PORTLAND, Oregon

PORTLAND, Oregon, has serious cool factor—and great food. Instead of sitting on its hipster laurels, this PNW city keeps pushing palates…eat it up!

Portland is still the new frontier. Here, amidst the tattooed, bearded, thick-framed-glasses-wearing crowd—it’s as if this Pacific Northwest city, tucked under Mt. Hood, is a homing beacon for hipsters—there’s the warm embrace of creative types with some robust entrepreneurial spirit. “Keep Portland weird,” states a legendary mural (and adopted city slogan of sorts). Another long-standing emblematic sign: the neon white stag. And this odd factor is just plain charming—with some rather tasty side dishes.
Because this oft-satirized hipster-haven is the happening food-and-drink hub of the PNW—think farm-to-fork, branch-to-bottle, leaf-to-cup. From ramen bowls at Noraneko (where you can also have a soju chuhai, the Japanese version of an after-work cocktail) to doughnuts (skip the line at Voodoo for a Dirty Wu at Pip’s), Portland puts on an unrivalled culinary show of which the following is just a small sample…

EAST BY WEST The Southeast Asian street-food cuisine of Pok Pok blew open a burgeoning Asian-fare scene in Portland (and now has recent Brooklyn and LA outposts beyond its PDX birthplace). There’s also Han Oak (named for traditional Korean “hanok” homes), Langbaan (a culinary speakeasy that means “back of the house” in Thai), Hat Yai (Langbaan’s counter-service off-shoot) and the first North American locations of Marukin and Afuri, Tokyo ramen houses with a cult following.

SAMPLE: Korean bibimbap (“mixed rice”) and steamed buns at Kim Jong Smokehouse, a collaboration between a few of Portland’s hottest chefs housed in the new Pine Street Market food hall.

DRINK ME Like the Alice in Wonderland directive, Portland encourages serious sipping. Besides the well-known coffee scene—this is the home of Stumptown Roasters, after all (also a moniker for the city itself)—there’s also a tea movement. This is where Tazo tea started, the founder of which went on to quietly create Smith Teamaker—the best in America, some say. There’s also, of course, kombucha (try Brew Dr.) and distilled tea spirits (at Thomas and Sons Distillery), made with varieties like pine-smoked Lapsang Souchong, that simply don’t fit neatly into any existing category—much like PDX itself. SAMPLE: The new fernet-style digestif by Thomas and Sons Distillery, redolent with local ingredients of Douglas Fir, Willamette Hops and birch bark.

POD CAST Portland was an early adopter of food trucks or carts. And with more than 600 citywide, from Viking Soul Food (lefse and gravlax) to newer kid-on-the-block Chicken and Guns (oak-fired Latin chicken), the options are limitless. Which is why this Portland particularity makes perfect sense: food-cart pods. Clustered in empty lots, the congregations of carts become al fresco dining and community spaces, PDX style. Cartlandia is a “super pod” of some 30 carts (featuring fare from 15 countries) and a full-on bar (with 18 beers and ciders on tap). Cartopia has outdoor movie screenings and is a late-night stop, while Tidbit, the newest pod, goes beyond the food and drink with pretty lights, picnic tables, a fire pit and Airstream boutique.

SAMPLE: A Smaaken waffle sandwich (made with local, organic, heirloom varietal wheat, of course)—try the bacon-forward Van Gogh or the veggie Popeye—at the Tidbit pod.

And, now, after all that feasting, “go by bike,” as they say in Portlandia. — Barb Sligl

For more on all the weird and wonderful things to do and sample in Portland, go to travelportland.com.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix has plenty of Arizona’s desert heat but it has also sparked a spicy and vibrant art and culinary scene…with some sweet spots to rejuvenate

img_2657After my Lotus Blossoming Chakra massage, I discover that some of my seven chakras aren’t quite as aligned as they should be. Apparently I need to meditate more. I try to remedy this immediately by walking the labyrinth at The Boulders Resort & Spa. Round and round I shuffle, the scent of sage wafting over me, the sun warming my face, the dry desert wind softly fluttering my robe. I think it’s working.

