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Ruth Allan’s Portland And San Francisco Road Trip

Confidential gourmet-on-the go eats her way up the West Coast

Written by . Published on December 21st 2011.

Ruth Allan’s Portland And San Francisco Road Trip

HOME for our first night in San Francisco was a purple flat that tinkled to the sound of nearby waterfalls. We were staying in The Mission, an area known for Mexican food and crime. It takes its name from a still-standing church, dating from the 1700s and not so far back in time that they invented the ‘superburrito’ in the canteens nearby. The purpose was to satisfy labourers when a regular burrito was not enough, and the trend for invention has continued.

Fabulous Californian FoodFabulous new wave Californian food

Today, for example, you can find pork cheek, beef face and tongue in spicy Mex stylings. These are served up by the city’s mobile food carts and one of the best examples is ‘El Tonayense’, which bobs up and down Harrison Street. I was determined to find it, and after a few wrong turns we were guzzling meaty, limey tortillas under the orange city street lights.

Mission is next to a district called Castro which we got around to on day two. Silicon Valley cash has flooded this part of town (and much of the rest of the city), but the vibe is DIY and independent. Little shops sell second-hand books, alongside ceramics stores and stalls stocked with newspapers just for dog owners. It’s all kind of hip, even if the owners of the flat we booked through Craigslist were on the hippy side of the divide.

San FranciscoSan Francisco

Coffee and conversation are what San Franciscans do best and, sadly, three days wasn’t enough to get into the zone. We made the best of the time we had though, climbing the city’s many hills, hiring bikes, drinking cocktails in various sky bars and spotting seals and pelicans from the Golden Gate Bridge. I was also up for a lot more Mex, and one of the best places we tried was Mamacita (2312 Chestnut Street http://mamacitasf.com/).

Cocktail HeavengCocktail heavenManchester’s Barburrito chain is one of my favourites, but San Fran annilhilates anything I’ve tried in the UK. Chowing down on hot, poly-mathmatical constructions, the smart-casual dot.com millionaires were loving it. And who can blame them with a menu that includes ‘ceviche yucateco’ (gulf of mexico rock shrimp with tomato, avocado) and pan-seared day boat scallop tacos with refried black beans, sunchoke hash and cilantro salsa. At the bar, you can choose from more than 60 tequilas, while wines available by the glass are hand picked from the Sonoma and Napa wine belts to the north.

For the rest of our stay we strolled about the city. It’s located on a estuary full of bones left over from the Jurassic era and the water-facing strip which leans into this estuary is divided into ‘piers’. This being America they don’t just have one pier, they have loads with Number 39 (http://www.pier39.com/index.cfm) home to a pride of sea lions. Next to the calamari and chowder stalls, it’s a whooping corner of animal magic in the city centre.

Tortillas Under The StreetlightsTortillas under the streetlights

The Museum of Modern Art (151 Third Street, http://www.sfmoma.org/) is a modernist gem. It’s got a contemporary photography bent and is home to a smart American restaurant which we tried too. We, also enjoyed dancing in Mission and Castro, downing Manhattans at bars like Amnesia (853 Valencia Street, http://amnesiathebar.com/) and the Make Out Room (3225, 22nd Street, http://www.makeoutroom.com/). As one of my friends who lives in the city pointed out cocktails are the single fastest way to go from sober to drunk. We had two and I was pretty much unable to speak afterwards.

Icy ReceptionIcy reception as we drove up to Oregon

Our trip continued to Portland where minus temperatures meant that we spent a lot of time in our hotel. Recommended by Guardian writer and 21 Locks author, Laura Barton, Portland’s Ace Hotel is sent up in a in an episode of US comedy show, Portlandia (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsg_2WrNOHU) for its pretentious staff and décor.

Yep, it’s trendy as sin, but it’s got wi-fi throughout, a resident coffee-house (Stumptown), and a bar stocked with the finest aged bourbons. Warehouse-style rooms are warmed by blankets and Twilight craft ale in the mini bar. One blogger sums it up saying, “it was less hipster than I feared”. Basically, we loved it. There was just something great about being in this funky joint in what’s a bit of a crap city.

Ruth Meets RedwoodRuth meets giant redwood (note the designer cagoule in discreet lemon)

Portland is like Manchester due to its industrial heritage. Kinda grey. Kinda hard to get into. What saves it, however, is lashings of quirk and independence. Murals are painted on walls, saying things like “Keep Portland Weird” and everyone has wild tattoos.

Shopping on offer includes stores that sell hand woven bags, vintage tiaras and albums released only on cassette… you get the vibe. We spent our time browsing and hanging out at the art house cinema opposite the hotel. We also ate at a superb Thai street food restaurant (Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division Street, booking essential), and, on our final day, drove out to Cannon Beach where they shot the final scene of The Goonies.

Standing on the frozen sand, my boyfriend lined my face up between the sun and a huge, breast-shaped rock. ‘Do you remember the scene at the end of the film?’ he said. It came flooding back: the pirate ship, the rich stuff, a young Sean Astin, later to play hobbit Sam in Lord of the Rings. Yep, that was pretty special.

ShrimpfestShrimpfest. Leave receptacles save on washin-up

After a drive that can only be described as cramp-inducing (14 hours at 50mph -– ouch), our final night was spent at the W Hotel in San Francisco before flying home. The W is the Sheraton group’s ‘faux-boutique’ brand. They were supposed to be opening one opposite the Village years ago. It’s a shame it didn’t happen because my experience of them has been spot on. Comfort and luxury is such a big part of their offering that they sell their own brandbeds and bedding (starting at $230).

Curled up in a suite, high above the city lights we ate room service burgers and gazed out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Seeing as my boyfriend’s ambition was to “drive a lot on holiday” and mine was to eat, we realised we'd had pretty much the perfect trip.

Fact file

Fly: Virgin Airlines from Heathrow to San Francisco return. Prices start at around £500pp.

Ruth stayed at:

Portland: Ace Hotel, 1022 SW Stark Street, Oregon 97205 (503.228.227, www.acehotel.com/portland). From $95 per night per person.  

San Francisco: W Hotel, 181 3rd Street, San Francisco, California 94103 (415.777.5300,
From $269 per night.

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Ruth AllanDecember 22nd 2011.

Pictures (mostly) by the talented http://m62locationscout.com/

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