Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Pacific Northwest >
Jul 17, 2008 03:42 PM

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!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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, 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 and to get a feel on the job market.
                Check out
                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:

                      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.