Benessere Olive Oils and Balsamic
907 SW 9th Ave., 206-5317, oilgoodness.com. 10:30 am-5:30 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 10:30 am-7 pm Thursday-Friday, 9 am-7 pm Saturday.
[NONESSENTIAL OILS] This specialty oil and vinegar store opened up downtown to very little fanfare last year—kind of surprising for a fat- and flavor-focused business in a food-obsessed city—but is absolutely worth discovering for yourself. Sampling cups, large metal casks and unobtrusive staff leave customers free to taste their way through every one of Benessere's vast array of liquid treats. Olive oils range from a basic house blend to infused concoctions like blood orange and basil. The butter EVOO is outrageous. Vinegars and balsamics run a similar rainbow of fruit flavors, from fig to blackberry ginger, with several aged varieties. There's also a range of other high-end oils, including truffle, porcini and roasted French walnut. Best of all, you can mix any of the products in your own custom blend. Mushroom, sage and white truffle oil, anyone? (RB)
Shopping list: Bottles of flavored olive oils (200 ml) and balsamic vinegars.
Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Store
5000 SE International Way, Milwaukie, 607-6455, bobsredmill.com. 6 am-6 pm Monday-Friday, 7 am-5 pm Saturday.
[FLOUR] With its daily factory tours, gigantic antique millstone and oversized red barn decor attracting tourists and carb fiends, the bucolic headquarters of Bob Moore's flour empire is basically the Tillamook Cheese Factory of Milwaukie. It's also a bulk-bin wonderland that scoops out pound upon pound of beans, oats, brownie mix and, of course, flour made of everything from green peas, potato, quinoa and amaranth to even good old wheat. What Bob's lacks in bargains it makes up for in endless selection. After eyeballing the rows of packaged organic flours, date crumbles, soup and pancake mixes and, more recently, a whole aisle of gluten-free products, collapse out on the patio with a house-baked muffin alongside the couple on one side wearing motorcycle leathers and the Quaker wife and her brood on the other. (KC)
Shopping list: Twenty-five-pound bag of garbanzo-fava flour, gluten-free brownie mix, Bob's Red Mill ball cap.
6031 SE Belmont Ave., 222-6014, cheese-bar.com. 11 am-11 pm Tuesday-Sunday.
[CHEESE, BEER] Steve Jones has upgraded his digs from the back corner of Square Deal Wines to a chic, slate-gray chamber at the foot of Mount Tabor, but his fabled cheese case is still front and center—and still filled with a personally vouched-for selection of amazing fromage from small producers across the globe. Jones is particularly taken with Alpine "mountain cheeses" right now, which, he explains, refers to anything produced when animals graze exclusively at higher altitudes and therefore on fresh, green grasses, yielding cheeses with a nutty, rich, funky flavor. The fact that I can now listen to this kind of information with a beer in my hand is truly marvelous (six rotating taps, plus lotsa bottles). Oh, and did I mention the other case full of Olympic Provisions sausages? I know. Mind blown. (KC)
Shopping list: American artisan cheeses, Black Bear XX Stout on tap, honey.
1217 SE Stark St., 233-3910, foodfightgrocery.com. 10 am-8 pm daily.
[VEGAN] The vegan stalwart of Southeast Stark Street's vegan mini-mall calls itself a grocery but, with its small produce case and immense selection of cruelty-free junk food, more resembles a 7-Eleven run by PETA. A selection: vegan nougat, Inka Plantain Chips, Ricemellow Creme, vegan hot-cocoa mix, vegan brownie mix and vegan haggis. Beyond the racks of bags and boxes of things that are good for your karma but probably bad for your waistband are a deli case, plenty of faux cheese and meat products, and big cans of "complete whole food health optimizer." (BW)
Shopping list: Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, Tofurky jerky, Bob's Red Mill textured vegetable protein.
JC Rice Noodle
8405 SE Foster Road, 788-1668. 7 am-7 pm daily.
[NOODLES, TOFU] This tiny shop on an unpleasant corner of Foster Road makes fresh, thin rice noodles—shahe fen, the kind used in pad Thai and chow fun—with a 33-foot beast of a machine that's just visible past the counter. You can buy the chewy, slippery noodles in 12-inch-square sheets, in rolls or chopped into inch-wide ribbons for 95 cents per pound. Use them the day you buy them; they dry out. JC also makes good, dense tofu ($1 per one-pound block) and soy milk, along with a brief menu of noodle dishes to order out or eat in, at the shop's video lottery consoles. Why are there lottery machines in a noodle shop? It's Foster Road. (BW)
Shopping list: Noodles, tofu, barbecue pork rice noodle roll to snack on in the car.
6300 NE 117th Ave., Vancouver, 360-260-4411, lingonberriesmarket.com. 10 am-7 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-6 pm Saturday, 11 am-5 pm Sunday.
