Just when you thought that Food Carts (also know as Grease Trucks, here in NJ) were limited to drunken Rutgers students roaming the late night New Brunswick streets, think again! Portland, Oregon’s Food Cart scene will undoubtedly eliminate the phrase “Garbage Truck” from your vocabulary. While, you may still find a greasy burger piled hile with french fries and varied accoutrements, you can be sure that the beef is free-range and the lettuce was grown down the street. Sweetly charred, teriyaki chicken, melting kalua pork, shrimp fritters (veggies and pink shrimp rolled into a ball and fried deep brown), traditional meatballs and gravy made with goat’s milk curds and rolled up a little Scandinavian wrap! This is but a tiny snip it of the menu you will find on this city’s streets! They even have a cart named VIKING SOUL FOOD! OMG, Portland, are you serious!!!
Check out this awesome article by Michael Russel from OregonLive.com. Once that whets your appetite you’ll definitely want to head over to Food Carts Portland for a full listing of carts, including maps and hours of operation. It doesn’t get any better than this!
– xoxo travelerette
Know where to find Nashville-style spicy fried chicken in Portland? How about the cuisine of Guam? Norwegian potato flatbread wraps?
Well, there’s a cart for that.
Despite prognosticators predicting the bubble would burst, food cart expansion shows no signs of slowing down. There were 640 licensed food carts in Multnomah County at press time, 160 more than this time last year.
With whole pods of carts opening in nearly every corner of the city, it can be hard to know which ones to try. We set out to find the best of the bunch. Without further ado, here are our 10 favorite food carts that opened in the past year.
Viking Soul Food
For Megan Walhood, making lefse, a traditional Norwegian potato flatbread, is a family tradition. But it wasn’t until she brought partner Jeremy Daniels home for Christmas that Viking Soul Food was born.
Daniels took the lefse, the love child of a tortilla and a crepe, scooped up some traditional meatballs and gravy made with goat’s milk curds and rolled up a little Scandinavian wrap. That basic item, adorned with red cabbage slaw, was the starting point for the couple’s cart.
Walhood and Daniels both cut their teeth at Nostrana and bring the showman’s flair they developed in that wide-open kitchen to their tiny cart: Watch as Daniels prepares a quartet of flute-shaped wraps, then spins on his heels, holding an aluminum-foil bouquet of perfectly prepared lefses.
Try the original meatballs; a smoked salmon, dill and crème fraiche combination; lingonberries with cream cheese; or a seasonal special, the “drunken strawberries” soaked in booze with lime curd and pistachio chunks.
Noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays (later Fridays and Saturdays); in the Green Castle pod, 1930 N.E. Everett St.; 503-704-5481; www.vikingsoulfood.com; Facebook: Viking Soul Food
Does all food get better when made with high-quality Oregon ingredients?
Judging by PDX 671, which serves traditional dishes from the Mariana Islands (an archipelago that includes Guam), the answer is yes.
The cart’s name, a mashup of Portland’s airport code and Guam’s area code, references the cart’s Chamorro dishes — the cuisine of the Marianas — made with ingredients sourced from Oregon farms.
The golden fried lumpia, for example, are made with ground pork from Tails & Trotters, as are the marinated short ribs, which taste like ultra-flavorful Korean kalbi. They’re charred and served over “red rice.”
Don’t miss the Kelaguen Mannok, chunks of chicken tossed with lemon juice, grated coconut, fiery red peppers and onions served with tatiyas, housemade flatbread. Or the shrimp fritters — veggies and pink shrimp rolled into a ball and fried deep brown.
The cart is closed while the owners are in Guam. It will reopen July 9.
Noon to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; in the North Station pod, 2730 N. Killingsworth St.; 971-570-0945; pdx671.com; Twitter: @PDXSixSevenOne; Facebook: PDX Six Seven One
Chad Draizin is Portland’s mad scientist of ice cream.
For his maple bacon flavor, he cooks bacon, then resmokes the slices using applewood chips and a smoke-chamber device he says “you can buy in a head shop.” Every fifth lick comes with a crunchy bite of smoky bacon. His caramel apple is made with a pint of caramelized apple juice. The secret to his fantastic, just-right-for-summer passion fruit sorbet is a hint of Szechuan peppers.
Draizin spends his free time tinkering with a reverse osmosis machine that will turn any liquid, including whiskey from House Spirits distillery, into an ice cream, without losing any flavor.
