Portland Pod People – A Food Cart Revolution

Black bean arepa
I’ve written previously about how Seattle is experiencing a resurgence of food carts. They have taken our culinary scene by storm, cooking up everything from Korean-Hawaiian tacos to poutine. What I didn’t understand until now is that comparing our food cart scene with Portland’s is like comparing a takeover of the middle-school student council with the French revolution.

While Seattle has slowly come around to allowing street food vendors under somewhat onerous regulations, Portland has been nurturing this scene for years, with a huge and obvious benefit to civic life. I’m hoping every city in America wakes up and takes notice.

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Portland has “pods” or “food courts”, collections of anywhere from 2 to 10 carts gathered in parking lots or gravel-paved open spaces, in neighborhoods throughout the city. Some pods cater to downtown office lunchers while others don’t open until after dark, offering up fried goodies to soak up booze. One area tempts ironic hipsters looking for grease and tiki lights while others offer fairly standard Thai, Vietnamese or Mexican offerings in a mobile setting, and another is geared to food-savvy, well traveled yupsters. Several even have tented seating areas with benches and heaters.

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Any way you look at it, these cart scenes are energetic, vibrant, communal, inexpensive, and just a whole lot of fun. They dispense with all of the normal pomp and circumstance of a restaurant meal, from menu to check and just get right down to the business of serving delicious food. Although we enjoyed several fine restaurant meals in Portland, the evening we spent just bumming around from cart to cart, snacking on whatever sounded good and chatting with the proprietors was easily my favorite night of dining.

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Almost every cart has serious vegetarian and vegan options. It is Portland, after all.

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A few of my favorite bites: the orange-zest scented croquettes at Mono Malo Tapas, black bean and pickled cabbage arepas at Fuego de Lotus (top), and the superbly flaky empanada-like BBQ tofu savory pie at Whiffies Fried Pies (above).

For more information and a nearly definitive guide to this ever-changing scene, check out Food Carts Portland

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 in Miscellany, Restaurants, Travel.

11 Responses to “Portland Pod People – A Food Cart Revolution”

  1. February 18, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Here’s hoping Seattle gets to the Portland level by the time I move out there in about 2 years! Those lucky Portlanders…

  2. JV
    February 18, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    My absolute favorite Portland Food Cart is DC Vegetarian. So delicious!

  3. February 18, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    Oh, I love Whiffies! And those croquettes look awesome.

  4. February 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    Love food carts, and Portland is great for it! You wouldn’t happen to know of a reliable cart in Seattle for vegetarian food? I know there are so few, just curious.

  5. Michael Natkin
    February 18, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    @Sarah – well, if not it is a short drive :). And not to sell our scene short, what we have is good, I just wish there was more!

    @JV – wish I’d gotten to try DC vegetarian! Didn’t know about it.

    @Dawn – I could go for a Whiffies pie right now!

    @Jacqui – Skillet usually has something, and Marination and Flair Taco both have tacos. Anyone else have tips?

  6. February 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Nice to see that there is so much choice for vegetarians! Here it is still limited to the same old things…never mind, at least it forces me to be more creative at home ;-)

  7. February 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    I love the look of the van with the twinkle lights :) What a great idea. We don’t really have that in Australia. Cool concept!

  8. crazy-c
    February 24, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    we love mono malo tapas-the orange scented croquettes are to die for –we go there ever chance we get

  9. sarah
    February 26, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    Reminds me of the pan-Latin food carts in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Absolutely delicious.

  10. March 4, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    What a great idea.

  11. September 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    I’d like to see so much things for vegetarians in my country.

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