In total contrast to the tone of my Chicago trip, Portland represents a brand new emotional attachment to the food (and food carts!), culture, people, weather, transportation, mood, and even the amazing water you can drink right out of the tap.
Why I Love Portland So Much
Before I get into the bulk FOOD portion of things, I have to gush about how much I love this city. The best way to put it, is that it felt like the home I’ve never lived in. Arizona has been my stomping grounds for my entire life, but Portland felt like my real home and I couldn’t have been more down about leaving it.
As a terribly social person myself, I enjoy the spontaneous interactions you can have with random people; in the store, on the bus, when you go out to lunch. People give substance to life. I found myself able to have conversations with amazingly unparalleled and cheerful bus drivers, people sitting at tables nearby, and literally just walking down the street.
Conversations & Other Places
I don’t find that people are as open to conversation in other cities without substantial context or familiarity. There were only two interactions to speak of that were less than desirable (rude or otherwise emotionally upsetting) among the hundreds of others in the 10 days I was in Portland. That’s incredible! Everyone defaults to a positive mood and exudes a joy for every day that feels comfortable and inviting. It’s contagious. I dare you to not be excited with a shop owner who is so passionate about the exotic plants she grows, it bubbles over the surface.
There is an overall feeling of acceptance going hand in hand with the motto, “Keep Portland Weird.”
You’ll feel the bulk of that statement downtown with the weird, but oddly comical characters that roam the streets, and of course those that try to make you feel uncomfortable. To the half dozen homeless people who told me how beautiful I was, and hoped others before them had already told me…thank you, I think?
The most appealing part of this aspect of the culture is the acceptance for the abnormal and “risky” social choices that would cast you out in other cities. It’s okay to be weird. It’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to grow into a person who might make mistakes, and everyone will chuckle inside because they do, or have done, the same thing.
Rock on girl, who is testing out the classy chic look for a stroll in the park. You look like a newborn Bambi in those heels, but it’s okay, you’ll get it tomorrow!
This could be my inner bed head falling in love, though, because this theoretically means I can wear spandex shorts and t-shirts everywhere I go. Dream. Come. True.
The Explorer and Adventurer In Me
She’s beside herself to find a place where it is okay not to be sure of every move you’ll make. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time because that’s when you learn. Closed-minded people are stifling, and creativity thrives when others open themselves up to change. What’s more, there are lots of the “little things” to love: Clumsy squirrels roaming the streets and falling off porches, the unbelievably good tasting well water that comes right out of the freaking faucet (every single faucet, people), all the mouth-watering gluten-free vegan food, greenery and beauty of nature, adorable houses, and the many faces of art throughout the city. This isn’t the first time I’ve said it since I got back, but I will move to this city.
What’s more, there are lots of the “little things” to love: Clumsy squirrels roaming the streets and falling off porches, the unbelievably good tasting well water that comes right out of the freaking faucet (every single faucet, people), all the mouth-watering gluten-free vegan food, greenery and beauty of nature, adorable houses, and the many faces of art throughout the city. This isn’t the first time I’ve said it since I got back, but I will move to this city. 11-year-old Brittany unknowingly fell in love with it when visiting a grade school friend, and now my adult self can make it a reality.
And for the juicy food deets I know you’ve been chomping at the bit for.
The Best Gluten Free, Vegan Restaurants in Portland
(In order of appearance)
($9-15+) 4239 NE Fremont Portland OR 97213
Thai Restaurant ★★★★★
A small Thai restaurant in NoPo, Tuk Tuk is simply delightful. It is here where I discovered my love of Thai food. Yes, I’m 22 and I just discovered that… I know. You’ll find all the traditional Thai favorites like spring rolls, pot stickers, stir fry plates, curries, noodle bowls, and more. After tofu spring rolls with plum sauce, Tara and I both got Curry Bowls. My Gang Dang was a phenomenal concoction of Thai red curry paste in coconut milk, bamboo shoots, eggplants, bell peppers and basil with a giant bowl of rice on the side. We both left with overfull, happy tummies and more than half left over for another meal. There isn’t a shortage of Thai restaurants in Portland, but this has to be my favorite. Huge portions, great prices, and extremely flavorful.
My Gang Dang was a phenomenal concoction of Thai red curry paste in coconut milk, bamboo shoots, eggplants, bell peppers and basil with a giant bowl of rice on the side. We both left with overfull, happy tummies and more than half left over for another meal. There isn’t a shortage of Thai restaurants in Portland, but this has to be my favorite. Huge portions, great prices, and extremely flavorful.
