A young lady is smiling brightly having long black hair while giving the side pose for the camera; Must-sees, do and eats on your next trip to Portland, Oregon | Ashley Castellanos | Ep 104

Must-sees, do, and eats on your next trip to Portland, Oregon | Ashley Castellanos | Ep 104

Introducing Ashley

In today’s episode, we’ll be talking to Ashley from Vegan Ventures. Ashley lives in Portland and she is an Instagrammer, and content creator who loves to eat her way around Portland (and wherever she is traveling) seeking out places that are not the most highly rated and reviewed. 

In this episode we discuss:

  • What Ashley is doing in the vegan space
  • Where she became vegan and where she has lived vegan
  • Her ‘off the beaten track’ favorite vegan hotspots in Portland
  • Festivals in Portland you might want to check out.
  • Things to do in and around Portland

Learn more about what we talk about

  • Lakes surrounding Portland
  • Activities to do in the open Mount Hood
  • Weather of Portland
  • What makes Portland so special
  • How vegan-friendly Portland is!

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode

Connect with Ashley


Brighde: Hi Ashley. Thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.

Ashley: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here and chat with you.

Brighde: Yes, and it’s so nice to see your face again. We originally met nearly a year ago when we did a World Vegan Travel meetup in Portland, and that’s gonna be a lot of what we are talking about today. But before we get into that, I would love to know, and I’m sure our listeners too would love to know a little bit about, Who you are, what your travel experience is, and what it is you do in the vegan slash vegan travel space? Because you’ve got a lot going on actually.

Ashley: Yeah, there’s a lot that I do and that I very much enjoy, but I’m based in Portland, Oregon. I’m from Portland, technically Beaverton and I lived most of my life here. But then in 2014, I left the states and first moved to Spain, but then I moved around the world to like Vietnam, Argentina, and Indonesia. So I did that for about five years teaching English. In that time period, I got to experience and see a lot, but also I became vegan in that time. I became vegan in the summer of 2017, I believe when I lived in Hanoi. After becoming vegan in Vietnam and then continuing to travel and moving around, I eventually started to work solely online.

It really exposed me a lot to different types of food, but different types of food that are also vegan. So that was my experience becoming vegan. Now I’ve been back in Portland, it’ll be four years this spring, and I currently work as a content creator. I manage Vegan Ventures, showcasing the best eats, but also experiences, in Portland and outside of Portland, but mainly focused in Portland right now.

 I’m also a photographer and videographer. I manage social media, so I work with a lot of businesses and brands in the social digital marketing space. I’m always thinking with my creative brain, but it’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy the people I get to work with so that definitely makes it worth it.

Brighde: Wow, that is a lot of things that you are doing, Ashley. It’s so interesting to me that you became vegan in Hanoi, because that is also where I became a vegan too, and that was a little bit earlier in 2009 it was maybe a different experience back then. The only thing that you could get and I could think I needed actually was a non-dairy milk. But of course, I’m sure things are different. How was it going vegan in Vietnam for you?

Ashley: It was honestly probably the easiest transition, because at the time, yes, there were definitely so many vegan options in Hanoi. It was a six-month transition. I had been vegetarian prior to that. I was not vegetarian when I moved to Vietnam, but I figured, okay, I’ll stop eating meat first and then eventually it was eggs. Then lastly, it was the cheese, but it was cheaper to eat out in Hanoi. So every time I would go eat out, I would always eat the vegan option or the vegetarian option, but just make it vegan. Again, it was very affordable to eat out, so I didn’t have to worry so much about cooking. I just ate all these different dishes and Hanoi just has a great food scene, of course, with Vietnamese food, but also western food. I remember there was this guy from Austin, Texas that opened a Tex-Mex restaurant near my home, and he had great vegan options, so I never felt like I was missing out. I was eating all these different cuisines, all these different dishes. So it was a really positive one. I’m very fortunate and lucky that it worked out in that way.

Brighde: I agree with you, Ashley. I found the transition also to be quite easy as well. I did cook a lot during those few months of transitioning, so that’s maybe a little bit of a difference, but For listeners that might not know a lot of Vietnamese, Buddhists will actually go vegan on at least one day a calendar month. So as a result, there’s quite a lot of ăn chay, which ăn is the Vietnamese word. You’re nodding, ăn is the Vietnamese word, the verb to eat and chay is to eat vegetable food, vegan food essentially. There are quite a few ăn chay restaurants around the place. The food there is like super good value, really cheap, often with some really great vegan meats in there as well, cuz they really like those kinds of things. Did you discover a few of those places as well?

