Umai

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Ramen Food Cart

Umai Ramen Food Cart Portland

Location: SE 33rd and Hawthorne behind the Hazel Room
Hours: Wed-Sat, 12-8pm, Sun, 12-3pm

The Story: Good Food, Good Music and Community. That comes from Umai’s Facebook page and in my opinion defines food carts here in Portland. Umai is one of the latest vendors to open offering up ramen and more.

Umai is the work of Austin Moore and Forest Carter, a couple of bluegrass musicians who decided to explore the wide world of Japanese ramen and open a cart. Located in an alleyway just off 33rd north of Hawthorne, the pod sports four different vendors, seating and the day I visited, live World Cup action. The guys offer up ramen along with sandwiches and sides. For ramen, they focus on three styles – shio which is sea-salt broth; shoyu which is soy sauce based; and miso. Everything is made in the cart, even the house noodles.

Ramen Food Cart

Shio Ramen from Umai

Being a fan of shio, that was my first choice. The bowl, full of noodles with the thick broth comes topped with steamed greens, pork shoulder, marinated egg, pickled shiitake and scallions. The broth is steaming hot, so I picked at it for awhile to allow it to cool. Delicate tongue here. That picking allowed me to taste the different items individually. The shiitakes are amazing offering a cloying sweetness that when mixed with the broth or a piece of pork just took my breath away. Crisp edges of pork shoulder and the egg’s still runny yolk and the greens, cooked, but still crunchy. All these items made up a superb bowl of ramen.

Umai is open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Lunch only on Sundays. Due to limited space, they do have a sign stating they can only do so much, so my recommendation is to get there early. I’m so looking forward to returning for some other great flavors. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu: (Full menu available on their website.)

  • Ramen – $10
  • Vegetarian Ramen – $10
  • Brothless Ramen: warm house noodles tossed in miso tare and topped with ginger, fried chicken or eggplant, pickled veggies, steamed greens and marinated egg – $9
  • Chicken Karaage sandwich with bacon chutney – $8
  • Eggplant Karaage sandwich with yuzu kosho aioli – $7

Website: UmaiPDX.com
Facebook: Umai PDX

Zeek’s Cheese Grill

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Zeek's Cheese Grill

Zeek’s Cheese Grill

Location: SE 82nd and Harney at Cartlandia
Hours: Sun-Thurs, 11:30-7; Fri/Sat, 11:30-9

The Story: Who doesn’t like grilled cheese? There are some extremely successful food trucks and food carts around the nation who have succeeded with putting cheese between two slices of bread, grilling it to perfection and selling it to the masses. Zeek’s Cheese Grill at Cartlandia is the latest to offer up that childhood delight.

Zeek’s Cheese Grill offers up an array of appetizing delights. Not just grilled cheese sandwiches, although that is what I enjoyed. The menu offers soups, sides like roasted jalapeño fondue, a few types of Mac and Cheese and some fresh cart made salads. Just the other day they posted photos of pickles made fresh that morning. Sandwiches range from the classic with American cheese all the way to the Ciao with fresh mozzarella, basil, semi dried tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic reduction and black pepper. The Canard caught my attention with duck confit, brie and bacon caramelized onion jam. Whew! Writing that made my tummy rumble. Crisp buttered bread sandwiched in the unctuous and delightfully salty duck confit. The caramelized onion jam with a hint of bacon added sweetness to balance it all out. Dip an edge in the tomato soup and dive in. An excellent sandwich.

Zeek's Cheese Grill

Canard from Zeek’s Cheese Grill

Zeek’s is open daily for lunch and dinner with extended hours on the weekend. Beyond the cheese grill, they have daily specials, numerous flavors of lemonade and assorted teas. At Cartlandia, there is covered seating along with The Blue Room bar so you can relax and enjoy your meal. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Soups – Tomato Basil Cream, Tomato Gorgonzola, Spicy Tomato – $3 cup or $5 bowl
  • Roasted Jalapeno Fondue – $5.80
  • Four Cheese Mac & Cheese – $7
  • Caramelized onion, Gorgonzola and bacon Mac & Cheese – $8
  • Julienne Kale and Romaine Salad – $6
  • The Classic Grilled Cheese – $4
  • Oregon Grilled Sandwich – Brie, Oregon pears, gorgonzola, caramelized onion bacon – $7.80
  • Canard – $9.80
  • Ciao – $7.80

