Portland Food Carts – 2013 in Review

Jonathan Amato

Another year, another great group of new vendors have shows us we can still be surprised by what comes out of a 16′ x 8′ kitchen. We have welcomed Italian, Georgian, Russian, Columbian, Singaporean, Mediterranean and more. We’ve also seen closures which left a little blank space in our stomachs. Anchovies anyone? I don’t really know how I would define 2013 as a whole – maybe the year of Italian?

Lamb and Polenta from Bones & Bits

Lamb and Polenta from Bones & Bits

Numbers

According to Multnomah County, we have around 712 active licenses for mobile food vendors. Are there 712 carts out there in the pods we know of? No. That number includes catering vehicles and license only used seasonally. By my count, we have about 550 carts and trucks throughout the city who feed us daily.

There are 38 active pods throughout the city. The largest is at SW 9th and 10th and Alder with 60 vendors covering an entire city block. We did a roundup of the pods last month. Find that article here.

Margherita Pizza from Maiale di Volo

Margherita Pizza from Maiale di Volo

Key Openings

While we had over 70 vendors open in 2013, these are the ones who left us with taste bud tingling memories:

  • The Italian Market – makers of South Philly sandwiches and other dishes – at Belmont Station on SE Stark
  • Delicios – one of two Romanian vendors to open in 2013 with amazing baked goods and hearty food – SW 10th and Alder
  • Burrasca – Tuscan! Amazing pasta dishes from a true Tuscan trained chef – SE 28th and Ankeny
  • Duende – a Gypsy food cart with specialties inspired by the owner’s Spanish grandmother – SE 32nd and Hawthorne
  • Maiale di Volo – wood fired pizza from a 1932 flatbed dodge
  • Kargi Gogo – Georgian cuisine from the country, not the state – SW 9th and Washington
  • Tiffin Asha – Indian street food, dosas – N Mississippi and Beech
  • Pulehu Pizza – handmade thin crust pizza made with local ingredients and BBQ’d – SE 3rd and Stark
  • Garden Monsters – huge salads and more – NE 15th and Alberta
  • Cultured Caveman 2 and 3 – the Palio cart expanded to SE and SW Portland
  • Gabagool – Italian flatbread sandwiches which will blow you away – N Mississippi and Beech
  • Big-Ass Sandwiches expanded to N Mississippi and Skidmore – Mississippi Marketplace

Key Closures (Or, who we’ll miss the most)

  • No Fish Go Fish closed this year after an amazing 16 years having the cart on SW Yamhill
  • Eurotrash – Charles Thomas closed the cart in August to pursue his music career. I miss the deep fried anchovies
  • Swamp Shack – Trey Corkern went mobile and can be found in the south these days
  • Okinoshima – the great little Japanese street food cart made it only one season, yet introduced us to some excellent dishes
  • Addy’s Sandwich Bar – Addy closed the cart, but we can find her just down the street in her cafe on SW 10th
  • Built to Grill – this excellent Italian pasta and sandwich cart closed, but you can find Brooke now at his cafe in the Star Theater on NW 6th.
  • El Cubo De Cuba – closed the carts, but opened a restaurant on Hawthorne
  • London Pasty Company – one of the longest tenured vendors at Cartlandia, they closed in September

Trends we have seen in 2013

  • Portland is unique in that we have all of these “mobile vendors,” but many of them don’t move. That has spawned a growth in the number of food trucks rolling around. There have always been trucks out there to visit construction sites and do catering, yet the new batch of vendors are offering the high quality cuisine Portlander’s have come to expect. At this time, there are over 20 trucks roaming around to different corporate campuses or events throughout the year.
  • If you work downtown and eat at the carts, you no doubt have noticed the number of vendors offering Mediterranean and Egyptian cuisine has grown. We have seen 7 new vendors pop up just this year and they are bringing their flavors to the street.
  • Bagels. We’ve seen a crazy year for bagel carts. Earlier in the year, we saw Rescue Bagels open two locations only to close in just 6 months. Alice’s Bagels, which opened in 2012, closed at the beginning of the year. Quick and Dirty opened and closed in just a few months. Bridgetown Bagel has survived the bagel battles and remains open at Rose City food Park and Tastebud Bagels opened last month at SW 10th and Alder. Gotta have bagels.
  • Italian! From sandwiches to pasta, six new vendors have opened and are serving up dishes some restaurant chef’s can’t touch. Flatbread sandwiches from Gabagool, Tuscan wild boar pasta from Burrasca, a meatball sub from The Italian Market, lamb with polenta from Bones & Bits. These food carts have re-introduced this eater to the glories of Italian cuisine.

