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Things to Do in Portland: Wine Tasting by Helicopter

It might seem odd that, although it’s been a good 15 years since I’d seen her last, Coral looked exactly the same as she stepped out of the helicopter and ducked across the helipad. Come to think of it, she pretty much looked the same as I remembered her from elementary school days, going on adventures up in Piiholo or hanging out in Pukalani. Suddenly, I was giddy with happiness at seeing my old friend and simultaneously fighting the urge to pinch myself as the helicopter blades swooped overhead.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug“Who does this?” I thought.

I’ve had my share of visits to wine country regions in California and abroad in New Zealand. I’ve been on self-guided tastings by car, with friends in a stretch Hummer limo, and even once by bicycle. But wine tasting by helicopter? This was something new for me. And an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, of course.

If you’re ever lucky enough to have the time and ability to invest the money in getting a group together for a few hours of wine tasting in Oregon’s wine region – home to some of the best Pinot Noir I’ve ever had – I highly recommend Precision Helicopters. It may seem like a luxury only available to the rich and famous. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s not cheap, but if nothing else, it’s a once in a lifetime indulgence that truly made the most of the precious few hours we had, covering a wide range of geography without the hassle of fighting traffic in and out of Portland. Instead, we were whisked away and treated to a bird’s eye view of the surrounding towns and landscape, and in a mere 10-15 minutes, we’d arrived at our first tasting room.

Wine Tasting in Oregon

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPenner Ash has a beautiful tasting room and we were able to try a Viogner and a Reisling before moving into their popular Pinots. Afterwards, we sat outside to enjoy the view over Chehalem Valley. I love the thought of being able to come here to have a picnic or to enjoy wine by the glass or by the bottle, which is one of the tasting options available, weather permitting.

As we climbed back into the helicopter, I got my first taste of what it must feel like to be a celebrity. As the helicopter blades whirred to a steady hum overhead, I looked out and noticed some of the winery staff standing outside with cell phone cameras in hand, filming our lift off. I hate to disappoint them if they were expecting someone famous, so I we all put on our shades and gave a little wave. Ha!

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Brewery Hopping in Southeast Portland

Portland is like Mecca for craft beer lovers. You can find small breweries and brewpubs specializing in many different types of brews – sour ales, barrel aged beers, super hoppy IPAs. Thanks to it’s thriving food scene, you can also find many food-friendly beer pairings to go with your food cart finds, shared plates at brewpubs or even to take into your favorite taproom. Drink up and get those walking shoes on for a tour of some of Southeast Portland’s walkable breweries.

Here’s the ground we covered on a recent trip to PDX:

Brewery Hopping in Southeast Portland

Lardo – Eastside

Pork Belly Gyro ($9) at Lardo
Pork Belly Gyro ($9) at Lardo

We started off with a late lunch at Lardo’s Southwest location, but for the purpose of this brewery hop, we’ll suggest you start at their Southeast outpost instead. You can get the same tasty pork-heavy sandwiches (try the Cuban or the Pork Belly Gyro) and wash them down with a good selection of frosty beers on tap – all from the Pacific Northwest. The sides are also worth a try, especially if you can split with friends – the portions are large! Don’t miss the “dirty fries” which comes loaded with pork scraps, parmesan and fried herbs. This was definitely a substantial way to fill up before heading out for the serious beer tasting route that we had planned for the afternoon!

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Where to Eat in Portland: First-time Favorites

A month has gone by, yet I’m still craving some of the great meals that I had in Portland. If you love food, this town is serious about ingredients and giving them the respect they deserve before they end up on your plate. Whether it’s a lunch with beer and charcuterie, crazy flavor combos in doughnuts or artisinal ice cream, or a quick bite one of Portland’s many casual food carts, it’s hard to leave disappointed.

Here are some of my favorites from my first visit to Portland:

Little Bird Bistro

Charcuterie and cocktails at the bar at Little Bird Bistro

Little Bird Bistro and it’s big sister restaurant Le Pigeon came up on almost everyone’s list of recommendations for dining in Portland, inclluding Eater’s list of best deals for Portland Dining Month. While we originally planned on getting the Dining Month menu, it was close to the late night happy hour, so we opted to order ala carte instead. For excellent French bistro fare in a cozy setting, this was a great place to catch up with my classmate, Annebelle (of Pulehu Pizza) and to linger over cocktails and wine.

