Once mostly warehouses, this neighborhood north of downtown Portland has become a culinary hot spot.
Once home to bustling factories and rail yards, Portland's newly hip neighborhood, the Pearl District, gained its nickname when the area’s art galleries opened in the mid-1980s. “All these crusty warehouses, they’re sort of like oysters on the outside,” says Heidi Burnette, co-owner of local Forktown Food Tours. “But on the inside there are these hidden pearls.”
Now the secret is out. French bistros, Mexican cantinas, and sushi spots dot the district’s streets like a string of culinary gems. Fortunately, this triangular neighborhood just north of downtown, on the west side of the Willamette River, can be an easy food getaway: Take the light-rail in, stay at one of several fine hotels, visit Powell’s Books with its epic cookbook section, and then eat.
Start at the redbrick buildings along NW 13th Avenue. Though they still wear faded signs of historic businesses, beneath their metal awnings some of the city’s finest food is served. Opened in 2000, the elegant Bluehour was one of the first spots to add polish to the Pearl. It specializes in contemporary “big night out” meals, such as grilled lobster with brandy sauce and pickled green strawberries, or grilled rib eye with kale and duck-fat emulsion.
Find an upscale take on a down-home vibe a few blocks north at Irving Street Kitchen.The Southern-inspired joint features staples such as fried chicken as well as more inventive duos, perhaps smoked pork chops with black garlic applesauce.
The area also supports multiple brewpubs. At Deschutes Brewery and Public House, pair a hoppy Mirror Pond Pale Ale—or one of the 26 other beers on tap—with an elk burger.
Portland may be a beer-centric city, but the Pearl offers motives to forsake the tap. At Oven and Shaker, sip on a Pineapple Trainwreck, rum and pineapple juice cut with spicy ginger syrup, while you wait for your wood-fire-cooked pizza with bacon, ham, mascarpone, apple butter, and ricotta.
In the morning, wake up with Pearl Bakery’s signature pugliese bread, baked with olive oil for a silky texture. The Pearl’s eateries know how to take something simple and transform it into something extraordinary.
This article was first published in November 2014 and updated in August 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.