Eating Downtown Portland with Forktown Food Tours

I recently took a walking tour with Forktown Food Tours, which gave me a chance to see Portland with fresh eyes.

Forktown co-owner Heidi Burnette led our tour of downtown carts and restaurants. The company was founded in 2010, she said, and currently does tours of downtown, Division Street and Mississippi Avenue. She assured me she’d arranged vegan food for me at each of our five stops. Depending on the tour, and with advance notice, they can accommodate special diets. Contact them ahead if you’re vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or alcohol-free. However, if you’re vegan and gluten-free, skip the tour and just go to Harlow.

Our downtown tour covered about a mile and a half. Heidi showed us some of Portland’s historical and cultural sites, too, including the Ladd Carriage House and Director’s Park. We even popped into the Oregon Historical Society to gawk at the coin from the famous coin toss that resulted in Portland being named Portland instead of Boston.

Now, onto the food:

Nel Centro Portland

Beet salad at Nel Centro

We met up at Nel Centro, an Italian eatery on the ground floor of Hotel Modero. This beet salad with hazelnuts and citrus slices was excellent!

Grassa Portland

Housemade rigatoni at Grassa

At Grassa, Heidi explained the fast casual concept: loud music and bright colors make the tables turn over faster, rather than encouraging lingering. But the housemade rigatoni was so delicious, it kind of made me want to stick around.

Wolf & Bear's Portland

Wolf & Bear’s falafel cart

I was excited to note a vegetarian stop on the tour. We each got two falafel balls here with two of Wolf & Bear’s housemade sauces. This tour was part of the World Food Travel Association conference in Portland, so I was walking among sophisticated foodies. Several of them proclaimed these vegan falafels the best thing they ate on the tour.

Cacao Portland

Cacao, our leading downtown chocolate shop

At Cacao, Dillon Glusker explained bean to bar chocolate making and gave out samples of Ranger dark chocolate with beans sourced from Peru. “This bar is only two ingredients,” he said. “A Hershey bar has 12 ingredients.” My fellow walkers got little cups of drinking chocolate made with heavy cream. As the vegan, I got more straight chocolate.

Ruby Jewel Forktown

Heidi Burnette offers us a tray of Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwiches.

Our last stop was Ruby Jewel, where the gluten-free person and I had little cups of coconut ice cream, and everybody else had ice cream sandwiches. They looked really good, especially the lemon shortbread with lavender honey ice cream.

Our five stops added up to a full meal. Heidi said they usually include six stops, but since we were a time-pressed group, they cut out one appetizer. If you’re a food lover visiting Portland, you might really like this tour. You get a chance to efficiently experience some of Portland’s best dining places. Even locals will learn something. I’d never visited Nel Centro or Grassa. Now I’m craving housemade rigatoni instead of the usual packaged pasta.


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