Luang Prabang

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Laotian food cart

Luang Prabang

Location: SE 13th and Lexington in Sellwood
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11am-7pm; Saturday, 11-8, Sunday, noon-5:30

The Story: Laotian cuisine is foreign to me. I’ve enjoyed Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese, yet Laotian hasn’t been on the radar. So, when I read a review of Luang Prabang, a food cart on Sellwood’s antique row, I made a beeline to the cart.

Laos is one of those countries who’s cuisine has jumped borders. Matthew Korfhage of the Willamette Week nailed it in their article about the cart. Dishes we know as standard fare at Thai restaurants originated in Laos. In perusing the menu at the bright yellow cart, I recognized dishes that I’ve seen on menus throughout town like Tam Tam Lao, the papaya salad I enjoy. So, if I’ve actually tried some of these dishes, albeit prepared from a different culture’s perspective, how does one choose? Let the owners tell you what they recommend.

Laotian food cart

Larb fro Luang Prabang

After more than a few tasty recommendations from the menu on the side of the cart along with a few from the book of “expanded menu,” I landed on the Larb salad. My lunch mate picked up the Cozy Noodle which is “for feeling good tummy day!” The salad, prepared with beef was insane. A large plate of mixed beef, scallions, mint, cilantro and chopped green onions with a few spicy red and yellow peppers thrown in layered over lettuce leaves. When asked for spice level, I chose medium. Note to self. Lao medium is like Thai hot. I dove in, scooping the salad with a bit of sticky rice onto a lettuce leaf and chowing down. The herbs, especially the cilantro came through exquisitely. The spice was there, melt my face spice, yet flavorful. It didn’t diminish the overall enjoyment of the meal. My buddy’s Cozy Noodle soup was also a treat with thick noodles and one of those broths you know is immediately boosting your immune system.

Luang Prabang is a great addition to the food cart scene here. I just wish it were in my neighborhood. If you visit, chat up the chefs and ask them what they recommend and then return for more. Sellwood is a great place to spend a day exploring and the lot offers covered seating should you need to get out of the weather. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu (just a small sample)

  • Lucky Chicken – Mook Kai – chicken on coconut milk mixed with smushed to a pulp veggies wrapped on banana leaves to steam – $9.00
  • Dream Salmon – Mook pha – same as lucky chicken but with salmon – $9.50
  • Larb – $9
  • Xin Beef – Xin savane – caramelized marinated beef jerky with side of pickled carrots – $9
  • Little Town – Lao salad – lettuce, cucumber, hard egg, carrots, cilantro, scallion, jicama, slow cooked chicken, grilled onion and peanut salsa – $8
  • Cozy Noodle – Seenht piark – thick noodles cooked with ginger, green onion, cilanntro, dried fried onion, dried garlic, chicken – $7.50

Small Pharoah’s

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Egyptian food cart Portland

Small Pharoah’s

Location: SW 5th and Stark
Hours: Daily for lunch and dinner

The Story: Portland has seen a significant growth in Middle Eastern cuisine in food carts in the last 18 months with vendors popping up every week. Small Pharoah’s was one of the first of this new generation of vendors to bring Egyptian and New Yorker food to the eaters.

Small Pharoah’s is the work if Islam Elmasry who came to Portland after some years working and vending in New York. Working at a sidewalk hot dog stand by Macy’s, Islam learned the business and decided to come to Portland to try his hand at opening his own food cart. His first cart was at 9th and Alder and he quickly expanded to SW 5th and Stark, SW 4th and Hall by PSU, SE 48th and Woodstock and this summer opening at Mississippi Marketplace. Four carts in two years and at prime locations throughout the city. Islam is a businessman and Portland welcomed him. In speaking with him, he stated it was much easier to open a food cart in Portland than in NYC. His goal is to offer good food and empower his employees. He couldn’t have done this without them.

