From snacking on kettle corn at a maize maze to passing out caramel corn balls for trick-or-treaters, fall is the season of popcorn. But Portland is a city of gourmands, and not just any popcorn will do—so we rounded up some of the best artisanal popcorn this great city has to offer and ranked them using a very precise grading rubric (aka popular opinion around our office).
1. Pinkleton’s Curious Caramel Corn
This was the house favorite by far: we literally had to hide the bags to stop ourselves from eating it all in one sitting. Pinkleton’s has just a few flavors to offer, but in this case quality trumps quantity. We like the way they combine sweet and salty in flavors like Salted Molasses. Plus, it’s made with ingredients you can feel good about eating: organic, local butter; Jacobsen Salt Co's hand-harvested Oregon sea salt; and non-GMO corn and corn syrup.
Where to find it: They don’t have a storefront, but you can order through their website or at various retailers in town, in cluding Foster & Dobb's, The Meadow, and Bowery Bagel Co.
2. Masala Pop
This is not your mother’s caramel corn—well, unless you’re Neha Patel, the founder of Masala Pop, who was inspired by her mother’s Indian spiced popcorn. If you’re looking for a straight sugar bomb, this is not the popcorn for you. The delicate flavors, like Saffron Rose and Chai Masala, are subtle but addictive. And because it’s all-natural, organic, gluten-free and vegan, even the most dietary-restricted Portlanders can have a taste.
Where to find it: The three original flavors (Tamarind Sesame, Savory Masala, and Chai Masala) are in stores all over town, but more flavors are available online and at their popshop/kitchen at 1640 SE 3rd Ave.
Poplandia’s selection is a little overwhelming: they offer over 50 flavors on their website. Admittedly, they’re not all winners (the “Hot-n-Spicy” is underwhelming to say the least), but the sheer volume of choices guarantees that everyone will find something to love. Some, like S'mores, are coated in a thick layer of buttery, sugary goodness, while others, like Sea Salt with Cracked Pepper, are gently tossed in subtle seasonings. You might taste a familiar flavor or two, because they mix their corns with local favorites—Stumptown espresso in popcorn? Sounds good to us.
Where to find it: their shop at 740 NW 23rd Ave offers a handful of flavors, but if you want to experience the tyranny of choice, you have to head to their online store to see all their flavors.
4. Popped ART
If you need warm, gourmet popcorn on a blustery fall day, the Popped ART cart is a good bet. They serve popcorn like ice cream, drizzled with sauces and fixings like cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar or maple bacon. If you can eat it fast, it’s truly delightful; but if it sits out for even a few minutes, the popcorn gets a bit soggy. Be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand, and for goodness sake don’t try to use your computer while you’re eating it (like I did).
Where to find it: The cart is located at the SW 10th and Alder food cart pod (or 936 SW Washington, if you must have an address).
5. Mother Peach Caramels
It’s not that the Hazelnut Caramel Corn from Mother Peach was inedible; it’s just that, compared to the other popcorns we tasted, it didn’t stand up. The artificial butter flavor underneath the heavy coat of caramel tastes like an accident at the movie theatre concessions stand. But we like that it uses local Oregon Hazelnuts, and although we didn't love the popcorn, the caramel has an interesting enough flavor that we'd be willing to give it a second chance.
Where to find it: You can order Mother Peach products through their online shop.