Portland Food Carts

Throughout Portland at any given mealtime, around 600 food carts are dishing up steaming plates of everything from Korean tacos to shawarma to artisanal cupcakes. While food carts have seen a rise in popularity throughout the country, the culture is especially strong in Portland.

Brightly colored and mostly stationary, the carts tend to cluster in former parking lots in pods ranging from three to nearly 60 establishments, oftentimes ringing a cluster of picnic tables or a covered awning.

With plate prices averaging $6 to $9, cart fare provides a quick, inexpensive, and delicious alternative to traditional sit-down restaurants if you don’t mind sitting outside. Cart dining is also an easy way to sample Portland’s many ethnic food offerings.

For up-to-date information on hours and locations, check out the extensive local blog Food Carts Portland (www.foodcartsportland.com), the corresponding FoodCartsPDX iPhone and Droid apps FoodCartsPDX, and the Twitter thread @pdxfoodcarts.com.

Top Pods

Downtown, S.W. 9th (and 10th) and Alder: Covering more than an entire city block, this downtown pod, home to nearly 60 carts, is the largest in the city. The spot is lively during the workweek but slower on the weekends. We recommend the signature Thai chicken dish at Nong’s Khao Man Gai; battered fish-and-chips at The Frying Scotsman; kielbasa and other Polish classics at EuroDish; the porchetta-and-arugula sandwich at the People’s Pig Wood-Fired Grill; and kalua pig at the Hawaiian cart 808 Grinds.

Downtown, S.W. 3rd and Washington: This pod has an international bent, with some of the city’s oldest Mexican carts on-site, plus Egyptian, Greek, Indonesian, Lebanese, and Vietnamese establishments. We recommend the spicy Southwest mac-and-cheese and pulled-pork sliders at I Heart This Cart; falafel or chicken shawarma at El Masry Egyptian cart; and vegan cheesesteak at DC Vegetarian.

North, Mississippi Marketplace (the corner of N. Mississippi and N. Skidmore): Situated beside the brick-and-mortar German bar Prost! (which allows cart diners to bring over food), this lot of about 15 carts surrounding a cluster of picnic tables is quite busy on weekends. We recommend the decadent breakfast at The Big Egg; bulgogi beef tacos or sliders at the Koi Fusion Korean cart; and the hearty fried-tofu ramen and chicken katsu curry at Minizo.

Southeast, Tidbit Food Farm and Garden (S.E. Division and 28th): Southeast Portlanders were saddened to see the Good Food Here (on Belmont) and Cartopia (on Hawthorne) carts close in 2014 to make way for new construction projects, but this new, beautifully designed cart colony with a large central dining area and a fire pit has given cart hounds a reason to rejoice. Try the Heartbreak Hotel hot dog topped with bacon, cheddar, ketchup, and a fried egg at Timber’s DogHouse PDX; the blistered-crust wood-fired pizzas (the one with fennel sausage is killer) at Pyro Pizza; and the stick-to-your-ribs braised tri-tip plate, with roasted red peppers and onions, followed by a slice of pineapple upside-down cake, at Love Belizean. You can also grab a pint of local IPA or porter to accompany your meal at Scout Beer Garden.

Southeast, S.E. 28th and Ankeny: This small cluster of pods just a block south of Burnside may have limited options, but the half-dozen carts here are among the best on the East Side. Consider the heavenly olea pita with kalamata tapenade, labneh, grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, Gorgonzola, walnuts, and—optionally—fluffy falafel at the fantastic Mediterranean cart Wolf & Bears; carnitas and cochinita pibil tortas at Guero; and rustic Italian fare like squid and spinach simmered in tomato, red wine, and herbs at Burrasca.

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