($3.75-7+) 2217 NE Alberta St. Portland, OR 97211
Gluten Free Vegan Bakery, Cafe ★★★★★
Hands down, the best bakery I have ever been to. Completely vegan and gluten free restaurant. With dozens of choices, I couldn’t help taking an annoyingly long time staring into the pastry windows like a, well, kid staring into a pastry window. Muffins, mini pies, cookies, cinnamon rolls, muffins, cupcakes, whoopie pies, bagels, quiche, scones, breads… the list goes on forever.
I had to have an everything bagel since the last one prior to this event was over 2 years ago. It was crunchy and toasted on the outside and fluffy and light in the center. Topped with a vegan sun dried tomato “cream cheese,” this bagel was positively to die for. My sweet tooth chose a mini sweet potato pie with coconut cream on top. They also give a discount for ordering a pastry and coffee, so don’t forget to kick start the day with a nice espresso drink. *Ahem* slightly addicted to the adorable espresso shots in the even more adorable miniature mugs. On my second visit, I had to have a seasonal pumpkin whoopie pie. Also, light and airy, with a perfectly balanced cream in the center. (Not too sweet, not too bland. Seasoned perfectly.)
My sweet tooth chose a mini sweet potato pie with coconut cream on top. They also give a discount for ordering a pastry and coffee, so don’t forget to kick start the day with a nice espresso drink. *Ahem* slightly addicted to the adorable espresso shots in the even more adorable miniature mugs. On my second visit, I had to have a seasonal pumpkin whoopie pie. Also, light and airy, with a perfectly balanced cream in the center. (Not too sweet, not too bland. Seasoned perfectly.)
Also notable, Back to Eden Bakery is located in the artsy Alberta Neighborhood/District. I spent the day exploring little shops, eating ice cream at the ever-popular Salt ‘N’ Straw, and wandering the streets. There is plenty to see, and if you’re around the last Thursday of the month during the summer months, you’ll have the opportunity to experience artists, vendors, musicians, food, and fun completely free of charge.
($1.25-8) 2124 NE Alberta St. Portland, OR 97211
Mexican Food ★★★★
Most locals will be excited to hear that you’re from Arizona because that single credential means you know authentic Mexican food. While slightly misguided, I do like to think that my Mexican food palette is refined enough to know when I’ve tasted the good stuff. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t consider El Nutri Taco wholly authentic tasting, but it was very tasty nonetheless. Mexican style food doesn’t necessarily need to taste authentic to be great.
You’ll have plenty of giant burritos to choose from and also nachos, breakfast options, and tacos. They do serve meat, but everything also has a great vegan/vegetarian counterpart. I got a tortilla-less Fantastico Burrito. Grilled onions, cactus, chipotle soyrizo, mushrooms, rice, pinto and black beans, sour cream, avocado, lettuce, salsa fresca, and green sauce. They were happy to give some corn tortillas on the side to makeshift mini burritos. The variety and intriguing food combinations made this small restaurant very intriguing. It would have made the 5-star list if there were any type of gluten-free wrap options.
($2.75-9+) 610 SW 12th Ave, Portland, OR 97205
Gluten Free Vegan Bakery, Cafe ★★★★★
If you are gluten-free and vegan like me, you know that it is a rarity to enjoy baked goods of any kind that are fluffy, light, and as decadent as their gluten-ey, egg filled cousins. Fret no more, because this restaurant hit the mark. I may have needed a wheelbarrow to roll me away if I tried as may of the fabulous desserts as I wanted. However, I made it back two times to enjoy a Pecan Sticky Bun and a rich Chocolate Espresso Cream Cake. My dessert experience may never be the same again.
You can enjoy pies, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, muffins, scones, and savory lunch fare as well. Plus, some coffee or espresso to balance the sweetness of your treats. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! And if you’re really in the mood for a treat, Petunia’s also offers expertly crafted cocktails made with quality liquor and other ingredients.
Plus, you’ll also be in for a treat at Salt ‘N’ Straw (the ice cream place mentioned earlier.) Petunia’s Pies and Pastries partners with all their locations in offering a vegan ice cream flavor. My sweet tooth had a field day over the Coconut ice cream with Petunia’s Salted Caramel Bars. Your ice cream cravings will meet their match!
Check out these pictures and tell me you aren’t ready to hop on a plane!
($6-8.5) 4233 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR 97217
Asian Inspired Food Cart ★★★★★
Have I mentioned food carts yet? No? FOOD CARTS ARE AMAZING. They are everywhere, super convenient, fast, and sensational! If there are a few food carts in one location, that is called a pod. It’s like the convenience of online shopping, translated to a real-life food experience. I got the Hollywood Bowl, which blew my taste buds off. Brown Jasmine rice, lemon tahini sauce, pepperocinis, garbanzo beans, shredded cabbage, scallions, and I switched out pita chips for spinach.
