Ice Cream Aficionado Tyler Malek Reveals His Favorite Spots for Coffee, Tacos and Horseradish Vodka in Portland

The Salt & Straw co-founder spends his days off visiting Portland’s top restaurants and eating vanilla ice cream.

By Ben Mesirow and Tyler Malek

Published on 10/10/2023 at 12:00 PM

Tyler Malek – Co-Founder and Head of Innovation at Salt & Straw | Photo by Thomas Teal for Thrillist

If you’ve had an unusual ice cream flavor on the West Coast in the last decade or so, there’s a good chance it was the work of Tyler Malek, the co-founder and Head of Innovation at Salt & Straw. The rapidly growing chain of scoop shops is best known for its creative, seasonal ice cream inspired by artisanal products from the Pacific Northwest. The new Harvest Series of flavors offers creations like Beecher’s Cheese With Apple Pie Cinnamon Rolls, Pinot Poached Pear Sorbet, and Pumpkin Spiced Tiramisu. Malek himself is deeply enmeshed in the food and drink scene in Portland, a fixture since Salt & Straw opened as a food cart in Northeast Portland in 2011. On his rare days off, he likes to explore the city’s ever-exciting restaurants, spend time outdoors with his young children, and check in at the farmers market for ice cream inspiration. And he still manages to fit in a scoop or two, even when he’s off the clock.

My favorite coffee shop right now is Deadstock. Really I have a lot of favorites, but I would probably start my day at Deadstock. Ian Williams is the owner there, and you know how cool baristas can be? He's like that times infinity. He used to be a shoe designer at Nike, so he's got Nike shoes all over, and he adds a design element to his flavors and his coffees. He's got stencils, and he'll stencil an Air Force One onto your coffee. And he hosts barista competitions, set up like pickup basketball games, just right out in front of his shop.

“[Deadstock] still has that grittiness and that fun playfulness of Portland, but, oh my God, it’s done in this way that no one else could ever dream of. I love [Ian Williams’s] coffee. I love going there. You just feel the energy. It’s like coffee for industry folks.”

It still has that grittiness and that fun playfulness of Portland, but, oh my God, it's done in this way that no one else could ever dream of. I love his coffee. I love going there. You just feel the energy. It's like coffee for industry folks. I order the LeBronald Palmer all the time now, it’s cold brew with iced tea. It’s crazy.

My goal every weekend is to try to go to the PSU Farmers Market. It’s pretty iconic. It takes over five blocks in downtown Portland. And there's usually at least 15 to 20 different street artists playing or doing something interesting, with 100 booths maybe, between farms and artisan brands. One of my favorite food vendors is there too, Creole Me Up. Elsy Dinvil does Haitian pikliz, and she's always got something really fun at the Farmers Market that you can only get there. She did a Haitian Bloody Mary mix a couple of weeks ago that I bought, that was so, so good. I love her food, so I always try to get something there.

Right now it's peach season. I've got a lot of fruit trees, but I don't have peaches, so I crave peaches. We get Baird Family Orchards, they’re kind of the big one out here. It's just an incredible farmers market.

I treat trips to the farmers market as research, too. It's how I stay connected. We worked with Stone Barn Brandyworks, they’re one of my go to places there. We used their nocino two years ago. I'm like, "What have you been doing since then?" And they're like, "Oh, we finally bottled such and such.” Or Elsy at Creole Me Up will say, "Oh, I've made bloody mary mix. Should we make ice cream in a couple weeks?” So it’s kind of like a catch-up. It's like in high school when you come back to school after spring break, but it happens every couple weeks.

For lunch I’d probably go to Matt's BBQ Tacos. He's got a couple of different spots now, but his tacos are so good. The line is usually really, really long, so I try to get there right when they open, and we just order 10 tacos for the group. They make all the flour tortillas there in their little food cart. They're literally made right in front of you. He became famous because he started doing just barbecue at a different food cart; briskets, pulled pork, just insanely good. And so then when he opened the taco cart, everyone's like, "What are you doing?" And oh my God, I mean, it's a brisket taco, it's a pulled pork taco... All of these meats on these fresh-made flour tortillas are insane, and some of the best bites I've had in the past five years. I love going there.

“Forest Park is one of my go-tos. I've got two little girls, so we'll load them up into a backpack and hike through the park... You could hike for a year and still find new trails through there. It's amazing.”

I think I’d be remiss to not talk about Forest Park, too. It’s one of my go-tos. I've got two little girls, so we'll load them up into a backpack and hike through the park. It’s one of the biggest metro parks in the country. You could hike for a year and still find new trails through there. It's amazing. You usually find great views of different angles on the city, and you can enter from almost anywhere along the western edge of the city. From our shop in Northwest Portland, you probably walk three quarters of a mile and you're at a trailhead. And then coming down, you can go right back to restaurants.

To pre-game dinner, I like to go to Scotch Lodge. It's this really cool underground restaurant and whisky bar. They'll bring the bottle of whatever spirit you order to your table, so I always ask them for the most unique or the oldest amaro they have on hand. They've also got amazing food. They had a squid ink pasta that I used to always get. So that's the perfect kind of appetizer spot.

And then from there, I’d probably walk down to Kachka for dinner, which is a Russian restaurant. They started as just a hole in the wall, in 2014-ish. And they must've had 10, 15 tables in their first spot, but it was all about the vodka. They do really cool infusions, my favorite is the horseradish-infused vodka, and they've got a homemade pickle juice on the side to chase it. It's wonderful. You can drink a lot of it. The food is designed to go with the vodka, so it becomes a party for dinner.

I would go to Division Wines from there. It's one of my favorite wine shops. Just a classic. You go in, you can pick out a bottle from the shop and then go sit at the bar in the back and they'll open it for you, bring a cheese platter. But every time I go there, the bartenders are great, they want to teach you about wine, they want to walk you through, they want you to taste a new bottle that you've never heard of. It’s just one of the more pleasant places you can go in the city.

And then I’ll finish with ice cream right down the road. We've got a Salt & Straw like two blocks from there. I eat ice cream at all hours of the day, but it’s for work—that's the problem. So when I’m eating it on my own, it’s usually after dinner, like 9 pm, and I always get vanilla.

We made fried chicken ice cream the other day, and I have to taste it for quality, so I'll eat a whole pint of it and I'm like, "Oh, that was fun. It was delicious. That's good. I'm good." So when I eat ice cream for fun outside of work, I always get vanilla. You want to get the purest form of the cream. That's a great day.