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Best for Chowhounds: Washington or Oregon?

My sister and I are seriously considering moving up north (from the greater L.A. area) in a few years. We are considering everything, including where would be best for a Chowhounder to settle. Besides the obvious (Starbucks, seafood), which state has what specialties? Any great little pockets of deliciousness? Are there little ethnic areas that have killer chow? What, if anything, should we avoid? We know we are going to miss having so many choices for Mexican - anything else we're going to miss, food-wise? Please, keep in mind, we've never been to either state up north - and yes, we plan on visiting both for a few days for a vacation and to research.
Thanks in advance, everyone!

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  1. In some respects, both states are similar in that some of the best food outposts can be found in the many diverse neighborhoods. Aside from Mexican (although there are few exceptions) , I think you will sorely miss good Asian. There is nothing comparable to the chinese seafood restaurants in Monterey Park, etc. Thai can be found (in abundance) in both Portland and Seattle, as can some good Vietnamese, but on the whole neither holds a candle. I'd say ethnic (in general) is a little wanting, but this is understandable given the decidedly anglo-heavy populations in both states. In addition to Mexican and Chinese, I miss the delis, "soul food", and even some of the burger joints!

    What you WILL find in both states (perhaps a bit more in Oregon?) is a strong focus on local ingredients, sustainability, and a youthful enthusiasm for the exploration and exploitation of both. There are some wonderful meals to be had in both Portland and Seattle, and even as a local, I feel I've barely tapped the surface! Best of luck in your quest!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Kim D

      If food is the number 1 focus, then I would have to say Seattle first and then Protland.

      Seattle, by virtue of being a larger metro area, seems to have a bit more variety and depth to the dining scene. By depth I mean more quality restos of a given type. Seattle also has the advantage of being a couple hours drive from Vancouver which does have the quality and quantity of asian food you may be used to in LA.

      I feel that both cities compare vary favorably with cities their size. That being said however, neither can match the diversity or variety you find in an LA or a NYC.

      If you start your hunt looking for good food rather than a good x, you will not be disappointed and will have lots of happy hunting.

      If you are looking for a small town atmoshpere, I would recommend Ashland OR. Due to a Shakespeare festival, there are lots of good restaurants in Ashland and the surrounding area. Many more than the local population would typically support.

      1. re: lgphil

        Careful here, folks: small town atmosphere? I don't think so. Ashland is a really small town, with a big city culture. Towns in Oregon that truly have a small town atmosphere don't have any good places to eat at all, unless you're into pancakes and Jimmy Dean pork sausage heated up in the microwave. Ashland is such an anomaly in Southern Oregon that we are spoken of as "THOSE people" by everyone else in the area. It's beautiful, crime-free, thick with artists and (European) culture - and everybody except the "active seniors" who have retired from California is dancing as fast as they can just trying to come up with the astronomical rents and mortgage payments, while earning $8 an hour for something they got paid $30 an hour for before they moved here.

        1. re: Eat Drink and Be Susan

          Wow. Fascinating. That's kind of what I thought - like Hollywood or one of the beach cities here in CA.
          I'll probably end up in Salem or environs - that's more my speed.
          (Not that I won't want to visit Ashland - it sounds beautiful, and I can't wait to visit.)

    2. What do you mean, "besides the obvious (Starbucks, seafood)" ???

      I don't think any self-respecting Seattlite would say that Starbucks is a Seattle specialty. There are 10-20 coffee shops in Seattle that blow Starbucks away. And Portland's Stumptown beats them all!

      IMHO, Portland has a better food scene than Seattle, but there are still some things Seattle does better than Portland - Szechuan and Top Pot's cake donuts come to mind...

      13 Replies
      1. re: AlbertaHound

        Starbuck's was once a great thing. As soon as they quit grinding the beans in the stores it was all down hill. Next thing you know they's selling tuna sandwiches and CD's! Hopefully Howard Schultz can get them back on the straight and narrow. My advice to Starbuck's, go back to your roots, do one thing and do it well.

        Now days I think Torrefazione is the best coffee shop in Seattle. Guess who owns them...Starbuck's!

        1. re: jpc8015

          Thanks for the input re: Starbucks and coffee places, guys, but I just gave that as an example. I dont' even drink coffee!!
          I'm looking more for general observations and comparisons.
          By the way, I love German type food - are there many places/areas up there that are great for that kind of thing?
          Thanks again, and Ig, love that recommendation of Ashland - looked at their website, and it looks great!!
          Keep 'em coming, guys!!

          1. re: aurora50

            In Seattle, you can find great German food at...<cricket chirping>.

            1. re: Lets_eat

              Feierabend is good IMO. I hear good things about the german fare at People's Pub too.

