Welcome to Portland! As the top “food city” in America according to the Washington Post, you can eat quite well here, even on a very modest budget. Even during the conference day, you have multiple options for local, quality food and drink. Given the thousands of restaurants, cafes, food carts and pubs in the city, though, we’re going to limit our recommendations to places within a quick walk of the Oregon Convention Center (OCC). For recommendations outside that area, please see Resources below.
Eating In the Convention Center
The OCC now has multiple food and coffee options inside the convention center itself, so if you really don’t want to experience Oregon rain, you never have to exit the show. Menus and hours are detailed on the OCC website; note that the hours of each restaurant vary by day based on expected show traffic. While these eateries are slightly less economical or interesting than options outside the convention center, they keep their prices modest. None of them are open past 4pm.
Your first stop inside the OCC is likely to be one of the two Portland Roasting coffee bars. As well as serving locally roasted coffee and espresso drinks, both locations offer pastries in the morning and shrink-wrapped sandwiches at lunch. Similar take-out lunch options are available from The Orbit Room. Want a hot, sit-down lunch? Try The Dragon Boat Grill or Cucina Rosso … but go early, since there will be thousands of other potters looking for lunch. On Thursday and Friday, the pan-Asian Stir Bistro will also be open for lunch.
Food Near The Convention Center
If the lunch lines are too long inside the OCC, or you simply want more local, interesting fare, grab your umbrella and head outside. While still sparsely occupied, there are a lot more places to eat near the OCC than there were a few years ago.
You don’t have to eat the “continental” breakfast at your hotel. There are several options you can stop by for a quick pastry, or a full breakfast, on your way to NCECA in the morning. J Cafe, located on the walk from the DoubleTree Hotel, has excellent espresso and tasty breakfast and lunch panini. Citizen Baker, across the street from the OCC, serves pastry, sandwiches and coffee all day long. And while My Father’s Place, South of the OCC, is known as a dive bar, they also serve diner-style eggy breakfasts every morning.
For lunch, why not Burgerville? Yes, it’s undeniably fast food, but it’s fast food with a gourmet twist: salads with Oregon blue cheese, Tillamook cheddar cheeseburgers, wild-caught halibut sandwiches, and best of all, milkshakes with local, seasonal ingredients (currently chocolate-hazelnut). If you want something a bit more healthful, try Table 6, a local vegetarian-friendly cafe. Since Table 6 is popular with the local office workers, it can pay to order ahead on their website.
Let’s face it, if Portland is known for anything, it’s beer. With more than 80 breweries in the city (not counting elsewhere in Oregon), you can drink local beer on tap with every meal and never the same one twice. Because of local and state law, most beer halls also serve food, although it can vary from perfunctory to gourmet; check reviews to be sure.
While most of the drinking establishments you’ll frequent will be downtown or elsewhere, there are a few options close by the OCC. The Altabira City Tavern is the restaurant and beer bar in the newly-opened Hotel Eastlund. Go there for a snazzy (but spendy) small-plates lunch or dinner, as well as any of 16 local beers on tap. If the Altabira is too crowded or too rich for your tastes, the Spirit of 77 sports bar has both local sports and 11 rotating taps (the food is not recommended).
Oregon is also known for wine, particularly pinot noir. Sadly, though, there isn’t a good place for wine within a quick walk of the convention center. Try The Portland Wine Bar and Wine Tasting Room downtown.
A Little Further Away
If you have a bit more time to find breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the Broadway district is only about 20 minutes walk from the OCC. There you’ll find popular places like Milo’s City Cafe, Frank’s Noodle House, Cadillac Cafe, and a vegan bar and grill called Black Water. You’ll find that Portland is very accommodating to special diets; whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, halal or something else, there is a restaurant for you — probably more than one!
Downtown and the Pearl District are only a 10-minute MAX ride away from the OCC, making them an option for lunch as well as evening activities. If you want to eat like a real Portlander, head over to the 9th and Alder Food Carts, where inexpensive takeout food from 30 different countries is available. If it’s raining, the Pine Street Market offers food-cart-type foods but with a roof overhead. There are also numerous standard restaurants. For a treat, try the Portland City Grill for a skyscraper view of the city, and don’t miss Cupcake Jones in the Pearl for a little something sweet.
East Burnside is directly South of the OCC, and has many of Portland’s new and hot restaurants and bars, such as Katchka, Screen Door, and Le Pigeon. North is the North Mississippi and Alberta neighborhoods, including many affordable local restaurants like Eat, Petite Provence, Bunk Sandwiches and Pine State Biscuits.
Attendees from small cities or rural areas should keep in mind that Portland is a city, and as such popular restaurants will fill up, even on a weeknight. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially for parties of more than four. Note that some popular eateries don’t take reservations, and some are cash-only. For example, if you plan to go to Pok Pok, go very early (5pm) or be ready to wait for an hour or more. Also, parking downtown is limited and requires payment before 7pm. Tips are expected.
