Too much of a good thing? That’s one reaction to Portland’s staggering number of food carts (at least a few hundred). But rather than being overwhelmed by the options, why not embrace the delicious dilemma? Go whole hog (hmm, sounds like a good name for a food cart) and choose a day’s worth of meals from these popular Portland food carts.
The prize for most coveted morning meal from a Portland food cart goes to Matt’s BBQ Tacos on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. (That’s a made-up prize, but they were really named 2019 Cart of the Year by the local paper.) Breakfast taco options include brisket, pork belly, jalapeno cheddar sausage and portobello mushroom, all served with eggs, potato and cheese, and all worth the almost-guaranteed wait.
In Northeast Portland’s Barley Pod, Smaaken Waffles reinvents the breakfast classic, turning it into a vessel for delightfully diverse fillings. Sandwiches on their thin Dutch waffles include combinations like sausage, egg and cheddar; ham, Swiss, house-made strawberry jam and powdered sugar; and the Smaaken: apple, brie and bacon. (The cart also offers gluten-free waffles and vegan and vegetarian sandwiches.)
At its school-bus eatery on Northeast Alberta Street, Grilled Cheese Grill whips up sandwiches including its Tillamook-cheddar-stuffed, crust-cut-off “Pre-schooler” and “BABS,” a crumbled blue-cheese-marble-rye wonder stacked with bacon and sliced Braeburn apples.
If you’re more in the mood for a slice, Pyro Pizza has managed to cram a brick oven into its cart in the Cartopia pod, where they wood-fire margherita and puttanesca pies that are sized perfectly for sharing or hoarding.
On Southeast Division Street, Kim Jong Grillin stands alone, no pod required (the cart even has its own covered seating area). Chef Han Ly Hwang turns out stellar Korean barbecue; go for a bibim box lunch featuring delectably marinated meat, cart-made kimchi and a freshly fried egg.
To satisfy a range of cravings, head to the Portland Mercado in Southeast Portland’s Foster-Powell neighborhood. Outside of the market is a row of rainbow-colored food carts, each serving up its own traditional recipes infused with Portland flair. Dig into stuffed arepas and fried yucca at Colombian cart Que Bacano, or sample specialties from its neighbors, who are serving up dishes from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina and El Salvador.
Dinner options include an earthy vegan mole, belly-warming pozole, thick and cheesy Salvadorian pupusas or pizza-like Oaxacan tlayudas (14-inch crispy tortillas topped with queso fresco, fresh veggies and pork rinds). In other words, Portland Mercado’s offerings stretch way beyond standard Tex-Mex fare.
Snacks & Treats
While many of Portland’s food cart offerings could be classified as treats (you’re on vacation, indulge!), a few spots are exclusively dedicated to the sweet stuff.
In ice-cream-crazy Portland, some of the best cones come from a cart, namely Atlas Scoops in Sellwood. The cart serves gelato and sorbet and offers picnic table seating.
Head to Hana’s PDX in Northeast Portland for authentic New Orleans snowballs — the Big Easy’s take on shave ice. This family-owned and -operated cart offers more than 50 delicious, housemade flavors. Feeling adventurous? We dare you to order a Kool-Aid pickle.
Traveling Snack Shacks
Mexican-American couple Daniel Huerta and Isabel Sanchez were born in the U.S. but trips to their ancestral home gave them a love for churros so strong they decided to open Churros Locos . This food truck travels around town to deliver the fried goodness. Don’t miss the churro ice cream sandwich.
For a lighter sweetness keep a lookout for Organic Island Shave Ice (OISI) and Mama Heber’s homemade fruit syrups. The frosty treat topped with “special sauce” and other goodies can be traced back to the island of Oahu in the early ’70s but you can usually find Ilika and his bamboo-covered cart around the Alberta Arts District.
Portland’s selection of more than 600 food carts, most grouped in “pods,” has drawn raves from the likes of Bon Appétit and CNN.
With a neighborhood grocery, meat market, coffee shop, food cart pod and more, the Mercado is one of the city’s most delicious destinations.
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