Portland Food Carts – 2013 in Review

Brett Burmeister

Another year, another great group of new vendors have shows us we can still be surprised by what comes out of a 16′ x 8′ kitchen. We have welcomed Italian, Georgian, Russian, Columbian, Singaporean, Mediterranean and more. We’ve also seen closures which left a little blank space in our stomachs. Anchovies anyone? I don’t really know how I would define 2013 as a whole – maybe the year of Italian?

Lamb and Polenta from Bones & Bits

Lamb and Polenta from Bones & Bits

Numbers

According to Multnomah County, we have around 712 active licenses for mobile food vendors. Are there 712 carts out there in the pods we know of? No. That number includes catering vehicles and license only used seasonally. By my count, we have about 550 carts and trucks throughout the city who feed us daily.

There are 38 active pods throughout the city. The largest is at SW 9th and 10th and Alder with 60 vendors covering an entire city block. We did a roundup of the pods last month. Find that article here.

Margherita Pizza from Maiale di Volo

Margherita Pizza from Maiale di Volo

Key Openings

While we had over 70 vendors open in 2013, these are the ones who left us with taste bud tingling memories:

  • The Italian Market – makers of South Philly sandwiches and other dishes – at Belmont Station on SE Stark
  • Delicios – one of two Romanian vendors to open in 2013 with amazing baked goods and hearty food – SW 10th and Alder
  • Burrasca – Tuscan! Amazing pasta dishes from a true Tuscan trained chef – SE 28th and Ankeny
  • Duende – a Gypsy food cart with specialties inspired by the owner’s Spanish grandmother – SE 32nd and Hawthorne
  • Maiale di Volo – wood fired pizza from a 1932 flatbed dodge
  • Kargi Gogo – Georgian cuisine from the country, not the state – SW 9th and Washington
  • Tiffin Asha – Indian street food, dosas – N Mississippi and Beech
  • Pulehu Pizza – handmade thin crust pizza made with local ingredients and BBQ’d – SE 3rd and Stark
  • Garden Monsters – huge salads and more – NE 15th and Alberta
  • Cultured Caveman 2 and 3 – the Palio cart expanded to SE and SW Portland
  • Gabagool – Italian flatbread sandwiches which will blow you away – N Mississippi and Beech
  • Big-Ass Sandwiches expanded to N Mississippi and Skidmore – Mississippi Marketplace

Key Closures (Or, who we’ll miss the most)

  • No Fish Go Fish closed this year after an amazing 16 years having the cart on SW Yamhill
  • Eurotrash – Charles Thomas closed the cart in August to pursue his music career. I miss the deep fried anchovies
  • Swamp Shack – Trey Corkern went mobile and can be found in the south these days
  • Okinoshima – the great little Japanese street food cart made it only one season, yet introduced us to some excellent dishes
  • Addy’s Sandwich Bar – Addy closed the cart, but we can find her just down the street in her cafe on SW 10th
  • Built to Grill – this excellent Italian pasta and sandwich cart closed, but you can find Brooke now at his cafe in the Star Theater on NW 6th.
  • El Cubo De Cuba – closed the carts, but opened a restaurant on Hawthorne
  • London Pasty Company – one of the longest tenured vendors at Cartlandia, they closed in September

Trends we have seen in 2013

  • Portland is unique in that we have all of these “mobile vendors,” but many of them don’t move. That has spawned a growth in the number of food trucks rolling around. There have always been trucks out there to visit construction sites and do catering, yet the new batch of vendors are offering the high quality cuisine Portlander’s have come to expect. At this time, there are over 20 trucks roaming around to different corporate campuses or events throughout the year.
  • If you work downtown and eat at the carts, you no doubt have noticed the number of vendors offering Mediterranean and Egyptian cuisine has grown. We have seen 7 new vendors pop up just this year and they are bringing their flavors to the street.
  • Bagels. We’ve seen a crazy year for bagel carts. Earlier in the year, we saw Rescue Bagels open two locations only to close in just 6 months. Alice’s Bagels, which opened in 2012, closed at the beginning of the year. Quick and Dirty opened and closed in just a few months. Bridgetown Bagel has survived the bagel battles and remains open at Rose City food Park and Tastebud Bagels opened last month at SW 10th and Alder. Gotta have bagels.
  • Italian! From sandwiches to pasta, six new vendors have opened and are serving up dishes some restaurant chef’s can’t touch. Flatbread sandwiches from Gabagool, Tuscan wild boar pasta from Burrasca, a meatball sub from The Italian Market, lamb with polenta from Bones & Bits. These food carts have re-introduced this eater to the glories of Italian cuisine.