Enjoy your time in Portland, and eat well!
Arriving in Portland
Visitors flying in will arrive at PDX Airport, consistently rated the best airport in the USA (and for good reason). It has a wide array of locally-owned, reasonably-priced food options, so plan to take meals there if you happen to arrive at lunch or dinner. It also has a distillery shop (yes, really). Outside security, there’s also a branch of Real Mother Goose Art Gallery, Powell’s Books, and more food.
From the airport, your best way into downtown or the convention center is the MAX Red Line. Follow the signs to “Trimet/MAX” in order to get to the Red Line. It’s the only train line there, and it terminates at the airport, so you don’t have any decisions to make … except how to pay. While NCECA will be providing you with a Trimet pass in your registration packet, you’ll need to pay for the trip from the airport yourself. Do this either using the vending machines on the platform, or download and install the Trimet app on your phone, but definitely do not board the train without having paid. The train trip takes 30 to 40 minutes to get to the Oregon Convention Center (OCC), although you may want to get off at a different stop depending on where you’re staying.
If you’re staying somewhere away from the MAX line, or if you arrive very late at night or early in the morning when the trains are less frequent, you might want to take a taxi, Lyft or Uber. There’s a taxi queue on ground transportation platform 2 on the baggage level, and Lyft and Uber cars arrive at the far left end of platform 1 on the same floor.
If you’re driving in, please note that Portland is surrounded by freeway congestion points both North and South. From 3pm to 7pm, it’s generally better to wait out the traffic if you can; you can get stuck in the town of Wilsonville for an hour otherwise. Do check Google Maps or Waze for traffic reports, and don’t be afraid to exit the freeway early and take Highway 99 or city streets if it’s jammed up. Remember to check with your hotel on charges for parking; at some of the OCC hotels, they can be significant (up to $25/day).
For visitors flying in, I recommend against renting a car except for out-of-town trips (such as to wineries). You will want a vehicle for those, but the best approach is to rent a car only on the days you need it. During the days you’re at NCECA, a car will just be a burden.
Importantly, parking at the OCC is somewhat scarce, often filling up early in the morning, and costs $10 per day. If you’re driving to the OCC because you’re hauling gear, plan to get there early before it fills up. The overflow parking is in the Rose Quarter, which is about half a mile away. Otherwise, take public transportation to the OCC even if you’re driving to Portland.
If you’re staying somewhere far away from the OCC, keep in mind that freeway traffic in Portland during rush hours (7-9am and 3-7pm) can be surprisingly bad. Either avoid driving during those hours, or plan for an extra half-hour travel time.
Portland’s public transit agency, Trimet, has three parts: MAX rail, streetcars, and buses. The OCC is quite well-served by Trimet, so there’s no real reason to look for anything else. Trains to the OCC are both frequent and fast. Most importantly, Trimet is clean, friendly, and reliable. Everyone in Portland uses it at least some of the time.
The MAX has four different colored lines (Red, Green, Blue and Yellow) and takes you from the airport to the OCC and downtown, as well as out to many of the suburbs and neighborhoods such as Gresham, Hollywood, or Beaverton. The three Portland Streetcar lines take you around downtown, to Portland State University, and from the OCC to Southeast Portland, where many of the best restaurant options are.
Getting to and from the OCC by bus can be pretty darn convenient, especially since the OCC is barely one block from the Rose Quarter Transit Center, the main inner city transit hub. Bus stops closest to the OCC include those for lines 8, 77, and 6. Lines 8 and 77 have stops just one block north of the convention center, at the intersections of NE Multnomah Blvd and NE 2nd and NE 3rd. The 6 bus stops at the northeastern corner of the OCC, on MLK Jr Blvd. MLK runs one-way headed south along this stretch, so stops for the northbound 6 are one block east on NE Grand Ave. Bus lines which intersect with the 6 include 11, 75, 72, 24, 17, 12, 19, 20, and 15. Bus lines 4, 8, 35, 44, 77, and 85 stop at the Rose Quarter, about a block west of the OCC, along with all MAX lines.
Other bus lines that may prove useful include the 12, 19, and 20 which run east/west along Burnside/Couch, five+ blocks south of the OCC and the 15 which runs east/west slightly farther south. The 20 is the only bus which will get you to Oregon College of Art and Craft. If you want to take the 20 out to OCAC, make sure to board a bus that says “Beaverton Transit Center.” Those that say “To Portland & NW 23rd/Tichner,” won’t get you all the way to OCAC.
