As the year comes to a close, we reflect back on 2014 and Portland’s food carts. The year was crazy with the threat of pods closing to numerous vendors opening brick and mortar establishments to a growth in truly mobile food trucks. Every year, I’m amazed at the delightful new cuisines being offered up from these rolling boxes parked throughout the city. Here’s my year in review:
- Multnomah County reports there are approximately 829 mobile food units operating. That includes all of the food carts in pods throughout the city, food trucks and a myriad of other vehicles used for food service (i.e. catering trucks)
- By our count, there are 525 food carts operating in the pods on a day to day basis in all quadrants of the city.
- 2014 saw the growth of food trucks in Portland who drive around to catering events or post up a corporate and business campuses. An estimated 45 trucks operate in the city at any given time.
- Portland now has 40 food cart pods located from east to west, north to south. The pod at SW 10th and Alder is by far the largest with over 55 vendors open daily. Cartlandia on SE 82nd has grown to become the largest pod outside of downtown Portland with 31 carts along with an onsite bar and music venue. Pod Map.
- Beer/Wine – 12 food cart pods now serve beer or wine with a few – Q19, Mississippi Marketplace, The Fixin’ To and Cartlandia which offer onsite bars with indoor seating.
- Portland added approximately 100 new vendors in 2014 with almost the same amount of vendors closing.
Top News of 2014:
- In spring, it seemed the sky was falling with news outlets reporting the end of Portland’s street food scene as we know it. What caused this? The announcements that four pods would close in 2014 – Good Food Here, Cartopia, North Station and SW 6th and Columbia. As of this writing, only SW 6th and Columbia officially closed. While there are currently no carts at North Station, the onsite Pizza place is still going strong. Cartopia vendors were offered up an extended 2 year lease and Good Food Here on Belmont is going strong and adding new vendors each month.
- As stated in the number section, 2014 was year for beer. Many pods expanded their offerings by bringing in a vendor to serve beer, cider and wine. Let us all give thanks to the owners of Artigiano for breaking through the OLCC a few years ago.
- Tidbit Farm and Food Launched in August at the opening of SE Division’s restaurant row. With space for 18 food carts including retail establishments, a large seating area and beer, the owners took the best of every other pod and combined them into one amazing eating destination.
- Portland International Airport embraced street food by bringing in 9 food carts and soliciting key vendors throughout the city to take on a spot. Located in the food court area pre-TSA screening, vendors include Love & Whiskey, Koi Fusion and Pok Pok.
- Pizza scored high with eaters at the carts with numerous openings. For Wood Fired, Pyro Pizza expanded to Tidbit, Ash Wood Fired, along with Pi Squared and Pi Wood Fired also opened. Chicago Deep Dish lovers have two options – Thick and Midwest Pizza Co.
- Going Brick & Mortar was key in 2014 – Koi Fusion Dstreet, Pepper Box, The People’s Pig, Cheese and Crack Snack Shop, Tamale Boy, Cultured Caveman, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Gigi’s Cafe from Gaufre Gourmet and more.
- Multnomah County received a federal grant to write and publish the Mobile Unit Handbook which details the steps to open a food cart or truck in Portland and beyond. An invaluable resource.
- Vendors throughout the city had a challenging year with vandalism in the form of cut power cords and theft. This hobbled more than a few carts, shutting them down for days while they regrouped and restocked after a power failure.
- Tabor on SW 5th and Stark celebrated their 10th year in 2014. Congratulations!
Vendors we’re sad to see go:
- Give Pizza A Chance was one of the first pizza carts in town. After six years, they closed and the cart reopened as Chez Dodo.
- Burrasca, the Tuscan cart at Pod 28, is closing at the end of 2014, but fear not, they will be opening a restaurant in 2015.
- Samurai Bento, one of the oldest carts and vendors at SW 9th and Alder, shuttered in the fall. A sad loss for the downtown crowd.
Key eats of 2014:
I eat at so many carts throughout the year, it is difficult to pick out one or two dishes that stuck out in my mind, yet the following were some of my best eats of 2014:
- Buki, along with other Japanese street food vendors, made a splash in Portland in 2014. Love them all. The Takoyaki (pictured above) topped my list of treats. Fried balls with octopus paired with a local microbrew is bliss.
- Steak and Frites from… Steak Frites PDX at Pod 28. Pairing seared flank steak with salty crisp fries is genius. Two of my favorite foods and well executed.
- Currywurst from Deutchland Curry – Everything about this dish is flavorful from the locally sourced brat to the curry sauce. But for me, it is the history of the dish that intrigued me. Berlin’s top street food.
- Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen on NE 23rd and Albeta quiety opened this summer and brought Szechuan delights to the street. While I enjoyed the Szechuan Tofu dish, it was the Chicken Gizzards that make this list. Covered in hot chili peppers, this is not for the faint of heart, but worth it.
- Güero Tortaría expanded downtown focusing specifically on tortas and these are some of the best made tortas I’ve enjoyed. Spicy, savory, fresh – pretty much any superlative I can think of to describe one of my favorite sandwiches.
- A Big Fat Deli Sandwich from Lower East Side Deli in downtown. The owner’s from NYC where deli sandwiches are the size of your head and at the cart he’s no slouch. Layer upon layer of meat and cheese.
2015 is here. Back in 2009, I made some erroneous predictions about the street food scene being a bit oversaturated. Hah! I don’t predict anymore. Yet, 2015 will see the scene evolve and change as with every year. Carts will open and carts will close and more budding entrepreneurs will try their hand a mobile vending. Cartathlon, Eat Mobile and the Summer Food Cart Festival will keep everyone eating. The Great Food Truck Race may make a return visit to the Rose City. I’ve heard rumors of a new pod being built down off SE Powell around 30th in an area devoid of street food. 2015 will bring the legalization of Marijuana in Oregon. Colorado and Washington have mobile marijuana dispensaries in the form of a truck. Will Portland get one? With a building boom occurring throughout the city, will we see the threat of pod closures? Possibly. But that won’t deter mobile vendors from finding other opportunities.