Location: NE MLK and Jarrett at The Fusion
Hours: Tues-Sat, 11-7; Sun, 12-5
The Story: When you have a dream, sometimes nothing can stop you. Chris had the dream to open a food cart for over 15 years and now Smak Dab’s has launched with their gourmet stuffed burgers.
Chris has a background in the restaurant industry having worked for more than a few large restaurants over the years. The food cart scene just wasn’t as vibrant in the first part of the last decade, so Chris put the plans on hold, but kept the dream alive. The cart, located on NE MLK at The Fusion food cart pod is one of a few who have opened thee in the past six months. That pod has always housed food carts offering a range of cuisines ever since I moved into the neighborhood almost 17 years ago. Now, with a formal name, a covered deck and a quorum of vendors, I think NE MLK has a viable street food scene.
Smak Dab’s focuses on stuffed burgers. Many call them the Juicy Lucy after a famous midwestern chain. Chris has his own twist. The patty includes bread crumbs among other goodies to add some cohesion as he forms it around the ingredients. The surprises are inside. Take The Calzone for example – pepperoni, mozzarela cheese and marinara all grilled inside the patty. Just imagining that first bite elicits a stomach growl. The Tres Hombres was for me – jalapenos, olives, jack cheese inside with quacamole atop. At first site, I thought maybe the burger was a bit burned, yet that first bite countered the visual. The patty, with the extra ingredients comes with caramelization throughout – a sweet, salty and for the Tres Hombres, spicy delight. Fresh lettuce and tomato create a cool tasty friction to the stuffed burger. Overall, a well done sammy.
Smak Dab’s has an impressive menu with six stuffed burger options. The day I visited, Chris also had pulled pork on the menu. Design your own if you want, he’ll make it happen. There is plenty of covered seating on site and they offer vegetarian options and GF buns. Drop on by and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- The Smak Dab – patty stuffed with swiss and served on toasted bun with chimichurri spread and bacon sriracha onion ring – $9
- The Calzone – $8
- The Lisa – vegetarian black bean patty with chimichurri spread – $7
- Lamb of Gouda – lamb mix stuffed with smoked gouda – $10
- Tres Hombres – $9
- Steak Fries – $3
- Cajun Pot Stickers – $6
- Bacon sriracha battered fried pickles – $5
Facebook: Smak Dab’s
Location: SE 13th and Lexington in Sellwood
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-7pm
The Story: Boy meets girl. Girl enters BBQ contest and places. The Hot Box BBQ is born. Located in the Sellwood district, this BBQ food truck requires a visit.
The back story on The Hot Box BBQ is pretty cool. Dan and Abby, the owners and BBQ masters, met on a cruise to Mexico. Abby, born and raised in Hong Kong, decided to join Dan in Humboldt County thereafter and having an adventurous spirit decided she wanted to compete in a local BBQ contest. That first entry garnered her a 3rd place ribbon. Not satisfied, she returned for the next 4 years. The Hot Box BBQ cart was born. After much success in Northern California, the pair uprooted and now call Portland home. The menu has expanded along with weekly specials.
I tell everyone about the mouthwatering BBQ we get at food carts. Since Portland doesn’t have an entrenched BBQ culture like other parts of the country, most of what we enjoy is transplanted. The Hot Box BBQ focuses on pulled pork sandwiches of all different styles. From an original to the Maui Wowie with pickled onion and pineapple, every sandwich screamed goodness. The Volcano, with pulled pork, homemade jalapeno pepper jelly, crisp onion bits and sriracha aioli on a brioche bun rumbled my stomach just reading the description. Dan built one up and I dove in. Heck, while I had plenty of napkins, it was still a glorious mess. The pork, perfectly smoked with just enough fat to keep it moist. The heat from the sriracha aioli and pepper jelly kept a well balanced burn throughout the enjoyment of this beast. And the bun! An excellent choice.
The Hot Box BBQ, slang for a BBQ smoker, is now open to feed ya. Drop on by next time you’re in the area and enjoy some quality pulled pork. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- The Original – smoked pulled pork, homemade coleslaw, mayo, homemade peach BBQ sauce – $8
- The Maui Wowie – $9
- The Volcano – $9
- The Green Meany Salad – smoked pulled pork or marinated smoked tofu, fresh lettuce, pickled onion, carrot, cucumber, tomato, pineapple, Thai peanut dressing – $8
Facebook: The Hot Box BBQ
Location: SW 3rd and Oak
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11:30-6pm; Saturday, 11:30-4 or sell out
The Story: Rotisserie anything is a treat. Rotisserie chicken, slowly cooking and juicing up is crazy good. Polli-Tico opened this past month offering up Peruvian style rotisserie chicken from a food cart in downtown Portland.
Polli-Tico specializes in “pollos a la brasa,” otherwise known as charbroiled chicken. A traditional Peruvian dish of slow cooked whole chickens served with sides. The owners, two Costa Rican brothers that grew up eating Peruvian chicken in Washignton DC decided Portland was missing out on this unique dish. They even imported a rotisserie from Peru for the authenticity. They documented their challenges with customs and sourcing on their site – a good read and I’m thankful for the effort. On any given day, they do up 4-6 chickens and split them out for dishes as quarters or halves. The oven can handle up to 30, so I’m excited to see what summer brings.
While the charcoal rotisserie is truly the star of the show here, the fresh hormone and preservative free chicken can’t be overlooked. Having only enjoyed rotisserie chicken during my travels in both Germany and Mexico, I wanted to get the full meal deal, so ordered a half chicken with sides. Yup! A half chicken. I think I surprised them with the order by taking almost 20% of the chicken for the day, but I had research to do. A GO Box full of chicken with fried Yuca, a separate container held black beans and rice. I hesitated a bit with the first bite, but eventually threw caution to the wind and picked up a quarter and chomped down. Succulent, salty, fatty, but neither flavor or texture overwhelming the rest. Everyone is into chicken wings these days. I think rotisserie chicken is going to take the city by storm once people discover how juicy and flavorful it is. Also, 1/2 a chicken is a ton of food for $11. Brilliant.
Polli-Tico is exactly why I love street food. Something new. Something unique we havn’t tried before. And at the right price. Open daily for lunch and into the dinner hour, but they are still working out how many chickens to roast, so they may sell out early. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook for updates. Let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
- Pollo Bowl – sliced Peruvian chicken, white rice, beans, spring mix, tomatoes, cilantro, yellow sauce – lg, $8; sm, $6.50
- Veggie Bowl – lg, $6.50; sm, $5.50
- Chicken Platter – 1/4 chicken and 2 sides – $8.50
- Large Platter – 1/2 chicken and 2 sides – $11
- Whole chickens available
- Sides include beans and rice, yuca, french fries, house salad, cole slaw
Some news from the Cartosphere in Portland.
News broke on Monday morning that the owners of Ren’s Bubble Tea and Chop Chop on SW 10th and Washington were arrested for allegedly purchasing stolen meat. The story has made the rounds on local media including interviews with the owners. KATU has those interviews. The story also details how many other vendors at the Alder pod outright refused to even talk with those trying to sell stolen goods to them. There are always people moving around selling goods that aren’t necessarily on the up and up. It is sad that some vendors felt they needed to save a few bucks while possibly putting their customers at peril.
There are some upcoming cart moves you should know about:
- Big-Ass Sandwiches is moving from their SE location due to upcoming development and have launched a raffle to raise some funds for the move. Good news is they found a new spot at Carts on Foster on SE 52nd and Foster. The move will take place at the end of the month. More details on the raffle and great prizes can be found here.
- Gonzo has called Base Camp Brewing home for the last couple years, but is also moving on. They will move to SE 32nd and Hawthorne alongside Fried Egg I’m in Love. The move will take place March 1.
- Que Sabrosa has moved from N Fremont and Vancouver to 3925 N Williams, just south of Shaver.
Kevin Cavenaugh and Guerilla Development are opening another branch of micro restaurants just down the street from The Ocean which is home to Slowburger, The Sudra and Uno Mas. The idea of a micro restaurant is to bridge the gap between the cost of a food cart ($20-30,000) and the cost of a full restaurant ($200,000+.) At The Zipper, the goal is to have buildout around $50-70,000. The Zipper is located at NE 28th and Sandy and will be home to multiple new options including Rua, Jason Meyers’ cart from the Alder pod downtown. There will be a bar, a nail salon, pizza and a coffee roaster. Watch for an opening date in April. The Oregonian has a great rundown.
New vendors out there to feed ya:
- Hot Box BBQ in Sellwood on SE 13th and Lexington
- El Fogon Mexican Grill at Cartlandia on SE 82nd and Harney
- Jada’s Desserts – sandwiches and desserts – Cartlandia
- Mis Abuelos Barbacoa – Cartlandia
- Monk’s Sandwiches – SE 43rd and Belmont
Enjoy the shortest month of the year with visits to food carts every day.
Location: SE 28th Pl and Division at Tidbit
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, 5-9pm; Thurs-Sunday, 12-9pm. Summer hours may change
The Story: Over the last few years, the east side pods in Portland have added vendors selling beer, wine and cider. A great addition to the amazing cuisine served out of the carts. Scout Beer Garden has two locations – Tidbit and Good Food Here. At Tidbit, they offer up 12 taps including some of their own creations. Plenty of seating. Covered heated areas and a vibrant customer base.
