I find it hard to describe why I love Portland, Oregon so much. I lived there for 4 years before moving to Seattle and I still feel like I am going home when I visit. There are a few major differences with Seattle. Portland is smaller, cleaner, cheaper and it has an amazing mass transit system that is easy to use and affordable. They also are VERY bike friendly. I could go on and on, but that is another post. Let’s talk about the food. I love the food variety in Seattle, but there is a certain passion and risk behind the food in Portland. We have amazing fresh, organic and sustainably farmed ingredients easily accessible here in the PNW so it takes a lot for a new restaurant to stand out. In Portland some of the best food comes from people you’ve never heard of, with a background equally as mysterious. They haven’t worked for the latest top chef, or the most notable restaurant in the city. That’s not to say we don’t have a great underdog story here in Seattle from time to time, but in Portland it seems to be the norm.

I had the opportunity to go to Portland last week for work and of course had a list of restaurants to try. Some new, some old favorites. Whenever I go to P-town I like to stay at the Hotel Monaco downtown so I can walk around the city. 2 shouts outs for the wine happy hour in the lobby each evening and the fact that you can bring your dog to stay with you! It is a beautiful hotel with bold colors, patterns and textures everywhere.

Here are the notable spots I hit last week: Pambiche, Park Kitchen and Pok Pok.

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I am going to cut right to the chase and tell you Pok Pok is now my favorite restaurant in the Universe! It is so incredibly good. Every dish at Pok Pok was a so tasty and even though I knew I was full, I REALLY wanted to order more. Pok Pok’s menu comes from the food of Southeast Asia. Mostly Thailand. I’ve had a lot of Thai in Portland and Seattle, but I’ve never had such authentic Thai flavor. It makes every phad thai or panang curry you’ve ever had seem like a bowl of grits. Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok as a take out Thai shack in front of his house in Portland in 2005 after spending quite a bit of time traveling around Southeast Asia. To say Pok Pok took off, is an understatement. Check out all these reviews! After opening the shack which is Pok Pok, Andy opened the Whiskey Soda Lounge in the basement of his home. So technically I guess I’m raving about WSL, but I like the name Pok Pok better.

I tried the Pomegranate Caipirinha drink with Pomegranate (duh!), muddled lime and Cachaca. Yum.

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Kaeng Hung Lea is the sweet pork belly and shoulder in curry with ginger, palm sugar, tamarind, turmeric, Burmese curry powder and pickled garlic. It will blow your mind.

Everyone told us to get Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. I’m not a wing fan. Too much work for little payoff. We tried them anyway and I was SO pleasantly surprised. They are marinated with the fish sauce garlic and sugar, fried and then tossed in carmelized fish sauce and garlic. I’m at a loss for words. Try them.

We also had the Yam Khai Dao a fried egg salad with chilies, chinese celery, onions and carrot with lime, palm sugar and fish sauce dressing. I helped balance the other heavier items on our table.

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If you are in Portland, you don’t have a choice, you HAVE to go to Pok Pok. Tell them I sent you. HA! They don’t know who I am… but if you say hori hori dig dig a few times, I might get a few more readers!

Pambiche is a delicious Cuban restaurant that is my old neighborhood. I used to come here for happy hour and have the plantains and Sangria. Last week I had the Cubano sandwich toasted with roasted port, smoked ham, swiss cheese and a dill pickle. I love the atmosphere here. It makes me feel like I am on vacation.

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Park Kitchen opened after I had moved to Seattle so I was excited to try it. The fare is mostly pacific northwest cuisine with a twist. They source most of their ingredients locally and change their menu each season. We had the flank steak with blue cheese/sherried onions. You can’t really go wrong with meat and cheese! Then we had the prawns with radish/celery root.  I need to stop ordering cold shrimp dishes. The texture/temperature thing doesn’t do it for me, but also this dish didn’t have a lot of flavor.

I love the copper table tops and the bright green paint color inside Park Kitchen. The rolling garage door out front allows them to take advantage of the Summer sidewalk dining that is so popular in Portland. If I could bend their ear at PK, I would suggest taking the “nut” ingredient down a notch. Why do people who love nuts, assume everyone else does? I think every 3rd item on their menu had nuts in it. That significantly reduced my choices (I’m allergic to nuts). I suppose this is how my vegetarian friends feel when I choose a restaurant with mostly meat items. Oops!

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Go to Portland.

hori hori dig dig!

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