Location: SE 82nd and Harney at Cartlandia
Hours: Wed-Sun, 11am – 6pm. Please call for hours: 503-702-5553
The Story: I recently experienced some great Thailand travel food nostalgia when I dined at the quirky named Anything Else? Thai Food cart up in the bustling Cartlandia pod on SE 82nd Ave and Harney. It was a warm spring Saturday, and loads of bicyclists had descended upon this cart either pre or post bike ride from the popular Springwater Corridor trail that runs behind the cart pod lot.
Have you ever been to Thailand? It’s known as “the land of a thousand smiles” for the friendliness of the people. I think Thailand should be called, “land of a million food carts” though because everywhere you go from the crowded metropolis of Bangkok, to even the tiniest of beach villages, you’ll find street food galore – elaborate huts, custom push carts, tents, wagons, row boats, pickup trucks or vans, you name it. Thailand hosts plenty of restaurants of all kinds and prices, but street food is simply a celebrated way of life there. Sure, this is the standard in most parts of Asia and beyond, but there’s something special in Thai culture that equates to some of the best street food I’ve tasted anywhere in the world. It’s safe to say Thais are obsessed with it too. Magazine articles and books are dedicated to Thai street food, and there’s plenty of websites on the topic. A fun Thai past time also seems to be lively debates over which neighborhood vendor serves say, the best Pad Kee Mao noodles – is it the guy who sets up the red pushcart every day by the Temple Wat Po, or the lady with the who’s been serving from the same stand at the Flower Market for the past 20 years? You get the idea.
So it’s no surprise to me that Portland has so many Thai food carts. Street food is so interwoven into the Thai culture and the economy that I bet many Thai transplants to Portland probably think, “you know, I need some work, I’ll open a food cart!” And Thais, who are passionate about not just eating but cooking as well, do a pretty great job of it.
The day I visited Anything Else?, the proprietor was running behind schedule, and in a huge hurry, but still had a big smile and delivered some really above and beyond Portland Thai cart food. I tried the Pad Thai, a dish that is so common some might be bored with it, but when made with skill and care is one of those “foods of the gods” foods that never gets old. It can come in different styles – some vendors make it on the dry side, and others wet with more sauce. Some throw in a ton of peanuts, some barely at all. Some Pad Thai comes bright orange from the addition of cayenne pepper, some is on the tan side from fish and soy sauces. Every vendor seems to have their own little signature twist. At Anything Else, the Pad Thai was on the wet rather than dryer side. It had a great balance of the hot-sweet-salty-sour tastes good Thai is known for. The portion was big, the bean sprouts fresh, the chicken meat tender, and there was just a nice undertone of peanut taste and nutty chomp. This is the way I like Pad Thai.
The other dish I tried was a simple Stir Fry with Oyster Sauce. I chose it because it included what Anything Else described as “Our Special Oyster Sauce” – an oyster sauce they later told me they gussy up with their own added seasonings. The dish came steaming hot, chock full of thin sliced chicken (other meats are available on request), green beans, onions, and both button mushrooms and fresh shitake mushrooms. It was garlicky, it was black peppery hot, it had depth, and it wasn’t too salty or greasy. With the rice that came on the side, I had enough food for two very satisfying meals.
Anything Else? Thai Food offers the general Thai food repertoire found in most Portland Thai carts – Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodles) and other noodles, Tom Yum and Tom Kha soups, and the like with the addition of Japanese dishes Yakisoba and a Chinese influenced Chow Mein. Anything Else does have a few signature dishes – a spicy cashew noodle dish that looked interesting. There’s also something they call Make it Black – a stir fry with homemade garlic sauce, black pepper, and served on a bed of spinach, rice on the side. Thai Iced Tea is also available alongside a hot green or jasmine tea, and soft drinks.
What sets street food apart in Thailand is the freshness of ingredients, and a lighter touch with sugar and salt than we experience in many Thai restaurants (and carts) in this country. I’m happy to report, Anything Else Thai Food’s food honors the Thai way of cooking, and cart culture. As we’d say in Thailand, Kwap Koon Kah (thank you!)
- Curry Paste Stir Fry (served with rice) – choice of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp with curry paste, bell peppers, young corn, basil, and kaffir lime leaf – $6.00 (chicken, pork or beef), $7.00 (shrimp)
- Thai Shrimp Omelet: with green onions, fish sauce, and cilantro – $6.00
- Spicy and Sour Soup (Tom Yum) – chicken, beef, or pork -$6.00, shrimp – $7.00
- Pad Se Ew (Tiny Rice Noodles) – chicken, beef, or pork – $6.00, shrimp – $7.00
- Spicy Cashew Noodle – chicken, beef or pork – $6.00, shrimp – $7.00
Hours: Generally Wed-Sun, 11am – 6pm. Please call for hours: 503-702-5553