Hear the whistle blow? It’s
Christmas lunch time in Hollis, Queens Portland, ya’ll. I can feel it – this could be a whopper (no pun intended) of a post.
Let’s take a second to appreciate not the usual world class video & film projects, but instead let’s talk about something equally as important. World class lunch. Woo ha!
Something I remember vividly about the first time I ever visited Portland (circa 2006) was how incredibly good the food was. And how accessible. And how cheap. Lunchtime in Portland is pretty rad, you have to admit. We’ve got it good.
Rarely does the combination exist where most any craving can be (more or less) satisfied within walking distance, but my recent job switch has me working down in NW Portland again, and I’m constantly impressed with how rightly Portland does up lunch. With gusto!
I think it’s something you appreciate more with some perspective. I can only speak for myself here, but I completely took a good lunch for granted during my NYC days. C’mon – in that town, anything and everything you could ever want is just a few steps out your door. Simple economics – endless amounts of busy, hungry people requiring food of all sorts brings the most amazing concentration of restaurants ever assembled, with the high volume comes low prices as they compete for our lunch dolla$. When genuinely incredible food only sets you back $5 or $10, it makes it reeeaaal easy to head out daily. Which for some of us represents one of the keys to sanity (can I trademark that?). Step out, get some fresh air, stretch those legs. Catch up with coworkers. Try something different, keep things interesting. Unplug from the grind for half a sec. A shred of normalcy in this crazy biz we’re in. Play a little credit card roulette and then deduct the whole thing and write it off as “networking.”
It’s not all puppy dogs and ice cream out there. The flip side of the coin hit me when I moved to New Zealand, and the film studio was – as many film studios are – out in the middle of nowhere. “The wop wops” as the kiwi’s called it. Where real estate isn’t prime city prices – you know the drill, usually out by an airport (what’s up with airports and cheap real estate, anyway?). Now, I’m talking earrrrllly Weta days here. Before the Park Road Post Cafe was installed on-campus. Before Lucas decided he wanted to be livin’ La Boca Loca. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I had my share of Elements Cafe, Maranui Surf Club, Sinbad Kebabs, Chocolate Fish this and Aranya Thai that, and boy just the mention of those spots brings a rush of memories. But it was a far cry from the lunch situation in NYC. Ok, ya know, I’m probably being too harsh. Full disclosure – on the subject of food, Wellington can hang with anywhere I’ve been for the most part (fact – the most cafes and restaurants per capita in the world) but it was the whole have-to-hop-in-a-car thing that was the real buzz kill out there. This is not a problem here in P-Town. Worst case, you have to hop on your beater bike that you keep at the office.
Now, you want to talk “lunch challenged,” imagine yourself magically whisked away to… mystical Albuquerque, NM. Why did the tribal music and the naked indian from Wayne’s World come rushing to your head? How, uh, cheeky!
I briefly “did some time” in the ABQ at the Sony office downtown when it existed, back on Alice in Wonderland, so it’s still relatively fresh in my head. Actually, let’s not even go there. Ya know, mom taught me – if you don’t have anything nice to say about a lunch scene, don’t say anything at all. I don’t know, they had good pie! When your tongue wasn’t scorched from red & green chiles (christmas!) or pickled from the Wine Margaritas. My point is – I’ve seen it all, and since being removed from NYC, there was a gaping hole in my soul when lunch rolled around. A little emptiness, a careless whimper, sometimes a growl. I’m talking stomach gurgles here… yanked outta the city that never sleeps – and never has a bad lunch – part of me wanted to just work through my lunch hour… even to – gasp (!) – bring my lunch from home.
Portland restored balance to my foodie universe. I’m a big fan. And it deserves a shout. Game on.
This could turn into a series of posts, but let’s start off first and foremost with NW – since I have such a soft spot for NW Portland. And by NW I mean “Nob Hill,” “The Alphabet District,” “Slabtown,” “the hood with all the street names from the Simpsons…” whatever. I lived, worked & breathed NW for my first 3 years here. At one point, when Laika’s LJC building was in full swing and I lived on Everett, I was able to condense my life into about a 10 block radius from Couch down to Raleigh. Let’s just say I got to know NW really well. Trust me, best to divide this one up. And conquer.
Lower NW – This is the south section and first part of the alphabet – Burnside through Kearney, roundabout 21st & 23rd and home to Hinge Digital. The highlight reel would most definitely include: (deep breath) the fish tacos (and about everything else you could ever want) at Elephants, the patio and under $10 lunch menu @ Cha – go for the Gomez! That would be the Gomez burrito, named affectionately after the unimitable Ramiro Gomez at Hinge Digital. Down the street, the daily plate at Cafe Nell, the sushi rolls at SanSai (solid, but still out the door for $7 or so), the dive bar burgers at the Matador (the original Matador not the other one), mole at MuuMuu’s, and the gluten free turkey sandwich + hazelnut smoothie from Cafe Rio are all strong choices. If it’s after 4pm, the burger and back patio at North45 are hard to beat. Need a boost? Coffeehouse NW. Breakfast on the way into work? Ken’s Bakery. Bonus points: word on the street is that Koi Fusion is opening a permanent location across from the Timber’s stadium where the flower shop was. Score! (or maybe “Goal” is more appropriate?)
Koi Fusion’s korean taco bliss
Upper NW – Moving North, Lovejoy down to Thurman & Vaughn way – home to Kamp Grizzly, Sonic Media, Laika/House, Limbo Films (who for some reason I always want to confuse with Lyon Films out in SW) and others. The Thurman strip is the goldmine here. St Honore and it’s tasty french patries are great on an overcast day – and we get our fair share of those, don’t we? Besaw‘s brings it down home – I get the breakfast burritos and then don’t eat the rest of the day. Nic Marrison was a big Besaw’s guy, and also used to swear by the greasy spoon Joe’s Celler, which also quietly has some of the best Karoake in town (Thurs & Sun) and is heavily attended by both Benters and Laikans alike – although I’m not sure they know each other? One of these days I’ll shove you all together like 7th grade boys and girls at a sock hop. The “bento guy” with the little alcove cart down on Quimby b/w 22nd and 23rd is one of the best $5 lunches around. Laughing Planet deserves to be in the rotation, as does the fabulous New Old Lompoc, which will soon become the New New Old Lompoc as it’s reconstructed… I’ll miss your “new old” back patio (but we await your triumphant return). In the meantime we’ll have to get by with Lucky Lab I guess. Laurelwood is missed in this regard also – that little house is where it all began for me. Stepping Stone Cafe tucked down on quimby & 24th is underrated, as is the BBQ at Slabtown (what, you wanted dive bar pinball? go to the other one). The el cheapo @ Pepino‘s does the job. The Ratatouille Sandwich at Kenny & Zuke’s is great with a ginger beer, but get the whole not the half. Cart land: 18th & Quimby – go for the Bi Bim Bop at the Korean BBQ Box! Do not be afraid! Coffee: Vivace. Breakfast on the way in? St Honore except on days the Dragonfly has waffles.
Kenny and Zuke’s: serious sandwiches in a town that takes sandwiches seriously
Wow, a mouthful. Literally. Enough typing for this one, but there’s a lot more to say in the vein of lunch and I promise to lob more salivations in a future post.
Left out your spot? Drop a note in the comments and give props where props are due!