Little Bird Bistro
219 SW 6th Ave
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 688-5952
Reservations | Facebook | Twitter | Yelp

The Woodsman Tavern

Enjoying a variety of oysters at The Woodsman Tavern
Enjoying a variety of oysters at The Woodsman Tavern

This was my first restaurant in Portland, based on my cousin Daniel’s recommendation. As you can see from the photo at right, I didn’t get the memo to wear plaid as an homage to the Pacific Northwest. I said that jokingly when we first arrived, but in reality there were references to lumberjack culture everywhere, including on the menus. To get into the spirit, I started with a cocktail called The Hunting Vest (charred cedar campari, rye & vermouth) which warmed me up right away.

Just about everything we ordered was excellent, but I think the highlights were the platters of Pacific NW oysters from the raw bar, NY steak with marrow butter, the american ham selection, and the cheeky cocktail names. Just about everything is local and brought in from artisinal purveyors as much as possible and the staff is well versed in sourcing for just about everything on the menu. A bit pricey, but worth it.

The Woodsman Tavern
4537 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97206
(971) 373-8264
Reservations | Facebook | Twitter | Yelp

Lardo (West)

Pork Belly Gyro ($9) at Lardo
Pork Belly Gyro ($9) at Lardo

Lardo was another “no brainer” stop because we had gotten so many recommendations for it. When my beer-loving friend Edwin came to meet me in Portland, we chose Lardo to start off a day of beer tasting in Portland with a substantial lunch. Edwin opted for the Smoked Coppa Cubano and I loved my Pork Belly Gyro. For sides we got the Dirty Fries (pork scraps, marinated peppers, fried herbs and parmesan – sooo good!) and Pickled Vegetables.

In a city with such a huge variety of local craft breweries and a menu full of meat-filled sandwiches, it only makes sense that the beers on tap would be tasty compliments to our lunch. I opted to go with the staff recommendation of a local IPA while Edwin got a Pinup Porter and we were both pleased. It was the perfect start to our afternoon!

Lardo – Westside
1205 SW Washington St.
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 241-2490
Facebook | Twitter | Yelp

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Where to Eat in Portland: Food Carts

Portland’s unofficial motto. Love it!

When I mention to people that I’ve never been to Portland, they’re always surprised. It’s one of the great food cities of the West Coast, and it’s been on my radar for years but I had never gotten around to making an actual stop there for one reason or another. My cousin Daniel moved up there five years ago, so I even had a place to stay. So this year, I found a way to fit it into my plans.

I’m so glad that I finally did!

Although on this trip I had a very limited budget, it was no problem in Portland. The variety of inexpensive and creative food found right on the streets blew me away. Plus I always love the chance to support local businesses, so food carts are right up my alley.

Portland was really one of the first cities to truly embrace the food cart craze, and I’m happy to report that it’s still going strong – it’s reported that there are over 600 food carts in operation. You can find just about every type of ethnic food to match any craving. And I’m not just talking about your standard gyros, korean fusion tacos, or grilled cheese trucks – although you can find excellent examples of all three. When I asked for Portland recommendations, I was told to seek out a Mauritian, a Georgian (the country, not the state), and a Transyvlanian cart. How cool is that?

Sheryl, my foodie partner-in-crime for the day.
Sheryl, my foodie partner-in-crime for the day.

Needless to say I was in food heaven just thinking of the possibilities. So on my first day, my old friend Sheryl was kind enough to meet up with me on her lunch break so that we could try a variety of trucks. Two girls + five food carts in a little under two hours = full bellies and lots of leftovers! That’s my favorite kind of math. 😉 Here’s a look at some of the things we tried.

My (Current) Favorite Portland Food Carts

*I have to put the disclaimer here that this is my current list of favorites – I’m sure that given a few more days I’ve have a bunch more to recommend. These were my highlights from my first visit to the magical land of food carts, better known as Portland.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai

Chicken & Rice ($8) from Nong’s Khao Man Gai

One of three locations, the Downtown cart for Nong’s Khao Man Gai is in my favorite food cart pod at SW 10th & Alder. This was my cousin Daniel’s recommendation and the only cart that I loved so much I had it twice!

