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Mar 30, 2009 03:08 AM

Portland VS. Seattle

I know this link has come up in the past but I want to hear what you have to say on the subject of Portland vs Seattle as the Pac NW foodie meeca because there have been so many changes in both citites very recently. No holds barred here. High end vs cheap eats, variance in cuisine, service, breakfast foods, pizza, everything. Or if there is somethiing that you like, or dislike, so much about one that you cannot hold it in any longer write it down. I know this is a broad thread, but I reallly want to hear what you have to say.

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  1. Seattle VS. Portland?

    Seattle, by a country mile, it just has more neighborhoods. It is also a city. That said, Portland is a food town and a great one at that, but let's not get confused here, just because Seattle and Portland are close does not mean they compare.

    1. I travel between both regularly, and I have to say that it's awesome that both cities do things very well. Here are some where I think their relative strengths are:

      * Korean -- While Portland (and specifically Beaverton) has a handful of noteworthy places like Naekwon and CKR, nothing compares to the scene at Seattle (and specifically Federal Way). Case in point: Portland has zero Korean fried chicken.
      * Sushi -- There will be proponents of Hiroshi and Murata in Portland, but neither hold a candle to Shiro's or Chiso Kappo in Seattle. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that Chiso Kappo is second only to Urasawa. There, I said it. (Heading to Masa in NYC this spring to make the full comparison.)
      * Ramen -- It's a cute novelty here in Portland, and while izakayas like Biwa, Yuzu and sometimes Tanuki all have ramen, there are no dedicated ramenyas like there are in Seattle.
      * Spanish -- In Portland we have Toro Bravo and that's really about it.
      * Seafood -- Many people strangely think of Portland as a seafood town, but it's about an hour inland. My reference point is The Hungry Cat in Los Angeles, and there's really nothing like it in Portland in terms of commitment to using seafood as the focus of the menu. In Seattle, that's another story, where the ocean's bounty is treated like a birthright.

      * Pizza -- Apizza Scholls merits heated debate because it's contentious at the top of the hill. It truly competes at the national level. You never hear Serious Pie or Via Tribunali enter thet discussion at that level.
      * Vietnamese -- Places in Seattle like Green Leaf and Pho Bac are nice enough, but they would be just another blip on the radar in Portland among Ngoc Han, Bun Bo Hue, Yen Ha, Ha & VL not to mention numerous pho and banh mi shops. This is even without the closed Banh Cuon Tan Dinh.
      * Non-traditional izakayas -- I'm really speaking on the strength alone of Biwa and Tanuki. In Seattle, I feel that a place like Boom or other spots in Belltown overshoot the mark and fall into the realm of too much style and not enough substance.
      * Thai -- Pok Pok is the big name here; find me a place in Seattle with the creativity and audacity to not have pad thai on the menu and still be as highly regarded. In fact, if you want to only include "classic" Thai-American fare on the menu, I'll use Dang's Thai Kitchen in LakeO and it would probably be a push.

      Some personal notes and observations:
      * There's a sandwich trend here in Portland that doesn't look like it has an equivalent groundswell in Seattle. It's going to take a lot for a Seattle establishment to overtake Bunk, not to mention the rest of the Portland lineup.
      * Seattle wins in variety, hands down, but it's also a bigger city so that's to be expected. The downside to a bigger city is the travel factor, as well as the parking factor ($5 to park for only 2 hours among warehouses?!?)
      * Portland appears to win on street food, but to be fair Seattle wins on food court food (I'm speaking solely from experiences at Asian markets).
      * My personal bias is showing here, but I prefer Stumptown beans over a lot of other beans, including Intelligentsia.
      * I'm not sold on any differences in terms of Mexican food. Portland proper gets no love, but head out into the burbs of Hillsboro and things really start to get interesting. In fact, this is also the domain of many Indian establishments, but again, this is all a bit inconclusive by my reasoning.

      3 Replies
      1. re: SauceSupreme

        Having lived in both cities I agree with most cites I agree with most of what you say Sauce, but I do have to add a few comments.
        Vietnamese -- Places in Seattle like Green Leaf and Pho Bac are nice enough, but they would be just another blip on the radar in Portland among Ngoc Han, Bun Bo Hue, Yen Ha, Ha & VL not to mention numerous pho and banh mi shops. This is even without the closed Banh Cuon Tan Dinh.
        - I think seattle has portland beat. On the mid-level I think it is a push, Seattle has a lot more than just Pho Bac and Green Leaf. But on the higher end, Seattle has places Tamarind Tree and Monsoon that portland has no match for.

        - With Sandwiches I would rate portland better because of depth (i.e. Bunk, Kenny and Zukes, MCB, Etc.) but I have yet to find a sandwich in portland that I crave more than The sandwiches at Paseo's or a meatball sandwich from salumi.