Facebook: Zeek’s Cheese Grill
Twitter: @ZeeksCheeseGrill

Russian Horse

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Russian Horse Portland

Russian Horse Portland

Location: SE 13th and Lexington in Sellwood
Hours: Wed, 11-3, Thurs-Sat, 11-6, Sun, 12-3

The Story: When asked what we’re missing in the Portland street food scene, I realize we don’t have a good presence of eastern European or Russian cuisine. That has changed in the last year with a couple of vendors opening and now the Sellwood district has the Russian Horse food cart to sate their pierogie needs.

Russian Horse opened early this spring offering a menu inspired by the simple peasant foods of Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Carmel and John Theesfeld, came to Portland chasing a dream of opening a food cart. After some discussion on cuisine, they  came up with the idea of pierogies, a traditional staple of that region. John’s family is the inspiration behind the pierogi, so they obtained the recipe and a cart and launched. Initially, it was just pierogies and borscht, but the menu quickly expanded to salads and dessert. 

Pierogies from Russian Horse

Pierogies from Russian Horse

Pierogies are a type of dumplings made of unleavened dough. First boiled, then baked or fried usually in butter with onions. Traditionally, they are stuffed with potato filling, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese, or fruit. At Russian Horse, they have traditional pirogies with a potato filling served with caramelized sautéed onions or you can enjoy their tater tot or garlic mash pierogie. Such ingenuity from the food carts. I love it. Pierogies are a simple wholesome dish to enjoy with a bit of sour cream and pickle. Nothing spicy or eccentric, just good filling food. I enjoy that. I reminds me of an earlier part of my life when I was able to enjoy home cooking from the region. 

Russian Horse is now open in the Sellwood district Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and Wednesday through Saturday into the dinner hour. They offer more than pierogies, so check out their menu and enjoy. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu: (see website for updated menu and prices)

  • Vinegret: mix of beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, pickles and kraut in a sunflower oil dressing – $4.50
  • Borscht: beet and cabbage soup – sm, $2.50; lg, $3.50
  • Chicken Wings Kiev – 4 chicken wing drumsticks deep fried and tossed in Kiev butter sauce – $7.50
  • Pierogies – 3 for $5
  • Dark Chocolate Pierogies – 3 for $5

Website: RussianHorse.com
Facebook: Russian Horse

Hapa Ramen

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Hapa Ramen Portland

Hapa Ramen Portland

Location: SE 50th and Division, A la Carts Food Pavilion
Hours: Tues-Sun, 11am-2:30 and 5-8pm

The Story: A couple of years ago, Japanese Ramen took the nation by storm. I’m not taking the ramen we ate in college, I’m talking rich creamy, fatty pork broth with noodles and thinly sliced green onions. Portland jumped right in, launching numerous restaurants and even attracting a Japanese firm to open a food cart. Now that we’ve all been able to enjoy this velvety dish, we may have our favorites. I would like to add someone new to the list – Hapa Ramen.

Hapa Ramen opened in October and has been working out the kinks of preparing and serving the hot dish from a food cart. The owners, Michael and Sara grew up on ramen in Hawaii, yet couldn’t find similar dishes here in Portland, so decided to make their own. You may know Michael as he has been a fixture at 808 Grinds for a few years before venturing off on this new project. Sarah though is who gets the credit for the recipes according to Michael. They both have visited numerous ramen shops throughout the city and beyond to taste the different styles and interpretations. Sarah trained up with a ramen chef and has been experimenting with different broths and styles to get the offerings just right. In Japan, there are more than 14 different styles and each chef puts their twist on the traditional recipe. Sarah and Michael have done just that at Hapa Ramen.