Top Food Cart News of 2013

Portland was well represented at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore in June. For the 10 day World Food Jamboree, three Portland cart vendors fed the masses who came down to the racetrack. The Swamp Shack cooked up shrimp and grits, Eurotrash did softshell crab sandwiches and The People’s Pig made Porchetta. I know I’m biased, but they did have the longest lines. During the congress, I spoke about Portland’s pod structure as a way for cities to organize vendors. Portland is recognized internationally as a model for successful street vending.

EuroTrash at the World Street Food Congress

EuroTrash at the World Street Food Congress

The Portland Timbers embraced Portland’s food carts this year by offering participating vendors the kiosk above section 93 for the night. Vendors included Big-Ass Sandwiches, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, 808 Grinds, Timber’s Doghouse PDX, The Frying Scotsman, Stumptown Dumplings and more. Hopefully, 2014 will bring others. Well done Timbers on a great year. #RTCID

The first annual ROAM Mobile Food Conference took place here in Portland in September gathering 120 attendees for a one day discussion on how to open a food cart or truck and make it successful. Leaders in the street food movement from around the nation came to the Doubletree in Lloyd to educate, but also to meet and greet fellow mobile chefs and movers and shakers. The mobile food movement is taking America by storm.

Two different events this year showcased Portland’s mobile vendors: Eat Mobile in April offered up small bites from almost 50 different vendors along with a chef showcase featuring three different chefs teaching the crowd how to create their signature dish. The Summer Food Cart Festival in Gresham in June brought 20 vendors to Mt. Hood Community College for a day of eating, music and fun. We’ll see both of these events return in 2014, so mark your calendar.

A number of mobile vendors opened restaurants in 2013

    • Addy’s Sandwich Bar
    • Teote – former owner of Fuego De Lotus
    • BrunchBox
    • The Sudra – from the owners of Sonny Bowl
    • The Sugar Cube
    • Stumptown Dumplings has a kiosk on SW Ankeny
    • Nong’s Khao Man Gai’s SE kitchen now offers dinner service

I’ve been eating and writing about the food carts here in Portland now for over five years and am still honestly surprised by the food. My palette has matured, but so have the offering. I’m excited looking to 2014 knowing we’ll be able to enjoy a new crop of eager cooks wanting to feed us their craft. We’ll also hopefully see a full length documentary about Portland’s carts and the general culture of street food. A book is in the works by a fellow food cart enthusiast and should be available in spring. The vendors wouldn’t be here without you, the eater. I thank you for your continued support of Portland’s food cart vendors. Keep on eatin’!

Happy New Year from Food Carts Portland

Pastrami on Rye from Steak Your Claim

Pastrami on Rye from Steak Your Claim

Comments

  1. I think a great highlight was when PDX671 was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” back in September! So cool!

  2. Cartlandia also welcomed several NEW carts including: Maine Street Lobster Company which brought the first fresh lobster (flown in from Maine) to the cart scene – You can get more info at their web page : http://mainestreetlobstercompany.weebly.com. Review by Food Carts Portland – http://www.foodcartsportland.com/2013/12/11/maine-street-lobster/

  3. London Pasty Company cart is closed, but Jane is still cooking her amazing pasty delights and they are available at the Dancing Bear Coffee Company cart at Cartlandia (www.cartlandia.com)

  4. Hey Brett some add ons:
    GOODBYES:
    Nikki & Lefty’s
    Wyeast Pizza
    Flyin Hawaiian
    Gimme Sandwich
    Honey Pot Pies
    Nargila Gardens
    Jinki’s
    Pita Express
    Dogfeathers
    Prickly Ash
    Cornucopia Joes Pizza (Shut down but is planning a re-opening)
    Divine Cafe (Closing cart but still catering)

    RESTAURANTS:
    Lardo West & Grassa by Rick Gencarelli
    Sok Sab Bai
    Fifty Licks
    Sugar Cube
    Koi Fusion

    OPENINGS:
    Chickpeadx
    Caspian Kabob
    Bento Box
    Stumptown Kimbap
    Graffiti Sandwich
    Sivad’s House of Soul
    Sambusa House
    Guero (Former Fuego De Lotus Cart at Pod 28)
    Tony’s Cucina

    HIGHLIGHTS:
    America’s Great Food Truck Race
    All the Food Network & Travel Channel attention – Diner’s, Drive ins & Dives, Cupcake Wars,

    Hope this helps – by the way the Brooke of Built to Grill may be coming back as a cart Star Theater is not working out that well.

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