Ashley: Oh yeah, there were loads of Vietnamese restaurants that were solely vegan. A big thing in Vietnam is these lunch buffets. Of course, it was very cheap. You pay maybe 2 to $3, maybe less depending on where you are and you get a plate of rice and all these dishes. There were quite a few vegan ones. There was one that opened up by my house that I was living at, and I would go to the gym and then I would go to this buffet and have this great meal and then my Vietnamese coffee. It was on a lake. It’s a man-made lake in Tejo. I have fond memories of that. Again, it was really good. It was very affordable and it was vegan. And I felt so lucky that it was just very easy to find all these great foods.

Brighde: Mm. Yeah. And of course, the fresh produce and the fruits and vegetables are just incredible in Vietnam, there are so many and they’re so reasonably priced as well. I’m curious, did you go vegan before or after your time living in Argentina?

Ashley: I went to Argentina vegan. So I was already vegan when I went to Buenos Aires. Actually, I was quite surprised that vegetarianism was growing at the time. This was in 2018. So you found a lot of vegetarian options within the city. Outside the city, not as much, but I was able to find dishes and restaurants to be made vegan. But also in the grocery stores, there weren’t a lot of vegan options, but there would be these smaller, like nutrition shops around the city and that’s where you would find vegan options in terms of like your milk, your yogurts, things like that. So you definitely had to put in a little more effort to find those things. It was definitely very much doable. So I ate home a lot more. But in the city, there were just a lot of cool hipster places. So they definitely had vegetarian and vegan options.

Brighde: It is funny. Argentina really has the reputation of being very meat-focused, and I think that’s true. But that’s not to say, you can’t eat or thrive or manage as a vegan in Argentina, as a traveler or as somebody who’s living there for a longer period or an Argentina person, I guess. That’s great. 

Ashley: I was there for three months, but yeah, very doable. You just had to plan a little bit more. Overall it was a really great experience. But I was the surprised cause as you said, it’s very meat-heavy and it’s known to be that. So I was surprised to see all the vegetarian options.

Brighde: Great. Alright, I know that many vegans go to Portland because there is such amazing vegan food, and I’m sure I’m going to ask you for some recommendations from a local, before the end of this podcast. So stay tuned to the end to hear those, listeners. But there is definitely more reason to come to Portland and visit the surrounding area than just the vegan food. I know I have a tendency to become a little bit single-minded when it comes to food in Portland, but there is much more to it than that. So I would love it if you would share some essential places that are, in your opinion, really worthwhile. Some activities to do, some sightseeing, and places that people might like to go to that are in Portland and maybe the surrounding area.

Ashley: Yeah, Portland is great that you can hit so many different things all at once just cuz it’s a smaller city so everything’s close by. But in terms of food, it really depends on what you’re in the mood for. So one of my favorite places, its Asian fusion is La Mai Plate. The owner is from Eastern Thailand, but she does incredible just Asian fusion dishes and the entire menu can’t be made vegan she uses tofu from Thailand cuz in her opinion it’s better. And I have to say, I might agree. It’s a food cart in Sellwood. I just absolutely love it. It’s one of my favorites. I also love Mirisata, which is, a vegan Sri Lankan place in Southeast Belmont. Every dish that I’ve had there, it’s just so flavorful and the portions are massive. So it’s definitely one of my favorites. One restaurant that has gotten a lot of publicity, but I just feel like it’s very fair is, Kann, or maybe Kann, I might be butcher it, but it’s the restaurant by Gregory Gourdet. It’s Haitian and West African food, and you definitely need a reservation. It’s definitely an experience. It’s not cheap, but it’s for the experience, right? You’re having this incredible meal with locally sourced ingredients and the servers there are so kind and really go above and beyond. So it’s definitely a nice place to dress up and go for a special occasion. They’ve just gotten a lot of publicity, but I feel like it’s very well deserved. So those are three so far that I would definitely recommend if you’re in Portland, but there are so many more.

Brighde: I think those are really great recommendations. I’d never heard of any of those places actually, and I’m really pleased that you include an African-inspired one on there because something that I’m really pushing myself to do more is to explore more African cuisine, cuz it’s not generally the first one we turn to when we are traveling. But the flavors are just so unique, so special. It’s so delicious. I was really lucky when I was recently in Rwanda and I was at a delicious place called Meza Malonga, this incredible restaurant, owned by someone from Uganda, I think it was, and he was doing like Afro Fusion. So food really inspired by African ingredients but in a very high-end kind of way. And the flavors and the tastes were absolutely amazing and I really hope this trend continues where we’re seeing slightly high-end African food because I think it’s a cuisine that is a little bit underrated.

