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

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

GO Cart

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GO Cart Food Cart

GO Cart Food Cart

Location: SE MLK and Stark at Central Eastside Food Carts
Hours: weekdays, lunch

The Story: A few years ago, I took a couple of weeks and sampled salad rolls at the different vendors downtown to discover the differences in how they were prepared. I hatched an idea – why not make salad rolls with steak or pepperoni or even ham and eggs. I crafted them at home for fun and enjoyed them immensely. The owners of GO Cart were reading my mind as they have opened offering up American Salad Rolls. Just my style.

I’m surprised that salad rolls from many carts weren’t just salad. Pork and shrimp were added. At GO Cart, that’s the norm, not the exception. At GO Cart, you get a traditional styled salad roll with rice paper and Napa cabbage, yet the menu offers up pulled pork, chicken, bacon, avocado and more as additions. Truly, savory, scrumpous salad rolls. The Blue Cheese and Cucumber with celery, radish, cashews and green onions exploded with cold and crunchy flavors. I sat there, truly enjoying the dry blue cheese notes wondering why I hadn’t ordered the pulled pork with dried cherries and pumpkin seeds. Oh well, there will be a return visit for sure.

Blue Cheese and Cucumber Salad Roll from GO Cart

Blue Cheese and Cucumber Salad Roll from GO Cart

GO Cart not only does the twist on the salad roll, they offer whole fruit smoothies as well. The list is chalk full of apples and oranges and strawberries and mangos. Salad rolls and smoothies. A great pair. GO Cart is located at the Central Eastside Food Carts on SE MLK and Stark. There are a number of great vendors there along with picnic tables and tenting to keep out of the elements. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.

Sample Menu:

  • Pulled Pork Salad Roll: cheddar, bacon, dried cherries, red bell pepper, green onions, pumpkin seeds – 2 for $5.99
  • Bacon Apple Spinach: carrot, manghego cheese, red bell pepper, smoked almonds – 2 for $5.49
  • Blue Cheese and Cucumber – $4.99
  • Chicken Bacon Avocado: red bell pepper, radish, green onions, blue cheese – 2 for $5.99
  • Roasted Tofu – spinach, radish, green onions, cashews, celery, cilantro – 2 for $5.59
  • Smoothies are $4.50
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