Mississippi Avenue: The Finest Street in Portland

Shopping Mississippi Avenue is Portland's Best Street With cross streets like Failing and Blandena, and a nearby park named Unthank, Portland’s Mississippi Avenue sounds like it would possess the charm of a depressed, mundane road flowing traffic back to downtown remorsefully. And after crossing the Willamette River and journeying through the grimier, more industrial East Portland, one might appropriately second guess their decision to leave the city center.


But it’s from those East Portland pockets that the sketch comedy Portlandia romantically parodies, and it’s these neighborhoods that harbor those last vestiges of eccentricity, a badge the city proudly wears, summarized by its maxim: “Keep Portland Weird.” Above all other streets and neighborhoods, Mississippi Avenue is the exemplar for that Portlandic adage.


Visitors should begin at the top of Mississippi–just before it veers back to ordinariness–where the avenue crosses with Skidmore. In a parking lot on the west side of the street sits a wonderful collection of a dozen food trucks, including a few Asian fusion mobile establishments that found inspiration in Mexican cuisine, like Koi Fusion, which folds up kim chi tacos, and Teppanyaki Hut that crosses sushi with burritos. The latter serves a fine bowl of ramen. Among the stalls is Pastrami Zombie, wrapping up their eponymous sandwich, and the healthier Native Bowl.


Across the road is Mississippi Avenue’s most interesting shop, Paxton Gate. Their peculiar tagline–“Treasures and oddities inspired by the garden and the natural sciences”–hardly says it all. Inside are hundreds of taxidermied animals, including tiny dik diks and the enormous front quarter of a raging hippopatomus. From human skulls to cacti to science toys, Paxton Gate is both beautifully designed and intriguingly stocked. Perhaps most unusual are the wet specimens, which include a sheep brain, blue-toned diaphanized snake, fetal raccoon, and dozens of others inanimate oddities.


Mississippi Avenue is Portland's Best Street Paxton Gate


While it’s hard to rival Paxton Gate, the shops on Mississippi are still hugely unique, and offer a taste of the city on one avenue. Most notably, PDX Made Here, a minimalist store, only features products made in Portland, ranging from the uber-sturdy Finex cast iron cookware to delicious Woodblock chocolate bars. Flutter, an offbeat, brightly painted shop, sells everything, including tea sets, parasols, Bill Murray prints, and used postcards once sent to strangers decades ago, to name a few.


Mississippi Avenue is also home to storefronts that wouldn’t be able to afford rent in the rest of the world, like guitar shops (Black Book), comic book stores (Bridge City Comics), designer toy stores (Black Wagon), and independent book stores (Another Read Through). While travelers are typically not in need of a lightbulb, a trip to Mississippi requires a pop into Sunlan Lighting, the most out-of-place retailer on the avenue. The unadorned business is stuffed with shelves that hold thousands of cardboard boxes and bins, nesting tens of thousands of bulbs and lighting appliances. But the practical Sunlan is the senior resident of the block and the proprietor is often rattling off the history of the store, street, and city to those who will listen. So ask.


Mississippi Avenue is Portland's Best Street Tacos


Mississippi’s unique shopping experiences is complemented by some of the city’s best food and beer. Beyond lunching at food carts, a visit to the pink-painted Por Que No? at the other end of the avenue is a must. The fast-moving, yet constant line speaks to the quality. (The line is so ubiquitous that the restaurant even invested in numerous umbrellas for the sake of their waiting patrons when the weather turns.) With more than a dozen taco varieties–opt for the tongue taco–and half as many margarita options–try their chile-rimmed libation–it’s another way to enjoy a small bite on Mississippi.


For those looking for something more formal and without lines, the middle of the avenue has a cluster of great restaurants in one courtyard: Mee Sun for Thai, Uchu for sushi, Quaintrelle for seasonal fare. Less formal are the breweries on Mississippi: Stormbreaker and Ecliptic, (though the latter is actually just off of the avenue on North Cook). Ecliptic’s star- and space-inspired beers are fantastic, and during happy hour–all day Monday, and from 3 to 6 on other weekdays–pints are given away for $4.00. Tops are the Carina Peach Sour or any of their IPAs, best enjoyed on the quiet patio. Tuesdays feature live music at night.


Mississippi Avenue is Portland's Best Street Ecliptic Brewery


Another fantastic option is Bar Bar’s outdoor patio, where customers can order drinks through a small window after ringing a ship’s bell, or visit the adjacent and more famous Mississippi Studios, which features near-nightly musical acts.


If coffee is the preferred beverage, Fresh Pot serves fresh cups in a dark den that honors the old pharmacy that once occupied the space–the Phipps Drugs sign still hangs from the exterior. For tea, Townshend Tea Company specializes in loose-leaf tea, and also pours kombucha, in airier digs. For wine and whiskey, slim Sidecar does a dozen variations on the Manhattan in their speakeasy-sized space.


For those who want to bring the beverages of the block home, Mr. Green Bean sells all things coffee, including raw and unroasted beans; The Herb Shoppe next door has shelves of Ball jars jammed with hundreds of herbs and teas, along with droppers filled with flower essences and oil; and The Meadow, owned by a James Beard-award-winning chef, has shelves of cocktail bitters, as well as a wall of chocolate bars, stacks of pink salt blocks for grilling, and knowledgable salt experts on staff.


Whether travelers seek plant nurseries or oyster bars, Mississippi Avenue features a wonderfully puzzling collection of stores, restaurants, and breweries that carry Portland’s torch of weirdness for a few solid blocks.



Posted on by Noah Lederman in Somewhere, United States

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