We arrived in Portland late. 11 pm, 2am east coast time. Logan and I were out of our minds tired. We pulled up to a restored house from the 1910’s, knocked on the door. Our hosts greeted us kindly, happy to let us amble up to our room in a daze. It was a small, cozy little space with a private bathroom, side table stacked with city guides. For some reason — sleep deprived madness — I unpacked everything primly before climbing into bed. We both sank into the pillows & the comfortable mattress and drifted off, dead to the world.
When we woke up, lazy and refreshed, we started down the list. A master list made up of both of our must-see spots. Plus a list of recommendations from some friends native to Portland. But let’s face it we spent most of our time chatting back and forth about which coffee shops we had to go to. A huge motivation for going to Portland is the coffee scene. There are more top roasters and cafes in PDX than almost anywhere else in the country. It seemed smart to research coffee before we officially launch our chocolate & coffee company in the coming months.
Not to be sacrilegious, buuuuuuuuut Portland is coffee Mecca. Although to some of us coffee is a religion. I stick harder to my coffee rituals than I do to, say, my meditation or yoga practice. Maybe I’m just realizing that as I type this. Oof.
So, yeah. Our plan was to drink as much caffeine as we could tolerate. Which isn’t much it turns out. We both cap out around 2.5 cups each. Any more than that and I get headaches and my mood turns edgy (read: bitchy).
When it comes to coffee shops, my priorities are: 1. Excellent and/or unique coffee beans, 2. Pour over / chemex menu available, 3. Best quality or unique espresso machine, 4. Well designed, beautiful cafe space, 5. Location, 6. Best quality alternative milks available, 7. Significant history or brand story.
The best spots usually have all of those things.
We used this cafe guide from pdx.eater.com to give us an idea of where we wanted to start. The neighborhood we chose to stay in (Kerns) was right in the middle of north & south east Portland. A couple of blocks away from Oblique Coffee (Portlandia films there!). Just down the street is Heart Cafe, an indie movie theater, cool little bars, a handful of fantastic restaurants, chocolate shops, Music Millennium, a Whole Foods and the local premium grocery New Seasons Market. East Portland is rather quiet. It’s freckled with roses / sunflowers / nasturtiums everywhere. And it always smells of coffee or rain or something wonderful cooking. At night, dark bars and patios play host to pods of eccentric, gregarious Portlanders diving into cheese plates and carafes of red wine.
Side note #1: I ran into my Frolic brand designer, Ashley, on the street outside of Heart Cafe! We’ve never met in person in the past year of working together what with living on opposite coasts. We’ve only talked through google hangouts and email. Kismet. Magic. And somehow Logan and I just so happened to pick and Air B n B mere blocks from her apartment.
Side note #2: I got to meet and hang out with Rachel of Vigor and Sage! She isn’t from Portland but just so happened to be in town at the same time as us. She’s a dream. And she has excellent taste in bohemian jewelry. Also, she’s a pisces and I’m a virgo and it was obviously magnetic universe vibes that brought us together. We ate ice cream. We drooled over handmade ceramics. We drank some terrible coffee soda. And we talked about heart things.
A couple of guides from PDX natives worth checking out: Brooke’s guide to all things food & drink on her blog Chocolate & Marrow! Plus Adventures in Cooking’s Portland Sipping Guide is beautiful and pretty comprehensive. I also like this essential Portland restaurant guide, frequently updated.
36 Hours in Portland, Oregon | Coffee, Eats, Treats
I put together this guide with a short trip in mind. It’s organized based on what I like personally: coffee, food, locally made arts & crafts, and adventures. These are all of the places Logan and I checked out when we went to the city. All of these places are gluten free & vegetarian friendly. Most are vegan friendly as well.
All about those lattes. Excellent espresso pulls, beans roasted in-house. And they go the extra mile with their dairy free milk options with a house made cashew milk. Slow claps. This impresses me in a big way. It’s hard to make a nut-milk in house that foams, period. It’s even harder to perfect a recipe with which you can pour latte designs (see the first image in the blog post). The cafe’s minimalist design with a slightly Swedish flair highlights the whittled down menu. The fanciness is in the excellence of the classic drinks. And they roast their own.
Nothing fancy. Just good, house-roasted coffee. Even the drip coffee is super flavorful and doesn’t need a drop of cream. The cafe is cluttered with all sorts of odd collections. Figurines, vintage coffee tins and glass bottles, and quirky guitars crowd around their high end Italian espresso machine. La Marzocco is apparently industry standard in Portland, to my delight. Also, the girl who took my order was so friendly I was mildly stunned into believing we knew each other.
Home to the American Barista and Coffee School, this place sets the standard for much of the rest of the country. The baristas seem to delight in their craft. Each latte, pour over, cappuccino is expertly delivered. Our non-dairy latte was a pleasure, with the thickest, best foam of any latte I’ve ever had. Our pour over was flavorful and rich. The space itself seems like a retro-fitted warehouse. That makes it feel spacious, despite the crowd of folks both drinking coffee & waiting to order.
