according to the hit show Portlandia. My group of friends Josh, Adrienne, and James were just as excited as I was for our four-day trip, so of course we watched Portlandia clips in preparation for life in the Pacific Northwest.
So how was actual Portland compared to Portlandia-Portland? After exploring a city of books, pedal-powering a beer boat, drinking the most amazing cold brew I’d ever tasted, and admiring the endless trees and greenery throughout, I can safely say that real Portland shares the essence, but was even better than I’d imagined!
Read on for a recap and summary of Asians in Portlandia!
Where We Stayed
After a quick early-morning flight into Portland we headed to Southeast Portland. We’d booked a lovely 1899 Victorian home on Airbnb and the apartment we stayed in was spacious and located in a very nice neighborhood close to restaurants and coffee shops. After dropping off our bags we explored the area, grabbing brunch at a local restaurant and breathing in the cool and crisp morning air. The first thing we noticed was all the greenery surrounding the sidewalks and homes. Everything looked so vibrant and fresh. We were off to a good start.
Over the next few days, our quaint Victorian abode became our base of operations, the perfect place to relax, ask local and visiting friends to meet up, and of course get a good night’s sleep.
Our Portland trip was a study in the six degrees of separation. Our core group consisted of my college buddies James and Josh, as well as Josh’s friend Adrienne, who’d flown in from LA. James and I invited our friend Derek to join us, so he drove down from Seattle and introduced us to Michelle (a Portland resident). Around the same time, my friends Jonathan and Jared from LA saw my check-in online and were also in town. They hung out with us over the next few days and introduced us to Esther, a Portland local. So our group at any given time had friends of friends of friends, from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. And the kicker? We were all Asians…in Portlandia!
For some reason donuts are a big tourist attraction in Portland. We sampled two of the most famous donut shops in the city, which I’ll break down here.
Voodoo Doughnuts is the more touristy of the two, and although many people believe it’s overhyped, there’s a certain charm and appeal to its zany and creative donuts, with some of the craziest toppings and out-there flavors. From donuts topped with Cap’n Crunch to bacon maple bars to voodoo-doll donuts that bleed raspberry jelly when stabbed, the grungy shop had it all. The line was insanely long (about an hour) and the donuts were pretty average after the novelty of the toppings wore off.
Blue Star Donuts, on the other hand, takes an opposite approach. It had an unassuming storefront that we missed the previous day when we’d walked by. The interior was clean and trendy. And the donuts were absolutely delicious. During our wait (~30 minutes), we were able to observe the workers making the donuts and adding toppings. The final results: warm, soft, and flavorful donuts with toppings that added to the taste and didn’t overwhelm. My bacon-topped maple syrup donut was heaven on earth.
Powell’s City of Books
It’s not surprising that Portland is home to one of the most impressive bookstores I’d ever set foot in. Powell’s City of Books literally spanned a city block and boasted eight gigantic rooms of books on multiple levels. It’s bigger than many public libraries and people can spend days here without worrying about not finding interesting things to peruse. We spent close to two hours walking up and down the stairs, checking out interesting books and getting lost among the shelves. Powell’s is indeed the book lover’s paradise.
Bar Hopping in Old Town
The first night we enjoyed dinner and drinks near Old Town Portland. The bars in the area were pretty cool and offered a bit of everything, from a fancy speakeasy in a hotel basement to casual beer taprooms. My favorite bar was Ground Kontrol, a classic arcade and bar that served cheap drinks and offered two floors of old-school arcade video games and pinball machines. The best part was that each game cost a quarter, so I got to play some of my childhood favorites (Time Crisis 2, anyone?) and test out my skills on new classic games.
My visit to Stumptown was almost anticlimactic if it weren’t for the shelves of coffee beans spanning a wide range of origins and flavor profiles. The main reason was that Stumptown coffee is so commonly served in restaurants and other coffee shops in Portland that I’d already enjoyed several cups of their coffee before my initial visit. If you like coffee, their classic cold brew is the one to get! The nitro cold brew is a pretty cool concept too, giving the drink a stout-like finish.
Another touristy activity we tried out was the BrewBarge (from the makers of BrewCycle, a giant moving bar powered by bicycle-style pedaling). BrewBarge took the initial cycling concept and moved it onto a floating barge, where we brought onboard our own beers and floated along the Willamette River. Scratch that, we worked hard for our beers, pedaling nonstop in 20 minute increments and getting a nice workout going, at least initially.
Still, it was mini-party as we blasted music on the speakers and met some cool people from San Diego and Connecticut. We kept the beer ice-cold in built-in coolers and watched a fire crew riding a jetski before passing under a huge bridge and spotting an old military submarine. The best part was realizing that the barge could also be motor-powered – that came in handy about three-quarters of the way through the trip as people stopped pedaling and continued to socialize and drink. BrewBarge gets bonus points for spotting that potential oversight in advance.
The Great Outdoors
Portland isn’t Portland without its beautiful outdoor activities. We got a glimpse of that natural beauty less than an hour’s drive from Downtown Portland, visiting the magnificent (but incredibly-crowded) Multnomah Falls and the serenely pretty Oneonta Gorge during our “nature day.”
Multnomah Falls is the most famous waterfall near Portland and offers a picturesque two-drop waterfall with a footbridge in the middle. The bottom was crowded that Labor Day weekend but the crowds got thinner the higher up we went. There were multiple trail options with the most straightforward one leading to the top, but we decided to forgo those trails for the chance to check out Oneonta Gorge before driving back to the city.
We were not disappointed by the quiet beauty of Oneonta Gorge. The path to the end of the trail involved climbing over a logjam, wading in chilly water throughout, and trekking in waist deep water along the final stretch. We were enclosed by rocky cliffs and greenery as far as the eye could see. Since I didn’t expect doing this trek, I didn’t dress for the occasion. At the final stretch, I bouldered along the rocky side in an attempt to bypass getting my clothes wet. About halfway through, I lost my grip and fell backward into the water, getting nicely surprised by the numbing cold. From this point on I didn’t mind getting wet, walking back in my soaked Vans sneakers and dripping shirt and shorts. It was a memorable adventure, to say the least.
What’s a trip to Oregon without visiting at least one of its famous breweries? We briefly dropped by a few, including Rogue, and decided to grab a table at Deschutes Brewery Public House, a well-known and highly-rated brewery based in Bend, OR. I tried a beer sampler of mostly IPAs brewed in-house at the Portland location. We ordered some food as well, and James enjoyed their green eggs and ham, which was in fact a green-colored hard-boiled egg and regular ham.
Food (Saved the Best for Last)
Another highlight from our Portland trip was the amazing food! There were too many good restaurants to try in four short days, so we did our best and hit up a mix of well-known eateries and places we discovered on the fly. To save time I’ll post links and a quick rundown of the food at each highlight.
City State Diner – your run-of-the-mill hip brunch place, with solid breakfast items and reclaimed wood to no end
Grassa – handcrafted Italian pasta with a nice selection of cocktails
Nong’s Khao Man Gai – very legit chicken over rice, had a Thai hole-in-the-wall vibe transported to a hip interior
Ate-Oh-Ate – Hawaiian barbecue that included the most delicious roasted Kalua pork
Lúc Lác – a fancy spin on classic Vietnamese food, pho had tons of meat and the cubed beef (Luc Lac) was incredible
Screen Door – wow the tenderest fried chicken & waffles and a mean mac and cheese, we tried to eat here two days straight and the wait was insane so we went again after Labor Day – worth the hype!
Pok Pok – authentic northern Thai food at a restaurant that was originally someone’s house, located in a cool neighborhood with plenty of new shops and restaurants