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

Stumptown Kimbap

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Stumptown Kimbap

Stumptown Kimbap

Location: SE 50th and Division, A la Carts Food Pavilion
Hours: Wednesday-Monday, 12-9pm, closed Tuesdays

The Story: On a sunny day, after already having eaten at a few different vendors, I ventured over to see what’s new at A la Carts Food Pavilion. Lucky for me, the hip-hop coming from Stumptown Kimbap caught my attention. After checking out the menu, I couldn’t leave without trying a roll or three.

Stumptown Kimbap specializes in Korean hand rolls. Kim = dried seaweed, bap = steamed white rice. For those uninitiated, me included, we would see these as sushi rolls. Nam Kim, the owner, opened the cart in June to showcase this Korean dish. Take most any ingredient – spam, beef, kimchi, radish – and roll it with rice in seaweed and you have kimbap, a staple for Koreans looking for something quick and easy without the mess.

Kimbap Rolls

Kimbap Rolls

Nam offers a wide range of options for both the vegetarian and meat eater. I picked up a combo which included the original kimbap with marinated ground beef and a spicy kimchi with grilled spam. At $8, the plate provided me with more than 12 rolls with exciting flavors. The spam is grilled before being rolled, offering that signature saltiness with egg white, danmooji radish, carrot and spinach. I’m a sucker for spam and this was one of the best presentations of it. The spicy kimchi roll featuring Choi’s Kimchi added a bit of a kick to the entire plate. Nam threw in a huge pile of marinated daikons for my extra nibbling. Everything handmade fresh to order and excellent.

Stumptown Kimbap is open every day of the week for lunch through dinner except for Tuesday. Nam sells Choi’s Kimchi at the cart if you’re needing to take some home for later. If you’re down in SE seeking something new, drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

All rolls are hand wrapped in dried seaweed and white rice.

  • Original Kimbap – marinated ground beef, egg white, danmooji radish, carrot, spinach – $4
  • Spam Kimbap – grilled spam, egg white, danmooji radish, carrot, spinach – #4
  • Bibim Kimbap – spicy red rice, marinated ground beef, egg white, cucumber, carrot, spinach, romaine lettuce – $4
  • Spicy Kimchi Kimbap – marinated beef or grilled spam with Choi’s red napa kimchi – $4
  • Mild Kimchi Kimbap – marinated beef or grilled spam with Choi’s white napa kimchi – $4

Website: Stumptown Kimbap
Facebook: Stumptown Kimbap
Twitter: @StumptownKimbap

Sushi PDX

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Sushi PDX

Sushi PDX

Location: SE 43rd and Belmont
Hours: Tue-Sun, 12pm to 3pm; 5pm to 8pm

The Story:

Sushi has gained greater acceptance in American culture over the years. There are now countless variations of this delicacy, using multiple meats, fish, vegetables, and sauces. The best part: sushi is an ideal street food. People likely use chopsticks, but it is OK to pick the sushi up and eat it with your hands.

Toshi, a sushi chef for over 20 years, opened Sushi PDX about eight months ago. Each piece of sushi and bowl of udon soup exiting his cart showcases the skills he acquired over the years. I visited Japan on a summer study abroad nine years ago, so Toshi and I briefly talked about our experiences there. He’s originally from Japan, but has only been back twice in the last quarter-century.

Sushi PDX

Sushi PDX

The DST Roll is one of the top-selling items. No, probably not what you’re thinking, either. It’s shorthand for double ST, or spicy tuna and shrimp tempura. Crab salad is also added inside the roll. I salivated imagining the crunchy tempura, the mild spicy tuna kick, and the creamy crab salad. The sushi is rolled perfectly, with a generous helping of seafood in the center. The tempura is crispy, contrasting with the other ingredients and the fresh fish is comforting and satisfying. The pickled ginger and wasabi, both served on the side, each add that extra zing to the experience.

There are some vegetarian items on the menu as well. If you’re not a big sushi lover, Toshi offers five different udon noodle soups at dinner time, perfect on a cold, rainy evening. Oh, and Sushi PDX now delivers, using Pegasus Delivery to get food to your home or office (hand rolls not included, likely because it loses its freshness en route to its destination). Head over to Sushi PDX and try Toshi’s food. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya!