Trimet has a great Trip Planner, where you’ll also find service alerts and a transit tracker (where the heck is that bus?!). During business hours most buses run every 15-20 minutes, but later in the evening or on the weekend frequency may be reduced big time, so plan ahead. Google Maps’ trip planner can be helpful to discover which bus lines service the area you are in, but I highly recommend checking TriMet for real-time arrivals and schedules. I have been burned by the Google one too many times!
Trimet uses a “proof of purchase” system, which means that you can board any train but need to have a pass on you; if not, you can be cited by a fare inspector and pay a $175 fine. Buses are pay/show at the door instead. Single rides are $2.50. You will receive a 1-week Trimet pass with your NCECA registration package, so you should only need to buy a pass to get from the airport. If you extend your stay, or need passes for family members, you can either get them from the vending machines on some MAX platforms, or you can use the Trimet phone app. Of these, I recommend the app as the most convenient. You’ll need other apps for finding routes and train arrival times, though; I use Trimet Tracker.
Walking and Biking
Portland is also a tremendously walkable and bikeable town; in fact, it’s the most bikeable town in the USA. Walking or biking to downtown from the OCC across the bridge is very doable (one to two miles, depending on where you’re going). There’s a special bike/pedestrian path under the Steel Bridge, which is the closest one to the OCC, and gives you a very scenic view of the Willamette river and the city in good weather.
If you can, I’d recommend bringing a bike; the OCC has ample bike parking, as does most of the city. For visitors who are flying in, there are the “orange bikes” from Biketown at the OCC which are available for short-term rentals. These are generally a better option than renting bikes by the week, unless you’re planning on a bike trip out of town. They cost $2.50 per trip, or $12 for a full day.
Walkers and bikers should beware that it rains frequently here. If it’s not raining, though, walking or biking is often the best way to get to restaurants and bars in the Pearl, around the Saturday Market, or on Broadway.
The city is also well-covered by both regular taxis and new taxi services (Lyft, Uber). If you don’t feel like waiting for a bus or train, you can get just about anywhere you’d want to go for $10 to $30. Main taxi companies are Radio Cab (has phone app), and Portland Taxi (no app). There are sometimes cabs waiting right outside the OCC.
Public transportation information written by Sarah Chenoweth Davis.
Hopefully you’ve already booked your accommodations for NCECA, as many hotels are already booked up. In case you haven’t, or in case you’re looking for alternatives, this article will provide you with some ideas and information.
The first thing to understand is that the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) is located on the East side of the Willamette River, just across the water from downtown Portland. The area adjacent to the OCC is sometimes called Lloyd District after the nearby shopping mall. This area includes a bunch of big chain hotels in the $150 to $300/night range, including a Marriott Courtyard, a Crowne Plaza, a Quality Inn, a Doubletree, a Hyatt and similar. These hotels are pretty much what you’d expect from their national chains.
At this point, to stay in this area you’re going to be booking what you can get. Still, it pays to check online reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor; a few of the hotels near OCC have unsavory reputations, and those generally still have rooms available. In contrast, the Hotel Eastlund is brand-new. Do note that even the hotels in Lloyd District can be up to 1/2 mile from the OCC, so you should bring a handcart if you have to lug show gear from your hotel to the conference. Also, check on your hotel’s breakfast options, as other places for breakfast in or near the OCC are limited.
As an alternative, almost any accommodation near the MAX train lines is going to be less than half an hour away from the OCC, 16 hours a day. So if you’re on a budget or looking for special accommodations, consider staying further out from downtown but near a train. For example, there are quite inexpensive hotels near the 82nd Ave. MAX Station, for those willing to put up with a very “seedy” neighborhood to save money. However, due to a roundabout route, hotels near the airport are a bit too far away. In more upscale options, there are some nice B&Bs on the East side of Lloyd Center Mall, such as the Lion and Rose.
Going Westward, the hotels of downtown are available to you, just five to ten minutes on a train across the bridge (which is also walkable if you don’t mind long walks). Several of these are mentioned on the NCECA website. While unlikely to be cheaper than staying close to the OCC, they may have more available rooms, and a few may have special deals. One spendy hotel I’ll mention on the other side of downtown, just because it’s spectacular, is Hotel Deluxe.
Portland also has a large number of properties listed with AirBnB and VRBO. These would enable you to rent a flat, apartment, or similar property, allowing you to house groups and save on meals by cooking. While these rental services are controversial politically, they may be your best option, especially if traveling with a family or pets. Do make sure to read reviews before booking these, since they are not hotels, and quality can vary a great deal. Also, check the transportation options from your rental property to the OCC carefully before booking. For example, while there are a lot of nice AirBnBs in the charming Alberta Street or Hawthorne neighborhoods, getting to the OCC from there will generally involve a long ride in a car or a cab (spendy either way).
Next week, we’ll cover your Portland transportation options.