Another amazing year for Portland’s food carts. We were named the #1 street food city in the world and continue to be written about by national and international press. We saw growth, but we also saw some significant closures both with carts and pods. I enjoyed some amazing food and was able to see one or our carts represent the city in San Francisco. 2011 was yet another great year to be a cartivore in this fine city.
I get asked daily how many food carts there are in Portland, so here are the numbers.
December, 2011 – 689 licensed mobile food vendors in Multnomah County.
At this time in 2010, we had 600, so that’s a 15% increase. It felt like we added more than 89 didn’t it? Well we did. Throughout the year, we had approximately 50-60 carts that closed completely, so 89 then turns into something like 139. More like it. With two-three new carts opening every week, we did our best to visit them all, but honestly, didn’t get to every one. Throughout the year, we wrote the stories on about 117, albeit some of those have since closed. Where’s the largest pod? Alder – at SW 9th and 10th and Alder. The combined pod there sports around 60 carts.
Some highlights, but also some sadness from 2011:
In August, I experienced first hand the power of the carts. While eating lunch in O’Bryant Square in SW Portland by the Alder pod, I realized that it had a whole new patronage from those eating from the carts. A park you would never take kids to now had a busker and children frolicking. The carts revitalized a park.
Carlandia and Q19 launched this year bringing food carts to deep southeast Portland and the NW Portland. Both areas are supporting their carts very well. Q19 followed the Mississippi Marketplace model with a bar attached to the lot so you can enjoy libations with your frito pie or brisket sandwich. We did have some pod closures with Crystal Gardens in St. Johns and Green Castle in northeast both closing and their carts needing to find new homes.
The year started off sadly with the theft of the Azul Tequila Mexican Taqueria cart right out of the secured lot at A la Carts Food Pavilion. Luckily, the cart was recovered in days and the owners were able to re-fit and reopen and are still doing a brisk business. In other sad news, Kim Jong Grillin’, the winner of Eat Mobil’s Best Cart award suffered a devastating fire that same night and have never re-opened. It is our understanding they are moving to a restaurant in 2012.
2011 did see many closures, but few had the impact as a couple of carts who had seen the growth throughout the last few years and had been there and toughed out all the winters. Garden State and Kevin Sandri’s famous meatball sub and chickpea sandwich decided to go on hiatus this fall. Their closing act? They gave away 50 meatball subs in 10 minutes. Downtown lost a gem when Ziba’s Pita’s decided to retire. Ziba has been serving up her signature meat filled pastries for years, but now is spending her days with her grandson. Both will be missed.
When Mississippi Marketplace opened in 2009, it was the first to combine alcohol and street food with the PROST! pub attached. In 2011, we were introduced to beer carts by Captured by Porches at D-Street Noshery and Buckman Brewing at Good Food Here. In October, the Oregon Bartenders Guild opened a shortlived cocktail cart at Cartopia as part of Portland Cocktail Week. At this time, there are carts who have submitted liquor license applications with the OLCC. Natural progression? We’ll see in 2012.
In September, Big-Ass Sandwiches traveled to San Francisco to participate in the San Francisco Street Food Festival, an event to raise funds for La Cocina. That day, among forty other vendors, Big-Ass Sandwich owners Lisa and Brian along with a volunteer staff made upwards of 2000 sandwiches. All proceeds from the sales went to the charity. What a great opportunity for them and to show San Francisco eaters what Portland brings to the table.
Some of the best street food I enjoyed throughout the year:
- Fettuccine with fresh garlic scapes and red pepper flakes from Artigiano
- The Breakfast from Yolk
- A hoagie as big as your head from The Knuckle Sandwich (now available at Shut Up and Eat)
- Abu-Ramen from Minizo
- Tonkotsu Ramen from The Ramen Truck
- Fonzi’s Jungle Bowl from Fonzi’s Bakabana Cabana
- A simple liege waffle from Gaufre Gourmet
- Pork Stew (Caw) from Sok Sab Bai
- The Colbert Super Mac from The BrunchBox
- Hot Chicken from Cackalack’s Hot Chicken Shack
- The simple burger from Burgatroyd
- Wax Moth Larvae Tacos from Don Bugito Prehistoric Snakeria in San Francisco
So, what will 2012 bring us? First off, there are still food carts looking to open, so we’ll continue to see new carts introduce us to their flavors. We’ll also see some carts close as the owners pursue other interests or decide street food vending just isn’t their game. There have been discussions going on at both the state and city level regarding regulations around street food and the carts. I have been involved with one, but not the other. From what we’re hearing, the main approach is to keep the customer safe. Hopefully, the changes that do come about won’t have a significant impact on the carts. They are part of Portland’s city fabric.
2012 will bring another Cartathalon and Eat Mobile – the city’s food cart festival. Kir Jensen of The Sugar Cube will be releasing a cookbook in spring, so keep you eyes open for that. More and more business are seeing food trucks as a way to market themselves or sell items other than food. The state of Wyoming even outfitted a truck this summer to entice people to visit their state. We’ve seen carts selling vintage clothing and fresh-frozen fish along with a cart that is a hair salon. What’s next?
Personally, I’m looking forward to being able to continue to visit food carts on a daily basis, chat with the unique and special people who own and run them and enjoy some tasty food. Thank you for your continued support of the food carts in Portland and beyond. Street food rules!