COVID-19 may have put all our travel plans on hold for the time being, but there are more ways to travel than one. And where better for your palate to take you on an international flavor trip than Portland, a city renowned for its multicultural food scene? But that reputation for diverse dining extends beyond restaurants and food carts: local bars and restaurant bar programs bring the flavors of the world to us with just a sip. So if you’re struggling with wanderlust, these bars and restaurants are ready to transport you with their globetrotting libations.
Quintessential Negroni from Nostrana
Local Italian cuisine favorite Nostrana’s airy outdoor dining tent is meant to recreate the experience of dining on the streets of Italy: people-watching, enjoying the fresh air, and soaking in the ambience with good food and company. Pair this with a Negroni, the most classic and sophisticated of Italian cocktails, and you’re living la dolce vita. This popular Italian aperitif, traditionally made with equal parts gin, vermouth rosso, and Campari, also has a strong Portland pedigree, as it’s here that local drinks magazine Imbibe first launched Negroni Week. At Nostrana, you can enjoy their Quintessential Negroni ($12), a perfectly balanced assemblage of Bombay dry gin, Campari, and Cinzano Rosso vermouth on the rocks that’ll transport you to Rome or a seaside resort.
Nostrana, 1401 SE Morrison St #101., 503-234-2427, $12, nostrana.com
Pisco Sour at Epif
Journey to South America on the back of a flying cosmic llama (take a gander at the mural in the restaurant’s main dining room) at this welcoming NE Flanders establishment, where regional Andean classics like empanadas get reimagined as vegan-friendly eats. Epif also boasts Portland’s largest selection of pisco, a grape-based distillate. “It's an alcohol that both Chile and Peru proudly distill, and the pisco sour is the national drink of both countries,” says Nicolle Dirks, co-owner alongside her Chilean husband Pepe Arancibia. “Pisco sours are bright, refreshing cocktails that enhance the fresh ingredients which are the focus of Chilean and Peruvian cuisines.” You can try both countries’ versions of the cocktail at Epif’s socially-distanced outdoor tables. Chile’s comes with Alto del Carmen pisco, lemon, lime, and demerara ($11), while the Peruvian version is made with La Caravedo pisco, lemon, lime, aquafaba, sugar, and angostura bitters ($12). If it’s your first time encountering pisco, you can also do a four-pisco flight featuring pours from both countries.
Epif, 404 NE 28th Ave, 971- 254-8680, cocktails $11 and up, epifpdx.com
Mezcal Flight at Mestizo
Mezcal is all the rage these days. An agave-derived spirit largely produced in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, some say that mezcal offers better expressions of Mexican terroir, as it’s made with a wider range of agaves than tequila, which is a type of mezcal distilled from the blue agave plant. Distilling processes unique to each mezcalero offer striking variations in flavor and scent. With deep roots in Mexican drinking and distilling culture and rich, herbaceous flavor profiles, mezcal is the perfect antidote to these rainy PNW days, whisking you away you to the rolling, sun-bleached hills of Oaxaca, where spiky agave plants stretch out in straight lines to the horizon. At SE Division’s Mestizo, you can experience the flavors of this region with a Mezcal Flight ($15), which features three different artisan mezcals: Los Vecinos Ensamble, Los Javis Reposado, and Mezcal Amarás. Los Vecinos is a mixto blend of three different agave types, while the other two are single-varietals. Los Javis is made with Espadin agave aged in oak, while Amarás is made with Cupreata. “I don’t want people to think mezcal is just tequila. I want them to see it and appreciate it for the spirit it is,” says bar manager Jarod Bitterman, who expresses his passion for mezcal through flights and cocktails like the Cruising Altitude ($13). “They have such unique expressions between them depending on the distiller.”
Mestizo, 2910 SE Division St., 503-384-2273, $13-$15, mestizopdx.com
Whiskey from Multnomah Whiskey Library
How about taking a quick trip to the highlands of Scotland for about $13? Or the mountains of Japan for $14? Both are within reach with a pour of Glen Garioch 1979 Founder’s Reserve or Suntory Toki Whisky at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, where hundreds of whiskeys and a spirits bible of over 1,500 liquors from around the world are accessible at your fingertips. The bar offers an incredibly comprehensive list of Scottish and Irish whisk(e)ys, broken down by geographic location and type. There’s also an extensive selection of American, Japanese, and Canadian whisk(e)ys. Information such as age, alcohol-by-volume, and bottle-specific facts are listed alongside the names. And although there’s no substitute for enjoying these finely-crafted spirits in their places of origin, doing so in the lush environs of the Multnomah Whiskey Library’s elegant, reading room-inspired bar and dining area is the next best thing.
Multnomah Whiskey Library, 1124 SW Alder St., 503-954-1381, whiskey pours starting at $7 and up, mwlpdx.com
Daiquiri from Palomar
If you’re not ready to say goodbye to summer yet, transport yourself to the sunny beaches of Cuba with an icy, refreshing daiquiri from Palomar, Portland’s premier spot for beach-themed drinks and cocktails. Owner Ricky Gomez has helped reclaim the daiquiri’s undeserved reputation as an overly-saccharine, resort-style libation, going back to the drink’s—and his—Cuban roots by sticking to the basics of rum, lime, and sugar. His straightforward version recaptures the true purpose of a daiquiri: to help you forget your troubles amid fruity, flavorful paradise. “That’s been our goal since reopening: to offer some escapism with our tropical-themed drinks,” says Gomez. “We want people to feel relaxed, at ease, and to almost forget everything that’s going on out in the world.” After offering rooftop dining during the summer, they’ve recently reopened their safer indoor dining area. On their current menu, you have the option of a frozen daiquiri ($13) that comes in rotating tropical flavors like banana, or their headliner, a blended strawberry daiquiri ($15).
Follow on Instagram at @palomarpdx for news and updates. Palomar, 959 SE Division St., 971-357-8020, cocktails $13-$15
Horseradish Vodka from Kachka
While Russia may not have much of a cocktail culture, it’s a widely-known fact that Russians love their vodka. But their attachment to the spirit isn’t rooted in getting knock-down drunk. Vodka, especially infused vodka, was originally used for medicinal purposes. It’s also a key element of Russian hospitality and camaraderie, expressed through long-held customs like always drinking with company or sitting down to drink instead of standing at a bar. At Kachka, vodka is, of course, a staple on the beverage menu, used both in original cocktails and served straight. For a quintessentially Russian drink, owners Bonnie and Israel Morales recommend Kachka’s house-infused horseradish vodka. “Infusions in general, but horseradish specifically, have always been an important part of the drinking landscape in Russia,” says Israel Morales, citing it as a favorite in Bonnie’s parents’ home country of Belarus. He also recommends, when dining at Kachka, to take part in the “cadence” of Russian drinking and eating. “There must always be a toast or a reason to drink and you must always follow it with food,” he says, like zakuski, the Russian version of hors d'oeuvres. These might include appetizers like caviar and roe, or Kachka’s famous layered beet salad, Herring Under A Fur Coat. Though Kachka's al fresco dining patio is closed for the season, the duo will soon be selling bottles of Kachka horseradish vodka to take home from their on-site grocery store, Lavka. And while you’re drinking, be sure to toast “za vashe zdorovie” to your companions: “to your health.”
Kachka, 960 SE 11th Ave., 503-235-0059, $4-$12, kachkapdx.com