Today, The Oregonian reported that the Goodman Family has announced one of their most ambitious projects for downtown Portland. The Ankeny Blocks will comprise of 11 new towers in and around Burnside to Washington from 6th to the waterfront. 11 towers! Let that sink in for a minute. Where will they all go?
If you don’t know the Goodman family, over the last century they accumulated a vast portfolio of downtown real estate in the form of surface parking lots and built a parking empire named City Center Parking. The land is owned by the family and others, but the parking management company was sold to a Canadian firm a few years ago. The Goodmans now will affect significant change both to the Portland skyline and to the density of downtown. And that means 60-70 food cart vendors will need to find new homes.
The food cart lots at SW 5th and Stark (Portland’s oldest and original food cart pod,) SW 3rd and Washington and SW 2nd and Stark will be no more. The development calls for those lots to become mixed use buildings. It was inevitable in the era of ever increasing development and evolution of this city we call home, I just wasn’t prepared to read on a Saturday morning that 1/2 of the food cart pods in downtown Portland will see their demise sooner than later.
Now I have a call to action. Portland is unique with street food in this country. Most every other city has food trucks who move about in and out of the city center, park and serve their patrons. Portland doesn’t due to an outdated “no business in the right of way” law enforced by Portland Bureau of Transportation. In cities like Boston, Washington DC and Seattle, parking zones in the city center are identified where food trucks are allowed to park and sell for a set amount of hours. If the food cart vendors in downtown Portland want to continue serving the downtown crowd, laws need to be changed. Food cart owners need to come together and get in front of City Council and let them know that Portland street food scene is part of the city fabric. Every city has it, so as we develop, we need to find a way to keep it.
If there are any vendors who want to lead this charge, contact me, Brett Burmeister, and I will help you identify the city codes that need to be discussed and who to talk with.
In the past 3 months, 2 food cart pods have closed as a result of development and 1 more will close soon. While these are on the east side and other food cart pods have opened, it is disturbing to see so many vendors displaced all at once. Portland’s street food scene is now going to experience a change that may portend a sad future for the vendors, employees and eaters. Hopefully, our city leaders can see the value in small business and adjust accordingly.
As we bring 2015 to a close, I think back about all the amazing dishes I enjoyed and people I met. Just a year ago, as we sat around wondering what 2015 would bring, did anyone predict a 6 month summer? In talking with vendors last spring, many commented that winter never actually arrived, providing them with strong sales throughout the year. As 2015 bids farewell though, the winter Portland is famous for has arrived with a vengeance. That said, 2015 was another crazy eventful year for Portland’s food cart scene. One may think of 2015 as the Year of the Pod. Here are some highlights.
Every year, I enjoy looking back at the changes that have occurred using data. Growth continued, yet we also saw some loss, mainly in the form of Pods.
- Last count from Multnomah county puts the number of mobile food units – carts, trucks, trailers – at around 848. Up again from 2014.
- If you’re out and about seeking out food carts, you may not find all 900. By my last count, there are about 420 available in lots throughout the city. Many gather in organized pods, but there are more than a few who strike out of their own.
- 2015 saw an increase in the number of fully mobile food trucks. Yes, in the city famous for our street food, we have few vendors who are fully mobile. In the last few years, vendors have launched trucks to visit corporate parks, weddings, festivals and catered gigs. By our count, there are now 60-65 fully mobile trucks roaming the streets of Portland.
2015 was the year of the pod. There are now over 40 organized pods in the city and suburbs. Happy Valley and Aloha included.
- Tidbit, which opened in 2014, evolved into one of the city’s destination pods this summer with live music, great food, beer and non-food vendors.
- The Portland Mercado, a first for Portland opened in summer with 10 vendors serving up delights from Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Cuba and more. Truly an amazing project to showcase these vendors, but also create a micro-enterprise solution for budding entrepreneurs.
- Cartlandia on 82nd now boasts almost 30 carts year around along with an onsite pub with live sports and music.
