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February 10, 2016

Ben Jacobsen’s Guide to Portland, Oregon

Leah Nash / Getty Images

The mind behind Jacobsen Salt Company shares his picks for the very best of Portland’s many culinary and cultural attractions.

In a city obsessed with local products, one essential—and perhaps obvious—ingredient was curiously absent from Portland's culinary scene in the early aughts: salt. Enter Ben Jacobsen, a former national cycling champion turned salt nerd, who recognized the potential of the pure waters of Netarts Bay on the Oregon Coast and founded Jacobsen Salt Co. in 2011. All of his salt is hand-harvested, creating a product with superior texture, purity, and taste. Chefs immediately took notice—now over 150 restaurants in Portland alone utilize his products, with another 500 catching on nationwide. Today, Ben Jacobsen is kept busy eating and drinking all over the city to see what local chefs and bartenders are creating with his range of all-natural products. Here, the Portland transplant shares his earned expertise, from where to find the best cocktails in town to the top splurge-worthy restaurants to the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the Rose City.

Where do you live, and what do you like about your neighborhood? I live in SE Portland, between Division & Hawthorne Streets. From my front door I can walk to 20-plus great restaurants within a 10-block radius. It's truly incredible. Add to that a plethora of great coffee shops, and the proximity to Mt. Tabor Park, and you have an ideal place to hang your hat. And most importantly, although there are countless attractions for locals and travelers alike, I love that it's a friendly, low-key neighborhood. 

Where would you put up friends visiting town? Aside from my house, which I list on Airbnb from time to time, I'd point them in the direction of the Ace Hotel (1022 S.W. Stark St.; 503-228-2277; acehotel.com), Sentinel (614 S.W. 11th Ave.; 503-224-3400; sentinelhotel.com), and Hotel Lucia (400 S.W. Broadway; 503-225-1717; hotellucia.com)all of which support local businesses like ours through their in-room amenities and restaurant menus.

Where is the best place to find your hometown’s signature dish? Hmm... does Portland have a signature dish? We're a melting pot, and such a young city. Our cuisine is focused more on the use of local, seasonal ingredients than on a particular dish. And perhaps that's one of the most enjoyable things about Portland: the use of local produce, meats, and other ingredients is embedded in our culture. From fast casual restaurants like Pollo Norte (5427 N.E. 42nd Ave.; 503-287-0669; pollonorte.com), Boke Bowl (1200 N.W. 18th Ave.; 503-719-5698; bokebowl.com), or Smokehouse Tavern (413 N.W. 21st. Ave.; 971-373-8990; smokehouse21.com), to upscale establishments like Ava Gene's (3377 S.E. Division St.; 971-229-0571; avagenes.com), Maurice (921 S.W. Oak St.; 503-224-9921; mauricepdx.com), Le Pigeon (738 E. Burnside St.; 503-546-8796; lepigeon.com), or Imperial (410 S.W. Broadway; 503-228-7222; imperialpdx.com), seasonal cooking using local and regional ingredients is the common thread in our restaurant scene. 

What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Tough one. There are so many chefs doing incredible things throughout Portland. My go-to spots are Smokehouse Tavern, Le Pigeon, Imperial, Laurelhurst Market (3155 E. Burnside St.; 503-206-3097; laurelhurstmarket.com), Smallwares (4605 N.E. Fremont St.; 971-229-0995; smallwarespdx.com), Irving Street Kitchen (701 N.W. 13th Ave.; 503-343-9440; irvingstreetkitchen.com), or Boke Bowl. Pizza Jerk by Tommy Habetz is definitely a new favorite too (5028 N.E. 42nd Ave.; 503-284-9333; pizzajerkpdx.com)

Where can you find the best cocktails? Beer list? Wine list? Rum Club has the best cocktails (720 S.E. Sandy Blvd.; 503-265-8807; rumclubpdx.com). Beer? Loyal Legion (710 S.E. 6th Ave.; 503-235-8272; loyallegionpdx.com), Breakside Brewery (820 N.E. Dekum St.; 503-719-6475 breakside.com), or the Commons (630 S.E. Belmont St.; commonsbrewery.com). I'm not the most sophisticated wine drinker, so I tend to go to my friends' wineries, or order their wine when I see it on the menu: Division Wine Company (2425 S.E. 35th Pl.; 503-887-8755; divisionwinemakingcompany.com), Grochau Cellars (9360 S.E. Eola Hills Rd., Amity; 503-835-0208; grochaucellars.com), Love & Squalor (925 N.E. 7th Ave., McMinnville; 503-453-9505; portlandwinecompany.com), and Big Table Farm (26851 N.W. Williams Canyon Rd., Gaston; 503-662-3129; bigtablefarm.com). Also, Teutonic Wine Co. (teutonicwines.com). LOVE their stuff.

Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? In a single word: Ox (N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; 503-284-3366; oxpdx.com). But a trip to Holdfast Dining (537 S.E. Ash St., Unit #102; 503-504-9448; holdfastdining.com), Ava Gene's, Departure (525 S.W. Morrison St.; 503-802-5370; departureportland.com), Paley's Place (1204 N.W. 21st Ave.; 503-243-2403; paleysplace.net), or Imperial is also worth the splurge. And if you can get a reservation, you have to go to Lang Baan—it's one of the most exceptional dining experiences in the city (6 S.E. 28th Ave.; 971-344-2564; langbaanpdx.com).

What is your go-to after-hours bar? The Slammer (500 S.E. 8th Ave.; 503-232-6504). Hands down. It's the diviest of dive bars, but has an incredible digital jukebox and a lively clientele. Portland's dive bars are exceptional in general.

What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? It depends on the time of year, but finding a cup of coffee, picking a quadrant of the city, leisurely hiking around the neighborhoods, and visiting the small shops is a pretty fabulous way to spend an afternoon and get to know the city and its people more intimately. Portland is an extremely walkable city. As an alternative, go to MadeHere PDX to browse the latest Portland-made goods (40 N.W. 10th Ave.; 503-224-0122; madeherepdx.com), and walk across the street and get lost at Powell's Books for a few hours (1005 W. Burnside St.; 503-228-4651; powells.com).

What is your Sunday morning routine in your neighborhood? Sleep in a bit, go for a bike ride or a run in town, or take the short drive to the Columbia River Gorge to hike in the waterfall corridor.

Where is the best brunch? I personally don't go for brunch very often, but Woodsman Tavern has an incredible one, without the typical Portland brunch line! Portlanders love their brunch. (4537 S.E. Division St.; 971-373-8264; woodsmantavern.com)

Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? The original Stumptown Coffee on Division (4525 S.E. Division St.; stumptowncoffee.com), next to my house. Coava Coffee next to our Jacobsen Salt Co. headquarters (2631 SE Hawthorne Blvd.; coavacoffee.com). Water Avenue Coffee (1028 S.E. Water Ave.; 503-808-7084; wateravenuecoffee.com).

What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? Leif Erickson in Forest Park. Milepost 6, looking out over Portland. Gorgeous and so inspiring.

What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? Forest Park - Wild Cherry Trail. Forest Park as a whole is one of Portland's most incredible assets. To have that much green space and wilderness within an urban area is truly special.

What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions? Go to a Portland Timbers game (go Timbers!). Wander around inner SE Portland's Central Eastside Industrial District and visit the many distilleries, breweries, wineries, and restaurants. Watch live music at Mississippi Studios (3939 N. Mississippi Ave.; 503-288-3895; mississippistudios.com). And come taste Jacobsen salt & Bee Local honey at our shop in SE Portland. 

What’s your favorite shop or boutique? Beam & Anchor is great (2710 N. Interstate Ave.; 503-367-3230; beamandanchor.com). One of the most beautifully curated shops in the Pacific Northwest, and a fantastic snapshot of the design scene in Portland.

What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town—something you can only get there? Portland has more craft breweries than any other city on the planet. And the crazy thing is that almost all of this beer is consumed by the local populace. So if a traveling beer lover finds themselves in Portland, find some special edition brews and bring them home to share. Or not share. 

What’s the best-kept local secret? Find a Cocanu or Xocolatl de David chocolate bar. Buy them and savor every nibble. Incredible chocolates. 

In our Hometown Guides series, we're seeking the best restaurants, bars, vistas, and things to do in a given place from the people who know best—the artists, designers, chefs, and store-owners who live there. See more Hometown Guides »

Photo Credits: David Reamer; Getty Images