By Meg Asby and Denise Castañon
Portland has once again ranked No. 1 as Best Foodie City in America by WalletHub. The affordability and accessibility of our food scene and sheer amount of restaurants in Portland helped us secure the top spot. And that’s great news for Portlanders. But, of course, not all Portlanders love the creativity and diversity of our vibrant dining scene. We, in fact, live with some of them. We’re talking about our kids. For our food and dining issue, we sample some of Portland’s hottest food trends that shore up our status as a top food and dining destination — with our opinionated kids in tow. And we’ve also got some tips to help your kids broaden their palates to enjoy all the dining treasures Portland has to offer.
Ube, a purple sweet potato commonly found in Filipino desserts, is having an Instagram moment. With its subtle vanilla-white-chocolate flavor and photogenic, gloriously purple hue, ube is popping up throughout Portland in lattes, doughnuts, cheesecake and more.
My kids are not super adventurous eaters (though my daughter happily ate everything when she was a toddler), but they don’t usually turn down sweets. Before trying our first ube treat, specially requested ube caffeine-free steamer lattes ($3 each) at Portland Cà Phê one iced and one hot — I talked up the cool color and subtly sweet flavor. They were pumped to taste test.
My 10-year-old daughter, Adela, made her “I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it face” with her first taste of the espresso-free iced latte. My 7-year-old son, Cruz, took a thoughtful first sip of his hot latte and a few more. He then tried his sister’s iced version. He kind of liked it. Both kids liked the hot drink better than the iced because of its thicker, creamy texture. I considered their willingness to try something new, even if they weren’t over the moon about it, a win.
Then I ventured to St. Barbra Pinoy Bakery, a Filipino bakery in Southwest Portland, and brought home more ube treats. (Pro tip: This bakery is hard to find and nearby construction makes parking scarce. Expect to circle around a few times.) I picked up an ube ensaymada, a frosted brioche roll rippled with ube ($2.75); a fabulously purple ube cheesecake (pictured above; $5.50); and ube butter mochi, a pleasantly gummy Japanese rice treat with a slightly crunchy exterior ($2.75). My kids are already fans of butter mochi. (They do have some Portland foodie traits!) I couldn’t resist trying a piece of the butter mochi before they got home from school and I thought it was mind-blowingly delicious and especially buttery. The ube was the perfect addition to the already subtle dessert and elevated the vanilla flavor.
When Adela and Cruz got home from school, I lined up all the desserts and let them have at it. They exclaimed in delight about the color of the cheesecake (pictured above), Adela called it “violently violet.” They took tentative bites, then not-so-tentative bites. Cruz started shoveling the ensaymada into his mouth, but he later said the cheesecake was his favorite. They both agreed the butter mochi was the best that they’d had and liked how much crusty exterior it had. Adela couldn’t pick a favorite, saying that all three ube desserts were extremely delicious. Even after the somewhat lackluster response to the ube latte, I am going to say my kids approve of Portland’s ube trend.
More Places to Try Ube
- HeyDay Donuts has delicious and beautiful-looking creations.
- Magna Kusina offers an ube cassava cake.
- Less and More Coffee also offers an ube latte.
Trend: Street Food
The biggest barrier to dining out for many families is cost, which is why street food is one of my favorite trends. Affordable and fast, street food also lends itself nicely to teaching children to be more adventurous. The experience sets them up for success; no one is going to tell you to sit still at a food cart, and eating outside makes it easier to manage messes. Your food is often handed to you by the person who made it, making the shared food culture especially personal. The biggest plus for me is that the food is often spectacularly delicious, and that is never more true than at ¡Chayo! on Southeast Division. [Editor’s note: Chayo is currently closed for the season, but thankfully, there are other great street food options listed below to try this winter.]
My children are always asking for a grilled cheese “with crispies,” those crunchy bits of cheese that ooze out of the sandwich and crisp in the pan. So when I saw the Gringa on the menu with its layer of crisped cheese wrapped around carne asada, I knew I had a winner. My 9-year-old daughter opted for the special of the day, the Adobado Gringa ($10), just like the classic but with pork loin. The trio of toppings — pico de gallo slaw, avocado salsa and fire roasted tomato salsa — perfectly complement but don’t overpower the meat. And while this is definitely a cart that’s meat-forward, there are two vegetarian options on the menu that look amazing, and three tacos can be made gluten free.
I took one bite of the Gringa and wished I had ordered two. My husband and I kept eyeing our daughter to see if she would reject her taco and give it to us, but, unfortunately for us, she loved it. We also tried the Sonoran Hot Dog (pictured above; $7.50), wrapped in bacon and topped with caramelized onion, pickled jalapeño, tomato, mustard and crema. It was great, but the tacos were the stars of the show. You can also order a child’s cheese quesadilla or bacon wrapped hot dog for a mere $4. We also ordered a Mexican Coca Cola, sweetened with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, which brought on an unexpected rush of nostalgia for the grown-ups.
