When it comes to Southern cuisine in Portland, there are more options than you could ever fit into a weekend of restaurant hopping, from stalwarts like Po’Shines Café to newer favorites like acclaimed chef Maya Lovelace’s eateries Mae and Yonder? How, then, to choose? One way is by supporting businesses owned by women of color. Kee’s Loaded Kitchen and Wing’s World Chicken and Waffles offer authentic comfort food and inventive fusion dishes to kick any soul food craving.
Kiauna Nelson of Kee’s Loaded Kitchen
Kiauna Nelson (aka Kee) is the owner and head chef at Kee’s Loaded Kitchen, a Northeast Portland food cart known for plates piled high with Southern comfort food favorites. Born and raised in Portland, Nelson founded Kee’s as a catering company. In 2016, she expanded to include a bright red food cart on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Rather than offer a fixed menu, Nelson serves whatever she wants to make on that particular day. Plates are piled high with comfort specialties like loaded mac and cheese, biscuits and gravy, spaghetti and fried chicken, plus a toothsome dessert, like cinnamon butter pound cake or banana pudding cake. Kee’s is open Thursday–Sundays, from noon until she sells out (which is always quickly!).
Nelson takes pride in her identity as a completely self-taught chef and hopes to encourage other Black women to follow in her footsteps. “I would love to see more diversity in Portland,” says Nelson. “It’s important to support local, Black-owned businesses, especially ones that are owned by women. The authenticity of the food people prepare is crucial to the customer experience.”
Nelson’s 18-hour workdays are rewarded by booming business, rave reviews and even gifts from her customers — not to mention a devoted online following. (She has over 27,000 followers on Instagram.) Nelson is also strongly involved in the community, partnering with and catering events for Black Parent Initiative and Two Stroke Coffee Shop.
“I’m getting more and more involved in the community as the business grows,” says Nelson. “I want to keep speaking to young single mothers and young people, and encourage and inspire them to go after their dreams.”
Stephanie Hudson of Wing’s World Chicken and Waffles
Stephanie Hudson grew up in Portland but learned to cook from her family in Mississippi. Upon returning to Oregon, Hudson hunted for the best chicken and waffles in town but found herself disappointed with her options, which were more gourmet and lavish than what she grew up eating. So, Hudson took matters into her own hands.
These days, Hudson owns and runs Wing’s World Chicken and Waffles along with her business partner and ex-husband, Anthony Muhammad. She says her roots and family traditions play a huge role in her business. “When you grow up watching and making certain dishes, it becomes a part of you that has taken years and years to perfect,” she explains. “I know what tastes good to me because I was raised on it; it knows me and I know it.”
It didn’t take Hudson long after opening Wing’s World to grow a loyal following in the neighborhood. “I’m inspired by the kids who walk, run or take the bus all the way out to get my food — even risking being late to class,” she says. “I have kids calling me from class, putting their orders in from Jefferson High School so they can run over and pick it up when they have a lunch break. I love being incorporated into their days, and having people say, ‘You have the best chicken and waffles!’ or the best fish, okra, etc. People make a point to support Black-owned businesses, and that’s what keeps the community thriving.”
When visiting Wing’s World, try the $6 special: crispy, buttery, savory-sweet chicken and waffles, plus a drink. And if you have room, get the decadent peach cobbler or pound cake for dessert.