A Little Bit of Inspiration, and Some News

Jonathan Amato


Tip o’ the hat to mmm-yoso!!

See, sometimes it takes a set of new eyes to make us see things in a new light, to not take things for granted, and to realize that sometimes some of the most wonderful things are the ones right under our very own noses. Thus is the case with Food Carts in Portland. “You mean, they don’t have food carts in other cities?” a bewildered local friend asked an awe struck visiting guest. “Carts are outlawed in my town,” another friend sighed. What? No way! Man, Portland is lucky.

Yet it didn’t take these comments for me to realize several months ago that Portland, like many other great amenities in our city, has a special thing going on with our food carts (or call it food cart culture) if you will. All the comments on this site this week from other Portland food cart aficionados only confirm it.

For really it was an avid food blogger from San Diego last year; mmm-yoso!!! that made me wake up and smell the $5.00 Pad-Kee-Mao noodles in my own back yard (or at the corner of SW 3rd and Alder to be precise). Yoso nailed it. So thank you for visiting Portland, for your inspiration, and for your excellent documentation of our unique food cart culture.

If you are ever back in Portland drop me a line and I’ll buy you lunch (at a food cart of your choice of course).


As for news: Several readers have written in with some excellent tips and suggestions, so look for some new listings, a couple of new reviews, and a few updates within the next week.

Also, just because the weather has taken a turn into the gray and rainy season I know we all just love, don’t think cart dining is off limits until next summer. Many of the carts have covered dining areas. I will be adding a new category soon that lists these.

Finally, I am also considering a round-up of carts at various local farmers markets. However, this is a little problematic since many will close down soon until the markets reopen again in the spring. . What do y’all think?

Anyway, and as always, any other ideas, suggestions or tips you have are greatly appreciated as well.

Till next time,

Cuisine Bonne Femme


  1. I’m truly humbled….thanks so much for the very kind mention. I think Portland’s food carts add so much personality(in addition to full bellies) to the city. It is one reason I’ll keep coming back to PDX(in addition to the really nice folks). So of course, I really enjoy your wonderful obsession and focus!

  2. I recently opened the Biggs Bros. Wing Shack on 12th and Hawthorne. We have a great little lot with an awesome taco truck(recently spotlighted in gourmet magazine), a soup cart and an organic smoothie cart. It’s a great spot and we welcome all. Stop by and try some wings!

  3. I really recommend you check out The Whole Bowl. I started eating at their location in the Pearl, jeez, almost 6 years ago, but since moving jobs I have been eating at the downtown location. Just great, simple, vege food. I guess they also have a Hawthorne spot but I haven’t seen that. But I did see their bright red “mobowl” truck on the waterfront once.

  4. I will check out whole bowl! Sometimes it is nice just to have some simple, healthy, plain and cheap food options and I’m glad to hear they deliver.

  5. Oh, as for Biggs Bros., I plan on checking you guys out next week.

    Wings. In a Van. Served by guys with big mustaches. Sounds good to me.

  6. I’d like to recommend Thai Basil at SW Oak & 2nd, and Thai Sky amongst the cluster on 5th between Oak and Stark. These two capture very different aspects of what I love about Thai food, but both are excellent.

    Thai Basil specializes in very simple, relatively light-tasting, crisp dishes–creative things like a fantastic asparagus stirfry or pumpkin curry–which are simply the freshest and “cleanest” I’ve found in town (including at any restaurant). The portions are generous but not overwhelming (two normal meals from one dish instead of two heavy ones like most carts), and all orders include a free drink (sodas, home-made Thai sweet tea), and usually two free small salad rolls–all for $5. They have the option of noodles or aromatic rice with every dish, and all dishes are made to order–so it’s not the fastest cart in town, but it’s worth the wait. The proprietors are probably the two sweetest people I’ve met in this town, smiling beatifically, always brightening my day doubly than the food alone.

    Thai Sky, conversely, specializes in incredibly rich, definitely-not-health-food dishes swimming in robust sauces or coconut curries, but still with great ingredients. I don’t know what they do to their tofu–it’s marinated beyond marinated–but their hearty food is sometimes exactly what I want on a chilly winter day. They serve one dish for $4.75 (and lots of it, of course) or you can choose two dishes for $5.75, and this will feed a very hungry two. Most dishes are made in quantity and so they are very fast–but most are made in such a way that the extra time marinating isn’t a negative. They also do pretty creative things sometimes, like a tom-yum flavored green-bean stirfry, or inventive mango-based curries. The owners are very friendly, especially when it’s not the rush–and they do get mobbed.

  7. thedudeabides says

    Is there a way to view all the carts on one google map? If there is, I can’t find it.

  8. I’ll second Ian’s recommendation of Thai Basil. The pumpkin curry is delicious. I’ve also had papaya curry there, and it’s absolutely fresh and hot, made on the spot. Really good Thai food.

  9. Thai Basil, I’m finding out, has a huge fan base. I’ll need to check it out this week.

    As for a single map, well, I am working on it. In the meantime, check out Aubrey’s awesome maps of the food carts downtown. You can see it here: http://www.speakeasy.org/~aeschright/maps/

  10. When will there be food carts in Ankeny Plaza near the Skidmore Fountain? That area is in the midst of transforming with Mercy Corps and U of O moving in….it would be a great activator and a needed amenity if some food carts moved in for lunch times. Anyone have contacts of people looking for a location?

  11. I have heard a rumor that Mercy Corps NW is planning or at least thinking about starting an immigrant run food cart area that will of course feature all kinds of ethnic cuisines.

    Sounds like it could make for an interesting article and I will investigate further.

