October 7th, 2010 | by RUTH BROWN Food & Drink |

Quick Bites: Trebol's New Cart and Spella's Last Cup

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A new taco cart in downtown Portland isn't usually noteworthy, but this one is probably worth a mention: On Monday, North Portland locavore Mexican restaurant Trebol launched a new cart in Old Town called Costillas Diablas. Tucked away on NW 2nd and Everett, the small, one-man operation offers some incredibly competitively priced lunch fare compared with less sophisticated taquerias in the area. Boar and smoked tofu tacos are $3 for two, while boar tortas and short ribs are both $6.

When I visited about halfway through yesterday's lunch service, only a handful of curious customers were waiting at the former Fuego outlet (“I just wanted my usual bean burrito and now I have to eat boar tacos?!” whined one lady, who bought them anyway), compared with the long lines at pods on 3rd and 5th. Nevertheless, service was painfully slow, though
I can let that slide on day two.

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I waited for some time only to discover that the advertised tofu tacos were unavailable, so instead opted for the day's special of cranberry and bean tamales ($5). The tamales themselves were fairly bland—almost entirely masa with a few beans scattered throughout and no sign of the cranberries [UPDATE: An observant reader notes that these were likely "cranberry beans". My bad. In my defence, I did ask several times for clarification that these were "cranberry and bean", but then I do have a funny accent. Regardless, they weren't great]. However, they came with a delicious side of slaw, onions, cilantro, a sprinkling of wonderfully soft and salty cotija and a handful of pickled peppers.

I wholeheartedly admit a vegetarian isn't the best reviewer for this particular venture, but for what it's worth, the tortas looked incredibly well executed— a lightly toasted telera-style bun filled with a generous heaping of shredded boar and the same slaw and cheese—and a thousand times fresher than the sloppy gutbombs dished up by some other taco carts in the area. The man before me in line had loved his the previous day and had returned for another.

Restaurants cashing in on the cart fad seems to be a growing trend. As I noted last week, a Gresham BBQ restaurant recently launched a mobile outlet at the A La Carts pod at 50th and Division, Director Park eatery Violetta's Rollin' Etta truck is now at Good Food Here (43rd and Belmont), while downtown's E-San Thai restaurant also launched its own cart at the 10th and Alder pod this week, with an all-$5 menu set to rival the famously cheap fare at neighboring mom-and-pop outfit I Like Thai, and a rather ballsy Kao Man Gai special (I doubt Nong's was too worried, but still).

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On the other end of the spectrum, one of the city's most famous carts, Spella Caffe, closed down yesterday after four years of serving some of the best espresso in town on the corner of 9th and Alder, opting to focus on its newer bricks and mortar establishment a few blocks away.

When I went down for one last curb-side caffeine hit, Andrea Spella himself was hand-cranking the Rancilio, while a cello duo played out the front. Soaking up the sun with an afternoon affogato, friendly strangers and live classical music was the perfect goodbye to this neighborhood icon.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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