The menu is short – they do one thing, and they do it well. Order the chicken & rice and it comes tied up with a rubber band along with a container of light soup to wash it down. So simple & delicious, although a little messy to eat unless you’ve got a table to sit at. In fact, their website has a tutorial video on how to eat Khao Man Gai. Be warned – it will make you hungry!

Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Downtown)
SW 10th & Alder St.
Portland, OR 97205
Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Yelp

Kargi Gogo

Khinkali - stuffed beef & pork dumplings ($6)
Khinkali – stuffed beef & pork dumplings ($6) from Kargi Gogo

Owners Sean and McKinze wrapped up over two years in the Peace Corps in Georgia in 2012 and opened Kargi Gogo to pay homage to the people, the food, and the recipes they fell in love with while there. I’d never had Georgian food before, so I had to ask for recommendations – I wish I had more time to try them all!

We ended up going with the Khinkali, stuffed beef & pork dumplings, and loved them. I expected the wrapper to be thinner like asian dumplings (they are shaped like Xiao Long Bao), but the outside is more doughy, and for me the taste reminded me of a chow funn noodle.

Kargi Gogo
950 SW Washington Street
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 489-8432
Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Yelp


Mici from Delicios ($8)
Mici ($8) from Delicios

My friend Jay is the ultimate foodie. We jokingly call him a “food snob” but really, what it means is that he has high standards for food and everything about it. The ingredients, the preparation, the love that goes into the final product, the experience of eating and the enjoyment that can come with sharing it with good company. So when he declared the Transylvanian cart, Delicios, his favorite food cart in Portland, I knew I had to seek it out – and we weren’t disappointed!

We ordered the mici on Jay’s recommendation and chatted with the cart owners are we waited. They were so sweet and even remembered Jay from his visit a few months ago. As the mici are grilled to order they do take a few minutes, so they also passed out samples of their popular chimney cakes, which were delicious. Or “delicios”, as they’d say in Romania. =)

521 SW 10th Ave
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 887-9779
Twitter | Facebook | Foursquare | Yelp

808 Grinds

808 Fried Chicken from 808 Grinds ($7)
808 Fried Chicken ($7) from 808 Grinds

There are lots of Hawaii transplants in the Pacific Northwest and 808 Grinds brings a taste of the familiar plate lunch from Maui to PDX. A scoop rice, scoop mac salad and your choice of entree is local comfort food at its best. I chose the 808 Fried Chicken (mochiko chicken, so the batter has a touch of sweetness) although it was tough to choose. Other options were kalua pig, shoyu chicken or loco moco.

As for the name, 808 is the area code for all of Hawaii. The owners of the cart both hail from Maui (just like me!) so Sheryl and I definitely had to check them out.

808 Grinds
SW 9th and Washington Street
Portland, Oregon 97205
(503) 713-8008
Twitter | Facebook | Yelp

Pulehu Pizza

8" Custom Combo Pizza - 1/2 Truffle Mushroom & 1/2 "surprise us!" ($8)
8″ Custom Combo Pizza – 1/2 Truffle Mushroom & 1/2 “surprise us!” ($8) from Pulehu Pizza

Pulehu Pizza is run by another duo from Maui, including my classmate Annebelle. It was so fun to see her in action after chatting via Twitter and Facebook. We haven’t seen each other in years, so we stopped by the cart to try a “half & half” version of their 8″ pizza so that we could try two types.

We opted for half Truffle Mushroom and the other half we asked her to surprise us. It came fresh off the grill (yes, grilled pizzas!) and piled with fresh toppings including a housemade ricotta cheese, veggies and local sausage. For a final sweet touch, Annebelle gifted us a “kitchen sink” cookie based off the recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar. If they haven’t run out by the time you visit, I’d definitely recommend picking up one of these for dessert!

Pulehu Pizza
32 SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR 97204
(503) 915-6869
Twitter | Facebook | Yelp

Chez Dodo

Tofu Fritters ($5)
Tofu Fritters from Chez Dodo ($5)

Just a block from Pulehu Pizza, we stopped by Chez Dodo to try the tofu fritters, again based on Jay’s recommendation plus a 5 star average on Yelp with over 100 reviews – impressive!