The charming seating area in the back is covered, so not even Portland rain should keep you from this ultimate taco experience. Check Chayo’s social media for potential changes to hours before you go.
More Places to Try Street Food
- Hand-rolled, deep-fried taquitos take center stage at Tito’s Taquitos.
- Try the Italian sandwiches on cart-made bread at Sorbu Paninoteca.
- Vietnamese flavors meld with American-style sandos and burgers at Matta.
Trend: Portland Pizza
With Netflix’s recent Chef’s Table pizza episode that featured Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, there’s renewed buzz over Portland’s genre-defying and utterly delicious pizza scene. So much buzz that our first attempt to snag a Lovely’s table at 5:30 pm on a Sunday evening ended with us being told the wait was an hour and a half. We decided to try again midweek.
My kids have had plenty of pizza at top-notch places such as Apizza Scholls and Rally Pizza. But we always let them pick their favorites. Plain cheese for Adela and pepperoni for Cruz. We went to Lovely’s Fifty Fifty with the expectation that they’d try the seasonal combinations, not their usual choices. (We watched the Chef’s Table episode before going to the restaurant, so Adela and Cruz were impressed and eager to try the unexpected topping combinations.)
We arrived at 4:50 pm on a Wednesday in the hopes of being in the first seating when the restaurant opened at 5 pm. It worked. We started with Castelvetrano olives and two salads: the garden lettuces with Point Reyes blue cheese and roasted beets, and the little gem lettuces with creamy garlic dressing, Parmigiano Reggiano and bread crumbs ($14 for each). My kids eat a variety of veggies, but don’t like salad or dressing. But they both ate one piece of little gems salad and hesitantly admitted it was pretty good! My husband and I thought the preparation of the salads really made the quality of the produce shine.
Since the menu said the pizzas were 12 inches, we ordered three. Pro tip: The pies are definitely big enough for two people; two pies would have been plenty for the four of us. We tried the corinna potatoes two ways with kale and parsley pesto ($28). Adela loves potatoes. She finished the half slice we gave her to try and asked for another! And then waxed poetic about the pizza. “Pizza shouldn’t be allowed to be that good,” Adela said. “It’s not at the top of the pizza ladder, it’s in the clouds!” She’s learning about metaphors in school right now.
We also tried fennel sausage, kale and fontal pizza ($29), which was good. But our third pie, the chanterelle mushroom, onion, spinach, gremolata and extagerai cheese pizza ($29), was even better. With the combination of toppings, the chanterelle almost took on a bacon flavor. Adela tried it even though she isn’t a fan of most of the toppings. “I can stand the mushroom and onion because the cheese pops out,” she said.
Cruz was less of a fan of all the pizza. But he did love the crust that had a sourdough tang and some whole-grain flour. All four of us gushed about the crust. “We make good pizza, but this crust tells me we need to keep working on it,” said my husband. “The crust is amazing,” said Adela. “It’s roasty and crunchy and nearly burned — but just perfect.”
The Chef’s Table episode also covered the ice cream Sarah Minnick creates. The kids really wanted to try the fig leaf and vanilla bean flavor ($6) that was mentioned in the episode, so we ordered it along with a scoop of the malted milk ice cream with Valrhona hot fudge sauce ($9). With our first bites, we all started loudly exclaiming about the ice cream. “This is the best ice cream in Portland,” my husband declared.
I think I need to find every TV show that has ever featured a Portland restaurant and show it to my kids. Watching Chef’s Table and understanding how much chefs in Portland think about what they are creating, seeing how much work goes into the food we get served was a lightbulb moment for them. It really made them willing to expand their food horizons and gave them some pride in the fact that they live in a place where people care passionately about food.
Ideas to Help Your Kids Become Adventurous Eaters!
- Sample at Salt & Straw. Trying something new is easier when it’s ice cream.
- Make it easy. Let them order their favorite, and offer bites of your (more adventurous) meal.
- Use positive peer pressure. Eat with more adventurous friends.
- Make it silly. It’s easier to eat potatoes and broccoli, if you call it a snow covered mountain with trees.
- Get cooking. Kids are more likely to try something if they have a hand in making it. And if you want someone else teaching them, check out kids’ cooking classes from Cookshop, Little Kitchen Academy and The Merry Kitchen.
- Talk about your yums. Instead of talking about your child’s experience during the meal, talk about your own. A love of food is contagious.