- Happy Valley Station opened in November to huge crowds. If you haven’t visited, get HVS on your bucket list. A pavilion built to house indoor seating, a kids play area and a beer/cider cart with 40+ taps, the roof extends over the fronts of the food carts there providing much needed cover when it rains. With 30 vendors open daily, there is a dish for everyone in the family.
- Piedmont Station brought a great selection of new vendors to NE Killingsworth. Beer too.
- Piknik Park in Sellwood launched later summer with 9 vendors and beer and wine. Our first Malaysian cart calls the pod home.
- The Gantry in South Waterfront took over an underutilized space which use to be the main drag down that way. Six vendors sit under a monster ship gantry. Scout Beer Garden slings brews across the street.
- Pollo Norte, while a restaurant, decided to open a pod on their property on NE 42nd.
- The City of Milwaukie acted boldly in identifying a parcel they want to develop as a food cart pod. In my dealings with cities and street food, this may be the first city driven effort to create a designated space for carts. We’ll keep you posted on the progress in 2016.
As an eater, how does one pick favorites. On any given day, I get asked about my favorite cart. Tough question with so many options to choose from and more opening on a regular basis. I usually just provide a top 5 or maybe a list of those vendors I would bring Aunt Gini to. That said, I did enjoy a couple of dishes that simply blew me away and seared flavors into my taste memory.
La Camel on SW 9th and Washington served up one of my favorite dishes of the year – Moroccan Kefta Tajine. I can still remember that first bite and the burst of flavors from this vibrant dish. Moroccan seasoned kefta (seasoned beef meatballs) in a rich tomato sauce with fresh chopped white onion, olives and topped with two fried eggs, cheese crumbles and chopped parsley. So good, I’ve returned for a few other Tajines throughout the year. Thank you Karim.
Chicken and Guns. Just the name brings people to the cart. A project by seasoned food cart owner Dustin Knox (Perierra Creperie) and Woodsman alum Todd Radcliffe – the goal was to present the street food the two had enjoyed on the back roads of Central American while on surfing trips. The chicken is sublime – charred to perfection, moist and tasty, almost sinful, with a rich Peruvian style sauce. Add a fried egg because you can. Roasted potatoes and fresh greens if you need veggies, but the star of the show is the Latin-inspired chickens old-fashioned grilled over mesquite and oak. Cartopia at SE 12th and Hawthorne.
Brick and Mortar
As the economy warmed, the opportunity for cart vendors to spread their wings arose. Here are just a few of the vendors who opened Brick and Mortar shops in 2015.
- The Big Egg on NE Alberta and 30th
- Big-Ass Sandwiches on NE Fremont
- Thrive Pacific NW in Alameda
- Taco Pedaler on NE Broadway
- Cackalack’s in Bethany
- Burrasca on SE Clinton
- ChickPeaDX at the Zipper in NE Portland
- RUA at the Zipper
- Pulehu Pizza has opened at The Lumberyard on 82nd
- HOME, A Bar – a bar/restaurant by Bro-Dogs and Burgers and Brett of Food Carts Portland – SE 7th and Morrison
- Gonzo took over the kitchen at Bar XV in Old Town
- The Cheese Plate owners take over the kitchen at Culmination Brewing one day a week with vegan cuisine.
- Koi Fusion – everywhere
News and highlights from 2015:
- More than a few vendors closed this past year. Some to open restaurants, others to tackle new adventures. Here are some we’ll miss – Kargi Gogo, Ugarit Mediterranean (10 years), Italian Market, Gaufre Gourmet Waffles, Brunch Box (restaurant opened), Minizo, Burrasca (restaurant opened), Delicios Romanian
- Henry’s Diner opened in Carlton in wine country. Such a great location for breakfast, lunch or just to rest while visiting one of Oregon’s magical regions.
- Churros Locos enjoyed international stardom at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore in April. With a line up of 30 vendors at the street food jamboree, Daniel and Isabel and a team of assistants cranked out almost 10,000 churros and churro sundaes to the attendees over the course of five days. A wonderful representation of Portland’s street food vendors.
