Best of Portland 2011: Best Bites & Nights

Midnight Mystery Ride

Best Cheap Date 

After the second wettest spring on record, the sun is finally making brief public appearances in Portland. And so Portlanders are tentatively emerging from their holes, tattoos stark against green-white rainy season complexions, eyes blinking spastically behind Wayfarers, groins tingling at the first glimpses of each other's exposed flesh. These mole-ish citizens flock to the city's green spaces to bask in this strange warm light and glance furtively at the limbs and mounds peeking from V-necks and cutoffs. And there is no better spot to shake off the mildew with an attractive partner than on the pier at Cathedral Park (North Edison Street and Pittsburg Avenue), under the suggestive gothic thrust of the St. Johns Bridge. Yes, even bridges seem sexual after the matronly gray months. Bring a bottle—it may even be warm enough for something bubbly—and a blanket and reacquaint yourselves with that vaguely familiar yellow orb reflecting off the water—and with any other sources of heat within a wandering hand's reach. ETHAN SMITH.

People Places Reads Bites Sights Then&Now

Best Late-Night Game of Follow-the-Leader

It was not a typical night at the Copper Rooster, a biker dive on East Burnside Street. A twentysomething guy wearing Cleopatra eye makeup was singing karaoke to Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl," and a crowd with a median age probably 20 years below the Rooster's average clientele was thronging the bar. Everybody was trying to get one last drink, because at midnight, we would ride. This evening, the Copper Rooster was the unlikely staging area for the Midnight Mystery Ride, a monthly happening that combines bikes and whimsy to quintessentially Portland effect: Participants meet at a drinking establishment (announced on the MMR blog,, only on the day of the event) and bike to a top-secret location—someplace unexpected and known only to that month's volunteer ride leader.

According to an anonymous operative in the ride's shadowy organizing cabal, Team Midnight, the MMR started over eight years ago, "after the death of Critical Mass. And fun. And the love of mysteries. And bikes. And Portland." Since then, turnout has climbed from the tens to the hundreds. The Copper Rooster ride, which coincided with Pedalpalooza, was even bigger than usual; at the witching hour, when the riders finally rolled out, they were perhaps 300 strong. Pretty much the whole menagerie of Keep-Portland-Weird types was represented: There was a dude with a mohawk wearing only a leather jacket and bright green underpants. There was a girl in all black who yelled, "Break your addiction to oil!" at a passing car. There were tall bikes, bikes rocking speakers and a bike with a vintage Schlitz keg built into its frame. The ride ended in a field across from Rocky Butte, where six-packs were produced and a party, illuminated by the glow of bike lights, got under way. JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG.

Best Low-Rent Alternative to Portland City Grill 

Where do Portland's elite go to swap iPhone snaps of their last holiday in Monaco? Well, no one like that lives in Portland, and if they did, they wouldn't go to Windows Sky Lounge (1021 NE Grand Ave., 235-2100,, the glass-wrapped bar perched six floors up, atop the Convention Center Red Lion. Windows is where Tri-Cities vinyl-siding salesmen unwind after a long day manning a convention booth/waiting to die. The decor evokes an off-Strip Vegas casino. Or perhaps the waiting room of Donald Trump's personal orthodontist: faux-marble bar, whimsically patterned carpet to whimsically camouflage the odd vomit stain, recessed mood lighting to flatter what appear to be once-expensive prostitutes. Yet Windows is far more charming than its rooftop competition, Departure and Portland City Grill. Those over-designed eagle's nests may trumpet "class" through more expensive horns, but they're playing the same tacky song as Windows. ETHAN SMITH.

Best Meal on Wheels

Forget your Prius or vegetable-oil-powered van, because Tom Myers may just have the greenest vehicle in Portland: Truck Farm (, a pickup with a living, edible farm in the back. A food and garden teacher at Abernethy Elementary School, Myers was inspired to fill the bed of his 2002 Ford Ranger with potting soil and chicken manure after reading about a similar project in New York. He and his third- and fourth-graders are now successfully growing snap peas, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco broccoli, arugula, lettuce and herbs inside the tiny space, to be eaten by visitors or go into the salad bar at Abernethy. Myers drives the farm, which doubles as his personal vehicle, out to visit farmers markets, camps and neighborhood events, but he says curious urbanites also make impromptu visits in parking lots, on his block and at red lights. RUTH BROWN.

Best Drunken Munchies Mistake

Drive-thru Mexican has been a refuge for famished drunks since this nation was founded. Or at least since Taco Bell was founded. However, even drunken palates mature, and post-college, only the mightiest binge can make the Bell appetizing. But take heart, you disgusting lushes. Muchas Gracias (707 NE Weidler St., and other locations) has split the difference between Taco Bell and taqueria: It's cheap, open 24 hours, boasts a drive-thru (not that you should be driving) and offers bleary approximations of actual Mexican food. Given Portland's plethora of legit taquerias, there's no reason to visit Muchas in the daylight. But when the bars close, this gaudy, stuccoed siren will silence the gurgles from your booze-poisoned insides. In particular, the chips and guacamole are a gloppy heap of unholy satisfaction, presenting colors not found in nature. The uranium-green glare of the guac suggests laboratory origins. And the garish orange "cheese" looks like it would not melt in the heat of a thousand suns. But, dios mio, that shit is good. ETHAN SMITH.

Best Brunch Binge 

The sounds of glasses clanging in endless toasts. People giggling endlessly in a pitch that can only be obtained with a head full of Champagne. And, of course, the sweet voice of Kylie Minogue drifting from a barside TV playing a concert video. This is the symphony surrounding Starky's (2913 SE Stark St., 230-7980, on Sunday mornings; the soundtrack to a breakfast that's pure bliss for people who like to get shitfaced in the morning. For a scant $7 on top of a breakfast order, Portland's most unassuming (and accepting) gay establishment delivers bottomless mimosas, served with a bottle of Champagne and a carafe of orange juice. The mix-it-yourself method allows more hardcore morning drunkies to skip the fruit and go straight for the bubbly, which just keeps on coming until you're too bloated to drink more or too hammered to lift the bottle any longer. It's one of Southeast Portland's best-kept secrets, and one of the liveliest breakfast benders in town. AP KRYZA. [NOTE: Starky's owner Joe Waldroff called to note that Starky's customers average a third of a bottle per table, and that anyone who attempts a Kryza-esque binge will be cut off.]

Best Americano

When news broke that a private equity firm was spraying cash at Stumptown, coffee snobs across Portland were thrust into the success/selling-out mindbind that pervades this city. Can one still sip Hairbender while maintaining indie cred? Better to simply avoid such a thorny ethical (Jesus-you-are-so-goddamn-white) dilemma. Enter Heart Coffee Roasters (2211 E Burnside St., 206-6602, This micro-roasting upstart on East Burnside Street, opened in October 2009, is independent as fuck. But more importantly, it pours Portland's best Americano. Ruddy crema swirls above complex flavors that belie the simple espresso-plus-hot water formula. The shop's Stereo espresso blend and rotating single-origin beans, sourced in Latin America and Africa, have their own distinctive charms, from tealike herbal notes to nutty sweetness. But if the Kenya Kaiguri returns, pounce on it. This clean-finishing cup is evidence that Heart has elevated the Americano—and proof that, whatever happens, there is great coffee after Stumptown. ETHAN SMITH.

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