              1. re: equinoise

                I've eaten at both places; neither stacks up against the food I've eaten in CA, NY/NJ and Germany.

            2. re: aurora50

              PDX has a couple of German chow options:

              Rheinlander/Gustav's: Not bad (used to be better); has the cheesy accordion player in lederhose schtick going. Believe they have a big buffet Sunday brunch

              The Berliner (off Powell): Good; smaller and quieter than Gustav's.

              Neither is inexpensive.

              I agree with another poster's suggestion of Vancouver, WA as an economical place to live, just across the river from PDX. I'd say take an extended trip to both Portland and Seattle to get a feel for each city.

              Seattle is bigger and probably has more culture (including food) in total, but Portland has more culture per capita.

              As for the poster comparing Seattle to Salem, OR, that's just setting up a straw-man argument. Might as well compare Olympia, WA to Portland, i. e. there is no comparison.

          2. re: AlbertaHound

            Igphil, I've been leaning toward Oregon and researching Ashland (and, possibly, Colorado, but that's another thread), and as I said before, it looks great, but there are other indicators that it is (relatively) expensive to live in Ashland, and I've also heard that there is not a strong base for jobs there. I know this is a site for good chow, but do you know anything about these other things re: Ashland? Appreciate any thoughts!

            1. re: aurora50

              I love Ashland, but I think the economy is based on tourism. While there are decent restaurants that cater to the locals, the nicer places are totally driven by the Shakespeare Festival crowd. Among other things this means that the prices in the nicer places to dine are if anything more expensive than Portland for what you get.

              I know the moderators on Chowhounds frown on discussions that aren't strictly related to chow--you might take your questions to www.portlandfood.org, and ask on the Restaurants Elsewhere or Other board.

              1. re: aurora50

                lots of Angelenos in Ashland and the Rogue Valley. We have a strong local food scene, both in production and dining, with a growing wine industry too.
                Try roguevalleyjobs.net and mailtribune.com to get a feel on the job market.
                Check out http://roguecreamery.com
                to start.
                Much better weather in Southern Oregon :)

                1. re: bbqboy

                  Thanks so much for the tips, bbqboy!! : )
                  I will do some of that research.

                  1. re: aurora50

                    here's our grower's market(s):

                    you should take a tour from the Oregon border north up I-5 to Seattle
                    and back down the coast. You'll be wearing flannel in no time. :)

                    1. re: bbqboy

                      Sounds great - I'm sick of roasting in 110 degree weather in summer!!!

            2. I'm a Seattle native who recently moved to Salem, Oregon. From what I see, Seattle is going to give you more options. The style of food is going to be very similar in both cities. You will find great seafood in both areas as well as great local produce. Having grown up in Seattle I view the Pike PLace Market as the chowhound Mecca. You must visit this place at least once in your lifetime. If you like to cook you will find every local ingredient at the Market. If you are not much of a cook you will find things to eat that you never imagined. My favorite place is the crumpet shop out front, toasted crumpet with butter, cream cheese and raspberry preserves.

              1. I lived in Olympia Washington for ten years and had a hard time choosing between whether to move to Seattle or Portland. I've been eating out in each city for a long time and they are both great foodie towns. I chose to move to Portland because I found a great house in northeast Portland where I can walk to the Concordia Ale House for beer, Alberta Street Oyster Bar for seafood, multiple great Mexican, Southern and Thai restaurants for ethnic and plenty of quality bars within a half mile of my house. It's really laid back in Portland. I never have to drive and pretty much every restaurant I end up going to has a local, sustainable and organically driven concept. Seattle is pretty similar but from my experience everything is more expensive and there is more traffic.

                4 Replies
                1. re: porky pine

                  porky: what neighborhood in Portland did you move to? I think we liked Portland the best as well but Seattle has more tech jobs though we thought the food was more creative and tasted better in Seattle (we know now to avoid Park Kitchen and Higgins in Portland though :-).

                  1. re: Spike

                    I'm guessing it's Concordia--that's the area around Concordia Ale House and to the north of the Alberta district. That area also has a great grocery store in New Seasons, in case you're interested in cooking your own food once in a while!

                    1. re: Spike

                      I live right across the street from New Seasons in the Concordia district. I love NE Portland!

                      1. re: porky pine

                        porky: how do you get downtown from concordia? bus I presume? I've always wondered how people hook back up into the light rail system from the other parts of portland...

                  2. I moved to the Puget Sound area from LA a long time ago. If I had it to do over, I would live in Vancouver, Wa. (no State income tax) and shop and eat out in Portland (no sales or restaurant tax). I would still be two hours from Seattle and four from Vancouver, BC.
                    Portland dining scene is very vital and exciting. I love visiting to eat. The only weakness that I see is its lack if good regional Chinese. There's a lot of Chinese-American restaurants and one Cantonese(King's) that serves uneven (sometimes good) Dim Sum.
                    Seattle has lots of very good food, but if I had to find fault, I'd say a lack of good up-scale Mexican and good (or any) Cuban.
                    Of course you'll have to make runs up to the greater Vancouver, BC area for Chinese.
                    One thing I miss from LA is a good pastrami dip. There's only NY deli style around except for a LA ex-pat in Everett (Barnie's).