The worker was very accommodating to my gluten allergy and even stayed open a few extra minutes to sneak my order in before he closed up. For $7.50, I got an insane amount of food (had to save half for later). Not only are all the restaurants using (usually) organic food, it’s always locally sourced. Although this isn’t the case here in Arizona, in Portland that means lower food costs, and bigger portions….somehow. I’m not going to question it. Please feed me all the giant portions of your delicious grub you would like, Portland, I love you.
($6-10+) 3632 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214
Breakfast and Lunch Restaurant ★★★★★
Every restaurant I visited in Portland seemed to top the last, so it’s hard for me to call one of them my favorite. If I had to say, though, Harlow would be my favorite spot for a bite to eat. Let’s start out with “Toast.” My friend and I joked about “Toast” naming the first spot on the menu, while all the other menu items had creative names. As soon as I took a bite of this gluten-free and vegan bread, my mind was forever changed.
This toast deserved its own PAGE on the menu. “Normal” gluten-free bread that you would find in the freezer section of the grocery store is mediocre at best. Add the extra caveat of “vegan” and you’ve got something that tastes like a 3-year-old deteriorating sponge. It’s not good. THIS toast, on the other hand, tasted like it was made with Keebler Elf magic and fairy dust. Slap some vegan butter and honey (yes, I think honey is vegan) and you’ve got a mouthgasm like you’ve never experienced.
I digress. You can choose from pancakes, scrambles, bowls, or salads and drink any of your favorite caffeinated beverages, smoothies, or juices on the side. When I have the choice, it will always be breakfast. So I went with the Outlaw Scramble both times I went here. It was that good. Quinoa, smoky tempeh in garlic chili, scallions, pepitas, avocado, dark greens, spinach, cilantro, and jalapeno cashew cheese sauce. There is nothing better in the food world than this bowl…except for maybe the toast.
After brunch, save some time to walk around the “Hawthorn District.” There are salons, shops, other restaurants, cafes, and the biggest vintage store you’ll ever find. I made a day of this street and Belmont.
($3-10) 3342 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214
Crepe Restaurant ★★★
Like this crepe, I’ll make this short and sweet. One of the only unpleasant interactions I had in Portland was with the snippy waitress here. Otherwise, the crepe was a fantastic combination of Marsala-Soaked Figs
with roasted garlic-chickpea spread, caramelized onions, and spinach. It was on happy hour for $3! If you go at a time when my particular waitress isn’t working, you’ll love this little spot.
Just in case it doesn’t strike your fancy, you won’t want to miss the “Belmont Neighborhood” which is home to bars, cafes, shops, and an old arcade with 5 cent games!
($12-20+) 6446 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland, OR 97239
Mexican Restaurant ★★★★
Located in the downtown Portland “Pearl District” this buzzing spot made for a great dinner with friends. There are gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options, but also plenty of choices for meat and cheese lovers. I got the Chile Relleno, a creative blend of Mexican essentials with a fresh twist. You’ll find it’s a little on the pricier side but would make for a great date night or hang out spot.
($7-14+) 1713 NE 15th Ave, Portland, OR 97212
Vegan Restaurant ★★★★★
I would deem this restaurant to be truly inspired, upscale vegan cuisine. All the ingredients are combined into each dish with a purpose and the flavor profiles would stand up to that. I had the live (raw) nachos and a jerk tempeh taco. Both were absolutely incredible. If this wasn’t on my last day in Portland, I would have come back a second or even third time.
($7-14+) 1125 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97214
Vegan Italian Restaurant ★★★★★
This restaurant had a stylish take on many popular Italian dishes, including some of their own creations. I was drawn to the Beet Tartare. A thick cashew cream is covered with beets, capers, and carrot aioli with a small loaf of vegan and gluten free bread on the side. I’m not sure which I loved more, the dish itself or the sourdough-like bread that had a crunchy, powdery crust, and a fluffy center.
You can also choose from a variety of pizzas, burgers, cheese plate combinations, pasta, and appetizers/sides. It was hard to narrow down a choice. Again, if there was more time and stomach space during this trip, I would have come back for another round. This is definitely a spot you don’t want to miss!
Before dining, I enjoyed walking up and down the street, part of the “Division Neighborhood.” There were small shops, a farmer’s market and food truck pod, antique shops, 2nd hand clothing, restaurants, and all the bars you’d ever want.
Portland International Rose Test Garden
So now that you’re nice and fed with amazing Portland food, this is one breathtaking spot that rounded out my trip. The day I went to the Rose Garden, it happened to be raining through a sunny sky. Saying that this daimond-y rain falling onto hundreds of fragrant roses was heavenly is about as close as I can get to accurate. It felt like a blessing from heaven to experience so much beauty in one place. I hope you can enjoy this experience even half as much as I did, through these pictures.
So have I sold you on Portland yet? This place is amazing. Let me know what you think in the comments, and as always, feel free to message me here.