Us Portlanders have a lot of weird quirks, and one of the stranger ones that I'm aware of is what I like to call "quadrant pride". Portland is divided into five (yep, five, you read that right) quadrants: North, Northeast (NE) and Southeast (SE), and Northwest (NW) and Southwest (SW). The Willamette River runs through the middle of the city, dividing the city between east and west, while Burnside Street divides the city into north and south. Most Portlanders I know are fiercely proud of the quadrant that they reside in.
For years, I've always thought of Southwest as the losing quadrant. North Portland has the hip Mississippi District. Northeast has the artsy Alberta neighborhood. Northwest has 21st and 23rd Ave (also dubbed "Trendy-Third") and the glamorous Pearl District. Southeast, my quadrant, was of course the best, with drinking and dining streets like Belmont, Hawthorne, and Division all within walking distance of one another. But what did the Southwest have? Besides the local state university and the art museum, it was just a mess of anonymous office buildings and characterless restaurants.
But oh, how things have changed. In the last few years, boutique shops selling beautiful (and often times locally-made goods) have been popping up on SW Alder. Stores like Canoe and Alder & Co, both of which offer everything from designer clothing and accessories to unique kitchenwares that I covet. Everything is minimally designed and offers a sleek, modern-yet-rustic aesthetic. Then there's The English Department (with such beautiful locally-designed wedding dresses) next to Lille, both offering lots of delicate and lacy clothing for the modern lady:
And don't even get me started about the food. That little corner has become its own little restaurant row! It started with Gruner, a German restaurant with the best burger I've ever had. The rest followed: Lardo, Blue Star Donuts, and finally, Tasty N Alder:
I've always been a big fan of their N. Williams location, Tasty N Sons, believing it to be the best brunch in Portland (provided you were willing to suffer the hour+ wait). Their menu is full of what I like to call "breakfast tapas" — a variety of shareable plates that are ideal for eating family-style with a group. The menu is eclectic, ranging from traditional items like breakfast boards with scrambled eggs, toast, and jam, to more unintuitive breakfast dishes like rice bowls with kimchi, Burmese red pork stew, and Korean fried chicken.
I'd been to Tasty N Alder once before with my mom when my family was visiting for the week. We had been seated almost immediately in the restaurant's dining space, filled with lots of sleek wood, white metal chairs, and natural light:
This time around, Erlend and I weren't as lucky and had to wait around 15 minutes (not bad for Portland brunch at ALL) before we managed to snag a seat at the bar. Tasty N Alder's liquor selection is impressive, with a huge variety of different alcohols stocked along the shelves, bitters on hand, and an interesting selection of beers on tap.
We ordered our food from the bartender and I opted for a chocolate potato donut with creme anglais, as well as the Korean fried chicken with short grain rice, housemade kimchi, pickled cucumbers, and a sunnyside-up egg:
The food was delicious. The Korean fried chicken was slathered with a sweet and spicy mixture of (what I assume) garlic, ginger, honey, and gojujang (Korean chile paste). It's the best KFC that I've had in town. Yes, yes, I know it's not exactly authentic (nothing will ever beat Bear Wings in Aurora, CO), but it definitely is the closest thing I've had to the real thing in Portland. The price was also unbeatable — with our dishes ranging from $10 to $12, I'd actually put this place on my "cheap eats" list, especially considering the quality of ingredients.
After our decadent brunch, Erlend and I wandered around a little bit more to explore SW Portland's other offerings. There was of course, Saint Cupcake (famous for their classic and delicious cupcakes) and Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen (the most legit deli I know of in Portland, famed for their monstrous pastrami and bagels):
Despite being full, I couldn't resist and dragged Erlend to Quin, the newest (and hippest, apparently) candy store in Portland:
Quin comes from Jami Curl, the same lady who brought us the wonderful Saint Cupcake (mentioned above, and features handmade, small-batch classic candies like caramels, gumdrops, and lollipops. The store also features other Portland-made goods like Jacobsen Sea Salt and Woodblock Chocolate, as well as chocolate from the Philippines and other exotic places.
Although I found the candy to be a bit pricey ($8 for a bag of 10 gumdrops, eeeeeek), the piece of candy that I had from the bag of strawberry gumdrops I bought was probably the best gumdrop I've ever had in my life. It's obvious that they used quality ingredients like fresh strawberries and caster sugar to make the candy. I promised my friend Nell that I would save the rest of the bag for her, but there's only about half of the bag left at this point. Oopsy.
All in all, it was a great day. I'm really excited to see what other shops and restaurants come about in SW Portland — it's really awesome to see how much growth/creativity has occurred in what I used to consider a lackluster neighborhood. I'm really excited to watch other stores and restaurants to open up, and watch the neighborhood continue to grow.
Looking to eat an awesome meal in the SW neighborhood? Here are the brick-and-mortar places I mentioned above (as well as some extra favorites that I didn't mention):
- Tasty N Alder
- Gruner (Get the burger. For serious.)
- Kenny & Zuke's Delicatessen
- Clyde Common
- Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen (A little further away from the rest of the sights, but worth it.)
- Thai Peacock (Most people are surprise that this restaurant made my list, but I love it unapologetically. Get their BBQ chicken.)
SW Portland also has a wide range of foodcart pods. Don't even get me started on those, that's for another post. If you're looking for desserts and sweet things, I've also got your back:
- Quin Candy Store
- Saint Cupcake
- Blue Star Donuts
- Petunia's Pies and Pastries (Vegans, this one's for you.)
- Ruby Jewel Scoops
And if you've got money to burn and want to buy local, definitely check out these stores: