Location: SE 11th and Clay
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11am-7pm
Portland: a mecca for food carts. When asked what types of food we have from the carts, I usually answer – “What don’t we have?” Well, that list just got smaller with the opening of Sok Sab Bai, Portland’s first Cambodian food cart.
Sok Sab Bai means “how are you” in Cambodian. How good of a name is that – welcoming and vibrant. Owners Nyno Thol and Tina Sanchez opened the cart with the goal of bringing Portland authentic homestyle Cambodian street eats. Nyno Thol fled Cambodia at the age of 2 to a Philippine refuge camp during the era of the Killing Fields. His family eventually came to America 25 years ago and settled in Portland. With a degree from Le Cordon Bleu, Nyno launched the cart to introduce Khmer food to our fine city. They are also one of the first carts to apply for an annual liquor license with OLCC and are working through the process.
At Sok Sab Bai, they have their menu on a computer monitor. This isn’t to prove their cred with the tech geeks, it is so they can update it on the fly. Throughout the day, the menu may change 3-5 times with new fresh items showing up and other items selling out. Nyno told me he wants to use the freshest ingredients and continue to introduce his customers to new things. The day I visited I enjoyed the pork stew, otherwise known as caw. With a bed of rice, a stew of braised pork and bamboo shoots is place atop with a bit of shaved ginger and two halves of a hard boiled egg. The pork is decadent! Nyno caramelizes palm sugar with the pork to add a sweetness and that sauce from the stew permeates through the rice, giving it such a rich flavor. The entire dish was exceptional and one of the tastiest I’ve had in awhile. Large chunks of melt in your mouth pork with a bit of rice is what one needs on a cool autumn day.
Sok Sab Bai is one of those carts you’ll visit and ask yourself – “where has this been all my life?” With a broad menu offering vegetarian options and chicken and small bites, they have something for everyone. The have a few picnic tables both outside and under cover for you to stay. My meal was served in a nice large ceramic bowl so I could sit down and simply enjoy it. If they get a liquor license, they will be a destination spot most definitely. Check out this cart and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
The menu for this cart changes daily, so follow either their Twitter or Facebook updates for current specials. After I left, they announced Monkey Brain Wonton Soup (not really monkey brains but you get the point.) Below are just a few items available the day I visited:
- Cambodian Sandwich: braised pork, house pickles, cilantro and scallions topped with pork gravy – $5
- Mushroom Skewer Plate: grilled mushie skewers with house BBQ sauce, rice and house salad – $6
- Lemon Grass Chicken Skewer – $3
- Pork Stew (caw): braised pork, hard boiled eggs, bamboo shoots served over rice – $7
- Grilled Beef Short Ribs: served with rice, Da Sauce, rice and house salad – $9
- Chicken Rice Porridge: rice porridge with chicken, fresh herbs and bean sprouts – $7