Headwaters Cafe (AKA,The Empress)

Jonathan Amato


Location: SW 3rd and Ash Parking Lot Moved to SE 11th and Clay in Fall of 2009.

Description: Look, a cart that goes by two different names! Turns out there is a “discussion” of sorts between the partners who own this cart. He says Headwaters Cafe, since that’s the catering company he’s been running since 2000, She says Empress, since that’s the brand of  this snazzy 1968 airstream trailer. I say, who cares, since this place is rocking quality sandwiches in an area of downtown that could certainly use more cart food.


The Empress (or whatever you want to call it) provides nice lunch options in the $6.00 range with things like meatloaf, pulled pork or eggplant Parmesan sandwiches. Although they don’t have a printed menu, and unfortunately the Headwaters Cafe website doesn’t offer up a menu for the cart (ahem), the day I visited, the menu items included the above three sandwiches as well as a large spinach chicken salad. I did enjoy my eggplant parm sandwich very much, which was on a large piece of French bread similar to the kind used in New Orleans for Po Boys. It was substantial, hearty enough to hold the marinara and cheese, but still soft in the middle making for a delightful mix of crunchy exterior and then a toothsome soft bite with the soft interior of the bread and the eggplant and cheese filling.

Although open M-F for lunch, The Headwaters Cafe is also one of the few late night carts downtown. I’m certain the cheap eats are much appreciated by the nearby club and bar goers after a night of revelry.


The Headwaters Cafe has been in business since 2000 serving up specialty catering with an emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients. In true Portland fashion the cart runs on biodiesel, uses biodegradable utensils, and they do compost  their food wastes as well. The still do catering, and will cater for lunches as well with a minimum order of 10 lunches.


Sample Menu:

The Fonz: Braised pork on a baguette with hoisin sauce and Asian slaw ($6)

Ralph the Mouth: Vegetarian Eggplant Parmesan on baguette w/ sweet basil ragout and provelone cheese ($6)

Brown Bag Meatloaf sandwich with caramelized onions, lettuce and condiments ($5)

Hours: Lunchtime Mon-Fri, Late night hours Friday and Saturday

Phone: 503-680-5065

Email: headwaterscafe@yahoo.com

Website: www.headwaterscafe.com



  1. I love the pulled pork sandwich and the veggie options (eggplant parmesan sandwich and huge delicious spinach salad). Perfect lunch option for my daily trip to Stumptown coffeeshop. Jason -the owner – is really friendly and a cutie too! I have a good pic of him in his really cool vintage trailer which I would love to share with you! Valerie

  2. Ate there today – best bread I’ve had in a looong time – the eggplant parm was great!

  3. Natebear says

    Oh man…so many choices for lunch downtown but this place is so good! I thought, “anyone can make a sandwich” but The Empress has some secret technique. Good bread, fresh ingredients, and friendly service. You can’t ask for much more.

    The website now has the menu posted…same as what’s listed above.

    I’ve tried each sandwich and they are all top notch. Something magical about The Fonz that makes me want to order a second sandwich for later. A must try for the downtown lunch crowd!

  4. Now delivered by bike. Portland Pedal Power and the Empress have partnered to offer online ordering (www.portlandpedalpower.com) and delivery by bike.

  5. I’ve had food from this cart several times now and my experiences have been wonderful! The eggplant parm baguette was great and the daily specials are what keep me coming back. The owner is really flexible with the ingredients, if there is something you’re not so down with. I work right around the corner from the cart and it’s definitely one of my favorite carts in portland – you can find me there are least once a week!

  6. Stopped by last Friday, 7/24/2009. I couldn’t make up my mind… so I ordered all three sandwiches with the intention of taking them back to work to share. What a find and what GREAT food! Nothing but compliments when I got back to work. I’ve got to find out where they get their bread for the sandwiches.

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