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Visiting Portland, Oregon

Ranch & Coast Travel Editor Elizabeth Hansen explores this delicious city and all it has to offer

On the Fruit Loop: Hope Ranch Lavender provides a great view of Mount Hood
Image Credits Fruit Loop: Photo courtesy of Adams / Hansen Photography, Dolly Olive: Photo by Austin Phelps, Cafe Olli: Photo by Cassandra Petersen, Cultural Village: Photo by James Florio; Powell’s Books: Photo by Adams/Hansen Photos; International Rose Test Garden: Photo courtesy of Travel Portland

We arrived in the afternoon and by the time we checked in, it was too late to start ticking the boxes on my Portland must-see list. Instead, my husband and I made ourselves at home in one of The Dossier Hotel’s classy shared spaces. Here, over a map and a couple of adult beverages, Richard and I plotted the best order to see the Portland Japanese Garden, Pittock Mansion, the famous International Rose Test Garden, Powell’s Books, and Hoyt Arboretum. 

The Dossier enjoys a convenient downtown location, so we had only a short walk to our dinner reservation at Dolly Olive. This popular local restaurant has a cozy vibe and an intriguing menu. The culinary director spent time cooking in Sicily and brought those traditions here. Our server explained that Dolly Olive is a “sharing plates place,” but I wasn’t about to share my delicious Rotolo Verde and my husband felt the same way about his Eggplant Parmigiana. This meal remains one of my
all-time favorites.

The next day’s agenda was ambitious, so we started with a hearty breakfast at Besaw’s. This gem dates from 1903 and feels more like a city tavern than the popular brunch spot that it is. Richard indulged in a Dungeness crab omelet, and I had a wonderful dish that included cheddar cheese from nearby Tillamook, local eggs, locally grown organic spinach, and very flavorful morel mushrooms. “Of course they’re delicious,” our server said. “Morels are in season now.”

Who knew that Portland was foodie heaven? Obviously, not me. On the way to the gorgeous Portland Japanese Garden, I peppered our Uber driver with questions. 

The Cultural Village at Portland’s Japanese Garden is a beautiful spot to learn about Japanese culture

“It’s all about the fresh ingredients,” he explained. “We have some of the finest seafood in the world; our climate is great for growing produce; and most farmers are organic. Also, people in this area eat in season when flavors are at their peak. Serious chefs love to work in Portland because this is where their food tastes best. And also, our chef community is very welcoming. Did you know that James Beard was a Portland chef?”

The coveted James Beard Awards were established in 1990. In this year’s competition, Portland’s finalists include the Thai restaurant Langbaan for Outstanding Restaurant, Jinju Patisserie for Outstanding Bakery, and Hayward for Best New Restaurant; Chef Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty is nominated in the Outstanding Chef category, and Chef Gregory Gourdet of Kann is a finalist for Best Chef. Gourdet opened Kann in 2022 and won Best New Restaurant last year. The winners will be announced on June 10.

Food Carts and More Fun

Portland is recognized as America’s food cart capitol, and it’s one of the few cities where carts are organized into pods so diners can sample a variety of cuisines in a single stop. One pod includes Korean tacos, Mexican meals, and Egyptian cuisine. The Heist Bar & Food Carts on the site of an old US Bank offers Chicago-style hot dogs, chow mein, coconut soup, and more. Portland is also renowned for its colorful farmers markets and inventive donuts. Voodoo Doughnut was established in Portland in 2003 and for many years hosted donut-eating contests for mayoral candidates. These days, customers wait in line at Voodoo stores across the U.S. Other inventive Portland donut shops include Mikiko Mochi Donuts, Pip’s Original Doughnuts & Chai, and Blue Star Donuts + Coffee.

The Season is the Reason

Portland’s foods carts and donut shops offer exotic flavors, but Cafe Olli is my favorite place to enjoy the taste of seasonal produce. This charming all day café sources ingredients from local farms and purveyors and treats the produce with respect. My breakfast here included organic yogurt, house made granola, and Pablo Munoz cherries from nearby Willamette Valley. As was the case with the morels in my omelet, eating in season provided a sublime tasting experience. This café is also well known for the pizza that emerges from their authentic brick oven, which is one of the reasons that I would hang out here all the time if I lived in Portland. 

In addition to cherries, the Willamette Valley is also known for its outstanding wineries, and my favorite La Jolla wine guru had provided a list of must-taste options before our trip. These included Brick House, which is a biodynamic and certified organic winery in Newberg that produces exceptional pinot noir and chardonnay. He also recommended Furioso Vineyards in Dundee, which specializes in pinot noir. Shea Wine Cellars in Newberg is another great pinot producer.     

Before we left Cafe Olli, I had a longer than usual chat with the personable staff. Among other things, they gave me a seasonal cheat sheet so I’d know when to return: local morels are best in May, cherries July to October, asparagus April to June, and strawberries May to June. They also told us about the self-guided Fruit Loop in the Hood River area about 60 miles to the east. Here, visitors are welcome to visit farms and orchards to see, sample, and sometimes pick local produce. 

We headed that way and, after spending the night in Hood River, started on the Loop. Our first stop was Hope Ranch Lavender. This gorgeous spot was so beautiful that I could have spent the whole day enjoying the view of snow-covered Mount Hood in the distance and rows and rows of colorful lavender right in front of me. When we finally continued on the Fruit Loop, we tasted several kinds of berries and spent time just enjoying the rural countryside. Back in the beautiful Columbia Gorge area, we enjoyed tasting at Cascade Cliffs, Syncline Winery, and Analemma Wines. 

How was our trip to Oregon? Delicious.


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