This week I’m on a whirlwind tour through Portland and Seattle. I love flying west because when you land you have much of the day left. We took advantage of the afternoon by stopping at as many food trucks as possible. Portland has led the trend for mobile gourmet and I am so grateful! Throughout the city, not just downtown, you’ll find extraordinary food out of these decorated tin can meals on wheels. Since we are without a car (which is totally doable here, with the light rail and street cars available) and short on time, we stuck to downtown. We started our journey at SW Alder and 9th where there is an entire block of trucks.
Our first stop was at the People’s Pig for a porchetta sandwich. It was wonderful, with moist, thick chunks of pork (and an occasional crunchy crackling), slightly bitter arugula, crunchy baguette, and generously squeezed lemon juice on top to make it ever so slightly tangy. I could seriously eat this every day. Yet another case to add to my theory that pork is the most amazing food ever. www.peoplespig.com
Just down from the Pig, we found James Crawford’s Mano Malo. His tag line is bad monkey, good tapas, which I think is amusing. We got the croquettes and estafado (serrano ham, chorizo, fava bean stew). Huddled around the top of a newspaper box in the rain, we devoured our goodies. One of our group of four foodies later declared the croquettes the best food of the day. Definitely check them out! www.monomalotapas.com
Among our stops were a few notables. Addy’s is inspired. Her fun decor, savory and sweet menu, and utterly delightful personality made for a fortunate stop. We all shared the duck confit sandwich that was a great balance of salty and sweet with cranberry relish and cabbage. It made me think of what Thanksgiving meals should be….Succulent duck confit instead of dry turkey, soft and crunchy bread instead of frozen yeast rolls, and real cranberries rather than the gelatinous stuff that never easily slides out of the can. We also had the baguette warmed with dark chocolate, sea salt, and olive oil. We nearly wore it all over us as the chocolate seeped out of the ends. Although my group gave mixed reviews, I loved it, the mix of salty and sweet is one of my favs. www.addyssandwichbar.com
Our last truck stop was Nong’s Khao Man Gai. Try to say that ten times fast! I didn’t know it, but I had saved the best for last. I’ve been on an Asian kick since my Hamura Saimin experience in Lihue. Nong, who hails from Bangkok, specializes in steamed chicken and rice wrapped, with a wicked good chili sauce that was just hot enough to make it zip but still soft enough to let you taste the depth of flavor.
To make it, she uses chicken broth with aromatic Thai herbs to flavor the rice and make the chicken ever so tender and moist. The dish is served with a sauce called pungeon. The chicken and rice would be good on their own, but the sauce rocks it off the charts. It is made from fermented soy bean puree mix with garlic, ginger, Thai chilies, vinegar and sugar. She also respects the traditional Thai style by serving it with a clear, light soup that balances the dish and warmed us on a rainy, chilly day. I’m heading to Thailand in February and can’t wait to try this dish there, too! Go visit Nong, she’s kicking some serious arse!
By this time, we were chilled and damp so we sought out Spella, a coffee shop I’d discovered during my last trip. They’ve moved to SW 5th and Alder. I had a really unique concoction of gelato with espresso poured over the top. It was nothing short of amazing. The espresso immediately gives you a zing and the bitter strength balances the sugary gelato. After a few minutes they meld into a slushy drink with bits of chocolate. It was the perfect post lunch coffee and dessert all in one.
One of our group wanted me to take them to VooDoo Doughnuts. If you haven’t been, it’s a hole in the wall, edgy spot that looks more like a hard-core grunge bar, with a line out the door. It definitely isn’t G rated, with donuts like Cock and Balls, Dirty Old Bastard, that you can’t help but giggle at. Their namesake, the Voodoo Doll is filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and a pretzel stake. My two favs are the Bacon Maple (maple frosting and bacon on top, blessed pork makes me smile again!) and Portland Cream (filled with Bavarian cream with chocolate on the top and two eyeballs). http://www.voodoo doughnuts.com
Although we had divided everything in fourths, Voodoo put us over the top so we schlepped to Powell Books (only the best bookstore in the US in my opinion). I wish I didn’t have to fly home and worry about baggage. I’d buy as much as I could carry! Afterwards we were still way to full to commit to dinner, so we decided to share a few plates at Carafe. We tried the slow roasted Moroccan lamb and braised pork cheeks. Both were great and we were split on which was best. I love lamb, so that was my choice. Paired with a local pinot noir, it was a great way to end the day. www.carafebistro.com
Thank you Portland for fostering such a cool, funky, yet sophisticated food scene.
PS – BTW the Williamette Valley, Seattle are coming this weekend and stay tuned to Thailand adventures in February!