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.
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.
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.
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