Ashley: I fully agree. I feel like you said a lot of people when they think of going out to eat, feel like that cuisine is not thought of much but another place I also wanna highlight, it’s not a restaurant, it’s a food cart, but it’s called Maisha, it’s all vegan Kenyan food. I never had Kenyan food before, but I was truly blown away by all the dishes that the owner had prepared for me. The samosas, I cannot remember the other names cuz they’re quite unique, but there were a lot of curries. Then the flatbread, the chapati bread. Just all incredible and made with so much love and I was like, I could eat this every day. What I like about Portland is that I feel like the diversity in the cuisine, it’s slowly growing.

It’s definitely not like New York or LA, but more people are really wanting to share more about their culture and a lot of it is vegan, which is really great. Or if it’s not all vegan, they’re definitely coming up with vegan options, which is of course very much appreciated. It’s really fun to see how much growth has happened here in Portland in the last few years since I’ve been back. Especially when it comes to food. Many places have been closing, but a lot of places have also been opening all the places that have been opening, are really outstanding and definitely make it worth coming to Portland to try.

Brighde: This is why I love speaking to locals about their favorite places in their hometown. Cuz I’m thinking about when I often travel, I will go onto Happy Cow or whatever app. I find that very often I’ll gravitate towards the most highly rated or the most reviews and this is something I need to do a better job at. Sometimes I think that this has a snowball effect, like places that are often very good, but the reason why they’re getting lots of people going to them is that they’re highly rated or they have the most reviews and that kind of snowballs. Then you have these other places that could be forgotten about or not feature in the top 10, but are still excellent, especially in a place that has so many incredible restaurants, like Portland. Incredible vegan restaurants or vegan-friendly options that I think this is just so great to hear someone’s recommendations cuz I know I have a tendency to gravitate to the ones that are ranked most highly on Google, for example, rather than maybe something that’s more interesting and places that you’ve just recommended. So thank you for that.

Ashley: Yeah, of course, and that’s definitely what I aim to share on Vegan Ventures on my page. I initially started it really just for fun. I was already travel blogging when I lived overseas, but Vegan Ventures itself, I started here in Portland and I just wanted to highlight places that I just genuinely enjoyed and genuinely thought it was good. Of course, it’s grown and evolved since starting in 2020, but I love highlighting places where the owners are just very passionate about what they’re doing because it just very much shows in their food. Also, a lot of these owners, might not have the marketing resources or the knowledge of how to promote themselves, which is why they might get overlooked when it comes to reviews or Google searches.

 So being able to connect with some of these people and just like showcase what they do, is really great. It really means a lot to me when people come up to me and tell me, oh, I went to this place because of you and it’s now one of my favorites. Or when owners told me, now I’ve gotten so many customers because of the video that makes me really happy because at the end of the day, as I said, these are amazing people who just have so much love and they care so much about their community. So the fact that it’s the food that brings everyone together, I don’t know, just makes me very happy.

Brighde: No, I agree. It’s really lovely. So I think people probably know that Portland is really famous for, its food trucks, food carts, and these kinds of things. But logistically speaking, for somebody who’s coming to Portland, what do they need to know in order to have a good experience at food carts? Are they in certain locations? How can people find out? Where food carts are on a particular day? We have food carts here in Vancouver, not as many, but you have to do a little bit of work to figure out where they are at a certain time.

Ashley: Yeah. To be honest, the way I find them is through Instagram. The thing about the community here in Portland is, many business owners support each other. So if someone has a friend who just opened a place, that business owner is gonna share their friend. Because Instagram is my main source of finding these places, that’s personally how I find them out.

 Also a lot of food carts, they might not have a Facebook or something. It’s usually just Instagram. I feel like Instagram is the go-to for a lot of local businesses here. So I would definitely use the hashtags, and follow your local bloggers because they tend to highlight them. Some other food bloggers don’t highlight food carts as much as maybe I do. But I just feel like social media is honestly the easiest way, cause I personally don’t use any other resources when it comes to finding food carts.

Brighde: Would you say that in Portland the food carts are pretty good with them staying in one location all the time? And do they have steady opening hours or is it like Vancouver where they could be moving around?

Ashley: Here. The food carts tend to stay in one place. There are many food cart pods, and so those owners are paying rent to have their carts in that space. These food cart pods have their name like there are the Knob Hill food carts, there’s Cartlandia, there are core food carts. food carts will stay in one place most of the time. So it does make it easier to go and find them. It’s just the hours might vary. Because of these times, a lot of businesses are just focusing on being only open on the weekends, staying closed Monday, Tuesday, and not also Wednesday. The hours sometimes fluctuate just because there might be some family emergencies or emergencies in general that they have to take care of. Personal things, there’s just always things that happen, which is why I always just look on Instagram for their updates, cuz that’s where they’ll typically post, Hey, this happened so we’re opening at this time, or we’re closed. But yeah, the hours will fluctuate most of the time, that’s the nature of the business in food parts, which I understand.

