Listen up fellow street food lovers. Portland is the next BIG thing.
Actually, maybe it’s already the big thing.
Compared to countries with an established street-food culture, the US has never had a particularly memorable curbside restaurant scene. Luckily for us, our very own Portland, Oregon has recently put us on the map.
In 2010, CNN named Portland “World’s Best Street Food” beating out well-known capitals of the street-eat, Marrakech, Istanbul, Tel Aviv and even Bangkok!
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the concept of the food cart. Well, these fixed street stands are Portland’s claim to fame. Back in 2010 Portland was home to only about 400 of these culinary gems. Since then these mobile kitchens have multiplied to include over 600!
The people of Portland take their food carts seriously serious. They’ve become a staple in the city’s culinary culture, drawing attention from food-loving tourists all over the world.
Unlike many other cities dedicated to mobile dining, Portland’s street-food scene is also extremely organized. Most of their noteworthy carts can be found in “pods” or lots housing a variety of stands, kind of like a mall food court. You’ll find pods of all sizes, in all neighborhoods of Portland, from clusters of a few carts, to groups spanning entire city blocks.
Here’s a map of Portland’s cart pods from Food Carts Portland.
These pods allow for my favorite type of travel tasting: sampling and sharing.
My time in Portland was limited and so my strategy was simple: try as many carts as possible.
Bring on the food-carting.
Here are my favorite bites:
PBJ Fries w/ Cheese Curds
Cart: Potato Champion
Menu Description: “The one and only! Fries topped with satay sauce and our smoky chipotle raspberry sauce.”
Price: $5.75 small, $8.25 medium, $11.00 large
If you consider yourself a French fry fanatic, stop reading here and go directly to Potato Champion. I’m not even a huge “potato person,” and this was probably my favorite bite of Portland. Let’s just say French fries don’t get much better than this.
This cart is known for its Canadian-style comfort food, a modern spin on the basic fry. I went out on a limb and ordered the PB&J fries with a suggested addition of cheese curds. I was a bit apprehensive about mixing these two childhood favorites, but the cook insisted they were worth a try.
All I can say is OMG. It was the perfect harmony of distinct flavors. The sweet yet slightly spicy raspberry spread balanced out the zesty Thai peanut sauce positively perfectly. Whether you’re looking for a late night snack, a greasy hangover cure, or you just take your fries damn seriously, potato lovers, feel free to rejoice!
Chicken and Guns
Cart: Chicken and Guns
Menu Description: “Oak & mesquite roasted Latin chicken with your choice of crispy potatoes with lemon and sea salt, salsa cruda, Peruvian Aji sauce or a salad of daily selected farmers market veggies, heritage grains, local greens and chimichurri sauce.”
Price: Quarter $9, Half $16, Whole $24
At Chicken and Guns they only do one thing, but oh do they do it soooo right! Their Latin-inspired, oaked-fired chicken is often called the best roasted chicken in all of Oregon. It’s hard to believe you could find such an exquisitely juicy chicken at a food cart. The chicken skin was well done and seasoned to perfection, the meat incredibly tender and moist.
Unfortunately, Chicken and Guns is located in the same pod as the before mentioned Potato Champion, but there’s no way I will let that overshadow their potatoes. These crispy little golden nuggets are fried with the skin on, then salted and topped with a creamy tangy Aji sauce. They. Are. To die-for. Crunchy brown on the outside with a soft mushy center.
Oh yeah, and the men behind the operation are pretty awesome too!
Chicken and Rice
Cart: Nong’s Khao Man Gai
Pod: Alder Street
Menu Description: Chicken and rice (Khao Man Gai)
Price: $8.75 Small, $13 Big Size
At Nong’s Khao Man Gai cart the menu is simple, but the execution is flawless. There’s really only one decision to make- small or big size?
I’m still a bit confused how something that looks so basic, tastes so good. I continuously asked myself this question while scraping the last of the glazed rice from the butcher paper. Poached skinless chicken and ordinary white rice never tasted so delicious.
It’s really no mystery though- the secret is in the sauce. Nong learned this traditional Khao Man Gai (chicken with rice in Thai) recipe from her mother while growing up in Bangkok. The sweet and spicy ginger and garlic based topping is enough to make any palette sing!
Oh, and they sell the sauce bottled. Needless to say, I bought some of the magic mixture to bring home.
