Portland has the most amazing food cart culture I have ever seen. We signed up for a food cart tour with Brett Burmeister, owner and managing editor of Food Carts Portland. What a blast! The tour was a great introduction to the legendary Portland food cart scene. Brett gave us a great overview of the history of the food cart phenomenon and very specific insights into many of the carts that are in the Alder Street Food Cart Pod, the largest of the nine food cart gatherings in Portland, six of which are in the downtown area.
All told, there are over 600 food carts in Portland. They are carts--not trucks--a matter of semantics that has something to do with the fact that the law is that they must be able to be moved, and thus they must keep their wheels on, but they don't ever really move. The Alder Street pod has 65 carts, and most of them have been there for five years or more.
It's no wonder that the last fast food chain left downtown Portland in the 1990s. Why would anyone eat at McDonald's when they could spend the same amount of money and eat here? (Well, maybe so they could sit down, the single flaw of this food mecca.)
The food carts encircle a full city block (a parking lot) and part of a second block. They get their electricity through this mess of power lines tied to a single pole in the middle of the parking lot.
We sampled the "Kelsey," a grilled sandwich made with the perfect combination of tomato, basil, and Tillamook cheese:
Brett took us next to The Caspian Kabob, which offered "authentic Persian street food."
The friendly chef posed for a photo:
We shared one well-seasoned, moist and tender meatball on a bed of saffron rice. Oh yum!
Rua means"turtle" in Vietnamese. Jason, the chef (shown here talking to Brett), is not Vietnamese himself, but he turns out a mean Banh Mi, a mouth-wateringly good sandwich.
This place is so good that after we said good-bye to Brett, we went back for a few more. All that walking-around-the-block stuff was burning off the calories, right?
During our tour we had walked past Delicios' Taste of Transylvania, and were very intrigued. Later on, we went back and drooled over the photos on the large menu. What to eat? We ended up going for #1 in Romania--Mici.
We waited for a long time for it to come out. No frozen sausages warmed up in the microwave. This is a Class 4 cart, and everything is made on site.
It was definitely worth the wait. These savory little sausages are to die for. I could eat a dozen.
Our following stop at Nong's Khao Man Gai yielded moist, tender chicken breast over rice with a side of flavorful sauce. It is the only dish this cart makes, but there were plenty of takers. The woman who runs this cart won the big prize on the Food Network's Chopped: Food Truck Fight last year.
Another place we had our eye on after the Food Cart Tour was La Camel, which specializes in Moroccan cuisine. Look at all those dishes--I could happily come here every day for a few weeks and work my way through the menu.
Kefta is ground beef or lamb seasoned with cumin, paprika, coriander, onion, and parsley. When was the last time the dish you ordered looked just like its picture? This one did, and it was amazing, one of my favorite food cart dishes of our visit:
At some point we popped over to The Whole Bowl, one of the most popular carts in this pod. ("Serving Love in a Bowl for More Than Ten Years. It's Like Eating a Hug.") The line was long but moved quickly. Pretty much it's a vegetarian bowl that consists of rice, beans, toppings and seasonings--nothing too fancy, but it's healthy and cheap ($5). Brett told is this is a Class 3 cart--they cook some of the food (the beans) off site. A Class 4 cart makes everything on site.
There are so many more carts we wished we had time (and stomach room) to visit, like the Gyro House, "Egyptian Halal food":
I can take comfort in the fact that my husband has yet to cross Oregon off his "States I've Been To" list. I'm pretty sure I'll be coming back here someday in the not too distant future, and when I do, I'll definitely be walking through these cart pods again. Knowing my husband, I'll get to try one of everything.