Brighde: Fair enough. So I feel like we’ve got the food covered for Portland, and I’m wondering if we might be able to move on to some other reasons that one might like to go to Portland, apart from the incredible food. So I’ve been to Portland a couple of times, so as you are speaking, it’ll probably jog a few memories, but what other things are there to do and see maybe there are some special festivals, vegan or not, that people might like to time their visit for. Can you speak to any of those things?

Ashley: Yeah. One, there is a vegan food festival that just started this last fall, and they’ve been doing it every month, every two months here. It’s run by Chelsea. To find the Instagram it’s veggies, do it better. So that’s where you can find when the next vegan market is happening. But it’s great because you can shop, everything vegan, but there are also a lot of great food vendors, so you definitely need to come hungry to check it out. I just remember when I had a conversation with Chelsea, she was saying that she really wants this to be a big market, like what you see in LA. So it’s definitely worth coming to. I’ve been to two, if not three, and each one has been a lot of fun. But that’s something to check out if you’re here or you might wanna plan your trip around.

Also, people come to Portland for the city, or mainly for the food in the city, but also because of nature. Mount Hood is an hour and a half away. So if you love the snow, great for snowboarding. But there are also great hikes to do up in Mount Hood in the summer. I did Ramona Falls up in Mount Hood last summer. Beautiful, pretty easy hike, you had to cross a river on a log. We were starting the hike and then this man told us there was a rope. Make sure you use the rope when you use the log to cross the river. I’m like, okay, here we go. So there’s of course, the beautiful hikes, up on the mountain, up in the gorge for the waterfalls. The beach, Cannon Beach is like roughly an hour and a half to two hours from here.

You can come any time of the year and there’s something to do, especially if you love the outdoors. There are so many beautiful lodges and cabins that you can stay at if you wanted something cozy in the winter. But then in the summer is, of course, the most beautiful, to go to the lakes in the river. There’s just a lot, but it just depends on what you wanna do, especially if you like the outdoors. So that’s why a lot of people come to Portland and then want to move to Portland, and then they see that it’s very gray and rainy most of the year, and it’s like a surprise.

Brighde: We came to Portland last year, when I met you for the first time, the intention to go there was actually to enjoy the Willamette and the wine areas which are also really beautiful. There are so many vineyards that are open for wine tasting. You should make a reservation cuz we didn’t get into ones that we really wanted to go to because it was a weekend I think, even though it wasn’t like the middle of summer or anything. But the wine country is absolutely beautiful around there.

Ashley: It is, it’s stunning. In the Willamette Valley and there are so many vineyards. If you go to McMinnville, that’s a great area to stay. They have tasting rooms. You could go to that, or you could go to the vineyards themselves and do a wine tasting there. I personally don’t drink. But I have been to wine country and I do plan to take my mom for her birthday. It’s a nice getaway, whether it’s with a loved one or with friends. But that whole area is just very beautiful to go to in the summer. And there are some vineyards that have great restaurants as well. So if you want to go wine tasting and then have food. In terms of vegan options, I’m not sure. But it’s something definitely to look into if you wanted to go down to wine country.

Brighde: Okay. So apart from Vegan festivals, are there any other sorts of cultural festivals that happen throughout the year in Portland? I’m thinking of like a poetry festival or some sort of world music festival or anything like that people might like to time their visit.

Ashley: The thing is, even though I don’t drink, like the Oregon Brewers Festival, I just found out they’re canceling it this year, which I was very surprised about because it’s massive. But in terms of other major festivals, Personally, I just know that Portland has a lot of markets that happen throughout the year, that’s definitely what makes Portland very unique, is the small business community. So if you were here, I would definitely check out the farmer’s market over by Portland State. There’s of course the infamous Portland one that’s by the waterfront, but there are so many other markets that happen in Northwest Portland on the east side. So if you really wanted a true Portland experience, I would definitely check out just any of these markets. There are so many that happen throughout the year, some that happened more in the summer, some all year round. That’s what makes Portland very special is the small business community and just the community aspect in general. I remember, there was someone from London who was coming to visit and I took her to The Vegan Festival, which essentially is a market as well.