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: kirkj

                      The next time you're in Portland you'll have to visit Kenny and Zuke's for a NY-style deli: http://kennyandzukes.com/.

                      1. re: Nettie

                        I'm familiar with K&Z, altho good, we LA ex-pats crave LA style pastrami dips.

                          1. re: Nettie

                            Thanks for the responses so far. Maybe I can add a few things:
                            - Any places/farms that offer special produce? Artisanal cheeses?
                            - What about the wineries that are in that general area? I've read that there are many.
                            - I was really looking for some Nordic and/or German neighborhoods or enclaves where I could find some good chow, as that type of cuisine is severely lacking down here in Southern Cal.
                            Thanks again, everyone!

                            1. re: aurora50

                              Broders in SE Portland offers Swedish breakfast and lunch. Not an enclave or neighborhood but pretty good for what it is.

                              1. re: aurora50

                                Both places have fantastic local produce (Seattle has farmer's markets every day of the week--I'll link them below) and both states have serious wine production. Western Wa has a number of very good local cheesemakers and I'm not sure, but I would guess Portland does as well.

                                There hasn't been Scandinavian or German immigration since the early 20th century, so you aren't going to find actual Scandinavian or German neighborhoods. Seattle's Ballard likes to play up their Scandinavian heritage but it's mostly for show these days.

                                Honestly, as a food lover, you're going to be happy either place. I'd focus more on specifics--where can you live for example, where you have easy access to the things that are most important to you? If you won't be able to afford a house in the city of Seattle, for example, and will have to live in a suburb, far from the nearest farmer's market, with only chain groceries and restaurants around, then focus on more affordable Portland.

                                Links (there are 2 main sets of markets):


                                1. re: christy319

                                  Thanks for the input, christy. Yes, my sister and I would be on the suburb end, probably will end up in Oregon - Portland, or maybe Salem - ? Or Ashland - ?
                                  Somewhere like that.

                      2. I'm a former Angeleno (I still have my 323 cell phone) and I ended up moving to Portland. As I explained to some friends, "the Seattle I imagined was Portland in reality". I guess I was looking for a small town.

                        That being said, there are parts of Seattle that I totally dig, like Belltown and Queen Anne, but the sheer concentration of great chow within a small walking distance in Portland eventually tipped the scales in Oregon's favor.

                        If it's specific chow you're looking for, Portland doesn't do Chinese very well (I imagine both Portlanders and Seattlites travel up to Vancouver for such things anyway), and the Korean scene in Portland really isn't as robust as it should be, but PDX has quite a nice variety of Baja/Nayarit Mexican, as well as lot of DF style places. Peruvian and Brazilian is very thin, but Salvadoran is quite rich in the Hillsboro area. There's also a good array of Yucatecan options.

                        Portland's sushi offerings doesn't hold a candle to LA/OC's stuff, but this is a maki town, and I guess I'm more of a nigiri kind of guy. There are quite a few izakayas up and down the PNW doing exciting stuff, and Seattle has a bigger ramen/udon/somen/soba scene than Portland does.

                        I would put Portland's Viet scene next to anyone's other than Westminster/GardenGrove down in Orange County. Don't know about Seattle's, though. I have to imagine that Seattle's Korean offerings are at least as good if not better.

                        1. Notice that the Portlanders on this board are saying great things about Seattle (-;

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: AlbertaHound

                            Actually, no, I haven't noticed that; Portlanders on this post anyway are not saying great things about Seattle. Rather there are ex-Seattle-lites who have moved to Salem, OR, talking about how Seattle is far better food-wise than Salem (Duh!), and thinking that somehow makes for a comparison between Seattle and Portland.

                            Furthermore, it seems the number of posts regarding PDX, from PDX'ers, has dropped off due to other websitesdedicated to Portland food, so trying to make some general inference regarding Portlanders' postings here would be dodgy at best.

                            1. re: Dr Chow

                              Lighten up Dr. Chow, it was a joke. But as for comparisons between the cities, they both are pretty amazing compared to other cities of their size in the country. Seatte has better Chinese, and Portland has a better collection of eccentric spots, but between the two, most needs can be satsfied. One obvious exception would be the need to go to Vancouver for Vij's.

                          2. All I can say is that Portland has Stumptown Coffee and better craft breweries. That in and of itself makes Portland better.

