By Katie Chang, CONTRIBUTOR
Portland, Oregon, is a city I visit often, for both work and pleasure. For starters, the vibes are refreshingly chill and laid back. Dressing casually is the norm, even when dining at chicer spots. And the popular slogan of “Keep Portland Weird” ensures that people from all walks of life are welcome with open arms. Last but not least, the food. From food carts (hello, Nong’s Khao Man Gai) to beloved mainstays (like Ringside Steakhouse, Nostrana, and Pok Pok), there’s countless reasons why The City of Roses has remained a top travel destination for both Americans and travelers abroad for years.
But for one reason or another, I rarely considered venturing beyond Portland’s borders – until I got tipped off to McMinnville.
An easy hour’s drive south of Portland will lead you to an impossibly charming town – Third Street is so picturesque, it could easily double as a movie backdrop – that also boasts big city perks and amenities. (No wonder so many savvy Portlanders escape to McMinnville for a relaxing weekend.)
Dubbed as the “Heart of Oregon Wine Country,” McMinnville’s biggest draw is its proximity to world-class wineries specializing in Pinot Noirs. But, as I discovered during a recent visit, there’s plenty of noteworthy restaurants work checking out, too. So pack your bags, and gear up for a delicious getaway with this handy guide on how to eat and drink your way through town.
Thankfully, you don’t have to venture far to taste some of the area’s finest wines. Third Street boasts a bevy of tasting rooms, like the one from Ransom Spirits, which was started by Tad Seestedt in 1997. Though Random’s wines are no slouch, the signature spirits – the Rye, Barley, Wheat Whiskey is exceptional – are absolutely worth checking out as well. R. Stuart & Co. specializes in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, and boasts a cozy bar that in addition to pouring wines by the glass, doles out savory snacks, local beers, and espresso drinks. The Eyrie Vineyards dates back to 1965, when founder David Lett discovered that the Willamette Valley provided prime conditions for growing crisp Pinot Gris, in addition to Pinot Noir.
But if there’s one spot you can’t miss, it’s Maysara Winery & Momtazi Vineyards. The backstory is extraordinary: Moe Momtazi and his wife Flora fled Iran in the early 1980s to Oregon, to escape Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime. Today, with their three daughters, they enlist biodynamic farming to produce wines even the most ardent aficionados flip for. Also, the postcard-worthy estate, which encompasses over 250 acres, makes for an idyllic wedding and celebration venue.
Without question, Nick’s Italian Cafe is McMinnville’s most beloved restaurant. And it’s easy to see why. Opened in 1977, and deemed an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation in 2014, it continues to packs in crowds with its classic and straightforward Italian-American comforts (think minestrone soup, wood-fired pizzas, and lasagna) matched by warm, friendly service. Thistle is a chic, yet cozy nook owned by Emily Howard, whom focuses on hyper-local ingredients and an interesting and thoughtfully-curated wine menu. But instead of feeling like you’re eating at a typical restaurant, you feel like you’re dining in the home of a very gracious (and obviously talented) epicurean.