Portland Food Cart Scene
Portland has recently gained a trendy reputation, yet it remains a small city with a quirky mentality. Portlanders love good food, but ask a local and you won’t hear tales of fancy steaks. More likely, they’ll direct you to a nearby street corner, where the smell of grilled peppers drifts out of an Airstream trailer.
Plop down at a picnic table and keep an open mind. Some of Portland’s best food is street food: cheap, accessible, and diverse. From tacos to waffles, this unique cart culture will have you eating like a Queen on a peasant’s budget.
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Portland’s Best Food Trucks and Carts
Begin your day on the corner of North Mississippi and Fremont. This formerly industrial neighborhood has been revitalized to include boutique clothing stores, bars, and record shops. If adding a side of bacon to maple-drenched pancakes sounds like heaven, meet FlavourSpot, where thin, golden waffles are folded, taco-style, and stuffed with sweet and savory fillings.
Order the bestselling Sausage and Maple Syrup Waffle for a hearty breakfast ($4.50). The hot, savory sausage, with a very slight chili taste, offsets the sweetness of the syrup. For lighter fare, try a simple Butter and Sugar Waffle ($2.50), Maple Syrup and Pecan ($4.50) or one of the Nutella fillings. And remember: no self-respecting Portlander starts the day without coffee. Take the morning to explore Mississippi Street before heading downtown.
Bustling with businesspeople and students, downtown Portland is a lively place to eat and drink. These busy pedestrians have only a few minutes for lunch and food carts serve discriminating on-the-go tastes. Start on SW 3rd and Washington, at Tito’s self-proclaimed “Best Mexican Food,” colorful cart with a hand-painted mural. Tito’s offers a traditional menu, with pastor, chorizo, carnitas and other standard Mexican fare. A hearty burrito – enough for two meals – costs only $5.00 and tacos start at $1.50.
For something more exotic, walk next door to El Masry. Their large Egyptian food menu includes kabobs and a bowl of fragrant lentil soup. A standout is crispy, fresh falafel, stuffed inside a fluffy pita with lettuce, tomato, and a mild sauce for $5.25.
Portlanders like to eat consciously. Farmer’s markets prosper, and many vendors advertise local and organic ingredients. Herbivores should try DC Vegetarian, a new cart serving simple sandwiches and soups. The veggie BLT, only $3.50, features crispy Morning Star veggie bacon; light fare made heartier by adding avocado for 75 cents. DC Vegetarian will also provide a .25 cent discount to customers who bring their own plates.
Still hungry? Wander a few blocks to SW 5th and Oak for an international atmosphere: dueling Indian curries, the Cajun-themed Swamp Shack, Thai noodles, and a guy selling hot dogs from a collapsible table. You can’t miss Tábor, the cutest cart on the block. This charming red-and-green hut specializes in the Czech schnitzelwich. Served on ciabatta bread with fresh lettuce, paprika sauce, and eye-watering horseradish with grilled and breaded eggplant, pork or chicken ($6.00).
At Caraquena, friendly owner Michelle handmakes each Venezuelan empanada as you wait. The mix of sweet plantains and savory cheddar cheese, tucked inside the crispy empanada dough, makes a mouthwatering bite. Sit down at Caraquena’s counter, sip some sweet Tamarind Juice, and try arepas (corn biscuit sandwiches) filled with mild chicken salad ($5.50, w/ two sides).
Walk off lunch along the Willamette River in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. This wide stretch of grass, dotted with fountains and bridges, is perfect for a stroll. Before long, it’s happy hour. Hop a bus back to the east side of the river for an evening microbrew.
Southeast Portland has long been a neighborhood for artists and hippies. Now much of Portland’s burgeoning “creative class” call it home. After a few beers, hunger might overtake you, so follow the crowds to SE 12th and Hawthorne. The Hawthorne food carts provide late-night nosh to clubbers and beer drinkers, but this is more than grease. At Perierra Crêperie, imaginative combinations raise simple crepes to the level of gourmet. Try chèvre, prosciutto, fig, and wildflower honey ($8.00) for a rich, savory taste cut with honey sweetness. For dessert, the s’more is time-tested: semi-sweet chocolate, marshmallow, and grahams ($5.00).
Enjoy the fine bars of the Southeast district, or catch some local music nearby. But don’t let the night end without The Potato Champion: the best fries in town, with a little cup of pesto mayonnaise or rosemary truffle ketchup for dunking (large $4.50). Take a seat at one of the picnic tables and meet a few new acquaintances. A large cone of crispy Belgian fries is the perfect way to make a friend in Portland.
What & Where:
FlavourSpot (N. Mississippi and Fremont; 503-289-YUMM)
Tito’s Burritos (SW 3rd and Washington–just off the Morrison bridge)
El Masry (SW 3rd and Washington–just off the Morrison bridge; 503 476 7650)
Tábor (SW 5th and Stark; 503-997-5467; www.schnitzelwich.com)
Swamp Shack (SW Stark, just south of 5th Ave)
Caraquena (SW 5th and Stark)
Perierra Crêperie (SE 12th and Hawthorne; firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Potato Champion (SE 12th and Hawthorne; www.potatochampion.com)
WHEN TO VISIT PORTLAND
Summer is the best time to visit Portland. The weather is great, the cafes open their outdoor seating areas and your chance of running out of things to do is virtually zero. You can also visit during the not-quite-summer months of June and September to take advantage of slightly lower hotel rates and thinner crowds. If you’re traveling on a budget or want to steer clear of your fellow tourists, just pack an umbrella and head to Portland during the winter off-season.
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