Portland – U.S.A’s Pacific Northwest

There’s a law in Portland: everyone has to colour their hair something fluorescent, grow a three-foot beard, or both. But here’s the thing: even if you hate hipsters, you’ll find yourself charmed by this happy, mad place. It’s just what it is, a very 21st-century American city, where you can wear a suit and go to work on a skateboard, where being eco-conscious is expected, where being a hipster is less about coolness and more about letting your inner child have voting power. And it has really, really incredible food.

Portland is the home of the avant-garde fusion-food truck. Korean sushi tacos are actually a thing here, for example. At The Grilled Cheese Grill, we get a cheese sandwich that is crisp, buttery, call-yourmom comforting – and filled with three types of cheese, all from a food truck that does nothing but cheese sandwiches – the kind of living I would want. The food truck that started it all, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, is best avoided if you’re used to Asian food that has more of a kick, and it’s difficult to eat anyway.

There is enormous, ridiculous choice, but the idea of eating very-high-grade food on the street is so perfectly Portland you can’t help but plan your day by a map of trucks. There is more to the food than the trucks, though. Start with a breakfast at Screen Door, and you might not eat all day.


Chicken & Waffles at Screen Door

This is the place that shows you what diner food could be: the chicken waffles are huge, piquant and outstanding, the coffee actually good, and well worth the standard hour-long wait. You won’t need to wait an hour for a Voodoo Doughnut, though – go to the small outlet on NE Davis Street instead of the original, and you can get your box of heart-stoppers, in Froot Loop, Triple Chocolate Penetration, Grape Ape, Bacon Maple Bar and other flavours, in under 30 seconds. For a more genteel experience, try the Spanish coffee at Huber’s Café. I don’t know what’s Spanish about it, but it is surprisingly potent, poured with great, flaming style in gorgeous wood-panelled, brass-fitted surroundings, and extremely tasty.


Voodoo Doughnuts

On another day, try the very good beer at Ex Novo Brewing Co. Lest you think Portland is only about food, I should tell you that we did a lot of this on foot, exploring what is an extremely likeable, very pretty, fun town while heading from one meal to the next. Divided into 12 neighbourhoods, each with a distinct character, Portland eases through its days, being hip, dressing up in pink, eating food with its origins in a few dozen countries, fiddling with vintage motorcycles, and providing a quality of life that few cities manage.

And, at the end of long walks, are innocent-looking booby traps like Salt and Straw, where, faced with so much choice in ice cream, the only thing to do is to order a full tasting platter and come away feeling like a whale.


Ex Novo Brewing Co

Even the laundromats here, like Spin Laundry Lounge, give you the singular experience of getting your underwear washed while you down a bottled kombucha, just to prove how cool life is around here.


Spin Laundry Lounge

And Portland’s quirkiness comes through in its huge bookstore, Powell’s, which, despite its size, has the oddness, the which-century-was-I-just-in feeling of a proper reader’s paradise. And even more so in the Freakybuttrue Pecularium Museum, a small but choice collection of weirdness, from candies with insects in them (protein!) to signs that help you understand what happens to your illegally-harvested organs – zombies, naturally. A bloodbath in a dollhouse. Hey, it’s just Portland. And well, there’s that food. I can still taste those chicken waffles.


Freakybuttrue Pecularium Museum

The word I’m looking for, I think, is ‘replete.’ And, at Jimmy Mak’s, alongside the properly excellent regular band, alongside a monster of a steak and superb whiskey, there’s a guy who sang with, yes, actually with Count Basie. What more could you ask from life? Actually, there is one thing I could ask for. Before you check out of the Eureka Inn, write ‘REDRUM’ on the bathroom mirror, so the next guests will see it when they take a hot shower. What fun they’ll have! I can hear them laughing now.

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