Portland is a wonderland of snacky foods and awe-inspiring snack creators, so no matter what I put on this list, I will inevitably miss a few. But here I am, shouting out a few local favorites. Based on years of diligent research, shoving my hands into hors d’oeuvres table pile-ups and annoying grocery clerks for samples, these are my top picks for foods you might pass in the store aisles that you really should stuff in your mouth—dietary restrictions allowing—to show your local snack pride.
MoonBrine Super Dill Pickles
Briny glory is afforded those brave enough to venture into the Ford Building basement, which isn’t scary at all and which has pickles in it! Former New Yorker Stewart Golomb runs his delightful Shop n’ Snacketeria in the brightly lit underground corridor, where one may purchase any number of pickled vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, cabbage, etc). Golomb even sells his brine (I found about MoonBrine from a bar that offered up a shockingly delicious pickleback). Golomb’s basic Super Dill pickles are so crisp and perfectly balanced (neither too garlicky nor too vinegary) that I always want more. If you can’t make it over to the basement, you can find MoonBrine at 16 of your local New Seasons stores.
Juanita’s Chilipeño Chips
If I ever have a child I will straight up name that child Chilipeño. Such is my love for this yellow stone ground corn tortilla chip, covered in an ambrosia dust of onion powder, jalapeño pepper, and paprika! There’s a cheesy element too, but no cheese to be found in the ingredients—it’s probably from the torula, a kind of nutritional yeast. The Hood River Juanita’s factory isn’t too far from Portland, but it was far enough that, for years, shipments of Chilipeños were fanatically monitored, with forum threads full of Chilipeñiacs—I made that up nickname, sorry—tipping one another off to local locations that had the highly addictive chips in stock. Luckily, as the power of Juanita’s continues to grow, I now see these chips at all sorts of larger grocery stores like Fred Meyer and New Seasons. I’m a little nostalgic for the mad dash to snatch up new shipments, but I’m happy that everyone can now hold a bag in their arms and pretend it’s a flavorful baby.
My palate swings savory, so I was happy to discover Jenn Topliff’s Roons: perfectly made, ever-so-slightly salty macaroons that Topliff and her team cook up in the Southeast industrial district. I’m for the original Roons, with their adorable chocolate butts and rich coconut tops, but Topliff’s also cooked up a popular lemon flavor (white chocolate butts), aaaaaand (hay Fall hay!) a pumpkin spice version.
Secret Aardvark Sauce
Portland is a sauce town. And, while I was doing research (snacking), I saw many great sauce contenders for the crown: Nong’s Khao Man Gai Sauce, the robust and prolific offerings of Beaverton’s Beaver Mustard, Portland Ketchup, etc. But one sauce rises above the rest: Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce! Created by Scott Moritz in the kitchen of a Southwest Portland-area home, Aardvark Sauce is a curious middle ground between sauce and salsa. A little bit packs a lot of flavor, and too much can quickly land you in the hot-mouth hot-seat. The Mercury actually wrote a whole feature on Aardvark’s history in 2013, though Moritz himself sadly passed away in 2009. His wife Stacy still runs Aardvark with a crew of dedicated employees, and despite Aardvark’s growing fame and availability, the company’s site says it’s still “commercially packed at a local family-run plant near Portland.”
Choi’s Radish Kimchi
There’s an earnestly kept map in my brain of places which carry not only Choi’s Kimchi, but especially Choi’s Radish Kimchi. The delicious scents of probiotic fermentation which creep from this jar are even more intense than the all-cabbage variety—so I resist the urge to snack on it in our office—but its tangy crunch has me addicted. Matt Choi and his mother Chong Choi started out selling their kimchi at the Portland Farmers Market, but now you can buy Choi’s Kimchi in countless local grocery chains. I’ll still hit them up at the Farmer’s Market though, because that’s where you can grip jars of their seasonal kimchi.