I arrived in Portland, Oregon, on a Tuesday evening, 7.30pm. Fall rains greeted me, and my first night was spent listening to the sound of the rain softly pattering against my windowpane in the comfort of my little basement studio apartment, near Mt. Tabor (SW Portland).
A 15-minute cab ride from the airport, it cost me roughly $30 without tip, the same cost as a shuttle. So I say, take a cab, guys. Squinting out of the rain-splattered windows, I spotted about a million churches on the way to the place. (“Is Jesus your Lord and Savior?”) Also on the same block: a strip club (“Hot Nude Girls 24/7″). Okay then. Portland was shaping up to be a really interesting place.
SW Portland – W Burnside St – or Pearl District, where all the bigger and more well-established indie/local shopping spots are clustered
- imogene + willie – a denim label for ladies from Texas
- Tanner Goods – menswear, leather goods – they’re stocked at Barney’s too
- Danner Select – for the outdoorsy dude
- Frances May – upscale women’s wear (Acne shoes etc.) – think upwards of $300
- Solestruck – showroom for this web-based store
NE Portland – Mississippi Avenue & Alberta Street
Mississippi Ave boasts tons of vintage shops and cute looking eateries, definitely worth checking out. I recommend Animal Traffic – a local boutique selling vintage classics (think plaid shirts) as well as American heritage brands. (And beard grooming products.)
Alberta Street is known as the arts district, with people selling, you guessed it, their art literally on the pavements. The hipster vibe was strong. Bearded ladies. Dreadlocks. Septum piercings. Check out Zig Zag Wanderer (their FB page is just a little weird, but I suppose it’s really fitting) – the owner curates a pretty sweet collection of vintage and second hand items – and this is coming from a girl who almost never buys second hand stuff. I bought an adorable poncho/cape from him for just $32. Also, Digs – a homeware store, where they offer you espresso when you browse. They also sell Demeter fragrances here – Dirt’s my favorite!
Off the beaten track: Branch & Birdie, on SE Stark St, was a random find selling women’s clothes and accessories – bought my TOMS shades here (who knew that they had eyewear?)! I can’t remember the name of the store where I bought my backpack (sorry, shopping tunnel vision) but it’s from a Portland based label called Nell & Mary. Loving it so far!
How do I describe the shopping scene in Portland? It’s like Frankie magazine threw up all over the city. Arts & crafts meets second hand meets vintage meets 90’s nostalgia kitsch meets oddball individuality meets laid-back resistance to commercialism meets rugged backwoodsman. I never knew Kinfolk magazine was from here, but I totally get it now. I think I only scratched the surface of the retail scene here, but for anyone who loves mixing up their style with one-off pieces and Americana, then Portland is really your place.
- Bar soap is a huge thing. Everyone seems to be making and selling their own variation of essential oil scented bar soap. And beard oil. I also sniffed sage everywhere. And lavender.
- Vintage shops are a huge thing too, as I’d mentioned. HUGE. It’s part of the whole slow fashion movement where you buy better, but buy less – or even better, buy old. I like that. I’m all about quality, though I’m not sure if vintage is really part of my aesthetic. That said, it’s a really infectious spirit – no ubiquitous Forever 21s or H&M here.
- If I were a dude I’d be over the moon because there are just so many stores that cater to men here. I liked it anyway because I really love menswear – tailoring and fabrics are fascinating to me.
- Everyone’s really friendly, and laid-back. Like, really laid-back. Everyone takes the time to contemplate what they’re about to say. Be prepared for long pauses and really thoughtful responses. Also, people favor really simple looks – for the ladies, no make-up seemed to be the way to go. Natural hair. (Unshaven legs.) Really well dressed dudes.
- Interestingly, I spotted many Japanese people in Portland – from really well-groomed ladies to stylish teenage boys.
On the first day, while exploring SW Portland –
- Boxer Ramen – pretty good ramen! Not the most authentic, but the Tonkotsu Shio broth I tried was pretty legit. The piece of charshu was really more American-style ham, but hey, it made the broth super umami. Definitely better than any ramen I’ve tried in the DC area so far. (Why, DC, why don’t you have decent ramen?)
- Blue Star donuts – please, for the love of god, do not go to Voodoo Donut. I found it really overrated, and was a rather dodgy-looking place with stale-looking AND tasting donuts. Blue Star definitely looks and feels fresher. I had the Valrhona Chocolate Crunch, and it was great! Not too sweet at all. Though I’m really no donut aficionado… It just seemed like the thing you had to do in Portland. So I did it.
Second day, NE Portland –
- Sweedeedee – a cute little all-day brunch spot right off Alberta, I had the Tomato Fennel soup with Grilled Cheese, and also the Salted Honey Pie. And they were AMAZING. That grilled cheese sandwich was the best I’ve ever had so far – bread was crusty and warm, crisp on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside – with gruyere and swiss cheese lightly melting in between. Highly recommended. And c’mon, this place is called SWEEDEEDEE. You HAVE to go.
- Tasty N Sons – Amazing brunch. Burmese red stew, bacon wrapped dates – the stew made me homesick, in the unlikeliest of places. It tasted just like my mom’s amazing soy sauce stewed pork belly. I texted her a picture of it. (Note to self: ask mum for recipe.) Everything else also looked amazing, but alas, I could only manage so much. Food is served tapas style here, so it’s best for sharing.
My only regret was not having enough meals in a day to eat everything that I wanted to eat, from the amazing looking food carts you can find on SW Washington St, to closer to where I stayed, Belmont St (it’s a historic part of Portland).
Thai food is really big here, and so is any kind of food you could possibly prepare on a food truck – gyros, to Southern BBQ, to bubble tea and Vietnamese food. The food scene is definitely pretty exciting! And sadly, I had to give Pok Pok a miss as the wait time was much too insane (2 hours). Maybe next time, PDX!
Buses will be your thing in Portland. Each ride costs $2.50 (adults), and the ticket is valid for 2 hours so you just need to flash it when you transfer. It’s pretty easy to get around. Uber doesn’t exist in Portland, but the biggest cab company is Broadway cabs. You can also get a shuttle to and from the airport for around $27 – you just need to book at least a day in advance.
I don’t say this about many American cities, but PDX definitely warrants a second trip!