Location: SE 13th and Lexington in Sellwood
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 12=6pm
The Story: Fries. I haven’t head the term French Fries for years. In the 21st century, we call them fries! One of Portland’s most famous cart does fries and now they have competition. Fry Guy in Sellwood does fries, poutine and more.
We all grew up on fries didn’t we? Heck, I worked at McDonald’s in the 80’s and got paid in fries. The only potato dish that may rival the ubiquitous fry is the tater tot, but we won’t go there today. Alex McGillivray, aka the Fry Guy, has worked for some of Portland’s favorite chefs doing gigs at Ping and Lardo West. At Lardo, he’s responsible for The Beet Generation sandwich. Nice! As with many culinary professionals, opening your own place is the goal and Alex chased the dream and opened his Fry Guy truck in Sellwood focusing not just on the Canadian classic poutine, but other treats as well.
Fry Guy offers everything from hand cut fries with sauces all the way to loaded fries with beef or mushroom gravy. They do have a reuben on the menu, but we’re here for hand cut fries right? Loaded fries come with traditional (meat) or vegetarian gravy and you can add items like cheese curds or pastrami. I opted for the Portland Poutine with house sausage gravy and an over easy fried egg. Put an egg on it! The sausage gravy covered the fries with plenty of fresh ground black pepper and bits of sausage throughout. Adding the fried egg? Genius! Letting the yolk waterfall through the fries and mix with the sausage made a mess, but a tasty, bold mess.
Fry Guy is now open down in Sellwood at the food cart lot smack dab in the middle of Antique Row. The lot offers covered seating, so you don’t have to wait until spring or summer to visit. Hop on down for a treat and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu (full menu on website)
- Hand Cut Russet Potatoes – half order, $2; full order $3.50
- Sauces – Fry Sauce, Tomato Bacon Jam, Sriracha Mayo, Buttermilk Ranch, Bacon Scallion Sour Cream
- Poutine – $6
- Portland Poutine – $6
- Tiger Style – $5
- Pan Roasted Cauliflower tossed in chimichurri – $4.50
Location: SW 9th and Washington
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11am-4:30pm
The Story: Ever eaten at a Moroccan restaurant? Sitting on pillows on the floor with friends and a huge spread of deliciousness. Now Portlanders can experience that from a food cart – La Camel.
La Camel opened last year in a cart that had seen many vendors over the years. Karim Baziou grew up in Morocco working in the family catering business and coffee shop. He continued to call the culinary industry his home when he came to the U.S. with roles ranging from chef to manager to caterer. His memories of the diverse North African influence that makes Moroccan cuisine so famous and delicious drove him to launch the cart.
La Camel offers an impressive menu and if you don’t necessarily know what a dish is, Karim has photos. Moroccan Couscous – vegetarian or with marinated chicken. A Moroccan lamb sandwich with roasted peppers on a french roll. Seafood Paella and even a Casablanca Cheese Steak Sandwich with lamb. So many options, how does one chose. I lucked out. While trying to decide, a fellow eater definitively ordered the Moroccan Kefta Tagine. Sold! When someone else is laser focused on a dish, it must be good. 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. The dish is served with a fresh baked garlic french roll. Each bite blew me away. I don’t have the words to describe the breadth of flavors – salty, crisp, garlicky, creamy. Mixing in the egg with a bit of garlic bread and sauce sent me over the edge. One of the best meals from a food cart I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.
When I look over the menu, I begin to crave each dish and can’t wait for the opportunity to return and try each and every one. La Camel is located on SW 9th between Alder and Washington and Karim opens daily for lunch. Next time you’re in a rut and want to experience some great new dishes, check them out and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu (full menu on website)
- Vegetarian Spanish Paella – saffron rice, smoked paprika, green beans, white beans and peas in a white wine sauce – $8
- Chicken Spanish Paella – $9
- Moroccan Couscous Beet Salad – $7.75
- Moroccan Kefta Tagine – $8.75
- Moroccan Lamb Sandwich – $8.75
- Warm Chicken Salad – $8.75
Location: SW 10th and Washington
Hours: Monday-Sunday, lunch and dinner
The Story: Growing up in Portland, there use to be a number of great Chinese restaurants in Old Town/Chinatown. Sadly, many have moved on. With the growth of food carts in the last ten years, one would assume Chinese would be a golden ticket, yet we only have a few. Chop Chop is the latest bringing brilliant Chinese dishes to the Alder pod.
Eating Chinese has always been an enigma for me. Having grown up on pre-packaged Chow Mein or visiting Chinese restaurants in the suburbs, it wasn’t until adulthood I discovered there was more to the menu than Kung Pao Chicken. Portland has seen a resurgence in appreciation for all things Asian cuisine. Szechuan seems to be the new darling for the food writer community. Yet, coming back to those dishes we all grew up on, what if they were just done better or more flavorful? At Chop Chop, the chef, Mr. Lee, is accomplishing that.
I got an email from a fellow cart lover extolling his love for the General’s Chicken at Chop Chop, so I beelined to the cart the other day. General’s Chicken, aka, General Tso’s Chicken, is found on every Chinese menu. Sweet, spicy and sticky deep fried chicken is mixed with chile peppers and served over rice. No veggies, no noodles – just simple, gluttonous deep fried chicken chunks over rice. Love it! At Chop Chop, they asked if I wanted it spicy or not. I did and was presented with one of the most beauteous spicy Chinese dishes I’ve seen to date. Not only was there a Sasquatch’s handful of ground chiles mixed into the sauce, no less than 30 whole chiles were added to the mix. My eyes watered even before taking that first bite. I dove in. Each bite was what I expected and appreciated about this dish – sweet and spicy. The batter on the chicken – light and crisp. While it looked like it would burn my face off, it didn’t. The heat was there, yet tempered by the sauce and rice. A fine dish.
Chop Chop is located in the Alder pod on the corner of SW 10th and Alder. A repurposed short school bus with a vast menu. Reading through the 28 5-star reviews on Yelp has me convinced I’m not the only Portlander who has enjoyed Mr. Lee’s creations. Drop on by next time you’re craving Chinese and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu – (menu to large to list)
- Family Bean Curd with Vegetables – $6
- Ma Po’s Tofu – $6
- Hot and Spicy Chicken – $6.50
- Orange Chicken – $6.50
- Cantonese Steak – $7
- Special Lo Mein – $6.50
- General’s Chicken – $6.50
- House Special Fried Rice – $6.25
Location: SW Park and Harrison at PSU Park Blocks
Hours: M-F, lunch
The Story: Most every Portlander I speak with comment on the number of Thai eateries we have throughout the city. Yet I rarely hear about other cuisines from Southeast Asia and have been wanting to explore. Then I learned of Haan Ghin, a new Laotian cart at Portland State University and paid a visit.
Historically, downtown Portland was divided by what we now refer to as the north and south park blocks. City founders designated the land as a division between commerce and housing and the industry that was further west. Those long city blocks of mature trees and rose bushes and public art are still enjoyed daily by many. By Portland State University, the park blocks are an integral part of the campus and since I can remember, there have been food carts there to feed the students. At Park and Harrison, a mini-pod has anchored with five vendors allowed to keep their little carts there overnight during the week. Haan Ghin is one of those, along with a soup vendor, BBQ and a noodle shop.
Haan Ghin owners Anthony Manivanh and Ann Derryberry put together an adorable wood shingled cart with handmade signs and everything. The menu is small, but I honestly love that. The fewer items, the dedication to each is that much greater. The Laap Gai, a chicken DIY lettuce wrap dish is plated with ground chicken tossed with scallions, mint, cilantro, shallots, chiles and lemongrass, sticky rice and a hunk of lettuce. Yep, make your own lettuce wrap and the work involved is worth it. Lettuce is cold and crisp, whereas the spicy chicken along with a bit of their housemade chili sauce is savory and spicy with a bit of citrus on the back end. Each little nibble is a delight. I love the little touches here at Haan Ghin. The Portland street food scene was born on DIY, so why not have a dish on the menu the customer has to engage with.
Haan Ghin is a great addition to Portland’s street food scene and while it is over by PSU, a bit of a walk for some who normally call the other downtown pods home, it is worth it. Sit among the towering fir trees enjoying your meal and watch college students scurry about. If you’re ever nervous about how to pronounce a dish, they have a pho-net-ic menu posted also. Next time you’re down that way or if you’re up for a special treat, drop on by Haan Ghin Eatshop and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- Laap Gai – Chicken DIY lettuce wraps – $7
- Mii Gai – egg noodles w/chicken, Ong Choy and crispy toppings – $7
- Specials daily
As the year comes to a close, we reflect back on 2014 and Portland’s food carts. The year was crazy with the threat of pods closing to numerous vendors opening brick and mortar establishments to a growth in truly mobile food trucks. Every year, I’m amazed at the delightful new cuisines being offered up from these rolling boxes parked throughout the city. Here’s my year in review:
- Multnomah County reports there are approximately 829 mobile food units operating. That includes all of the food carts in pods throughout the city, food trucks and a myriad of other vehicles used for food service (i.e. catering trucks)
- By our count, there are 525 food carts operating in the pods on a day to day basis in all quadrants of the city.
- 2014 saw the growth of food trucks in Portland who drive around to catering events or post up a corporate and business campuses. An estimated 45 trucks operate in the city at any given time.
- Portland now has 40 food cart pods located from east to west, north to south. The pod at SW 10th and Alder is by far the largest with over 55 vendors open daily. Cartlandia on SE 82nd has grown to become the largest pod outside of downtown Portland with 31 carts along with an onsite bar and music venue. Pod Map.
- Beer/Wine – 12 food cart pods now serve beer or wine with a few – Q19, Mississippi Marketplace, The Fixin’ To and Cartlandia which offer onsite bars with indoor seating.
- Portland added approximately 100 new vendors in 2014 with almost the same amount of vendors closing.
Top News of 2014:
- In spring, it seemed the sky was falling with news outlets reporting the end of Portland’s street food scene as we know it. What caused this? The announcements that four pods would close in 2014 – Good Food Here, Cartopia, North Station and SW 6th and Columbia. As of this writing, only SW 6th and Columbia officially closed. While there are currently no carts at North Station, the onsite Pizza place is still going strong. Cartopia vendors were offered up an extended 2 year lease and Good Food Here on Belmont is going strong and adding new vendors each month.
- As stated in the number section, 2014 was year for beer. Many pods expanded their offerings by bringing in a vendor to serve beer, cider and wine. Let us all give thanks to the owners of Artigiano for breaking through the OLCC a few years ago.
- Tidbit Farm and Food Launched in August at the opening of SE Division’s restaurant row. With space for 18 food carts including retail establishments, a large seating area and beer, the owners took the best of every other pod and combined them into one amazing eating destination.
- Portland International Airport embraced street food by bringing in 9 food carts and soliciting key vendors throughout the city to take on a spot. Located in the food court area pre-TSA screening, vendors include Love & Whiskey, Koi Fusion and Pok Pok.
- Pizza scored high with eaters at the carts with numerous openings. For Wood Fired, Pyro Pizza expanded to Tidbit, Ash Wood Fired, along with Pi Squared and Pi Wood Fired also opened. Chicago Deep Dish lovers have two options – Thick and Midwest Pizza Co.
- Going Brick & Mortar was key in 2014 – Koi Fusion Dstreet, Pepper Box, The People’s Pig, Cheese and Crack Snack Shop, Tamale Boy, Cultured Caveman, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Gigi’s Cafe from Gaufre Gourmet and more.
- Multnomah County received a federal grant to write and publish the Mobile Unit Handbook which details the steps to open a food cart or truck in Portland and beyond. An invaluable resource.
- Vendors throughout the city had a challenging year with vandalism in the form of cut power cords and theft. This hobbled more than a few carts, shutting them down for days while they regrouped and restocked after a power failure.
- Tabor on SW 5th and Stark celebrated their 10th year in 2014. Congratulations!
Vendors we’re sad to see go:
- Give Pizza A Chance was one of the first pizza carts in town. After six years, they closed and the cart reopened as Chez Dodo.
- Burrasca, the Tuscan cart at Pod 28, is closing at the end of 2014, but fear not, they will be opening a restaurant in 2015.
- Samurai Bento, one of the oldest carts and vendors at SW 9th and Alder, shuttered in the fall. A sad loss for the downtown crowd.