[GLUTEN-FREE] Anyone plagued by gluten or wheat allergies, meet your new Valhalla: Every single thing sold at Lingonberries Market, from beer to baking ingredients to (no kidding) communion wafers, is gluten-free. It's not likely to lure through the plains of Vancouver many of those who lustily gorge on beer and bread, but Lingonberries meets the needs of a difficult diet well, and prospers. You'll find the gluten-free line of familiar brands such as Bob's Red Mill and Annie's next to 100 percent anti-gluten Udi's and Better Bread Co. Deceptively tasty treats from local bakeries Fairycakes and Bavaria Mills are also on offer. (CM)
Shopping list: Most anything—oatmeal, barbecue sauce, baguettes, ice cream—de-glutenized.
3731 N Mississippi Ave., 388-4633, atthemeadow.com. 10 am-6 pm Monday-Saturday, 10 am-5 pm Sunday.
[SALT] "Selmelier" Mark Bitterman's adorable, flower-festooned shop is devoted to salt—yep, salt—more than 50 types of exotic finishing salts from 20-plus countries so far. It's worth a trip just to taste-test his varieties, from India's coarse black volcanic Kala Namak ($3.75 an ounce) to institutional pink Japanese Maboroshi plum salt ($7.25 an ounce). But once you're there, you may as well pick up a bar from the gift shop's huge collection of artisan chocolates and a Himalayan salt plate, too.... (KC)
Shopping list: Gray salt, flake salt, fleur de sel, smoked salt...you get the idea.
812 SE Stark St., 232-8947. 8 am-5 pm Monday-Saturday.
[SOY JOY] You can now buy this locally made tofu in many grocery stores around town, but the freshest (not to mention cheapest) slices still come straight from the original factory, quietly tucked away behind the Slammer in inner Southeast. Bring your own container (seriously; otherwise they'll give you a soggy paper Chinese takeout box) and fill it with huge hunks of soft Japanese tofu, perfect for making miso soup or agedashi tofu. Fair warning: Even the "firm" is pretty fragile, so you'll need to squeeze the water out very carefully to do any sort of vigorous cooking with it. Or just buy the tasty pre-fried squares, which are ready to eat straight away—though they probably won't last the trip home. (RB)
Shopping list: Firm and soft tofu, fried tofu.
Penzey's Spice Company
120 NW 10th Ave., 227-6777; 11322 SE 82nd Ave., 653-7779; penzeys.com. 10 am-6 pm Monday-Saturday, 11 am-5 pm Sunday.
[SPICES] If it's ground, dried, cured or macerated for use by human beings, this spice mecca probably carries it—online if not at one of its retail shops. The Wisconsin-based company is known for seeking out the best varieties of vanilla bean, Turkish Aleppo peppers, curry mixes and Szechuan peppercorns and selling them at surprisingly reasonable rates. Penzey's Portland outposts are packed with tidy wooden crates and bins of more than 250 spices and herbs. They smell like a particularly festive day in heaven. All of Penzey's wares come with detailed labels, with samples stored in apothecary jars so you can take a whiff of the stuff yourself. (BW)
Shopping list: Penzey's chili seasoning, crystallized ginger, orange extract, Chinese cassia cinnamon, a "Kitchen of Provence" gift crate of spices, packed with Turkish bay leaves and cinnamon sticks in place of Styrofoam peanuts ($126.79).
Real Good Food
833 SE Main St., realgoodfood.com. 5-7 pm "most Mondays" and once a month at the PSU Farmers Market.
[OLIVE OIL] Jim Dixon sells really, really good olive oil from Italy and California (and sometimes sea salt, balsamic vinegar, farro, haricot beans and hot sauce) from a table at the Portland Farmers Market and out of a tiny warehouse at the Southeast Portland Activspace. His prices are pretty reasonable. If you're into oil in a big way, he'll sell you a share of his next shipment at a discount. (BW)
Shopping list: Excellent olive oil, Crystal hot sauce.
The Spice and Tea Exchange
536 SW Broadway, 208-2886, spiceandtea.com. 10:30 am-7 pm Monday-Saturday, noon-6 pm Sunday.
[SPICES, SALTS] This new high-end spice shop doesn't have the breadth of Penzey's Spices or the obsessive depth of the Meadow, but it has a super-accessible location—making it a fun, chic place to taste and sniff your way through the world, and buy a few small gifts while you're at it. Ivy O'Brien's crimson-colored Old World boutique (part of a small Florida-based chain) boasts all the sweet, savory, herby basics, plus funky-flavored sugars (from tangerine to espresso and habanero, $4.89 for 1.5 ounces) and lots of cooking and finishing salts ($2.89-$4.89 for 1.5 ounces). But its secret weapon is a wall of spice blends the crew grinds fresh every week, from Thai coconut rub to za'atar blend ($4.29 an ounce). (KC)
Shopping list: Mini microplane, big chunk of Bolivian rose salt, dynamite herbes de Provence blend, and beer extract powder, just because.