- An early morning fire at the PSU pod in July close five carts, destroying a couple completely. Those vendors who’s carts were damages have rebuilt and reopened, yet two have yet to recover.
- Portland’s Queen of the Carts – Nong Poonsukwattana – continued to wow us with an amazing performance on Chopped Impossible in October. While she didn’t win, social media believed she should have. Keep up the great work Nong.
- An interesting story broke in February about two food carts in downtown purchasing stolen meat and then reselling it to customers. Chop Chop and Ren’s Bubble Tea owners were arrested in the case and the carts eventually left the lot. Chop Chop has since re-opened in SE Portland.
- Smoke Buddy, a mobile marijuana cart, launched in August, rolling around and giving away joints due to a unique loophole in the law. According to the owners, they had the legal right to dispense, yet by the end of August, state authorities were looking into their practices. Maybe in 2016 we’ll see a true pot cart or truck.
What a year. For the past seven years, I’ve enjoyed sitting down in December and rounding up the year’s news. 2016 will be upon us shortly with a new crop of eager vendors showcasing their wares. Street food in Portland isn’t going away due to development. It will evolve and change, but never disappear. Happy New Year and best wishes from Food Carts Portland.
Some news on Portland’s Food Cart scene for December
Happy Valley Station has opened. The much anticipated for cart pod in Happy Valley in Clackamas County boats space for 30 carts and offers up indoor seating in their majestic pavilion. The pavilion is a work of art, offering indoor seating with a beer purveyor with 45 taps, coffee and gelato. Further, the roof of the pavilion extends over the front of the carts, providing cover while ordering and awaiting the tasty dishes. A visit on opening weekend presented long lines, but happy faces. Cuisine offerings include Lao, Filipion, Southern, Sushi, Chinese, and even a candy cart for the kids. According to social media, parking has been an issue, so be prepared to walk from neighboring streets. Well done Happy Valley. More details here.
When one lot opens, another closes. As of December 1, Q19 at NW Quimby and 19th has closed and the vendors have left the lot. The lot will be developed in the near future. Good luck vendors.
Gonzo, our favorite Israeli street food, has resurfaces as the food purveyor for Bar XV in old town. Open Monday-Saturday, 4pm-12am and offering up their signature shwarma fries and falafel.
Juniper has moved. The cart formerly of SW 3rd and Washington has moved to South Waterfront to The Gantry. Find them there daily serving up their delicious locally sourced dishes.
The Portland Bazaar brings in a number of vendors this weekend at Jacobsen Salt Co in SE Portland – Kim Jong Grillin’, Lardo’s Original Cart, Pip’s Original Donuts, and more. Holiday shopping with your favorite vendors. December 12-13 at 602 SE Salmon. More details at PortlandBazaar.com
The year is quickly coming to a close. Watch for our year end round up in the coming week. Keep on supporting street food.
Location: NE 52nd and Sandy – Rose City Food Park
Hours: Mon-Fri, 11-9; Sat, 12-9; Sun, 12-7
The Story: The Midwest. Having grown up on the west coast with parents from the midwest, I’m tangentially aware of the cuisine of Minnesota – ham, potatoes, dishes influenced by Germans and Norwegians – yet that’s about it. Other than KC BBQ or Chicago Pizza, the midwest is a bit of a black hole. Yet, with Pig ‘N A Pen, new cart at Rose City Food Park, we get their take on a midwestern delight – the breaded pork tenderloin.
Pig ‘N A Pen opened late summer at the NE Portland pod offering up a broad menu of midwestern sandwiches. Focusing primarily on pork tenderloin, the traditional is breaded in crackermeal and cornmeal or try it seasoned and seared on the flattop. Jerry’s Way offers up the tenderloin with pickles and yellow mustard. The Hoosier Style, which I enjoyed, is Iowa simple with traditional tenderloin topped with American cheese, shredded cabbage and served on a Franz bun. The sandwich was huge with the breaded tenderloin overflowing the bun – flavorful and filling. The side of seasonal broccoli salad added depth to the entire meal.
