Now that the hype has died down, food
carts have settled into the Portland landscape. We could just name our
top five carts, but they’re notoriously bad at keeping to their posted
hours, and some of the best will simply run out of food and close.
Instead, we suggest that the best way to enjoy carts is to head out to a
solid pod and treat the experience like an outdoor-mall food court:
shop around, mix and match cuisines and share the polystyrene-box bounty
with your dining companions. Here, then, are our top five cart pods,
with a few suggestions on what to eat at each.
Southwest 9th and Alder
Between Southwest 9th and 10th avenues, and Washington and Alder streets.
The city’s largest cart pod, with a regularly changing lineup of 40-something carts covering more than an entire city block. This pod exists mostly to service the downtown lunch crowd, and weekends and dinner are therefore iffy. Prepare to battle cubicle monkeys if you hit it during peak traffic between 11:30 am and 1 pm. Seating is extremely limited, but on a nice day you can sit in nearby “Paranoid Park” (Southwest Park Avenue and Washington Street) and watch gutter punks ride BMXs.
EAT THIS: The famous khao man gai at Nong’s Khao Man Gai. Portland’s best fish and chips at the Frying Scotsman. Creamy soups and grilled cheese sammies at Savor Soup House. Giant portions of spicy hand-pulled noodles at Noodle House.
4233 N Mississippi Ave.
The first pod to pair a bar with food carts. Neighboring German pub Prost! allows diners to bring in their cart fare to enjoy with a frosty pint from the fatherland. The cart roster has almost entirely changed since big names like Garden State and Nuevo Mexico made this a dining destination, but there’s still great food being turned out. Weekend lunch is when this lot is at its busiest, but most carts sell out early, so hedge your bets and go for brunch.
EAT THIS: Korean tacos at Portland’s original purveyor of Korean-Mexican food, Koi Fusion. Decadent breakfast sandwiches at the Big Egg. Biscuits and fried chicken at Miss Kate’s Southern Kitchen. Chinese flatbread sandwiches at Prickly Ash.
Southeast 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard
When bars call “last drinks” in Southeast Portland, all the hip young things move the party to this late-night Hawthorne pod. Even if you didn’t pick up while out boozing, there’s still a chance someone here is just drunk and horny enough to go home with you. The best way to tackle this pod is to eat “family style” with a group of friends: Order from every cart and lay out a fried-food buffet at one of the big wooden picnic tables.
EAT THIS: Crispy deep-fried hand pies at Whiffies. An extra-large cone of chili cheese fries at Potato Champion. The wood-fired, thin-crust quattro formaggi pie at Pyro Pizza. Milkshakes at Perierra Creperie.
Good Food Here
4298 SE Belmont St.
A well-curated Belmont neighborhood pod, Good Food Here looks slightly less like a repurposed parking lot than most of its counterparts thanks to potted plants and a heated seating area. Although the pod’s biggest draw, Lardo, moved to brick-and-mortar digs earlier this year, this pod is still a popular family dinner destination due to a good mix of kid- and adult-friendly options.
EAT THIS: Meatball-filled Norwegian lefse wraps at Viking Soul Food. Warm Hawaiian doughnuts, fried to order at Namu. The Jessica Albacore sandwich at EuroTrash, if only for the amazing pun. Vegan tofu tacos at what may be the city’s oldest cart, Divine Cafe.
A La Carts
4926 SE Division St.
There are several good cart pods and stand-alone carts along Southeast Division Street, but A La Carts offers the most dining choices and best seating of all of them—the heaters under the big-top tent are a nice touch—and is good for both dinner and lunch. It also has a hair-salon cart, in case you want to trim those bangs while waiting for your tacos.
EAT THIS: Bread-crumb-battered fish and chips with wonderfully greasy fries at Year of the Fish. Fancy burgers at the Burger Guild. Spicy drunken noodles at Thai cart Run Chicken Run. Oatmeal and brown-sugar ice cream at Scoop.