  12. I would have to second Ian on the Thai Sky recommendation. Their curries are excellent and the people are very friendly. This place is usually very busy.

  13. CBF – nice homage to mmm-yoso. Kirk is like the Michael Jordan of food blogging. He is so prolific it amazes me. Next time you’re up in Portland, Kirk, I’ll take a day off work and we’ll hit as many carts in a 1 mile radius as humanly possible. BTW – loving your Peru posts.

  14. Any idea of favored spots for food carts? I know there are those downtown and some popping up in N. Portland. Just wanting to know what other parts of town would like to see more food carts pop up. We are looking to place one.

  15. Well, I’d say that’s a tough question to answer. My inclination is to look at what you are serving, your general concept, and the hours you want to keep.

    Somewhere with lots of pedestrian traffic is a no-brainer for the lunch crowd, so downtown good.

    Portland is woefully lacking in late-night carts serving those who may need some grease to soak up alcohol (bars=drunk people= want food badly), so if this is your thing then setting up near a popular bar or two is a good idea

    Under served areas that don’t have many cheap dining options but a built-in population such as the Pearl district, South Waterfront, or near the PSU campus.

    Carts at the farmers markets seem to do well (but of course only when the markets are open).

    Anyway, hope this is useful. Good luck and let us know when you open!

  16. Review of Thai Basil, coming up shortly. . .

  17. Cindy–I think an Ethiopian or West African cart would be a great addition downtown–obviously we have good Ethiopian restaurants, but nothing on the west side. Or, if you know any African Hebrew Israelites, I think you need to team up to open a vegan soul food cart–such food could do very well here, I’ve tried to convince my few AHI acquaintances.

    Perhaps a cart that serves handroll-style-only (for on the go dining) sushi and miso soups, maybe Japanese Curries. . . Not that they almost ever qualified as “good food,” but part of me still misses the chip stands of Oxford, where you could get a big tray of chips with baked beans and salad and barbecue sauce for £1.25 (ok, lost all my credibility on that one, didn’t I?). Miss the similar “jacket potatoes” they offered, too?

    And for purely selfish reasons, I think you could do worse than to join forces with India Chaat House and the newish Mexican cart next door to expand the 12th & Yamhill cart node. . .

  18. Thanks for the reply regarding ideas of where to place the next food cart and also some great ideas of what could be offered. I think the late night idea is spot on because in Hong Kong, my parents would always take us kids to the Hawkers market on some late weekend nights to have some roasted duck wonton noodle soup or some so yummy street foods. I miss that so much. Food just tasted so good at that hour. We called it “siu yah.” Lots of people want something more than ya know, the “franchised fast food.” I’ve been to Tokyo and they have fantastic late night joints to go to — like to have some yummy curry potato croquettes or what not. They were not necessarily street carts, but street type foods that were good.

    Ian, thanks for your thoughts too. I didn’t quite understand the “purely selfish reasons…” Do you mean I shouldn’t go that route? I’m a little brain dead today! Sorry! So, thank you to y’all for feedback. I welcome some more. BTW, I love this sight. Good job!!!!!

  19. Cindy,

    I think Ian meant “for purely selfish reasons” that he, personally really really wants to eat this kind of food.

    Honestly, I think a late night Asian dumpling/noodle soup place might work in Portland. But you would have to have a place that is near a lot of people.

    I do think an Asian dumpling/noodle cart downtown at lunch time would work really well. There is a place in Lloyd mall that sells horrible (well mediocre) dumplings for a dollar per piece and they do a good business. Imagine a cart that sells the good stuff. Wow.

    Just make different pot sticker type dumplings and some dim sum type stuff like Humbao, Shiu Mai, shrimp dumplings, vegetarian dumplings (for inspiration I’m thinking of these little joints in San Francisco along Clement Street), and maybe sell some rice, a couple of noodle soups, and maybe some stir fried greens to make a complete meal. Seriously.

    Offer some different dipping sauces, and you have yourself a cart.

  20. Hi admin. Thank you for the great suggestion! I know a place in NY that does exclusively handmande dumplings. A little joint and does nothing but. Handmade dumplings are pretty labor intensive but they are so good and yummy. Worth the work. The challenge right now is to find the right spot and when I do please come visit me and lunch is on me. BTW, I’ve tried the mall stuff…yeh, enough said. The best thing about the food carts is that they all have heart and soul in their food. (Unlike the franchises). And again, I totally love your website. Hope to be part of your feature soon. I’ll keep you informed!!!!

  21. Marianne Braun says

    Do you know about the cart at 44th & Hawthorne? It is on a front lawn and you can sit on a deck there and watch the world go by.

    Now there are 2 restaurants there. In the morning there is Katie with “Swine & Grind”; a breakfast buiscuit place much better than normal. She makes her own pork sausage and peppers some excellent bacon for the generous sandwiches. She is open until 2pm and then Dan comes on with his creole New Orleans food at the “Po’House”. Gumbo, Po’Boys, Etouffee, etc. He was a chef in high-end restaurants for 10 years or so and the quality shows.

    This location must be good since it was where Zach started “Zach’s Shack” and where “the Whole Bowl” was located until it moved into a permanent location.

    Try these places. I bet you’ll like them. The quality is great.

  22. Most cities have food carts, many cities have more than Portland. Ours our good, very good, but a little too proud. How about a little humility. I don’t think this exchange ever happened.

    “You mean, they don’t have food carts in other cities?” a bewildered local friend asked an awe struck visiting guest. “Carts are outlawed in my town,” another friend sighed.

    I hope everyone out there keeps supporting this type of thing but realizes we are a small city already becoming a joke due to youthful self-satisfaction.

    Keep Portland Smug.

  23. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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