Pig ‘N A Pen is now open daily for lunch and dinner at Rose City Food Park. Get your midwestern fix and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Menu can be found on their website.
Location: SW 3rd and Washington
Hours: Weekdays, 10-4
The Story: It was sad to see Salmon Fusion close this summer. Roger Mumm’s delightfully briny smoke salmon was a regular treat. Yet, change happens and Roger wanted to revisit his youth, so re-branded and launched Rajah’s Hawaiian Grill.
Owner and chef Roger Mumm was born in Hawaii and lives the Aloha style of life. Over the past five years, with his previous cart Salmon Fusion, Roger became a mainstay in the street food scene at the 3rd avenue lot. Owner, chef, mentor, friend – Roger does it all. Yet, the island life was calling one day, so he decided to move along from smoked salmon and get back to the flavors of his childhood – traditional Hawaiian lunches. The type of food the everyman eats.
The menu offers up a wide range of dishes from Kalua Pig to Ono Fish & Chips to the famous Hawaiian lunch – Loco Moco. I picked up a good size plate of Shoyu Chicken over rice with mac salad and seaweed salad. When have you seen seaweed salad on a menu? I hadn’t since visiting the Big Island, so was excited to revisit those salty flavors with the unique texture. The chicken, shoyu marinated with plenty of umami is not an ordinary chicken dish. Packed with flavor, it paired well with the two salads.
Rajah’s Hawaiian Grill is now open daily for lunch on SW 3rd and Washington. Next time you have a craving for Hawaiian dishes, give them a try, and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu (full menu on website):
- Huli Huli Chicken – $8.50
- Kalua Pig – $8.50
- Ono Fish & Chips – $8.50
- Loco Moco – $8.50
Facebook: Rajah’s Hawaiian Grill
Location: 5885 NW St Helens Rd in the parking lot of Anderson Roofing
Hours: Weekdays, lunch
The Story: Our food scene here in Portland continues to mature. Every day, I’m overjoyed by the layers of flavor offered by street food vendors throughout the city. Mole Prehispanic Cuisine, a new food truck out off HWY 30, brings us mole from Oaxaca and they are the real deal.
Chef Luis Ochoa, veteran of Isabel in the Pearl, works out of a truck parked of a highway, creating dynamic and exciting mole daily. Originating in the southern most regions of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca, Chef Luis crafts an rhapsody of dried chiles, seeds, nuts, herbs and spices to pair with locally grown meats to create the moles. After a few visits to Sauvie Island on the weekends and seeing the closed truck, I decided to pop in for lunch on a Monday. Four Mole dishes are on the menu – beef, pork, lamb and chicken. Yet, each is defined by the complexity of the mole. Chef Luis offered up a sample taste of each and dutifully explained the differences. I almost ordered them all. Not one to accept samples, these tiny tastes assisted me in choosing lunch.
The Mole Verde – Carlton Farms pork slow roasted and paired with a light herbaceous, yet zesty Oaxacan mole of tomatillos, pablanos and pepitas. I chose the verde for the spiciness. A forkful of pork, stirred in the rich green mole and a bit of brown rice and quinoa and my taste buds united in joy. Each dish is served with the rice and quinoa blend along with fresh greens topped with a pineapple salsa and pickled onions. Mix a bit of the pineapple with the mole – Boom!
Beyond the main dishes, Mole Prehistoric Cuisine also serves up fresh made empanadas and daily specials. Exploring the depths of regional cuisine ignites a passion in me about all foods. I’m excited to see Chef Luis bring his dishes to Portland’s streets. Find the truck parked at the Anderson Roofing Materials lot out off HWY 30 south of the St. Johns Bridge. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- Mole Negro – primitive Oaxacan mole with braised St. Helen’s beef brisket – $8
- Mole Verde – $8
- Mole Colaradito – Anderson Ranches lamb, braised with guajillo chilies, mild spices, cinnamon and clove – $8
- Mole De Castilla – organic chicken pan poached and matched with earthy mole of dark chocolate, spice and fruit – $8
- Empanadas – $3
Location: NE 76th and Glisan
Hours: Tues-Fri, 11-2:30 and 4:30-8, Sat, 12-8pm
The Story: Been to the south lately? Enjoyed some fried catfish maybe? I haven’t and needless to say, I crave it. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon Grandpa Jimmy’s Southern Fried Fish, a new food cart over on NE Glisan serving up such delights.
