Portland, Oregon: A (Real Live) Weekend Away

A bit of the bar at Ping in Portland’s Chinatown

Recently spent my (early-October) birthday up in Portland, Oregon, which is just about our favorite city in America.

We stayed with friends, went to a book fair and a radio show taping, toodled around the city, drank wine and stuffed our faces. We wore actual sweaters and jackets to ward off the autumn chill. 

And you know what? It was darn good for the mind, body and soul.

On this trip, we stayed locally with our friends Jessica and Chris. Since it’s highly unlikely that you two would also stay with them, though, I recommend the Heron Haus B & B in Nob Hill (NW), Portland’s White House B & B in Irvington (NE), McMenamin’s Kennedy School near the Alberta Arts District (NE), or the Hotel Lucia in the heart of downtown (SW).


Artwork at the Wordstock book festival; pre-Live Wire radio show taping at the Aladdin Theater


To see what was going on around town for the weekend, Jess visited the Travel Portland site and discovered that the Wordstock book festival and a special Wordstock-themed taping of Live Wire! Radio were happening on my birthday. Since I’ve lately had novel-writing on the brain, the timing felt perfect.

At the Oregon Convention Center we puttered around Wordstock exhibitors’ tables, discovering new books, publishers and funny stickers. We even nabbed a subscription to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, America’s best-designed anthology of fiction.

Later that night, the two back-to-back tapings of Live Wire were held at the vintage 1920s Aladdin Theater, and between the clever vignettes, performances by local musicians and fascinating interviews with writers, this experience absolutely rocked. You can attend a Live Wire taping just about every two weeks, and I would give it three thumbs up if only I had a third thumb.


Sign along Broadway in Downtown; artwork for sale in a NW boutique


Earlier that day, we’d headed Downtown to explore, and did our best to keep it weird.

Collectively, all of Portland also did its best.


The over-crowded Voodoo Doughnut in Downtown Portland


The only thing that no longer seems weird there is Voodoo Doughnuts. This home-grown haunt has been written up in so many magazines and blogs, covered to death in so many travel shows, that it’s now officially been discovered by the masses. Since I’m spiritually opposed to standing in line for anything, much less a g-damn doughnut, safe to say we didn’t engage; but if you absolutely must snarf some maple bacon ale fritters during your stay, then for the love of God go visit the other Voodoo Doughnut, on the northeast side of town.


Clockwise from top L: the Downtown Stumptown and its cappuccino; the logo at Flying Cat Coffee Company; afternoon tea at Lady Di’s; the lemon tart at La Petite Provence; and seasonal cupcakes at The Little T


Aside from crullers, Portland offers a many other lovely ways to mainline wheat products — and caffeine.

Hit industrial-fabulous The Little T for cupcakes and pastries, then worship at the temple of java at any of the five local Stumptown Coffee Roasters. (I have a love affair going with their Holler Mountain, and with their Hair Bender, too.) For a palate cleanser, score a latte and check out the greatest logo in town at the Flying Cat Coffee Companywho threaten to have t-shirts for sale soon.

If you have a spot of tea (and scones and finger sandwiches) in mind, head to Lake Oswego for the almost ridiculously charming Lady Di’s British Store & Tea Room and ask to be seated off by yourselves in the Tea Cozy Room (afternoon tea, $16 US per person). With any luck, it’ll be raining outside and will really feel like England inside. For a stunning breakfast nearby, visit sunny and delicious La Petite Provence, and order any gorgeous omelette on the menu with a side of potatoes, butternut squash and rosemary. Oh, and if you tell them it’s your birthday, they’ll give you a free pastry; I happily chose the truly lovely lemon tart. 


Chop in Portland’s HUB Building; the NE outpost of Olympic Provisions


If you like charcuterie, you’ll feel absurdly lucky in Portland. Chop, a butcher counter located inside the HUB Building at the back corner of the splendid Tasty n Sons restaurant, is a great place to cobble together a picnic to eat over in the Rose Test Garden or up at Mt. Hood. Tasty n Sons itself makes a mean meat-and-locally-made-cheese board, as well as a stunning array of creative cocktails.

Olympic Provisions, whose NE location is spread across a sexed-up former warehouse, is absolutely serious about its meat; full of spices and a twisted sort of sausage-love, you’ll definitely want the nola and the saucisson sec, and you’ll want to pair ’em with creamy cheese from the Northwest. I wasn’t much into the fussy cocktails here, but the full-bodied house red offered a hells-yes hit of cherry. 


Pok Pok Noi in NE Portland


If I only had a couple of meals to spend in Portland, though, I’d hit a link in the local Pok Pok chain. Inspired by the sizzle, crackle and heat of Southeast Asian street food, this is the place for chili and spice and a big ol’ stack of napkins. Try a cocktail with Kampong (Thai brandy) or a non-alcoholic and lightly sweet passionfruit drinking vinegar. Skip the too-tart papaya salad (and definitely skip the addition of tiny pieces of non-shelled blue crab), and don’t miss out on Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. Between the sweet and crunchy coating and the pickled carrots on the side, I could easily make this my last meal.

At the compact Pok Pok in SE you order at your table, while at Pok Pok Noi in NE, you order at one section of the restaurant, then hoof your cocktails to another and go sit down. Both offer picnic table seating and a casual vibe.


Ping, in Portland’s Chinatown


One of my favorite meals of the weekend was Chinese street snacks at Pok Pok’s latest venture, Ping. (Note: This restaurant closed in January 2013.) Preserving its roots as Chinatown’s former stand-by, Hung Far Low (*chuckle*), the decor is a hipster version of 1940s Chinese-America, with old posters, packing crates and antique radios. Ping has the same drinking vinegars and full bar as at Pok Pok, but the light and chewy pork bun, buttery Malaysian roti bread and tea-stained egg are a delicious trip to a very different part of Asia.

Or Portland, as the case may be.


See related posts
Portland’s Westside, Part 1 – The Pearl District
Portland’s Westside, Part 2 – Downtown
Portland’s Westside, Part 3 – Chinatown & Old Town
Portland’s Westside, Part 4 – Northwest & Nob Hill
Portland’s Westside, Part 5 – Washington Park
Portland’s Northeast Side
Portland’s Southeast Side
Portland On Our Minds
Falling Into the North Willamette Valley
By the Seaside…Oregon
TWT Travel Binder: Oregon


  1. Portland sure does have it’s own unique vibe!

  2. I haven’t made it to Portland yet but I have heard it is a little eccentric. I believe I read it was very bike friendly as well so that would be an interesting way to explore the city!

  3. I visited Portland back in 2010 and loved it, wish I had spent more time there. Completely forgot about Voodoo doughnuts – how could I?! They’re incredible! Thanks for sharing.


  1. […] Portland, Oregon: A (Real Live) Weekend Away […]

Speak Your Mind