Egyptian food cart Portland

Falafel Gyro

At Small Pharoah’s, you’ll find a mix of Egyptian, Greek and American cuisine. Islam wanted the menu to be broad so as to attract most every eater. Gyros with either lamb, falafel, kafta or chicken are their signature items. I picked up the falafel gyro at the cart at Mississippi Marketplace for lunch and was a bit overwhelmed by the size. Large freshly made falafel with pickled carrots and cauliflower and tahini all wrapped up in a toasted pita. I’m a stickler for falafel – I prefer it to be softer and not so deep fried – Small Pharoah’s did it right. Great flavors without the hard crust you sometimes get from other vendors. The entire qyro was enough for two people or two meals. A great value.

Small Pharoah’s is an example of success in the street food business in Portland. Islam is thankful not just for his customers, but also for those who helped him along the way including Al, Robin, Paula, Adianet, Elita and Khalid. Find Small Pharoah’s food carts throughout the city and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Chicken and Rice – $7
  • Lamb Gyro – $5
  • Chicken Gyro – $6
  • Falafel Gyro – $8
  • Greek Salad – $6
  • Kofta over Rice – $10

Phone: 917 500 9181

Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen

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Chinese food cart

Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen

Location: NE 23rd and Alberta
Hours: Tues-Fri, 11-2 and 5-9; Sat/Sun, 12-9pm

The Story: A few months back, I visited a Szechuan restaurant in LA and was shocked at the spice factor in every dish. Yet, it didn’t burn for hours, it simply drifted away after awhile. Ever since that fateful meal, I’ve been craving noshable spicy Chinese and found it at a new food cart named Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen.

Chinese food cart

Szechuan Tofu from Uncle Tsang’s

Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen is at the 23rd and Alberta Food Cart Lot having taken over the cart that use to house Fijian Indian Curry. They’ve been open now for a couple of months, so have worked out any kinks. At first glance, the menu serves up what one expects from most Chinese restaurants except it offers more variety for vegetarian and gluten free options. They have beef and broccoli, eggplant chicken, ma po tofu, and potstickers. Yet, what caught my eye was chicken gizzards. Where in Portland do you get chicken gizzards? Along with Szechuan Tofu, I had a meal picked out. The gizzards, deep fried, yet with a light coating and then tossed with more than enough spicy peppers were divine. When delivered, I teared up, knowing the spice could wreck me, but I dove in and surprisingly enough, it didn’t melt my face off. It was that quick burn and then it tapered off. Each little morsel, a present from the Chinese gods of deep frying. The tofu dish with sliced celery, chopped peppers, succulent mushrooms and plenty of red chili flake was a treat. Not so spicy I needed milk afterward, but complex flavors that kept me eating.

Uncle Tsang’s is one of those gems you stumble upon and immediately want to return to. Finding a dish so unique like gizzards is the reason I keep going back to the food carts – they keep surprising me. Head on over to Alberta and give it a try. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Broccoli in garlic sauce – $6
  • Gizzards – $5
  • Curry Chicken – $9
  • Szechuan Tofu – $9.50
  • Lemon Chicken – $8
  • General Chicken – $8
Chinese food cart

Gizzards from Uncle Tsang’s

Facebook: Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen

Wabi Sabi

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Japanese street food

Wabi Sabi

Location: SE Stark and MLK at Central East Side Food Cart Lot
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-4pm

The Story: In a 1965 Grumman Olson step van brought all the way from Long Island, Chefs/Owners Jason and Makoto Cooper are excited to offer traditional Japanese street food and ocean safe sushi. They have brought Wabi Sabi to Portland.

The vintage Grumman Olson van is hard to miss. Shiny silver, simlar to the iconic Airstream, the truck will knock your socks off when you first see it. Jason and Makoto sourced it in NYC where it was built and brought it to Portland on an epic journey they liken to traveling the original Oregon Trail. Somewhere in Indiana, the RV they were towing the truck with died, so Jason sold it for $100 and rented a Uhaul for the remainder of the trip. I know opening a food cart or truck is hard work for anyone. But a story like this? There had to be times when they threw up their hands and almost called it quits. Nope. They powered on and opened earlier this summer in SE Portland. Wabi Sabi’s mission is to offer traditional Japanese street food and ocean safe sushi using sustainable fish, non-gmo soy, organic produce as often as possible and serving in compostable recycled material. They were destined to be part of Portland’s street food scene.

