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


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

Owner’s Summit at Roam Conference

Brett Burmeister

I was speaking with an food cart owner recently who asked me if I knew of a good lawyer who could go over a lease agreement. These types of questions come up regularly when I visit with established owner along with questions about growth, accounting, sourcing and managing employees. Many successful owners figured out how to launch and be successful, but what’s next?

Badge copyThe Roam Mobile Food Conference on September 14 here in Portland has a full day schedule featuring experts in mobile vending from around the country. Topics include accounting and law for a mobile food business, how to work with your community, growing a business, strategies for success, branding and PR, best practices with social media and sustainable and green practices. There will also be a moderated session with representatives from around the country on how to engage your local government to advocate for street food. I think one of the best parts of the conference will be to network and interact with fellow mobile vendors who are asking the same questions and someone at the conference will have the answer.

Featured speakers include Bert Gall, Senior Attorney for Institute for Justice; Matthew Geller, CEO, SoCal Mobile Food Vendor’s Association; Laci J Texter, Community Manager, NYC Food Truck Association; Christian J Murcia, CEO, Curbside Bites; Matt Breslow, The Grilled Cheese Grill; Jan Walker, Inform Restaurant Accounting and more.

The Roam Mobile Food Conference takes place September 14, 2013 at The Doubletree Hotel in Portland. Registration for the Owner’s Summit is still open. More details can be found here.

Mindful Eating at Food Carts

Brett Burmeister

[I had the pleasure of enjoying lunch with our guest author and we discussed mindful eating. A guest post from Sam ‘Gentoku’ McCree, Founder of the Mind Fit Move]

When most of us think about mindful eating, we think of a quiet room, with a lit candle, and a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries. Not midday on a street corner with cars rushing by and strangers yammering on their cell phones. But when you’re a food cart connoisseur, that’s exactly the environment you eat in.

I recently had the chance to check out some local carts with Brett of FoodCartsPortland.com and together we tried to answer this question: Can you eat mindfully at a food cart?

The first cart we went to was Graffiti at the corner of 48th and Woodstock. They serve a variety of delicious sandwiches inspired by both street food sensibility and big city savvy. We ordered the Da Nang Pork sandwich, a tasty looking creation with pork meatballs, Vietnamese slaw, cilantro, Sriracha mayo, and hoison peanut butter.

Before chowing down Brett demonstrated the fine art of food porn photography. I watched as he took only a few seconds to lay out the sandwich in all its decadent glory. The brief photo shoot gave us the chance to appreciate the beauty of the dish, something we often take for granted. I took in the soft brown shades of the pork contrasted with the vibrant orange and white of the coleslaw and onions.

Often when we eat, we only focus on our mouths and stomachs. But mindful eating is about nourishing all of our senses. When we take the time to look at our food, to smell its scent, to feel it’s texture, and even listen to a crunchy bite, we become aware of how amazing the eating experience can be.

Now with the photos taken, it was time to dig in. As we ate, we talked about mindful eating. Especially about the practice of taking one bite at a time, chewing, tasting, and then taking another bite, only after the first one is finished. It’s a simple practice, but can turn any meal from a food blitz into a decadent taste expedition. After a few minutes, Brett asked me what I thought of the sandwich. I closed my eyes, took a bite, and focused on the flavors and sensations. This is another way of practicing mindful eating. Closing your eyes, chewing slowly, and tasting as a wine connoisseur does, brings out many layers of texture and taste.

At the beginning of the bite, I felt the powdered flour on the bun pull the moisture from my lips. Next, the essence of sweet, savory pork seized my attention. Then I heard the crunch of the coleslaw as the subtle qualities of the cilantro and onion grew in my mouth. I noticed the difference between the crisp texture of the coleslaw, the soft chewy bun, and the pork, which seemed to melt with every bite. What surprised me most was complexity of the peanut butter and hoison sauce. It brought back fond memories of pad thai and sweet and sour pork. But it had a character all its own.

Main Head Shot SquareThis is what mindful eating is all about. When I focus on just eating, I’m able to notice things I would normally miss. Before, I was eating a good sandwich, but when I slowed down and paid attention I began having a religious pork experience. As we finished our meal, I was reminded that, “Mindfulness is the best seasoning.” It doesn’t matter if you are eating a decadent sandwich from Graffiti or gnoshing on a generic falafel. Mindfulness makes the experience more vibrant and satisfying.

In addition, by tuning into my body’s signals I’ve learned how to be satisfied. Which means I can eat less, but enjoy more. An important lesson if you want to sample all that Food Carts Portland has to offer. Whether you’re an old-time foodie or a food cart neophyte, mindful eating brings out the rich nuances of every bite and can help you tune into the full spectrum of your experience.

Next time you’re out for lunch, take a minute to slow down and really taste your meal. It may very well change the way you look at food.

You can learn more about Mindful Fitness at Sam’s Website – Mindfitmove.com

World Street Food Congress Singapore

Brett Burmeister

The World Street Food Congress took place the past ten days in Singapore and Portland made a great showing. From the first night to the last, residents of Singapore and beyond enjoyed porchetta from The People’s Pig, shrimp and grits or smothered chicken from The Swamp Shack or a crab sandwich from Euro Trash. All three vendors, along with 35 others have worked 12 hour days to make this happen. Having been at the street food jamboree every day for the past 10, I’m not being glib by saying the Portland vendors had some of the longest lines. Well done.