I’d never had Mauritian food before, and although the menu looked enticing – lots of tasty curries, noodle dishes and even many vegetarian options, we just did not have room for a second dish. Everyone comments on the chef’s friendly demeanor, although he was pretty busy when we stopped in. Next time we’ll have to come here first. So many food carts, so little time!

Chez Dodo
427 SW Stark St
Portland, Oregon 97204
(503) 270-9258
Twitter | Facebook | Foursquare | Yelp

Maximizing Your PDX Food Cart Experience

A couple of tips to help you to enjoy all that Portland’s food carts have to offer.

  • Bring a friend – As is always the case for food cart events (like Eat the Street back home), there is strength in numbers when dining at food carts. Get a variety of options and share them family style so that you can try more than just one if at all possible.
  • Check social media – Many food carts are on Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram, where you’ll find the heads up on specials, photos of their dishes, sell-outs or details like changes in hours or location. (All three are public sites, so you don’t even need to be signed in to view.) Deals or discounts are sometimes offered with sites like Yelp or Foursquare if you “check in” to the location, which basically shows your friends or followers that you’re there – consider it word-of-mouth advertising for the digital age.
  • Ask for recommendations – If you have any friends, family or acquantainces in Portland, hit them up for their favorite carts and what to order. If you don’t, as your hotel or cab driver. Everyone has a favorite. If nothing else, be sure to ask the person taking your order for what they would recommend – you’ll get the inside scoop on what’s the most popular, a sample, or maybe even a secret menu item or two.

>> I don’t claim to be an expert (at all!) on Portland’s food carts, so if you’d like more elaborate info, is a great resource with vendor listings, maps and write ups.

>> Did I miss your favorite Portland food cart? Check my page of Portland Recommendations and leave it in the comments if you don’t see it there. That’s my short list for the next trip to PDX, which I hope will be soon!

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Amtrak Coast Starlight: Portland to Los Angeles

Enjoying the morning light on my overnight train...
Enjoying the morning light on my overnight train…
The first time I can remember catching a real train (the Sugar Cane Train and the Pearlridge Monorail don’t count) was the summer after I graduated from high school, when I spent three months backpacking around Europe before heading off to college. My friend Meghan and I bought the Europass option that allowed us 8 days of train travel over a 2 month period and we made use of it by visiting France, Spain, Italy, plus a last minute addition of Prague when we gained one extra leg where the conductor forgot to punch our passes.

I loved it even more than I loved airplane travel, simply because it allowed us so much more room, huge viewing windows and freedom to walk through the cars. Growing up in Hawaii, we have no need for a long-distance train, so I find that in my adult life – whenever the routing allows – I try to book train travel to get me at least part of the way to my destination.


Since that summer in Europe, I’ve also taken trains in the Northeast US – I remember heading from NYC to West Point one autumn when the leaves were changing color because I sat glued to the window in awe. (Leaves don’t change in Hawaii either.) In 2008 when we traveled in Asia, I frequently caught the overnight train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, enjoying the ride even when I was squished up in my sleeper bunk, rolling around and hoping I wouldn’t fall out in the night. One particularly memorable train ride came in 2011, when I’d talked Jess, Eric and Edwin into coming with me from Seattle to Vancouver for my TBEX Conference. On the way back to Seattle, Eric got down on one knee and – with the help of Edwin and I (and the train crew) – shocked Jess by proposing while he played “their song”.

Portland to LA on the Amtrak Coast Starlight

This trip, I had the chance to piece together trips on an Amtrak route that I’ve always been curious about. The Amtrak Coast Starlight actually starts in Seattle and runs all the way to LA, but I opted to catch it from Portland. This portion of the route takes a whopping 30 hours because of the stops, but it really didn’t feel that long until maybe the last couple of hours once the sun had set. It was also one of the most productive trips I’ve had. There is no wifi available yet on this route, which I at first thought would be a hindrance but was really a blessing in disguise. Without constant connection to the internet, I was able to slow down, unplug and to really soak in the experience.

We left just around 2:30pm from Portland and arrived in Los Angeles about an hour ahead of the posted schedule, at 8:15pm the following day. The best part of the trip was watching the scenery change as you head south.