PORTLAND, Ore. — Loosen your belts and start fasting now: Portland's biggest food event Feast Portland begins this Thursday!

As a lover of food, cooking and visiting restaurants, Feast is my very favorite event in Portland. The energy at the main events is electric, people are eating and drinking as much as they want (and can) for the price of their ticket, and you can rub elbows with nationally renowned chefs and local heavy hitters.

There's so much to taste, new products to check out, and techniques to bring home to your own kitchen.

Up until 2018, I personally bought and paid for my own tickets to a few of the main events. I need to stress that this is not cheap. Many of the main events and private dinner series cost $160 and up. I would put it on an airline miles card and consider it my birthday present for the year.

You don't have to spend a lot though to have a great time and taste tons of food. There are many events for $40, $50 or $60. For the past two years, I've been fortunate enough to apply for and receive a media pass for the main events. 

Just attending Feast takes some forward-thinking. The schedule for September's Feast week comes out in May. You have one day to get your calendar out, plan with your friends, decide how much you want to spend and what food you want to eat, before the tickets go on sale the following day. And then if you're not online right at 10 a.m., many of the sit-down dinners at restaurants and the hottest tickets — like a lunch event with Austin, Texas' "Mega-BBQ God" Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue — are sold-out in a matter of hours.

There are still tickets left to some of the best events! So let's focus on those (besides, they are some of my favorites).

Feast Portland 2018
Aubrie LeGault

1. "East Coast vs West Coast"

Where: Rose Quarter Commons 

When: Thursday, September 12

Cost: $125 per ticket

Thursday's main event has changed themes for the past two years. It used to always be the Sandwich Invitational, where chefs from Portland, the Northwest and across the country (like Aaron Franklin and his drool-inducing brisket sandwich that I still remember from 2014) compete head-to-head for their best rendition of a sandwich. The winner gets a literal trophy, plus bragging rights.

Last year's Thursday event, which was 80s-inspired food versus 90s-inspired food, changed locations from Director Park, across the river to its current home of the Rose Quarter Commons, aka the open space between the Moda Center and the Coliseum.

In 2019, Feast organizers have stuck with the competition theme and are pitting chefs against each other in East Coast food favorites versus West Coast food favorites. Think lobster rolls versus Dungeness crab melts, New England clam chowder versus sushi.

Your ticket gives you a token to vote for your favorite dish. At the end of the night the East Coast food tokens will be tallied up versus the West Coast food tokens, and one team of chefs will win. 

There's loud music playing, cocktail and beer booths, and fun Feast swag. Plus, it's all the food you can eat, depending on how quickly you get in the next line to grab a plate. (My advice, eat while you wait in line for the next one, you gotta try everything!)

Feast Portland 2018
Cheyanne Paredes

2. "Late, Late Show: Noodles"

Where: The Lot at Clay Creative, 1643 Southeast 3rd Avenue, Portland

When: Thursday, September 12, 7:30 p.m.-10 p.m.

Cost: $125 per ticket

It's late and you want noodles. Specifically, you want noodles from the best in the business. Pok Pok's Andy Ricker and David Thompson of Aaharn in Hong Kong, formerly of Nahm in Bangkok (which was an insane six-course dining experience when my husband and I traveled around Thailand), team up with several other chefs to feed you. Nobody knows what they'll be serving, but it's going to be good. Blue Star Donuts is going to be there too, so expect some surprises. Pok Pok is one of my go-to spots in Portland. My standard order you CANNOT go wrong with is: Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, the spicy boar collar, pok pok papaya salad, sticky rice and the Southside gin cocktail. Also the flank steak salad is money.

Feast Portland 2018
Alan Weiner

3. "The Big Feast"

Where: Tom McCall Waterfront Park

When: Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: $95 per ticket

Here's where you get a lot of bang for your $95. Organizers are helping us all out this year and have moved this event to Waterfront Park, instead of trying to keep cramming everyone into Pioneer Square and not trip over the stairs and bricks like I've done in years past. This is a great event where you can try new products for sale at local grocery stores, taste cheese and chocolate from artisans around the world, and right here in the Northwest, taste fine wines and watch cooking demos. You can also listen to food podcasts being taped, and do question-and-answer sessions with chefs and food writers. It's a very intimate experience, with a few hundred of your foodie friends. More tickets are being sold this year because it's a larger space and that means you can still go!

Feast Portland 2018
Carly Diaz

4. "Melty Fest Presented by Tillamook"

Where: The Redd on Salmon Street

When: Saturday, September 14, 4 p.m.-7 p.m.

Cost: $65 per adult, $35 per child

Cheese-lovers, this one's for you ... and the kiddos! The description says enough for me: ice cream floats, melted and grilled cheese, bubbles, squirt guns, parachutes, alcohol, kids beverages, glitter and painted hair stations. Sign me up! This is the first year for this event, so I can't tell you what it's going to be like, but Feast organizers don't play around, so it's sure to be great.

The most "insider" stuff happens at the private after-parties that you have to be on the list to get in. I always heard rumblings of these parties for years when I was buying my own ticket, and I was stoked when I was finally invited to them.

Chefs let loose, have drinks and party with media folks, food writers, other "celebrities" and eat more food — this time it's free — and plenty of drinks. These are where the real crazy fun happens: games of beer pong, shots, five whole roasted pig heads lined up on a table (that was in 2014), champagne pyramids, live music, etc. It's wild the number of food writers, bloggers and social media influencers who come to Portland for Feast. It's becoming one of the best festivals in the country, and organizers work really hard to put it on and plan all year.

There are many other smaller classes, even one that travels by bike (sooo Portland), so find one that fits your budget, schedule and tummy space. And say hi if you see me there!