Fifty Licks (the name is a guesstimate of the number of licks it takes to finish a scoop) began by selling its ice cream wholesale to restaurants. In addition to its two carts, you’ll find clever little boxes of Fifty Licks flavors at cafes and in New Seasons and Whole Foods supermarkets.
Roughly noon to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; in the Good Food Here pod, 4262 S.E. Belmont St., and a roving truck for events; 954-294-8868; fifty-licks.com; Twitter: @FiftyLicks; Facebook: Fifty Licks Ice Cream
“Have you discovered the magic of Fleur De Lis bakery?” Lardo owner Rick Gencarelli asks.
Gencarelli splits open a ciabatta roll from the Northeast Portland bakery — the one that supplies bread to most of the best sandwich carts in town — spreads on caper aioli and sticks it in his toaster oven. When the roll is hot, he lays down a hunk of porchetta, the fatty, mouthwatering Italian delicacy of roasted pork and herbs.
Gencarelli left his chef job at Vermont’s Shelburne Farms restaurant with the idea of coming to Portland to open a food cart. Although he started with lamb sliders, Gencarelli’s passion is for the porchetta, which he discovered while watching a group of old Italian men drinking cheap white wine and slapping hunks of pork onto Italian bread during his honeymoon in Florence. He came back to the United States hungry to re-create the dish.
As Gencarelli talks, another customer orders over the loud music in the cart. Gencarelli slaps a trio of pork belly slices on his grill, more fatty porcine chunks that he layers on a Fleur De Lis kaiser roll, then tops with cheddar and a farm egg. It’s not food for the faint of heart, but for pork lovers, it’s heaven.
Noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays (later Fridays and Saturdays); in the Good Food Here pod, 4262 S.E. Belmont St.; 802-734-8706; lardopdx.com; Twitter: @lardopdx; Facebook: Lardo PDX
As you wait, perhaps grabbing a beer from the nearby Captured by Porches brewery truck, the smell of chicken simmering in the pan with diced carrots, celery and onions fills the air.
The filling is gently poured into a wavy brown crust and is served with a simple green salad.
Pie Spot co-owners Ashley Ragsdale and Jessica Woods got their start selling cupcake-size versions of their sweet flavors at area farmers markets. Savory options, including the recent mushroom-gruyère, came later.
The hand-held portions — which come with seasonally available, locally sourced fillings such as pear, plum and pumpkin — were designed so customers could eat the pies while walking through crowded markets, reducing waste from paper plates and plastic forks in the process.
Noon to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Thursdays, noon to 10 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays, noon to 8 p.m. Sundays; in the D-Street Noshery pod, 3221 S.E. Division St; 503-913-5103; pie-spot.com; Twitter: @pie_spot; Facebook: PIESpot
La Costera means “the coast” in Spanish, but as you stand by this seafood-centric Mexican cart in Gresham, watching cars stream past on busy Southeast Stark Street, it couldn’t feel farther from the sea.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not authentic. Just like in Mexico, where some of the best food comes from trucks parked on unmemorable stretches of back roads or highways, La Costera serves a menu of surf and turf worth seeking out on a busy, unmemorable stretch of road.
Rene Biuiano came to the United States 18 years ago and has worked at a number of Gresham restaurants, including Siete Mares and Taqueria Rico Taco. He serves a long list of seafood options, including a hearty seafood cocktail with fat pieces of shrimp and octopus, and the usual Mexican American standards such as burritos and quesadillas.
But the standouts are the tacos, juicy chunks of marinated pollo (chicken), gently shredded carnitas (pork) or plump camarones (shrimp) placed on Biuiano’s wonderful, pressed-to-order tortillas and topped with fresh cilantro and onion. Just look for the strobe light flashing from the window of Biuiano’s cart and get ready to slow down.
Open for lunch and dinner most days; in the parking lot of the 174th Market & Deli, 17405 S.E. Stark St., Gresham; owner speaks halting English, bring your Spanish skills (or dictionary).
Evan Dohrmann was looking for a new project after his beloved Little Red Bike Cafe closed last June. By December, he’d started a mobile food cart selling the Jucy Lucy, an inside-out cheeseburger famous in Minneapolis (two separate bars there claim to have invented the concept).
Dohrmann says Minneapolis and Portland are both bicycle-friendly and hubs of indie rock. If the Jucy can work there, he thought, why not here?
