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Portland’s 82nd Avenue is a little busted, and a little brilliant.
It’s a state highway and a main street. It’s a commerce epicenter more varied and useful than downtown Portland, and the site of two recently shuttered Walmarts. It’s home to some of the city’s best unpretentious cuisine, and a corporate fast food parade. It’s a noisy, deadly car traffic jam, and host to one of TriMet’s most popular and reliable bus routes. It’s a series of used car lots that gives way to patches of old farmland. It’s where Portland ends for some of the city’s residents, and where it barely begins for others.
I’ve lived half a mile off of SE 82nd Ave for the last six years. I’ve come to realize that the street is a cipher, and how it translates depends entirely on the decoder. It’s a street with big problems and big potential, big champions and big critics, and so much depends on which literal side of the street you’re looking at it from.
In other words, it’s a hell of a lot like Portland in 2023. I think that’s why I love it so much.
When I put out a call to friends recently asking what they loved about the road, answers predictably centered on the food. If tastebuds are a form of travel, then you can travel the world on 82nd.
The Jade District alone houses the city’s best Dim Sum, bibimbap, pho and more. Cartlandia has the variety and quality of an inner-Portland food cart pod, but it’s way more laid back—and the enormous veggie burrito at Taqueria Brothers Express, full of fresh ingredients that make you realize how rare fresh ingredients are in a burrito, has saved my life on more than one occasion. CORE food hall has the trendy spots, but if it’s too crowded, run across the street to Eastport Food Carts. The borani banjan from Taste of India will make you rethink everything you ever thought you knew about eggplant.
And while I’m on the subject of Eastport: I’ve never had a bad movie-watching experience at Century 16 Eastport Plaza, where the seats recline and they take you deadly seriously when you ask for extra butter on your popcorn. Sure, Portland’s home to an abundance of indie theaters, and you certainly shouldn’t sleep on any of them. But I recently had the privilege of watching a hyperactive seven-year-old watch The Super Mario Bros. Movie on one of Eastport’s big screens, transfixed and shoveling Sour Airheads into his mouth. No one cared when he wasn’t perfectly quiet, and no one cast a judging eye when I let him get candy and an Icee. That’s the vibe of 82nd.
I’ve found that the closer you get to Portland’s city center, the more hand-wringing you’re going to encounter. Is Portland still Portland enough? Is it now too Portland? Why are all these downtown storefronts empty? Are we on our way to losing the Most Super Special City on the West Coast title?
Once you get to 82nd, and beyond that into the numbers, you can breathe a little easier. Businesses close and then other ones reopen, people move away and others move in. No one here is worried about losing some special status, because this part of the city was never listed on some goddamn New York Times travel section list anyway.
If you want to stop worrying and start loving Portland again, maybe your journey starts on 82nd.