Where to shop if you're RICH:
Many of Portland's well-heeled have never seen the place, but their maids and personal chefs are well acquainted with the luxury-packed aisles of Strohecker's, 2855 SW Patton. Typical of the old money folks, who care not for fancy décor and the latest trendy products, Strohecker's is about as elegantly appointed as a Gresham Safeway. But dig deeper, you rich bastard, and you'll find your caviar on the same shelf as the Spam; the Camembert across the aisle from the Kraft Singles; and the Grade A $21 maple syrup hanging out next to Mrs. Butterworth. Strohecker's biggest asset, aside from its being the only market in the West Hills, is its bewildering selection of imported British and Western European products, including chocolates, teas, jams, and the like.
Now, if you're new money, then you'll probably prefer to shop at the City Market at 735 NW 21st Avenue. Here, you'll find possibly the most precious liquid for sale in Portland, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia, for (hold on to your Land Rover) $139 PER 6 OUNCE BOTTLE. At those prices, I couldn't cook with the stuff. I would probably dab some on my wrists and under my chin. Your guests, however, would be très impressed if you informed them that the ambrosial liquid drizzled on their strawberries cost more than Chanel 5. Alongside the astronomically expensive vinegar, City Market has superb meat and fish markets, and some hard-to-find "gourmet" produce--wild mushrooms, baby zucchini, baby carrots, etc.
Where to shop if you're MEXICAN:
You ain't gonna find tripe at QFC, and despite their increasing popularity, you won't find Jarritos sodas at Safeway just yet. So turn off those Spanish soap operas, hop in your converted van, and head to your local specialty Mexican food mart, sometimes called Tienda Mexicana, or Productos Mexicanos.
While a few of these markets are, well, not so clean, I've found two that are spotless and carry a wide array of Mexican necessities like fresh cojita cheese, dried peppers, and imported versions of commonly available American products. At Yesenia's Market on Powell and 66th, I purchased a large box of Mexican Oreos for four bucks. Why Mexican Oreos? Because they're made with honest ingredients, and therefore taste better. The yucky American Oreos contain corn syrup, whey, and preservatives. Why? Because Americans are stupid, and either don't read ingredient lists or don't care that they are consuming unnecessary chemicals or cheap sugar substitutes. Silly gringos.
At Tortilleria Y Tienda de Leon, at 162nd and Glisan, super-fresh tortillas are prepared while you watch. Now, when these tortillas, hot off the presses, are handed over to the lunch counter and filled with luscious meat stews, perfect rice and beans, and a sprinkling of chopped onions and cilantro, you end up with the best burrito in Portland. Antojitos Mexicanos don't get any better than this.
De Leon's has it all under one roof; they're kinda like the Zupan's of Mexican markets. There's fresh produce, a meat counter, a bakery, and several aisles of canned and dry goods. And if you're feeling festive, or aggro, you can even bring home an authentic Mexican piñata.
Where to shop if you're A KILT-WEARING HAGGIS FIEND:
The Scottish Country Shop, on, yep, you guessed it, Southeast Powell (at SE 35th Avenue). More than just a grocery, you can purchase anything from flags, to clothing, to CDs of bagpipe music here. Aren't you just dying to blast bagpipe music out your window in the direction of your crank-addicted neighbors? Anyways, the haggis is available either in a can, or flash-frozen and flown in from Scotland. What's a haggis, you ask? Oh, just a lamb's stomach, filled with oatmeal and chopped, assorted sheep organs, and boiled in soup stock. Bon Appetite!
Where to shop if you're POOR:
Since you never know when Subees market on SE Morrison is open, the poor have to find alternate purveyors of Western Family-brand canned goods and generic diapers. Not surprisingly, the Portland area has more discount grocery stores than anywhere else in the world. My favorite is Food-4-Less on Powell and 82nd, because they're huge, very cheap, and open 24 hours. You have to know your bargains, though, as even the cheapest stores in town will sometimes zing it to you on certain items. Beer, for example, is as expensive at Food-4-Less as it is at Nature's. Of course, you can't find 24-packs of Natural Light Ice at Nature's. Food-4-Less has an excellent selection of well-priced Asian produce, better than many Asian markets in town, and they also carry a wide array of Russian and Eastern European groceries.
Bulk bins are another way to go if you're impecunious. I've found that the Sheridan Fruit Company at 408 SE 3rd has the best selection. Bulk prices vary, though, so be sure to do check the prices before you load up on 50 pounds of wheat gluten. Example: the People's Food Co-op (3029 SE 21st) charges over $8.00 per pound for textured vegetable protein. The same crap costs $1.19 per pound at Freddy's, which, btw, has the best prices for most bulk items.
Where to shop if you're a TURKISH 7-UP FANATIC:
7-Up is a decent beverage, a little crisper and less syrupy than its competition (particularly Sierra Mist--that shit is NASTY). But in a faraway land called Turkey, there exists a magical lemon/lime soda pop called Camlica. It is more refreshing, even crisper, and much cuter than our 7-Up. And it's hard to find in America, particularly in hick towns like Portland. But while perusing the aisles at the International Foods on SE Stark and 80th Avenue, I found it. Since I didn't buy out their whole shipment, there should still be some left on the shelf. While you're there, check out the Lebanese sausage sandwich at Ya Hala next door; it, and nearly everything else on the menu, is served with wonderful fresh-from-the-oven pita bread.
Where to shop if you're an ETHIOPIAN COFFEE JUNKIE:
You were raised on Folger's Crystals. Then in college, you discovered coffeehouse culture. After graduation, you became a yuppie, and while helping cook the books at Arthur Andersen, you got hooked on Starbucks. Now, even the fresh-roasted beans at Stumptown aren't fresh enough. Lucky for you, the Merkato Ethiopian grocery on MLK and Russell sells green coffee beans, mostly Ethiopia Harrar but sometimes the subtler Yrgacheffe, by the bag. You've read on the internet how to roast these beans in a common hot air popcorn popper, and now you're in business; your house smells like burnt toast, but your coffee is liquid love.
At Merkato, you can also buy berbere, the fiery spice mix that flavors most Ethiopian dishes, and house-made enjera, the ubiquitous bubbly flatbread that functions as starch, plate, and eating utensil in Ethiopian meals.