Location: SE 13th and Lexington in Sellwood
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 12=6pm
The Story: Fries. I haven’t head the term French Fries for years. In the 21st century, we call them fries! One of Portland’s most famous cart does fries and now they have competition. Fry Guy in Sellwood does fries, poutine and more.
We all grew up on fries didn’t we? Heck, I worked at McDonald’s in the 80’s and got paid in fries. The only potato dish that may rival the ubiquitous fry is the tater tot, but we won’t go there today. Alex McGillivray, aka the Fry Guy, has worked for some of Portland’s favorite chefs doing gigs at Ping and Lardo West. At Lardo, he’s responsible for The Beet Generation sandwich. Nice! As with many culinary professionals, opening your own place is the goal and Alex chased the dream and opened his Fry Guy truck in Sellwood focusing not just on the Canadian classic poutine, but other treats as well.
Fry Guy offers everything from hand cut fries with sauces all the way to loaded fries with beef or mushroom gravy. They do have a reuben on the menu, but we’re here for hand cut fries right? Loaded fries come with traditional (meat) or vegetarian gravy and you can add items like cheese curds or pastrami. I opted for the Portland Poutine with house sausage gravy and an over easy fried egg. Put an egg on it! The sausage gravy covered the fries with plenty of fresh ground black pepper and bits of sausage throughout. Adding the fried egg? Genius! Letting the yolk waterfall through the fries and mix with the sausage made a mess, but a tasty, bold mess.
Fry Guy is now open down in Sellwood at the food cart lot smack dab in the middle of Antique Row. The lot offers covered seating, so you don’t have to wait until spring or summer to visit. Hop on down for a treat and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu (full menu on website)
- Hand Cut Russet Potatoes – half order, $2; full order $3.50
- Sauces – Fry Sauce, Tomato Bacon Jam, Sriracha Mayo, Buttermilk Ranch, Bacon Scallion Sour Cream
- Poutine – $6
- Portland Poutine – $6
- Tiger Style – $5
- Pan Roasted Cauliflower tossed in chimichurri – $4.50
Location: SW 9th and Washington
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11am-4:30pm
The Story: Ever eaten at a Moroccan restaurant? Sitting on pillows on the floor with friends and a huge spread of deliciousness. Now Portlanders can experience that from a food cart – La Camel.
La Camel opened last year in a cart that had seen many vendors over the years. Karim Baziou grew up in Morocco working in the family catering business and coffee shop. He continued to call the culinary industry his home when he came to the U.S. with roles ranging from chef to manager to caterer. His memories of the diverse North African influence that makes Moroccan cuisine so famous and delicious drove him to launch the cart.
La Camel offers an impressive menu and if you don’t necessarily know what a dish is, Karim has photos. Moroccan Couscous – vegetarian or with marinated chicken. A Moroccan lamb sandwich with roasted peppers on a french roll. Seafood Paella and even a Casablanca Cheese Steak Sandwich with lamb. So many options, how does one chose. I lucked out. While trying to decide, a fellow eater definitively ordered the Moroccan Kefta Tagine. Sold! When someone else is laser focused on a dish, it must be good. Moroccan seasoned kefta (seasoned beef meatballs) in a rich tomato sauce with fresh chopped white onion, olives and topped with two fried eggs, cheese crumbles and chopped parsley. The dish is served with a fresh baked garlic french roll. Each bite blew me away. I don’t have the words to describe the breadth of flavors – salty, crisp, garlicky, creamy. Mixing in the egg with a bit of garlic bread and sauce sent me over the edge. One of the best meals from a food cart I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.
When I look over the menu, I begin to crave each dish and can’t wait for the opportunity to return and try each and every one. La Camel is located on SW 9th between Alder and Washington and Karim opens daily for lunch. Next time you’re in a rut and want to experience some great new dishes, check them out and let them know Food Carts Portland sent ya.
Sample Menu (full menu on website)
- Vegetarian Spanish Paella – saffron rice, smoked paprika, green beans, white beans and peas in a white wine sauce – $8
- Chicken Spanish Paella – $9
- Moroccan Couscous Beet Salad – $7.75
- Moroccan Kefta Tagine – $8.75
- Moroccan Lamb Sandwich – $8.75
- Warm Chicken Salad – $8.75
Location: SE 28th Pl. and Division at Tidbit
Hours: Tues-Fri, 11-8pm; Sat, 11:30-8pm; Sunday, 11:30-7pm
The Story: Garden Monsters has opened a second cart at Tidbit in SE Portland offering up their signature salads and more.