                            15 Replies
                            1. re: downtownbrown

                              While Stumptown started in Portland, so Portland gets full credit for that, Stumptown has now migrated north to Seattle, so it is no longer a S-town deficient zone. Also, depending on your preferences, I think Vivace in Seattle is as good as Stumptown.

                              1. re: blue2000

                                also not sure portland has better craft brews. I dont think either city stands heads over heals over one another in brewing.

                                1. re: dagrassroots

                                  Seattle used to be better, but now, Portland does in fact stand head over heels above S-town in the beer dept: Widmer, Deschutes, Bridgeport, Roots, Lucky Lab, Raccoon Lodge, Mcmenamins are just a few brew pubs that call Portland home, and when you factor things like the Oregon Brewer's Fest, which is the biggest in the country, the beer hat just has to be tapped in PDX's direction...

                                  1. re: MichaelG

                                    I don't know: Hales, Elysian, Georgetown Brewing Co., Waimea, Mac & Jack's, Maritime Pacific, Pyramid, and Pike can hold their own.

                                    1. re: dagrassroots

                                      Left out the Baron and Laughing Buddha too.

                                      1. re: jaydeflix

                                        Don't forget Boundary Bay, Elliott Bay, & Snoqualmie Falls...

                                      2. re: dagrassroots

                                        Thanks everyone, this is really fascinating to me. As an Angelino, this kind of reminds me of the rivalry between San Franciscans and Angelinos in California. Anyone care to comment?

                                        1. re: aurora50

                                          Oh, I think Seattlites and Portlanders (?) generally like each other's cities--I don't think it's like SF and LA where someone from SF would say, I'd rather die than move to LA. If Seattlites and Portlanders were kicked out of their cities they'd probably move to the other one. I just think some residents of both have a bit of a chip on their shoulder when they hear the other city is better. Portland for so long (most of the 20th century!) was so staid, quiet, and conservative--it was always the less interesting little sibling to Seattle--I think a lot of us Seattlites are still surprised to hear that it's now so vibrant/progressive/desirable/etc.

                                          1. re: christy319

                                            I live in Seattle and looove coming down to Portland 4 or 5 times a year and feel like I am only beginning to understand the breadth of offerings this "smaller" city has to offer. And as a Seattle native, I agree with the post the Portland has more culture per capita. That being said, Seattle is incredible and really starting to come into its own. We have Green Leaf, Salumi, of course the Pike Place, tons of farmers markets, Nishino, Manny's (awesome pale ale), Besalu, Estrella Creamery and tons of new great creatives hatching everywhere. It is more expensive and traffic here blows. I would be pretty happy ultimately living in either city.

                                            1. re: winemd

                                              Another reason we'll probably end up in Oregon. I'm sick of fighting traffic and taking an hour to go 20 miles.

                                              1. re: aurora50

                                                When I lived in Portland back in the late 90's, I already had to spend over an hour to go 20 miles (Gresham to Hillsboro). But at least Portland has a good street grid system, so it's not completely dependent on the interstate system like Seattle is. And the light rail thing too.

                                                1. re: HungWeiLo

                                                  google maps reports that Gresham to Hillsboro is closer to 40 miles than 20. Plus downtown Portland is right smack in between the two, so it's not terribly surprising that it would take an hour!

                                            2. re: christy319

                                              Actually, as a Porltlander, I fall into the category of rather die than live in Seattle - mostly because of crowds, downtown filth, and traffic.

                                              1. re: AlbertaHound

                                                Really? Our traffic is pretty bad, but it's not even close to as bad as most cities. If you live in Seattle you rarely need to take I-5 anywhere, so you avoid 90% of the problems. Plus the city itself is pretty small, so you're never far away from anything. It's not like Dallas or LA where you have to drive 20 miles just to get anywhere.

                                                I've always thought of our downtown as fairly clean as they go. I will admit that the Alaskan Way Viaduct does make things a little dank near the water front.

                                                I don't like crowds much either, but anytime you live in a large city, there are going to be lots of people.

                                                That being said, I do love Portland. I wish we had Pok Pok and Apizza Scholls here. But if I moved there, I would miss many of my favorites. As it's been said early I think Portland probably has us beat in food destinations per capita. But in total number I think we come out ahead. Portland would be number one destination if I had to move though.

                                                1. re: AlbertaHound

                                                  I am in a unique position to live in 3 cities (Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver) pretty much equally throughout the year (due to work and family obligations), and I say you exaggerate much about the differences between Seattle and Portland. I'll give you the traffic (and these days, it's not THAT big of a difference anymore due to the below-average skills of Pacific NW drivers in general), but the 2 downtowns are not that different in regards to cleanliness. Crowds - I think now that Portland has overtaken Seattle in liberal-ness, at least Portland's protest crowds are larger in size. :-)