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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.