The hipster vibe is strong in this one. In a good way. The cafe space is cozy. Barstools are set up diner-style along the tall windows in the front of the shop. The roaster is on display in the back of the main room where the baristas do their crafting. The baristas were friendly, tattooed, proud folk. They make some mean coffee. Stumptown buys some of the best beans on the market. You can taste that in their drinks. The flavors in the pour-over style brew were clearly outlined, complex, aromatic. The espresso flavor shone strong through the integrated micro-foam in my almond milk latte. Their nitro cold brew on-tap is also worth trying. Plus it’s a great place to check out if you’re a branding / design nerd like me.
All I knew about this place when I walked in was that it shared a space with a custom bamboo manufactory. And that the owner designed a stainless steel Chemex filter called the Kone. Also that it’s pronounced coh-va. Bamboo beauty radiates throughout the huge space, from the curving bar, to the tables, to the high ceilings. Well-prepared, clean, Chemex-style brews are the highlight at Coava. I saw a barista double-fist two steaming Hario kettles, pouring streams of water over 4 Chemex brewers at once. Real life. The cafe usually features only 2 house roasted beans at a time for Chemex method.
A small, local hangout with a dark, cozy vibe. Excellent heavy-hitting craft cocktails, $15 wine carafes, delicious small plates. Perfect spot for a chill meet up with friends. Check out affordable specials on the menu like the $5 whiskey and beer combo.
Ridiculous aqua fresca margaritas for $8 a pop. Seems pricey until you finish the glass and realize immediately how immensely drunk you are. I got a passionfruit version with a salted rim and it was tops.
An intimate-feeling space with delicious house-made gluten free pasta. We went for a 4 course dinner (salad, pasta dish, main, dessert). Flavors were on point in every direction, although we couldn’t avoid dairy. Service was excellent and super friendly. The kitchen was understaffed during our visit so they comped us our carafe of wine! Try the flourless chocolate cake (basically just a giant truffle!) with rye whiskey caramel.
Damn fine taqueria. Order food at the counter (you’ll have to wait in line, this place is popular). Get guac & salsa with chips, three super-fresh & delicious tacos each, and try not to inhale the whole thing without breathing. Tons of gf, veg & pescatarian options.
A 100% gluten free brunch badassery. Get the savory dishes with eggs or 100% vegan, without compromising quality. Awesome tempeh scramble, vegan coconut milk chai, heady smoothies, and strawberry cashew cream pancakes. The cornmeal waffle topped with poached eggs and avocado cream was pretty damn secy. Plus they have the happiest staff I’ve ever interacted with. I like it so much I went there twice.
Portland is all about some brunch. We couldn’t make it to every place out there due to our limited time in the city. But the most recommended spots with veg options were Pine State Biscuits (apparently the Regina is great), Blue Star Donuts (god I wish I could eat donuts!), Juniors Cafe (a locals best-kept-secret brunch spot), Sweedeedee (highly-rated, petite, funky cafe-bakery), and Broder (traditional Swedish fare).
Back to Eden Bakery
100% gluten free and vegan bakery & soft serve ice cream shop. Healthy? Nah. Delicious? Definitely. You can get sky high treat-piled sundaes, you guys. And milkshakes. And whoopee pies. What’s not to love?
New Cascadia Traditional Bakery
You come for the coffee cake, but you stay for the bread. New Cascadia seems to specialize in lovely loaves. Baguettes, bagels, sandwich loaves, even challah! Their soft, pliable hamburger buns are so good that they made me tear up a little bit. Also, the vegan cashew burger is pretty fabulous. It’s also a cute, casual lunch spot. We may have walked away with way more sugary treats than we could actually handle.
Groceries & Markets
A beloved, local gourmet grocery store. Knowledgable & friendly staff, tons of locally made products, a huge variety of items, a fresh deli, and in-house bakery. Worth checking out for their renowned free tastings.
The sister store of the NYC shop, the Meadow stocks massive shelves of specialty salts, bitters, and craft chocolate. It’s my dream fancy food shop. Pretty pricey. But fun to check out if only to grab foodie gifts, snap some shots of their floor to ceiling salt display, or try every cocktail bitter ever.
This store is (basically) the love child of Eva Kosmas Flores and Beth Kirby. Fresh flowers, rustic handmade homegoods, boyish linen and raw silk clothing, thick-knitted throws. And wondrous strange perfumes, body care, and jewelry. If you like textures, this place is heaven. I touched everything. Carefully. Like you would caress a tiny bird.
If you’re looking for locally crafted, beautifully designed ANYTHING this is the place. There’s everything from leather goods to cast iron works to snacks and baby toys and everything in between. I must have spent an hour browsing through everything. So much beauty.
A massive independent bookstore in downtown Portland. There are many levels to explore with just about every genre imaginable. They keep info desks on each floor to help direct you to your destination. And there are staff recommendations all over the shelves. I could have spent a whole day there.
An iconic Oregon beach. It’s only 90 minutes from Portland, an easy day trip. A cute Pacific beach town edges the public coast. Usually inhabited by scores of seagulls, kite-flying families, and sweater-clad locals. A great spot to pack a picnic and chill in some sunshine.
If you’re into disc golf (Logan is really into it), this is apparently one of the best courses out there. The course resides in a beautiful, quiet forest located in the city.
Air B n B! We loved our room at this restored home in Kurns. But that neighborhood is awesome, generally.