Last week I wrote about Portland, Oregon’s bicycle culture and how the city has embraced the bicycle mode of transportation by building many of their roads, streets and mass transit system with cyclists in mind. I mentioned there are about 46,000 daily bike commuters that travel along 325 well-marked bike paths and lanes. I also wrote about the hundreds of bicycle parking areas there and how the city’s mass transit system, called the TriMet, is well equipped to carry large numbers of bikes. While spending time in that city, I soon discovered that Portland is not only a city of bicycles, but it’s also a city of food carts, microbreweries, and coffee shops.
Food carts are big in Portland. Cycling throughout the city, I noticed many food carts scattered throughout the neighborhoods and in the downtown area. Basically, the food carts are delivery trucks and small pull-behind travel trailers that have been converted to mobile kitchens. Think of the taco trucks found throughout Southwest Detroit’s or one of the many ice cream trucks that cruise our own streets. Portland’s food carts ring select parking lots facing the sidewalks in which they’re located. They are tightly packed next to each other, like books on a library shelf. They specialize in a variety of savory dishes that include Brazilian, Cuban, Thai, German, Mexican, Peruvian, Japanese Sushi, Polish, Scottish, traditional BBQ and other American and ethnic dishes. Their respective cuisine is offered at great prices with full lunches or dinners ranging from $5.00 to $10.00, quite a bargain and a daily stop for me.
Portland is also a beer lover’s paradise with hundreds of microbreweries. From what I understand, Portland has more of them than any other city in the world. It is also home to the nation’s best-attended beer event, the Oregon Brewers Festival that was taking place while I was there, in the McCall Waterfront Park along the Willamette River in downtown. Not being much of a beer drinker, I was surprised at the amount of people I saw jammed into the Festival site on an early Thursday afternoon.
Many of the Portland neighborhood streets I rode reminded me of those found in San Francisco, Brooklyn and parts of Southwest Detroit. In addition to the countless microbreweries and food carts, there were bakeries, small grocery stores, fruit stands, vintage apparel shops, tattoo parlors, small café’s, pizzerias, specialty outfitters catering to outdoor enthusiasts and other specialty stores lining the streets. There is also a large concentration of independent coffee roasters and houses, catering to Portland’s predominately young population.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Portland’s top tourist attraction. It isn’t the art museum, the Zoo or the breathtaking Washington Park area. Surprisingly, it’s Powell’s Books. The bookstore is one of the largest in the world and stocks over 1 million titles spread over four floors. The store spans a full city block and the couple of times I was there, it was full of people browsing the long aisles. With a shrinking book industry (think Borders), it was good to see that Portland still had a viable bookseller doing a brisk business.