Southeast Portland; Worth the Trip
written by Lindsay McWilliams | photos by Shauna Intelisano
Southeast Portland is the neighborhood on its way. While it doesn’t yet have the caché of the artsy Alberta District in Northeast, it’s beginning to find its place on the map for Portland travelers.
The neighborhood’s blue-collar history is still apparent today, with industrial warehouses and lower rent than many areas of Portland, contributing to a notion that Southeast is a working community. This is the place to start a business, to lay the groundwork and get a foot in the door. The state’s most liberal institution, Reed College, drives part of the area’s hippie reputation.
Notably, the Southeast neighborhood has an obsession with vintage and retro. Historic theaters haunt the main streets, and vintage clothing stores appear on every block. Juxtaposed with new and trendy boutiques, craft breweries and innovative restaurants, Southeast has created a style of its own in a style-conscious city.
Wake up to patter of rain against the window and embrace the hallmark of the Northwest. Sunshine is a celebration, a thanksgiving. Start off at the Little T American Baker on 26th and Division. This bakery makes fresh flaky pastries, breads and not-too-sweet granola each day, served alongside Coava espresso.
Buzzing with caffeine, head over to Hawthorne Boulevard, where recycled goods reign. The street is lined with retro clothing outfitters, upscale consignment shops and vintage furniture stores. The House of Vintage at the corner of 33rd has enough cut-off denim shorts to clothe all of Portland. The Red Light Clothing Exchange could easily provide costumes for a season of Portlandia. The Lounge Lizard is a trip, with room after room of ’60s and ’70s furniture and décor.
For lunch, walk to Cartopia, a grouping of twenty-five food carts. Inside Cartopia one of the best meals you can get in Southeast is at a rusty-looking gem of corrugated metal and old barn wood called Chicken and Guns. Order a quarter, half or full bird, with a salad and fried potatoes. The salad comes sprinkled with toasted quinoa and the whole plate drizzled in a tangy cilantro sauce.
Another way to explore birds is to head to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge on the corner of 7th and Sellwood. These marshy wetlands in the city are home to hundreds of birds, including great blue herons. Trails for biking, walking and running are dotted with wooden bridges and locals with their dogs.
Head for dinner early in the evening, as restaurants in the area crowd quickly. Nuestra Cocina on SE Division is inspired by “peasant Mexican cooking.” Warm wood interiors and bright mosaic tables give “Our Kitchen” a casa-like appearance, but its creative fare is presented in a more upscale fashion.
Wind down at the Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom on Division, a cozy spot with more than twenty brews on tap. Imperial focuses on bringing in some of the newest regional craft beers around. Imperial also doubles as a bottle shop, with an impressive selection of hard ciders—in case you need to take one for the road.
Rise and make your way to Mount Tabor, a volcanic cinder cone rich with historical structures. First, swing by Taborspace for a coffee. It’s located in the bell tower of an old church, built in 1910, complete with fifteen stained-glass windows, worn brick construction and sturdy wooden beams. Proceed upward to the lush, wooded Mount Tabor park.
Trails for walking and running weave around nineteenth century reservoirs and up to the summit of this volcanic formation, providing an elevated perspective of the city.
After working up an appetite, TarBoush Lebanese Bistro and Bar hits the spot with its traditional fare and some of the best shawarma in town. Located in a charming Victorian-style house on Hawthorne, TarBoush gives you your money’s worth. Shawarma plates come accompanied with a salad, warm and fluffy pita bread, a spicy red sauce, a scoop of tahini and basmati rice. Prepare to leave with leftovers.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is a must-see in Southeast Portland. For those who hear the word “museum” and automatically think “boring,” OMSI is anything but. Hands-on labs and exhibits are inviting for children and have a way of bringing out a child-like curiosity in adults as well. Explore the motion simulator, the planetarium or the submarine. Experience the state’s largest four-story movie screen, the Empirical Theater, which plays documentaries daily and popular blockbusters at night.
When dinner rolls around, brave the massive lines at Pok Pok, or go for something a little more modest, like Reel M Inn. Once you get past the building’s less-than-ravishing physical appearance, Reel M Inn has arguably the best fried chicken and jojos in all of Portland.
Next, search for the perfect cocktail in the collection of bars on Division and Clinton. Take a seat at the bar of the Night Light Lounge for a Palomaesque cocktail and a conversation with a stranger. Hit up the dimly lit La Moule for some late-night mussels dressed in the flavor of your choice—Thai, Korean or salsa verde, to name a few. Or cruise over to Dots Cafe, a ‘50s- themed lounge with slushy cocktails. As the sun goes down and Portland’s lightscape throws light across the dark, prepare for another day of continued spirits and entertainment in exploring Portland’s fascinating neighborhoods.