Sample Menu:

Various sushi rolls ($3 to $8.50); includes:

  • Vegetable Roll – $4.50
  • Spicy Tuna Roll – $5.50 (add 50 cents for avocado)
  • DST Roll – $6
  • Crunchy Roll – $6.50
  • Soft Shell Crab Roll – $8.50

Various hand rolls – $3.25 each, two for $6, three for $8.50

  • Choices include spicy tuna, California, salmon skin, vegetable, and spicy scallop

Udon Soup (dinner only)

  • Kake (plain) – $5
  • Sansai – $6
  • Niku (with Pork or Chicken) – $6
  • Tempura – $6.50 (two pieces tempura); $7.25 (three pieces)
  • Curry (with pork or chicken) – $7

Miso soup – $1.50

Hours: Tue-Sun, 12pm to 3pm; 5pm to 8pm
Website: SushiPDX.com
Twitter: @SushiPDX
Facebook: Sushi PDX

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Roll Plus

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Roll Plus

Roll Plus

Location: SW 9th and Alder
Hours:
Daily for lunch

The Story:

Sushi is one of those dishes you usually do not find served from carts. Portland has a vegetarian sushi cart and a Hawaiian cart that does great rolls and now Roll Plus becomes the fourth.

We always say that when one cart closes, someone is always there to take its place and sometimes offer something new or unique. Roll Plus is in the former Pho Sam cart. I’m going to miss those Banh mi sandwiches and Pho, but am excited to have sushi options available for lunch. Upon first visit, I was a bit overwhelmed by the options. Usually, a cart will focus on just a few simple items that can be mixed and matched. Here you can get everything from fresh spicy tuna rolls with cucumber and imitation crab to edamame, seaweed salad and even Miso soup.

Spicy Tuna Shrimp Tempura Roll

Spicy Tuna Shrimp Tempura Roll

I never know how much sushi to order. I’m a fan of the sushi train so I can regulate my intake and try different items made fresh. At Roll Plus you order whole rolls with either 4 or 6 pieces. I’ve had 4 pieces at restaurants that have filled me up but have also had a roll with 6 pieces that left me wanting, so at Roll Plus, I ordered two rolls – a Spicy Tuna Roll and the Spicy Tuna Shrimp Tempura Roll. For $10 I had enough to easily feed two if not three. Each roll was well prepared and put in the to-go container creating a great presentation. The spicy tuna roll came with imitation crab and avocado rolled with the rice on the outside, sprinkled with sesame seeds and topped with spicy tuna and sauce. The spicy tuna shrimp tempura roll was even larger with the tempura shrimp, imitation crab and avocado inside and the spicy tuna on the outside. I love the crunch of the tempura and the creaminess of the avocado all mixed together. On a warm sunny day sitting in the park, I sat there with a smile on my face while enjoying some amazing rolls and plenty of wasabi and ginger.

I have eaten at many of Portland’s sushi places and I have to say Roll Plus will offer some stiff competition – especially downtown with the lack of inexpensive sushi options. The food is prepared made to order and the price is unbeatable for what you get. Now open at SW 9th and Alder, drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • California Roll – 8pcs – $3.50
  • Spicy Tuna  – 8pcs – $4
  • Unagi Roll – 8pcs – $4.50
  • Super California Roll – 6pcs – imitation crab, avocado, cucumber – deep fried – $5
  • Shrimp Tempura Roll – 8pcs – imitation crab, avocado, deep fried shrimp – $5
  • Spicy Tuna Shrimp Tempura Roll – 5pcs – $6
  • Chicken Katsu – $4.50
  • Fried Rice w/stir fried chicken – $5
  • Edamame – $2
  • Seaweed Salad – $3
  • Yakisoba – $3
  • Miso soup – $1

Hours: Daily for lunch
Contact: unknown
Twitter: @Roll_Plus_PDX

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Zenbu

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Location: SE 13th and Lexington [updated August, 2010]

The Story:

Last week I made the mistake by proclaiming that another cart was the first sushi cart. I screwed up. While that cart is the first to serve Chinese, Zenbu should have received the kudos for being first on the scene with fish sushi as they opened in early May. Along with sushi, Zenbu serves up plenty of other Asian inspired dishes for you to enjoy.

Tucked away in the corner of a burgeoning new pod on N Albina, just south of Blandena street, this vintage airstream is what I always picture as the quintessential food cart. Airstreams remind me of the 70’s when my parents would pack us in the giant station wagon and trek off for 2-3 weeks during the summer to camp across America. During those long drives on America’s byways, the Airstreams would pass and we would marvel at the shiny chrome skin and invent crazy stories about the people who lived inside. Now, I see them being reborn as food carts, my adult love and it makes me smile. [Read more…]

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