Portland has emerged as a culinary destination in recent years—and with good reason. Recognizing the advantages of a gorgeous local bounty and a relatively low cost of living, a number of young chefs have moved to Portland to open restaurants and experiment with new flavors and techniques. The result is a surprisingly large number of noteworthy restaurants for a city this size, from raise-the-bar Thai at Pok Pok, to Alpine fare at Grüner, to the innovative cuisine of Castagna.
Formality is all but banned in Portland restaurants: If you really want to dress up, go for designer jeans. Reservations may be necessary for new restaurants that are wildly in vogue, but as often as not, Portland's laid-back hot spots don't even take them. Be prepared to cool your heels at the bar, and remember that good things come to those who wait. You'll often spot the chef-owners toiling behind the bar, chopping locally sourced ingredients in their open kitchens, or chatting with customers. An expense account isn't needed to enjoy Portland's dining scene, either. Some of the best restaurants here are ridiculously reasonable compared with similar places in bigger cities. And throughout town, hundreds of movable feasts in the form of street carts serve everything from buttermilk biscuit sandwiches to Korean bulgogi to duck confit baguettes for as little as $4 or $5 a meal.
What makes Portland's restaurant scene fun is that it is so democratic and accessible. The city's residents really enjoy quality food, and they turn out in droves at the many farmers' markets. The Portland Farmers' Market at Portland State University is a major weekend destination for local chefs and amateurs alike. If you want to get even closer to the city's farm-to-table culture, sign up for an urban farm tour to harvest your own produce and learn to cook fresh-as-it-gets dishes. Round out your exploration of Portland's culinary riches by pairing your meal with a biodynamic Oregon wine, or a cocktail made with spirits from one of the city's many distilleries.