Third-wave coffee? San Francisco has way more shops, but Portland kills it on innovation. Dozens of small-batch roasters exist within city limits, each with a different point of brew. That includes Cloudforest, which makes the exquisite chocolate in your mocha or hot chocolate, bean to bar, right in the back.
But the city's maverick mind-set is best expressed in its famed street-food scene. No place puts it together like Portland's pavement gourmets, for the sheer number of experimenters, the artisanal spirit, the little-known cuisines, from Guam to Ghana. Look for them all around the city, clustered into colorful food pods with fire pits and strung lights. How good is the brisket at Matt's BBQ truck? Lone Star State pit authority Daniel Vaughn calls it "truly spectacular; some of the best outside of Texas." Meanwhile, over at the Whale pod, you can listen to piped-in NPR while eating Gumba's house-made Burrata.
So adjust your dial. We're a live-to-eat, punching-above-our-weight, "We Did It Our Way" food city. Any doubts are erased at Ox, where the coup de grâce on a clam chowder is smoked marrow in a bone the size of a Grecian pillar; you scrape its soft, sinful center right into the bowl. That's why seen-it-all food critics like the Washington Post's Tom Sietsema named Portland the No. 1 food city in the country, edging out San Francisco by a nose. There's a spirit here, a plucky enthusiasm, a near-parody level of local pride. Sietsema felt it, as have so many before him. It's contagious. Once you've tasted Portland's essence, there's no going back. —Karen Brooks