        1. re: dagrassroots

          At our highest end we have Silk by Pho Van, which Portlanders don't even use as a measuring stick. Perhaps it's that Seattle has Portland beat at high-end demand for Vietnamese, while we tend to just stick to the hole in the wall Mom-and-Pop operations. My personal Viet experience stems from Little Saigon in the OC, and I remembered in California noting that I didn't ever run into a well regarded high-end Viet place until I visited the Bay Area. So maybe it's just localized preferences. (For the record, I like Silk by Pho Van, it's just not my everyday choice.)

          Salumi we definitely have no answer for, but there have been times I walked away from Paseo wondering why I decided that a grease sandwich was a good idea. I'll take the cubano from Bunk (if and when it appears on the menu) and even K&Z SandwichWorks might offer me a better interpretation that doesn't involve me picking up the Paseo corn cob in horror.

        2. re: SauceSupreme

          FYI Intelligensia is out of Chicago not seattle

        3. Alls I know is I want a Seattle branch of Pok Pok so I can stop driving three hours for dinner.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Earl of Sandwich

            Well I'd really be interested in is a comparison of Seattle vs Vancouver (BC) vs Portland. I go to all three cities and think they each have different strengths.

            Portland is the smallest of the three, but it is the only city among the three that has a top-notch wine growing region on its outskirts (the Willamette Valley). I love Portland for Euro-inspired bistro cuisine.

            Seattle is the largest of the three. I'm the least familiar with the food scene there of the three cities. It strikes me as having quite a bit of depth and diversity but the restaurants are also spread out over a large distance compared to the other two.

            Vancouver probably takes the 'Best Chinese' category among the three, but has no good Thai to speak of. Vancouver also probably has a better South Asian food scene. However, it does not have a good Mexican scene at all!

            All three have good seafood scenes, but Vancouver and Seattle both probably have an edge over Portland.

          2. I want to thank you all for your feedback. I have lived in Seattle for many years now and every time I am in Portland I have experiences with food that I wish I could have in this city. The food here in Seattle just does not excite me like what I have enjoyed in Portland over the past couple years. Do I dare say that I have had my fill and I am bored with Seattle? Please go easy on that one.......

            1 Reply
            1. re: passionfoodie

              The grass is pretty green in all three cities, it's natural for the resident of any of them to find it greener elsewhere.

              I regularly meet Portlanders and Vancouverites who visit Seattle for its food and nightlife, while I think they're mostly crazy to prefer the food here. (OK, Vancouver nightlife I understand; concerts come through but I haven't found a bar in Vancouver I love where there are dozens I can think of in Seattle and Portland.)

              As others have pointed out, each have areas of excellence. I'm just glad they're so close together that I can take weekend trips north or south to enjoy them for what they are.

            2. I was raised in Vancouver BC and now live in Seattle, so I'm INTRIGUED with the whole Vancouver vs Seattle topic. But let me just comment on the Portland post that is the real question at hand. I must say that I really admire Portland as a city. Both Vancouver and Portland have obviously had thoughtful city planners the likes of which Seattle has obviously and sadly never encountered. For its size, downtown Portland has a vibrancy that Seattle in comparison dilutes over multiple neighborhoods and with a sprawl spawned by I5 and I90. And Portland has some fantastic food too. Just a couple of weekends there, and I was very pleased with meals at Toro Bravo, Park Kitchen, the Screendoor, etc. Overall, I think you probably find more variety in Seattle just due to its size, but Portland does a great job and I think it should be commended.

              Now, onto the Vancouver/Seattle topic... Vancouver obviously has Chinese down pat. I am Chinese, and this is a given. There is no contest here for Cantonese and Shanghai food. BUT, Facing East and Spiced in Bellevue are two good examples of surprises that I didn't expect in Seattle. Vancouver is just starting to get decent Taiwanese food and there are no good Sichuanese places that I'm aware of. Even my vancouverite parents love those places. Oh and Federal Way has any Korean food in Vancouver beat hands down. Vietnamese high end better in Seattle. Pho... better in vancouver. and the sushi battle is also easily won by Vancouver too.

              Now where Seattle REALLY has Vancouver beat is mid-level restaurants. There's something about Seattle that is so organic and innovative... Spinasse, Harvest Vine, Dinette, Pie, etc. Just cool little funky places with great food. LOVE IT. Vancouver is kinda trendy. And there is this really sad phenomenon of these chain restaurants (Earls, Joey's, Cactus Club) that just pisses the crap out of me. I mean the food is edible and all and the eye candy wait-staff are nice and all... but seriously... be more original. The saddest part of it all is that Rob Feenie, clearly the best chef in Vancouver (he was one of the first foreign challenger chefs to win in Japan's Iron Chef), quit as a real chef to work as head food director for those places. There are a few places making a change in Vancouver, but too few and far between for a city of its varied and rich palate.

              Overall, i'd say Vcr and Seattle probably have Portland beat, but the Pac NW is no shabby place for food, whichever city you are in. I'm certainly happier here for the food choices than I was in Boston.