Key eats of 2014:
I eat at so many carts throughout the year, it is difficult to pick out one or two dishes that stuck out in my mind, yet the following were some of my best eats of 2014:
- Buki, along with other Japanese street food vendors, made a splash in Portland in 2014. Love them all. The Takoyaki (pictured above) topped my list of treats. Fried balls with octopus paired with a local microbrew is bliss.
- Steak and Frites from… Steak Frites PDX at Pod 28. Pairing seared flank steak with salty crisp fries is genius. Two of my favorite foods and well executed.
- Currywurst from Deutchland Curry – Everything about this dish is flavorful from the locally sourced brat to the curry sauce. But for me, it is the history of the dish that intrigued me. Berlin’s top street food.
- Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen on NE 23rd and Albeta quiety opened this summer and brought Szechuan delights to the street. While I enjoyed the Szechuan Tofu dish, it was the Chicken Gizzards that make this list. Covered in hot chili peppers, this is not for the faint of heart, but worth it.
- Güero Tortaría expanded downtown focusing specifically on tortas and these are some of the best made tortas I’ve enjoyed. Spicy, savory, fresh – pretty much any superlative I can think of to describe one of my favorite sandwiches.
- A Big Fat Deli Sandwich from Lower East Side Deli in downtown. The owner’s from NYC where deli sandwiches are the size of your head and at the cart he’s no slouch. Layer upon layer of meat and cheese.
2015 is here. Back in 2009, I made some erroneous predictions about the street food scene being a bit oversaturated. Hah! I don’t predict anymore. Yet, 2015 will see the scene evolve and change as with every year. Carts will open and carts will close and more budding entrepreneurs will try their hand a mobile vending. Cartathlon, Eat Mobile and the Summer Food Cart Festival will keep everyone eating. The Great Food Truck Race may make a return visit to the Rose City. I’ve heard rumors of a new pod being built down off SE Powell around 30th in an area devoid of street food. 2015 will bring the legalization of Marijuana in Oregon. Colorado and Washington have mobile marijuana dispensaries in the form of a truck. Will Portland get one? With a building boom occurring throughout the city, will we see the threat of pod closures? Possibly. But that won’t deter mobile vendors from finding other opportunities.
Location: 4631 N Albina, Portland
Hours: Weekdays and weekends, 11-6
The Story: When a buddy mentioned the new cart just up the street from our favorite bar, it took me a second to catch the code. IGPAY is a new food cart in N Portland focusing, well, on pig.
IGPAY is the work of Regina and Shaffer who put together the idea of focusing solely on pork for their sandwiches. An ingenious idea and the menu at first glance shows they aren’t just doing pork belly and bacon. I for one am a bit bored of bacon, so was excited to see the offerings at IGPAY. Iowa Bob, Naked Bob or Bastard Bob. Who’s Bob? I had to ask since those are the names of the three sandwiches on the menu. Bob is an old friend who’s name isn’t really Bob, but I digress. An Iowa Bob is a breaded pork tenderloin, the Naked Bob is a griddled pork loin (is griddled a word? It is now.) and Bastard Bob is all about how you want it. A tossup for sure. Being a fan of yellow mustard and pretty much any mustard, Iowa Bob it was. A huge breaded pork tenderloin with yellow mustard, onions and house made pickles. The star of the show was the saltine cracker breading Shaffer used. The bun, light and fluffy, so it didn’t interfere with the mix of great flavors. Just look at that tantalizing sammy.
IGPAY is open Thursday-Sunday from 11-6. Beyond the pork sandwiches, they also offer breakfast sandwiches and soup. Located in the parking lot next to Albina Press on N. Albina, this cart is a must try for pork tenderloin fans. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- Iowa Bob – $8
- Naked Bob – $8
- Bastard Bob – starts at $7
- Egg A’ Muffin – English muffin w/bacon, egg and cheddar – $5
- Daily Soup – $5
Phone: 970 556 3280
Location: SW 3rd and Washington
Hours: Daily for breakfast and lunch and late night on weekends
The Story: Have you enjoyed New York style deli? A sandwich overflowing with thin sliced meats or pressed to perfection? I have, and now can find such treats at a food cart in downtown – Lower East Side Deli.
