Hoffmann: My stomach's guide to a summer in Portland
Shane Hoffmann ate his way though Portland this summer. This is his story.
PORTLAND — This was the busiest summer of my life.
I spent the time as a reporting intern at The Portland Tribune working primarily in the Wilsonville/West Linn/Lake Oswego areas covering everything from hyper-local government to sports and art. I wrote more than I’ve ever in the past and published some stuff I’m proud of — a profile on the state’s best high school athlete, Jasmine Davison, chief among them.
This summer doubled as an opportunity to explore Portland. And for the most part, what time I didn’t spend consuming and producing sports media was spent cooking, eating out, or otherwise thinking about food. Naturally, much of my summer in the city — my first extended stay there — was dedicated to discovering the many great restaurants and food carts the area has to offer.
So, in an attempt to break up what’s been a football-centric few weeks here at the Corridor, I compiled a few of my favorite spots to eat from the summer.
My best under-the-radar find: Binh Minh
There aren’t many dishes I hold closer to my heart than Bahn Mi’s. For those unfamiliar, they’re Vietnamese sandwiches on french baguettes filled with one of several kinds of marinated meats, pickled vegetables and a tasty asian mayonnaise.
The best I’ve had have come at a value price and been located in small Vietnamese markets off the beaten path. That’s exactly what I found in Binh Minh. It’s out on the east side, just south of Mt. Tabor.
The locally-owned market has over a dozen variations of the sandwiches ranging from 6-7$ a piece. And while Bahn Mi sandwiches are sold all over the city, you’d be hard pressed to find better, cheaper options.
Best food truck: Matt’s BBQ Tacos
This might be the most well-known place on my list. I’m bumping it anyway.
I lived in the Hawthorne area, two blocks from both the Cartopia and Hawthorne Asylum food cart pods. But it was Matt’s BBQ Tacos, out on SE 50th that delivered the best meal by a food cart.
It’s a spin-off of the original Matt’s BBQ — arguably the best BBQ joint in the city. The tortillas are some of the most fresh I’ve had and their sauces and pickled onions that accompany each taco perfectly balance out the heavy, yet mouth-watering meats. They’ve got both breakfast and lunch tacos. I add queso and their green salsa to each.
The brisket and pork belly were my favorite.
Best overall meal: Oma’s Hideaway
It’s the new hip place in southeast Portland and it’s worth every bit of the hype. I went there twice, once with my family, and once with a pair of friends visiting town and was blown away both times.
The restaurant has a dozen-or-so item menu descending in order based on price and portion sizes. The best way to go is to order several dishes and share them with the table. That’s the way the menu was designed.
I’ve tried five or six of their dishes. Each was excellent. A few were exemplary.
I can’t say I had really tried corn fritters more than once or twice in my life. They were my favorite of the appetizer-sized dishes we ordered. They were well-seasoned and hearty, but not dry. The sweet chili peanut sauce that accompanies the fritters was quite possibly one of the best sauces I’ve had.
The sweet potato dumplings and tempura crab sandwich were delicious, but the dish I found myself coming back to the most was the char siu pork belly. It’s thinly sliced pieces of crispy pork in a bath of an acidic fish sauce-based sauce that works in tandem with the decadent pork.
Better Half: It’s a sandwich spot on North Fremont. Only ate there once and had their classic breakfast sandwich. With a ciabatta roll, egg, cheese and a sausage patty it’s a classic breakfast sandwich down to the chipotle aioli. That brought it over the top.
Toki: Toki, a Japanese restaurant near the Pearl District has a lot going for it. Some of their stuff is alright, some of it is outstanding and some of it, like their Bao Burger, is out there enough where you just have to try it.
Utopia Restaurant and Lounge: It’s way up in North Portland and you’ll never know what kind of crowd you’re in for, but as far as late night eats go, you’d be hard pressed to find something better into the wee hours of the night. Open nightly until 2:30 a.m., this Vietnamese restaurant and bar has some great options.
Chicken and Guns: This was one of my favorite food carts. It’s located at Cartopia in the Hawthorne area. They do quarter, half and full chickens, as well as wings. The “Guns” are super-crispy roasted potatoes. Each meal comes with one or two of their delicious sauces such as Aji or chimichurri.
Now, to hit the gym.
— Shane Hoffmann
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