I was introducing her to a lot of these people that were working there. It was just really nice to have this experience of you feeling like, oh, you’re meeting a friend. It doesn’t feel like this super serious convention or something. It’s like two friends meeting almost. That’s, I feel what makes Portland just very unique.

Brighde: Is there a big live music scene? I imagine there would be.

Ashley: Yeah, Portland is definitely very much known for its art scene. There are quite a few venues around Portland where you can check out smaller artists, and I personally don’t go to them very often. I just have many friends that do. So if you’re really into like indie music or just music in general, there are definitely a lot of concerts that happen here as well. It’s great to go to comfort food and then go listen to music. There’s definitely plenty of that here.

Brighde: Hmm. And I think during the summer months, the city just comes alive with the parklands next to the river as well. It’s just such a cool vibe and great people-watching. Really wonderful. That was my experience when I was there a few years ago in the summertime.

Ashley: Yeah, last year at Laurelhurst Park, there’s this thing called Comedy in the Park and it’s a free event. You can go set up around 6 and the show starts at 6 30. It’s an hour show. It’s free and everyone kind of sits there like a picnic, sitting on the grass. I think I went to two and it was pretty packed. It’s just a nice way to spend a summer evening. I love being outside in the summer. It’s just so beautiful here. It’s not overly humid like you might experience on the East coast. Any excuse to be outside I did Frisbee golf for the first time last year. There are quite a few of them. I had never played, I really didn’t know what I was getting into but it was fun. But that’s the thing where people love to do here is be outside and there are these beautiful tall trees while you’re playing Frisbee golf. I don’t know what I like more the game or just the beautiful scenery where I’m playing.

Brighde: I’ve heard of ultimate Frisbee, but I have not heard of Frisbee golf. That’s very interesting.

Ashley: There’s just a lot of things to do like that here, which is great. As I said, going to the lakes, like Trillium Lake, open Mount Hood, which is great for paddle boarding, and kayaking, you can really find almost anything here, which is great. So we’re quite spoiled.

Brighde: I had a lovely morning when I was there last March when I went to the, I’ve forgotten the name of it, but the beautiful Japanese gardens, up at the top of that mountain hill and in town. These Japanese gardens were absolutely beautiful. It was during the cherry blossom time, so it was just absolutely gorgeous. I’ll try to include some pictures if I took any in the show notes for this, but it was really lovely. It was quite expensive, in my opinion, to go there, but it was gorgeous.

Ashley: Yeah. Well, that also reminds me too. We do have the cherry blossoms over at the waterfront. They come into full bloom in March. It lasts really for about two weeks, and the trees are actually from Japan. It’s a beautiful time to come to Portland and experience the cherry blossoms because they’re just beautiful and lush. So many people go there for photos. I’ve done photos of myself, like bringing my tripod and doing a photo shoot. I go before Sunrise and there are other photographers doing the same thing as well. So that’s something to definitely plan for if you wanted to come to see that. Cuz I would still love to go to Japan and see it there, but you can also see it here in Portland. I love it. It’s beautiful, but especially during the day, so many people go, so it gets very crowded.

Brighde: You are close to the coast in Portland, is that right? About half an hour’s drive. Is that correct to say?

Ashley: About an hour or an hour and a half or more, depending on which beach you’re going to. I think Seaside is the closest, which is about an hour, if not a little more. It’s a fun beach, but Cannon is definitely the most famous one cause it has Haystack Rock. You might’ve seen images of it, but that’s definitely one of the more famous ones. Oregon has a beautiful coastline. So honestly, just going up and down the Oregon coast is also worth seeing. It’s very cold. It’s definitely not the beach to go swimming at, but it’s great to look at.

Brighde: I love it. All right. So really there are so many reasons to visit Portland apart from the incredible foodie scene and thank you again so much for those personal recommendations. Of course, the coast is not so far away, as the mountains, nature, the community-mindedness. There are just so many reasons. So I really hope that people listening to this podcast will go onto the show notes and look at the links to the places that Ashley mentioned so that they can plan their next trip to Portland. So Ashley, before we go, I would love it if you share with our listeners your social media handles and maybe your blog if you still have that going so that our listeners can connect with you over there.

Ashley: Yeah, so you can find me on Instagram and TikTok at vegan_ventures. On Facebook and YouTube, it’s Vegan Ventures Official, which is also the same name as my website. My new website, it’s veganventuresofficial.com. So I will share more recommendations and I definitely have some other things in the works that I’m excited to share with everyone. But yeah, that’s where you can find me and all of my recommendations.

Brighde: Thank you so much, Ashley, for taking the time to share your recommendations with our listeners today. Thank you.

Ashley: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.

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