Cart: Euro Dish- Traditional Polish Cuisine
Pod: Alder Street
Menu Description: Polish home style dumplings
Price: 6p- $4.50, 9p- $6.50
Euro Dish serves Polish-style street food and even though there were so many enticing carts to try, I can never pass up my favorite Polish staple! These little boiled dumplings are homemade and the choice of fillings changes daily. We tried the cabbage and mushroom and classic cheese and potato, topped with sour cream.
Even though these pierogi’s were undeniably fresh and the stuffing was interesting, I still think they left a little something to be desired. I’ve had my fair share of pierogis (I grew up near LI’s Polish Town) and I’ve come to like mine a little crunchy and pan-fried. These were soft, tender and steamed, but unfortunately, I found them a little bland. Maybe I would have liked them better with a little hot sauce to spice things up!
Olea Pita Wrap
Cart: Wolf & Bear
Pod: Alder Street
Menu Description: Labneh (Greek yogurt), gorgonzola, caramelized walnuts, kalamata tapenade, grilled red onions, eggplant and red pepper, cracked pepper, olive oil, tahini, greens
The Olea Pita Wrap is without a doubt one of the best wraps I have ever tasted. I know, a bold statement. Turst me, well deserved.
All of the tastes and textures of this wrap beautifully blend together evoking what can only be described as a heavenly experience. Every single bite is bursting with ridiculous flavor. I mean warm roasted red peppers, caramelized walnuts, and creamy Greek yogurt, what could possibly be better?
Cart: Noodle House
Pod: Alder Street
Menu Description: Healthy, fresh, hand-made noodle. (Choice of seafood, beef or shrimp & regular, spicy, curry)
The Noodle House food cart found on SW Washington St. is a deal that can’t be beat. The quality is high, the portions are large and the prices are cheap. If you’re looking for the perfect dish to share, Noodle House will not disappoint.
For less than $10 you’ll be given an extremely generous portion of chewy thick hand-pulled noodles mixed in with whichever topping you may choose. If you’re an adventurous eater, definitely go for the seafood. The purple tentacles may look intimidating, but they’re fresh and melt in your mouth delicious!
Cart: KOi Fusion
Pod: Mississippi Marketplace
Menu Description: Choice of protein with sautéed onions & peppers, melted cheese, sautéed kimichi, wasabi mayo & Korean spread on a toasted bun
Price: $8 chicken/tofu , $8.25 pork, $8.50 short rib/steak
KOi Fusion’s innovative menu offers some real funky flavors, highlighting Korean BBQ with a Mexican twist. All of their entrees allow for a choice of protein (tofu, chicken, pork, short rib or steak) accommodating most palettes.
We went with the Korean Chicken Cheesesteak and were beyond pleased with its tangy taste. The chicken marinade was a great combination of sweet and spicy and the vegetables were crisp and cooked to perfection. All items are cooked to order, so if you have a few minutes to spare, this creative cheesy concoction is definitely worth a try!
Vegan Rib Platter with side of Mac-nocheese and Hush Puppies
Cart: Homegrown Smoker: Vegan BBQ
Location: Mississippi Marketplace
Menu Description: Rib Platter: Smoked Tempeh “Ribs” basted in HGS BBQ sauce. Served with Hush Puppies (2) and Remoulade sauce.
Side choice: Mac-nocheese: Elbow noodles in creamy no-cheese sauce.
Price: 3 Ribs/One side $9
The Homegrown Smoker caught my interest right away with its unusual description: vegan barbecue. Meatless BBQ? Is that even a thing? They sure had my attention. With bold menu headings such as chili, burritos and burgers, I knew the inquisitive eater in me would have to give this cart a fair shot. I figured go big or go home and went for an order of the ribs.
I have to admit, the dish was pretty good, for vegan ribs. Surprisingly good if you know what I mean. Still, what can I say? I prefer my meat, well, meaty.
Still this place gets RAVE reviews in the vegan/vegetarian community. I guess it’s probably about as close as you can get to smoky southern BBQ minus the meat. The portions were plentiful, their ideas were original and their curiously impressive.
Locations of pods mentioned above:
- Alder Street
- Location: SW 10th and Alder
- Neighborhood: Downtown
- Mississippi Marketplace
- Location: N. Mississippi Ave. & Skidmore St.
- Neighborhood: Mississippi / Williams
- Location: 1207 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland
- Neighborhood: Hawthorne
Portland hearts food carts. And so do I.
What’s your favorite street food destination? Which of the above are you dying to try?
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