An old, tired section of Northwest Portland, once known for its worn-out warehouses, has been transformed almost overnight into one of the nation’s snazziest neighborhoods. The Pearl District, featuring upscale condos, art galleries and shops has become a favorite with both locals and tourists. The area also boasts some of the top rated restaurants in the city and a great place for a foodie exploration.
Start feeling the pulse of the Pearl at the Blossoming Lotus restaurant on N.W. Davis, just a couple of blocks from Powell’s bookstore. You may want to eat lightly since you will be tasting your way through the day. The Lotus is the perfect spot for a healthy vegan and organic dish such as the live breakfast parfait. Or try the peanut butter-banana Smoothie– a delicious meal in a cup.
The Epicurean Excursion, offered by Portland Walking Tours, is a great way to continue to experience the flavors of this vibrant, scenic district. Invest in some comfortable walking shoes, head to the Heathman Hotel downtown, and meet your tour guide. Be prepared to sample some delicious eats while your host answers questions about the Rose City.
A short stroll and a stop at Flying Elephants Delicatessen offers a sampling of soup and a game of guess the mystery ingredient. A creamy tomato-orange soup warms you on a cool Pacific Northwest day. This delightful deli at Park and Yamhill offers a great menu so make sure to come back for the grilled tuna melt and caprese panino sandwich or an Elephants chicken Caesar salad.
Next, you’ll hop on the Portland Streetcar and head to the Pearl to visit Oregon’s oldest craft brewery, Bridgeport Brewpub and Bakery. Bridgeport cranks out up to150 thousand bottles of hand-crafted brew a day. Tour the conditioning room, where the beer is aged. After enjoying the sweet smell of ale as it is being produced, head to the bar for some beer tasting. Notice that India Pale Ale has a citrus/floral flavor while Ropewalk is darker and less bitter. Observe the original brickwork in this Historic Landmark Building, formerly the Portland Cordage Company Building (1888).
Beer may give you a craving for baked delights, and you are in luck, because the next stop is a tour of the Pearl Bakery, at N.W. 9TH Avenue. Sample a Parisienne or whole grain baguette and dip them in olive oil for a yummy taste. While the bakers may not reveal their secrets, you’ll be able to see a vat of starter mixture, a key ingredient for breads such as Ficelle and Ciabatta. A flaky croissant will give you the energy to continue the tour.
As your tour progresses, notice that Portland has the feel of a European city, complete with bicycles, buses and streetcars.
As you wind your way through the Pearl, drop by a food lover’s fantasy land. In Good Taste Store, on N.W. 11th and Everett, features a plentiful selection of Northwest wines as well as imported foods, cooking utensils and books. Sit down to sample rice crackers topped with zesty City of Roses grand marnier creamy mustard and try a Jezebel 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir, from Dundee, Oregon. Jezebel is the second label for Daedalus Cellars, a small, family winery. Before you move on, buy some chocolate sea salt or black truffle salt.
Just as you are becoming an expert on Portland, it’s time for a tea break. At The Tea Zone and Camellia Lounge, sip some Jasmine Green or Oolong Tea and see how they taste with yummy tea cookies.
If all that tea hasn’t made you sleepy, gather up your strength and experience Portland’s “greener” side. The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, on N.W. 9th Avenue, is home to tenants who believe strongly in the environment. Enter the ecologically friendly brick and timber structure, also known as the Ecotrust building, and drop by Hot Lips Pizza. Hot Lips is locally owned and uses area ingredients. On this particular day, the seasonal pizza had a delicious mix of sliced potatoes, mushrooms, kale, garlic and mozzarella cheese. Try a pear soda (Hot Lips makes the soda) with your thin-crust pizza.
Your Epicurean Excursion ends with a stop at Cupcake Jones at 10th and Everett and a sampling of a Pearl Cupcake. Don’t skimp on the napkins when you bite into the white cake, filled with slippery vanilla bean pastry cream and mouth-watering butter cream icing.
If you took the early tour, do some more Pearl exploring. Pick up a map and “Explore the Pearl” Magazine at Green Frog Toys, at 11th and Marshall. While there, try to find your inner “kid” as you browse through books, board games, toy trucks and stuffed animals. Youngsters will enjoy the marble display, where marbles can be placed on a circular maze.
Head to Jamison Square, where 11th meets Johnson Street, sit on a bench and observe the beautiful landscaping. Notice the open area where kids can run and play. You may be lucky enough to listen to a local musician playing the guitar. This is a great time to reach for your Pearl District map so you can plan your strategy for the rest of the afternoon.
Before sampling the shops and galleries, explore Tanner Springs Park, a short stroll from Jamison Square. Notice the habitat garden created on reclaimed industrial land. It’s a grassland-wetland area complete with streams of water. You may even spot a small red fish. Be sure to stay on the lawns and stone paths.
A fun stop in the Pearl is Lexidog Boutique and Social Club. Dog lovers can find a wide selection of dog clothing and accessories like a champagne bottle squeeze toy and several dog munchies.
Your tour of the Pearl art scene can begin at Quintana Galleries, on N.W. 9TH Avenue. This charming, intimate Native American gallery features antique and contemporary Northwest coastal Indian art. Recent exhibitions have included arctic sculpture and native glass arts.
Wrap up your Pearl adventure by visiting a lively restaurant that offers authentic Peruvian dishes. At Andina, 13th and N.W. Glisan, you can choose the large dining area or the intimate bar where you’ll find a cozy fireplace.
On the appetizer (or tapas) menu, try Anticucho De Pollo (marinated chicken kebobs, served with huacatay-peanut sauce). De Pescado “5 elementos,” features Ono fish, sweet potatoes and corn, with a sweet and tangy sauce, spiced with lime juice and onions. A delightfully mild seafood blend is the Mixta Nikkei, featuring tuna, crab salad and shrimp.
Andina owner Doris Rodriguez de Platt takes great care in making sure your dining experience is memorable. She’ll even answer your questions about NovoPeruvian cuisine.
In one perfect day, discover why Portland is emerging as a destination for food lovers and marvel at how a district of dusty warehouses has turned into an oasis of perfectly polished pearls.
What and Where:
Portland Walking Tours (portlandwalkingtours.com; 503-774-4522)
Blossoming Lotus Restaurant (925 N.W.Davis St.; 503-228-0048)
Flying Elephants Delicatessen (812 S.W. Park Ave.; 503-546-3166)
Bridgeport Brewpub and Bakery (1313 N.W. Marshall St.; 503-241-3612)
Pearl Bakery (102 N.W. 9TH Ave.; 503-827-0910)
In Good Taste Store (231 N.W. 11TH Ave.; 503-248-2015)
The Tea Zone and Camellia Lounge (510 N.W. 11TH Ave.; 503-221-2130)
Hot Lips Pizza Pearl District (N.W.10th and Irving; 503-595-2342)
Cupcake Jones (307 N.W. 10TH Ave.; 503-222-4404)
Green Frog Toys (1031 N.W. 11th Ave.; 503-222-2646)
Lexidog Boutique and Social Club (416 N.W. 10TH Ave.; 503-243-6200)
Quintana Galleries (120 N.W. 9TH Ave.; 503-223-1729)
Andina Restaurant (1314 N.W. Glisan St.; 503-228-9535)