Or it could just be this place, the huge rocks the resort is named for, the tall saguaro cacti, the amber and rusty hues of the baked landscape. The next morning I rise early in my adobe-style casita at The Boulders (theboulders.com) and venture into the desert for a run as the sun is just starting to spread its heat. I feel my chakras realigning…
img_3240The Sonoran desert may seem harsh but it teems with beauty. Closer to Phoenix (The Boulders is in Scottsdale, just outside Arizona’s capital and largest city), I walk through the Desert Botanical Garden (one of only a few botanical gardens accredited by the American Association of Museums; dbg.org) and then hike nearby Camelback Mountain to marvel at the range of colour this arid land sprouts, like the magenta spikes of a barrel cactus.

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Seattle (USA)

The “Emerald City” of SEATTLE is laidback west coast but also cutting-edge, the birthplace of grunge music and also some über-modern architecture.

Seattle is often referred to as Emerald City. And while that’s a reference to the fantastical place in The Wizard of Oz, it’s also a moniker for the lush and green coastal wonderland of Seattle on Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. Washington State’s largest city is known for many “wonderous” things; it’s ground zero of grunge music and tech-forward companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing. There’s a new-world gleam here as well as a rebellious spirit. This is the birthplace of the Starbucks coffee empire (its Pike Place roast is now ubiquitous but is named for Starbucks’ very first location at Seattle’s public market). And yet the city’s caffeinated can-do spirit is tempered with an easy-going PNW vibe that puts the outdoors (Seattle comes by its Emerald City nickname because of thousands of acres of parkland) and west-coast lifestyle first and foremost.

seattle3 While the Space Needle (a legacy of the 1962 World’s Fair) may still be the city’s most iconic landmark, there’s far more futuristic architecture to behold in Seattle. Within the Needle’s shadow is the sinuous EMP MUSEUM. It stands for Experience Music Project and as such its mission statement states that it’s a “leading-edge nonprofit museum, dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture.” And gazing up at its gleaming, undulating Frank Gehry design (made of 21,000 aluminum stainless steel shingles and 280 steel ribs), one can envision the cross-sections of cur-vilinear guitars that the architect says inspired him and served as building blocks. And inside “boldly go where no one has gone before” via the Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibition (opening May 21). {empmuseum.org}

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Courtesy of Provenance Hotels and The Miller's Guild

Also currently showing at the EMP: Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses. The band most associated with grunge music also embodies Seattle spirit. Local label Sub Pop Records signed the band in 1989, over 25 years ago, and to relive some of that era stay at the HOTEL MAX, the art- and music-filled boutique bolthole that recently revealed an exterior mural (proudly proclaiming that “Seattle doesn’t settle” in six-foot tall letters and a redesigned lobby that shows off vibrant art (including an original Warhol and a bass guitar signed by Krist Novoselic of Nirvana), along with a retail shop collaboration with Sub Pop. Also on offer: free samples of local Caffe Vita brew in the morning and craft beer in the afternoon…and there’s a Sub Pop floor in which to hole up and listen to tunes. {hotelmaxseattle.com}

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Courtesy of Provenance Hotels & The Miller's Guild

Attached to the Hotel Max lobby is THE MILLER’S GUILD, where a custom-made nine-foot-long Infierno wood-fired grill is a fiery centrepiece. The name is inspired by the building’s past as the 1925 Vance Lumber Company Hotel, where workers rested between harvest-ing and milling trees in the surrounding forests. Now it’s all about nose-to-tail cuisine and other fire-roasted PNW fare, as well as cask-aged craft cocktails
{millersguild.com}

seattle9More of Seattle’s creative spirit and innovative pioneering is found at the central branch of the SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY. The multi-faceted structure, as if a bright gem nestled in the downtown core, is the creation of another internationally renowned architect, Rem Koolhaas and former Seattleite Joshua Ramus. Take a free guided tour of its award-winning architecture, including a maple floor that’s made of 556 lines of raised text in 11 languages {spl.org} - Barb Sligl

For more visitor info on Seattle go to visitseattle.org.