Grandpa Jimmy’s opened only a month ago and according to the owner of the neighboring taproom, had been selling out daily. Yes, Grandpa Jimmy’s sits next door to Hillbilly’s Growler Fill Station, so you can pair your fried fish dish with a nice quaffable brew. Andre, the owner and chef of Grandpa Jimmy’s, has put together a great menu for the neighborhood. Baskets or dinner plates with either fried tilapia, halibut or catfish. A sampler is also available so one can enjoy all three. As for sides, try the deep fried okra or southern greens with smoked turkey. True taste pleasers.
On the cool, damp day I visited, fried catfish with fresh cut fries, tangy coleslaw and a dinner roll sounded just about the perfect lunch. With an IPA by my side, I dove in to the lightly breaded and boldly seasoned catfish which fell apart on the fork. Mix in a fry here and there and trail with the coleslaw. The perfect lunch for a Wednesday. I’ll definitely return for the sampler or maybe even the greens on the weekend.
On Grandpa Jimmy’s Facebook, Andre has posted some weekly specials and a photo of him and Grandpa Jimmy, so beyond the printed menu, there will be other treats. NE Glisan is coming alive with new establishments every week, so next time you’re over that way, drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- Deep Fried Catfish – basket, $8; dinner, $12
- Tilapia – $7/9
- Halibut – $15/20
- “Jimmy” Sampler – a piece of each fish – $13
- The Jimmy Sandwich – choice of shrimp, tilapia, catfish or chicken – $6 or $9
- Grilled Jumbo Prawns – $8
- Sides range from $3-6
Facebook: Grandpa Jimmy’s
Location: NE 52nd and Sandy, Rose City Food Park
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11am-3 and 5-7; Fri, 11-3 and 5-8, Sat/Sun, 11-7
The Story: Portland is on a hot dog kick. Ten years ago, one could find hot dogs at a few carts in downtown, but they went the way of sausage sandwiches and reindeer sausage. Now, restaurants have jumped into the game with Hop Dog, Clutch, Stray Dogs and more. Steve’s Dawg House at Rose City Food Park joins the scene with their version of a Michigan Sauce hot dog.
Steve’s Dawg House opened summer 2015 with an ambitious goal – bring hot dogs back to Portland’s street food scene. Granted, you can find dogs if you seek them out, yet they aren’t like the Chicago or New York style dogs you find on the streets of those cities. It takes gumption and a great product to take on the ubiquitous American delight. Steve’s Dawg House is a dream come true after many years. The famous “Frank’s Michigan Sauce” arrives courtesy of the owner’s father who created the first dog business in the 50’s in upstate New York. Now, Portland gets a taste of it.
Menu offerings start with a Sabrett Hot Dog, New York’s original push cart style frankfurter. Then add toppings. Go Classic with mustard, relish and onions. Travel to New York with mustard, onions and sauerkraut. Or try their special, the Michigan dog with house made Michigan sauce, spicy mustard and diced onions. Pair with a side of garlic rosemary fry’s and you’re set. The Michigan dog overflowed the bun offering up a bite with just mustard and dog. Snap! Love that Sabrett style. Michigan sauce is a meat sauce accented with a bit of chili and sweetness and works well with the dog and a smattering of fresh chopped red onion.
Steve’s Dawg House is the real thing if you’re looking for a frankfurter from a food cart. In a city with so many meat in tube options, go simple and enjoy the journey. Open every day except Tuesday for lunch and dinner. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu (full menu on website):
- Michigan Dog – $5
- Classic Dog – $4.50
- New York Dog – $5
- House Fry’s – $3.75
- Garlic rosemary Fry’s – $4