Japanese street food

Yakisoba from Wabi Sabi

At Wabi Sabi you’ll find Hako Zushi, sushi pressed in a Hinoki wood box layered with ingredients, traditionaly used in old Japan for travel. Albacore tuna, pickled mackerel, tilapia sashimi or a mix of all in the chirashi bowl. They also do vegetarian sushi. My eyes though skipped past the sushi to the non-sushi yummies like ramen, hiyashichuka – a cold egg noodle type salad, and yakisoba. I’ve been a fan of yakisoba since I was a kid, so couldn’t pass up this traditional Japanese festival noodle dish. The noodles are sauteed in in a tangy J-BBQ sauce, mung bean and cabbage then tossed with bonito flakes, Kewpie mayo and pickled ginger. I added in spicy kimchee for fun. The first thing you see is the mountain of bonita flakes, but diving into the noodles, you find treasures hidden in every bite. The kimchee added a depth of spice, but didn’t overpower the yakisoba which was some of the best noodles I’ve eaten in awhile. Salty, spicy, a generous amount of ginger and sweetness. A dish I’ll recommend to anyone who asks.

Wabi Sabi is a great addition to our ever evolving street food scene. We have other vendors tackling Japanese street food which is awesome and to see Jason and Makoto bring in their style is even more exciting. Head on down to the Central East Side Food Cart Lot and check out not only the coolest vintage van in town, but some tasty Japanese street food. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Hako Zushi – different styles with tuna, tilapia or mackerel – $8
  • Combo of Hako Zushi – $10
  • Vegetarian Sushi – $7
  • Yakisoba – $7. add kimchee for $1
  • Shoyu Ramen  – $8
  • Hiyashichuka – $8

Website: Wabi-Sabi-Kitchen.com
Facebook: Wabi–Sabi-Kitchen

Holy Mole

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Mexican mole

Holy Mole

Location: SE 33rd and Hawthorne down the alleyway
Hours: Wed-Sat, 12-10pm; Sun, 12-6pm

The Story: Holy Mole defines authentic when it comes to Mexican mole. With influences from Puebla, Mexico, this food cart is dishing out items you can’t usually find in our fair city.

Fernando, the owner, hails from the city of Puebla, in the state of Puebla, Mexico, a hub of food culture. Puebla was founded in 1531 as a Spanish city and played a pivotal role in the history of New Spain. Located southwest of Mexico City, it became an agricultural hub for the capitol over the years. Famous for its cuisines like mole pablano, chiles en nodaga and chilupas, it has grown to become the fourth largest city in the nation and a hub for eastern central Mexico.

The signature dish at Holy Mole is mole pablano. My first thought was a dish with pablano chiles, but no, I was wrong. Mole pablano is mole from Puebla, the city. Fernando spent much of the last 10+ years as a chef at the Great Vow Zen Monastary in Claskanie, so has tailored his foods for both vegetarian and gluten free needs. A mole is a mix of some 30+ ingredients including peppers, spices, herbs and even chocolate. And all made from scratch. Some moles take hours to craft just right. I enjoyed the house special with chicken – truly an amazing dish. Each bite, the mole came through with a different more vibrant flavor- anise, smoke, cacao, salt, pepper. I hadn’t planned on eating the entire dish, yet couldn’t help myself. The scents from the cart and the dish waft through the alleyway drawing people in.

mexican mole

Mole Pablano from Holy Mole

Fernando’s goal is to introduce Portlanders to dishes they haven’t tried before. While Mexican, Holy Mole is different than most every other Mexican place I’ve enjoyed and that brought a smile ear to ear. On the weekends, he dishes out enchilada specials. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for the future. Holy Mole is located on SE 33rd and Hawthorne down the alleyway. Open Wednesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner. A food cart that will make more than a few top 10 lists this year. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Mole Pablano – Chicken or Tempeh – $10.75
  • Pozole Blanco – chicken with organic yellow corn, white cabbage, onions, salsa – $8.75
  • Pozole Blanco – tempeh with organic blue corn, red cabbage, onions, salsa – $9.75
  • Enchiladas on the weekend vary – $9-10

Twitter: @HolyMolePDX
Facebook: Holy Mole PDX

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