Lower East Side Deli opened this past summer with a vast menu of sandwich options. The owner, Abdellah, lived in NYC and worked at delis there, so knows how to put together something brilliant. The sign says it all – Italian Sandwiches, Reubens, Big Chicken Wraps. And Abdullah took a page out of a Chinese menu and posted photos of the monstrosities. I truly believe, a picture sells a dish more than a description. Heck, each visit I pick a different sandwich based on the photo. How does the Chicago Beef sound? Thin sliced Angus beef straight off the grill, horseradish dijon, lettuce and tomato on a garlic baguette. Or the Mad Sicilian with tuna, provolone, hot peppers, lettuce, tomato and a little olive oil on an Italian sub. Abdellah crafts both of those and about 20 more.
Craving a big sandwich after some holiday shopping I decided on Lower East Side Deli. The first sandwich that caught my eye was the Bostonian. First question was whether I wanted it hot or cold. Hot please. A thick layer of beef, then ham, hot capicola, provolone, mayo, a bit of the veggies and then thrown on the flattop to heat up. A beauty. Maybe 3 inches of sandwich joy. Normally served with turkey, they were out, so I subbed in the capicola – a great choice. Gorgeable. Great quality meats, a quality bun (a must!) and fresh veggies. I can’t wait to return for more.
Lower East Side Deli is located on SW 3rd and Washington on the Washington side of the lot. Abdellah opens for breakfast and lunch and then later into the evening on the weekends. If you have a hankering for a New York style deli sandwich, check them out and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu (There are over 20 sandwich options):
- Boneless Buffalo Chicken Wrap – $6
- Tex Mex BLT Rancher Wrap – $6
- Honey Dripper ‘Q Chicken Wrap – $6
- Bostonian – $6
- Chicago Beef – $6
- Big Reuben Dog – with pastrami, sauerkraut, swiss and russian dressing on a dog – $6
- Fenway Melt – hot Capicolla, baked Virginia ham, provolone, pressed on sourdough – $6
- Spicy Italian – salami, hot Capicolla, ham and provolone, hots, lettuice and condiments on Italian sub -$6
Location: SE 28th pl and Division at Tidbit
Hours: Wed-Fri, 11-8, Saturday, 11-9 (check Facebook for updated hours)
The Story: Japanese street food is making a play in Portland. We’ve all enjoyed the Ramen craze the last few years, but now, with the help from a few food cart owners, we’re being introduced small bite street food from across the pond. Buki at Tidbit nails it.
Buki is the work of Jack and William, college roommates and friends ever since. Taiwanese born, both experienced Japanese street food while living there and fell in love. William is the number 1 grill man according to Jack, but chatting with them, I can only assume both do the food justice. The Takoyaki, the cart’s signature dish, is what businessmen eat after imbibing a bit to much. Jack shared a story about late night wandering in Japan and seeing men in suits just mowing through plates of Takoyaki with the Japanese mayo and takoyaki sauce all over.
So, what is Takoyaki? Well, I would describe it as a small ball of yummy. Honestly, there isn’t anything like it I’ve tried. On the menu, you can get Takoyaki with sausage and cheese which is more of an American style dish or do a spicy version with kimchi and spicy mayo. I opted more traditional and chose the octopus. Yep, octopus balls. Chewy octopus is battered in wheat flower and served in a boat with a bamboo skewer. Then topped with Japanese mayo and Takoyaki sauce, a thick sweet sauce, along with a generous helping of bonito flakes. I couldn’t wait to dive in and even burned my tounge on the first bite. Each little ball – a chewy, savory experience. Paired with a cold beer from Scout Beer Garden onsite and I imagined myself on a bench at midnight in Tokyo with all the neon I could take in.
Buki also offers up Taiyaki, another staple of Japanese street food – fish shaped cookies filled with chocolate, Nutella or bean paste. In summer months they offer Bubble Tea. In winter, Jack mentioned he was putting in soup warmers to offer homestyle Taiwanese beef stew noodle soup, a dish they grew up eating and a recipe from Mom. Buki is an excellent edition to the street food scene here and they are “Armed with Deliciousness.” Check them out and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- Takoyaki – numerous flavors, 8 balls for $7
- Taiyaki – $3.50-3.75