He takes two house-ground beef patties and smooshes the edges around American cheese — then puts the whole mess inside a bun — creating a pocket of hot, gooey melted cheese that bursts in your mouth with the first bite.
The frequently updated menu features other burgers, some with high-class cheeses and inventive toppings. There’s brunch on Sundays, and a not-so-secret menu of former hits from the Little Red Bike Cafe. But it’s the first bite of the not-so-original burger that will bring you back for more.
The cart is closed for a hiatus but will reopen with dinner service in mid-July.
Often open for lunch Tuesdays through Saturdays and brunch Sundays; usually, but not always, parked next to the Land art gallery, 3925 N. Mississippi Ave.; 503-953-3527; Twitter: @LucysOriginal; Facebook: Lucy’s Original
Kevin Scofield and Jensen Yip left Maui to study business at Oregon State University but never shook their longing for their family’s cooking.
So the friends, who met in elementary school, brought their home cooking to Oregon.
They serve authentic — “big portions and cheap,” Yip says — Hawaiian dishes, including slow-roasted kalua pork, sweet shoyu chicken and hearty macaroni salad, all made fresh daily by Scofield and Yip from their families’ recipes.
(Fun with cart names — 808 is Hawaii’s area code, and grinds is slang for good eats.)
The pair say they hope to use the business lessons they learned in school to help grow the 808 Grinds brand, starting with a second, mobile food truck, then perhaps a brick-and-mortar location serving higher-end Hawaiian fare and classic cocktails.
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, or whenever they sell out; at the 10th and Alder pod (by Southwest Ninth Avenue and Washington Street); 503-713-8008; Twitter: @808GRINDS; Facebook: 808 Grinds
Jeff and Stephanie Barcelona are seriously into Oregon. How serious? Just check out the outline of the state’s boundary in green, with a green heart in the middle, that Jeff got tattooed on his forearm during the couple’s first visit last year.
By the time they’d tied up loose ends in Asheville, N.C. (“north cackalack” is slang for their home state), and were ready to move out West, Stephanie was already sketching out a design for what would become their hot chicken cart.
Hot — as in spicy — chicken hails from Nashville, where the couple got hooked on the dish after trying Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The Barcelonas liked it so much, they spent a year experimenting with the recipe until they got it just right.
The tender chicken’s crunchy crust ranges from mild (which is hot) through hot (which is hotter) to XXX (which is basted in habanero sauce and will make you cry).
The chicken is served on a piece of white bread, with two crinkle-cut pickle slices and potato salad or slaw. You’ll also find wings, fried and barbecue chicken sandwiches and the Naked, an unadulterated piece of fried chicken for those who can’t stand the heat.
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; in the Green Castle pod, 1930 N.E. Everett St.; 503-388-1772; cackalackshotchickenshack.com; Twitter: @CACKALACKS; Facebook: Cackalack’s Hot Chicken Shack
When is a cart no longer a cart?
Lots of ink has been spilled about downtown cart Queen Nong Poonsukwattana’s dream restaurant, but a lease has yet to be signed. Fifty Licks was in talks to open a space in Pioneer Courthouse Square, and Pie Spot owners say they’re close to opening a retail spot. Meanwhile, Ross Skomsvold and Molly Scott, owners of The Baowry, a St. Johns cart serving Vietnamese- and Korean-inspired dishes, might be even closer to a brick-and-mortar location.
Skomsvold and Scott serve Chinese-style steamed buns as flat disks wrapped like tortillas around pork or beef; banh mi sandwiches of shrimp or pork on a baguette with house-pickled slivers of carrots and onion; and fragrant ginger-scallion rice.
In May, they began remodeling a dilapidated house behind their cart, clearing the space of “scary dolls, broken glass and collage art” left by previous residents. They plan to continue using their cart as a kitchen with the renovated house as dining space, and they plan to expand the menu and add beer, wine and Champagne cocktails.
Technically, The Baowry hit its one-year anniversary last month, but we let it sneak on the list for its amazing togarashi beef skewers. If they’re on the menu, order them.
Noon to 7:30 p.m. daily; in the side yard of the house at 8307 N. Ivanhoe St.; 503-995-4005; thebaowry.tumblr.com; Twitter: BaowryStJohns; Facebook: Baowry St Johns
Some carts that set off the craze