Portland's 5 Essential Food Carts
More than 600 food carts serve some of the best bites in Portland. / Courtesy of ColorMeGreen.com
More than 600 purveyors serve some of the city’s best bites
Portland has been known for its bridges, breweries and bacon-maple bars for years. When guests come to town, we show them the highlights — Multnomah Falls, Powell’s Books and the International Rose Test Garden — with plenty of stops for food and drink in between.
The food scene is huge, especially if you are willing to wait in line for weekend brunch. More recently, Portland has earned recognition as the epicenter of the food cart movement. Sure, food carts have been around for ages — but not like this. There are more than 600 food carts in Portland serving some of the city’s best bites.
VooDoo Donuts is among more than 30 food carts at Cartlandia in Portland. / Courtesy of Carlandia.com
While food cart “pods” are in all parts of the city, our favorite is Cartlandia. Home to Rip City Sandwiches, Thai Mango, VooDoo Donuts and The Good & Evil Wrap Company, Cartlandia currently hosts 30 carts.
With a shared parking lot, plenty of outdoor seating, a family-friendly beer garden and indoor bathrooms, food cart foodies can pick and choose from hundreds of menu items while enjoying the comforts of an established brick and mortar. During the colder months, patrons can move into The Blue Room Bar (with the purchase of a beverage) to watch the game, play a little trivia or listen to live music.
You don't have to go to Portland, Maine, to get fresh Maine lobster. You can get it in Portland, Oregon. No, not at a fancy, sit-down restaurant but at a food cart! This juicy, sweet and very fresh Maine lobster is flown in every other day. Maine Street Lobster food cart has been open at Cartlandia for a year and has become quite successful. It’s not uncommon for a customer to travel an hour and half to eat the delicious fresh lobster roll. Named one of Portland’s top five food carts by Willamette Week, Main Street Lobster lives up to the hype!
With all the buzz about Portland’s food carts, it only makes sense they are available inside our very own airport. Carts are set up just before security, ready to serve hungry travellers. The first carts — Koi Fusion and Pok Pok — arrived in early October and proved a hit. With plans for three more carts later this year, the Portland International Airport just added another reason to the long list of why it was named the Best Airport in the United States by Travel + Leisure, for 2013 and 2014.
The Cheese Plate PDX won top awards at the 2014 Grilled Cheese Invitational. / Courtesy of TalkEatDrinkPortland.com
Alberta Street has one of the highest concentrations of pods, with five well-established food cart pods within a 12-block stretch. A common go-to on Alberta is The Cheese Plate PDX. Known for its commitment to locally sourced and seasonal items, this cart is an excellent stop for any cheese connoisseur.
Although constantly evolving, the menu at this food cart includes cheese plates — served with seasonal jam, house-made crackers and the day’s pickles, multiple versions of mac ’n’ cheese, soup and a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches. Winning three of the four awards presented at this year’s Grilled Cheese Invitational, The Cheese Plate PDX impressed Portlanders with a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with fresh peaches and topped with salted caramel.
Open until 3 a.m. six days a week, The Potato Champion has served Portland’s late-night crowd since 2008. It offers fries and sauce and soda and not much more. Their fries, however, come topped with your choice of more than 14 sauces. If you’re looking for something more substantial, try the chili cheese fries, poutine or pulled pork. They also offer fries covered in palak paneer.
Eat Mobile — a food cart showcase and competition sponsored by Willamette Week, a local alternative newspaper in Portland — returns for its eighth run in the spring of 2015. Ticket holders can sample from more than 30 participating carts. Carty Awards are presented each year for the People’s Choice, Best Style and the Judge’s Choice. Last year, the judge’s award went to PDX Sliders. At PDX Sliders you can choose from local beef, pork, or veggie sliders made on a delicious brioche bun. The best beef slider is the Fremont: beef, bacon, American cheese, roasted jalapeño and aioli on a brioche bun for $4. This is probably the most flavorful, moist burger in Portland. Along with their regular specialties, they also offer a wide variety of weekly specials. PDX Slider's Judge’s Award is well-deserved!
With its witty, music-related sandwich names and delicious variety of local and sustainable ingredients, Fried Egg I’m in Love represents the best of Portland’s food trucks. If you want a grown-up version of the childhood comfort classic fried egg sandwich, look no further. Consider the Huevo Mutilation, pictured: fried egg, seared ham, caramelized onions, Tillamook cheddar and a house-made Aardvark hot sauce aioli for $6.50.
New food carts are always cropping up in Portland. / Courtesy of TalkEatDrinkPortland.com
The downside of Portland food carts is that as quickly as they pop up, they disappear. A Portland favorite, Stumptown Dumplings, made delicious steamed dumplings with a variety of meat and veggie fillings. They started as a food cart, quickly became popular and then opened a brick-and-mortar version downtown. Within five months, the food cart and the restaurant were closed. This is an all-too-common occurrence in the food cart/restaurant industry. The upside to this, however, is there are always new carts cropping up to take the place of the ones that closed!