The People's Pig in Singapore

The People’s Pig in Singapore

Located at the F1 Pit Building, the organizers of the event set up small kitchens for each of the forty vendors equipping them with everything from rice steamers to open charcoal grills to deep fryers and convection ovens. Some were simple, like the Vietnamese Nam Bo which used charcoal to grill glutenous rice wrapped bananas in banana leaves – an amazing dessert dish to rival any I’ve ever had. Charles Thomas of Euro Trash took on the challenge of frying his  beer battered soft-shell crab in traditional Vietnamese woks. Chef Vo Quoc of Vietnam spent a few hours with Charles to show him how it is done. I think we may see a wok at Euro Trash in the future. Cliff Allen of the People’s Pig shared his special relationship with pork belly with fellow fans. Trey Corkern of The Swamp Shack brought grits to the island, a dish very few had tasted but now love. Heaven’s Indian Curry, a Singaporean vendor with Indian cuisine used hand forged cast iron bowls atop coals to create Appam, a thin pancake served with egg and sugar. Each and every vendor offered something unique from their home country. Some traveled hours just to get to an airport to come to Singapore – their first trip on an airplane. True street food vendors.

Singapore knows street food, yet what’s different here is they have taken the unique cuisines from around the world off the street. In an effort to regulate and ensure proper hygiene, the government created Hawker Centers throughout the city and relocated the vendors inside. These centers offer covered seating, fish, meat and fresh vegetables and fruit markets and a variety of 8’x8′ stalls selling everything from pig organ soup to sate to duck rice and more. Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Vietnamese are just some of the options. Want a large plate of slipper crab tails? Got’ em. And they are only $10. Each hawker center has at least 40 different vendors. This is Singapore’s street food and we all explored as many as we could. My favorite? Sambal Sotong, a spicy squid dish.

The two day congress featured speakers from around the world – Anthony Bourdain; James Osland of Saveur Magazine; KF Seetoh, the organizer of the event; Chef Bryant Ng from The Spice Table in LA; Chef Claus Meyer from Denmark’s Noma restaurant and William Wongso, the master of 1000 sates from Indonesia. Each speaker brought a different perspective on how street food is changing in the 21st century. In Vietnam for example, it is illegal to be a hawker. Vo Quoc, a well known TV personality and chef has set up a program to teach orphans and youth culinary skills. He then captures and promotes family recipes that are being lost with every generation. Many discussions and conversations were about just that – the possible loss of dishes and flavors with the shift either to corporate cuisine or simply having the family patriarch/matriarch pass without teaching new generations. I spoke about how in Portland and America, we are experiencing a renaissance in street food culture with the growth of food carts in Portland and the proliferation of food trucks throughout America. Everyone was fascinated about how Portland’s pod culture grew and evolved over the last 30 years and some want to replicate it.

I’m full. I eaten amazing food for 10 days and I still have a final day here to explore. I’m proud to have been a part of this event and am in awe of what chefs can create in small spaces with the ingredients they are provided. Street food is here to stay in the world and the conversation will continue. We met the owner of the first food truck in Moscow. Hopefully she’ll be back next year with fellow vendors. A wonderful week. A wonderful event. Amazing cuisine. The World Street Food Congress and Singapore’s hospitality will draw us back for sure.

World Street Food Congress Welcomes Portland Vendors

Brett Burmeister

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 8.47.59 AMFood Carts Portland is proud and excited to announce that Brett Burmeister, co-owner and editor of this website, is heading to Singapore along with three of Portland’s food cart leaders to attend the World Street Food Congress from May 31- June 9, 2013.

Brett will represent Food Carts Portland and our other North American-wide project, Roam Mobile Food Conference. Brett will join Portland food cart owners Cliff Allen from The People’s Pig, Charles Thomas from Euro Trash, and Trey Corkern of The Swamp Shack to showcase Portland’s thriving street food scene, including providing meals to over 10,000 attendees. Portland will be in good company, alongside forty mobile food vendors from places as diverse as Europe, SE Asia, Mexico, and beyond.

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know Brett has been writing about Portland’s street food scene since 2008. He will speak at the Congress as part of their World Street Food Dialogue June 3 and 4, alongside culinary luminaries such as Anthony Bourdain and James Oseland, the editor of Saveur magazine. Brett’s presentation on the Portland street food model highlights how the City of Portland and Multnomah County have supported mobile food vendors to create vibrant community spaces while at the same time supporting the growth of small, local food businesses.

The attending Portland food carts will be part of a 10-day street food jamboree with street food vendors from around the world. Food showcased from Portland includes a fried softshell crab sandwich from Euro Trash, pulled pork from The People’s Pig, and smothered chicken from The Swamp Shack. The three vendors are both excited and nervous about bringing their craft halfway around the world. The World Street Food Congress organizer, KF Seetoh and his team came to Portland earlier this year to check out  different vendors. They tried numerous dishes from many food carts and settled on three from our fair City of Roses: a fried softshell crab sandwich from Eurotrash, pulled pork from the People’s Pig, and smothered chicken from Swamp Shack.

About the World Street Food Congress:

The World Street Food Congress (WSFC)  is the first of its kind  to connect and open up fresh ideas and thought leadership in the massive, and growing street food culture and industry throughout the world. It also celebrates and showcases this well loved gastro-culture through a ten-day celebration of street food. According to founder K.F. Seetoh, the goals of the WSFC are to “preserve, professionalize and create new possibilities for the world’s greatest culinary phenomena – comfort and street food culture.”

The World Street Food Congress takes place May 31-June 9 in Singapore. More details about the event can be found at www.wsfcongress.com.

We wish Portland’s Food Carts a Bon Voyage, and expect on-the-ground updates from Brett and Food Carts Portland throughout the event.