Shaka Bowl from Hapa Ramen Portland

Shaka Bowl from Hapa Ramen Portland

Hapa offers Shoyu Ramen, a classic; Miso Ramen, a sweet option that can be done vegetarian; and Curry Ramen which is spicy – each with their own unique flavors. It is the Shaka Bowl which caught my eye and Michael recommended. The bowl comes from a traditional Tsukemen Ramen style, yet Michael and Sarah thought that may be too much for customers to say, so they shortened it to Shaka! “Eat this blazing hot,” Michael said. With the pork belly broth served in one bowl and fresh egg noodles, shiitake and egg in another, chopstick the noodles into the flaming broth and slurp. Yep, slurp. The broth is fatty, creamy, almost thick, but not. Made over the course of 8-10 hours to break down the pork, it leaves a fantastically lovely lardy film on your lips. The egg noodles were amazing, a brand used by most if not all the ramen houses out there. Michael and Sarah, while putting their own little love into each dish, don’t stray too far from tradition.

I’m excited to have another ramen cart open in Portland, yet wish it were closer to my house. I’m selfish that way. Hapa Ramen is open daily except for Mondays and serves up lunch and dinner. They take an afternoon break to prep for the dinner hour. As winter arrives, their hours may change, so check their website or Facebook or give them a call to make sure they are open. Hapa Ramen does ramen right. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Shoyu Ramen – classic-  topped with cha shu pork, spinach, egg, fishcake and nori – $8
  • Miso Ramen – sweet – topped with cha shu pork, bamboo shoots, egg; vegetarian option – $8
  • Curry Ramen – spicy – topped with cha shu pork or ginger fried chicken, spinach, shiitake – $8
  • Shaka Bowl – $7.50
  • Keiki Bowk – kid size – $5

Website: HapaPdx.com
Facebook: Hapa Ramen PDX
Twitter: @HapaPdx
Phone: 503.560.0393

Vivi’s Yummy Rolls

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IMG_8055Location: NE 52nd and Sandy, Rose City Food Park
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-8pm; Sun, 11am-4pm

The Story:

Orange is one of those colors that catch your eye. When was the last time you didn’t turn your head at the sight of an orange car? At Vivi’s Yummy Rolls, a Vietnamese vendor, a friend luckily suggested the orange paint job and it really draws one to the cart.

Vivi’s is the work of Christina and Vinh, who are originally from Vietnam but have lived here in Portland for many years. Having worked in the restaurant industry for many years, Christina had a love for food and wanted to give it a try. Since opening a restaurant is usually cost prohibitive, the cart was born. Both Christina and Vinh are the cooks behind the scenes. When I asked who the head chef was, they pointed at each other and laughed. Christina has a goal to not only present Vietnamese cuisine like banh mi or noodle soup or salad rolls, but also to highlight cuisines and street food from different regions of Vietnam. Most recently, they had Bun Bo Hue, a spicy beef noodle soup from Vinh’s home town.

Roasted Pork Banh Mi

Roasted Pork Banh Mi

In Vietnam, they have a tradition to make your own rolls right at the table. A hot grill for marinated meats and all the fixin’s so you do it yourself. Christina wanted to make it simpler for her eaters, so they have the Nem (Pork) and lemon grass beef rolls made fresh in the cart. An item you may not find at other vendors in town. The grilled pork with noodles, lettuce and fresh herbs comes warm with a light peanut sauce. Each bite brought through the salty pork with the cool wet of the lettuce and bitter of the greens. Mouthwatering. The grilled pork banh mi was exactly what I expected. Crunchy flaky bun with pork, sliced carrots, jalapeno peppers and cilantro. So good, I’ll remember this sandwich in my dreams.

While I was eating, Christina joined me and brought out some of the fresh herbs and greens they use. So kind,  generous and friendly. I’m really looking forward to watching their Facebook page to keep up to date on regional specials. If you’re looking for something new and fresh, drop on by Vivi’s and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Nem Roll  - $4
  • Lemon Grass beef rolls – $4
  • Salad Rols – $4
  • Chicken Baguette – $4.50
  • Grilled Pork Baguette – $4.50
  • Vegetarian Baguette – $4.50
  • Grilled Pork with Rice – $6.50
  • Sauteed Shrimp with Rice – $7
  • Chicken Noodle Soup – $6
  • Tofu Vegetable Noodle Sopu – $6

Phone: 503 810 7051
Facebook: Vivi’s Yummy Rolls

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