Top Food Cart News of 2013

Portland was well represented at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore in June. For the 10 day World Food Jamboree, three Portland cart vendors fed the masses who came down to the racetrack. The Swamp Shack cooked up shrimp and grits, Eurotrash did softshell crab sandwiches and The People’s Pig made Porchetta. I know I’m biased, but they did have the longest lines. During the congress, I spoke about Portland’s pod structure as a way for cities to organize vendors. Portland is recognized internationally as a model for successful street vending.

EuroTrash at the World Street Food Congress

EuroTrash at the World Street Food Congress

The Portland Timbers embraced Portland’s food carts this year by offering participating vendors the kiosk above section 93 for the night. Vendors included Big-Ass Sandwiches, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, 808 Grinds, Timber’s Doghouse PDX, The Frying Scotsman, Stumptown Dumplings and more. Hopefully, 2014 will bring others. Well done Timbers on a great year. #RTCID

The first annual ROAM Mobile Food Conference took place here in Portland in September gathering 120 attendees for a one day discussion on how to open a food cart or truck and make it successful. Leaders in the street food movement from around the nation came to the Doubletree in Lloyd to educate, but also to meet and greet fellow mobile chefs and movers and shakers. The mobile food movement is taking America by storm.

Two different events this year showcased Portland’s mobile vendors: Eat Mobile in April offered up small bites from almost 50 different vendors along with a chef showcase featuring three different chefs teaching the crowd how to create their signature dish. The Summer Food Cart Festival in Gresham in June brought 20 vendors to Mt. Hood Community College for a day of eating, music and fun. We’ll see both of these events return in 2014, so mark your calendar.

A number of mobile vendors opened restaurants in 2013

    • Addy’s Sandwich Bar
    • Teote – former owner of Fuego De Lotus
    • BrunchBox
    • The Sudra – from the owners of Sonny Bowl
    • The Sugar Cube
    • Stumptown Dumplings has a kiosk on SW Ankeny
    • Nong’s Khao Man Gai’s SE kitchen now offers dinner service

I’ve been eating and writing about the food carts here in Portland now for over five years and am still honestly surprised by the food. My palette has matured, but so have the offering. I’m excited looking to 2014 knowing we’ll be able to enjoy a new crop of eager cooks wanting to feed us their craft. We’ll also hopefully see a full length documentary about Portland’s carts and the general culture of street food. A book is in the works by a fellow food cart enthusiast and should be available in spring. The vendors wouldn’t be here without you, the eater. I thank you for your continued support of Portland’s food cart vendors. Keep on eatin’!

Happy New Year from Food Carts Portland

Pastrami on Rye from Steak Your Claim

Pastrami on Rye from Steak Your Claim

Pizza Contadino

Jonathan Amato

Pizza1

CLosed

Location: N Lombard and N Richmond – Next to the Fixin’ To bar and restaurant
Hours: Tues – Sat 2pm – 11pm, Sun 1pm – 8pm 

The Story: I love the St. Johns neighborhood. It sometimes feels like a completely different city in Portland – a little separate village, a small town almost. It feels like an island with Lombard and Willamette Blvd along with the majestic St Johns Bridge the only real main roads in and out to connect it with other neighborhoods in Portland. St Johns is still one of the most blue collar feeling neighborhoods, in my opinion, with industrial and dock workers from the nearby Columbia Blvd and Willamette River industrial areas mingling with long term residents, and a newer influx of young families, artists and others. Mixed in between the old man dive bars, and the quaint where your grandma might buy cookies Tulip Bakery, there’s some cool, funky newish businesses emerging, and sometimes they blur together.

Pizza Contadino is one such business and can seem a bit of an enigma at times. Is it a cart or is it a pizza restaurant? Where is it? Is it at the Crystal Gardens food cart pod on Lombard or did it move? No wait, now it’s a pop-up restaurant in the Fixin’ To bar, no wait, it’s a cart again. That’s the beauty of mobile vending, it’s FLEXIBLE and MOBILE, man. Keeps you on your toes and keeps things interesting if you ask me, and it’s nice a local bar that has it’s own kitchen was able to take on and support a cart as well. Bravo for the help your neighbor in need is a good deed indeed motto. Whew, location out of the way, if you can’t find Pizza Contadino, just call them – they’ll give you directions, no problem.

The pizza here is crave worthy. I’m not going to get into the whole thick crust vs. thin vs. NYC style vs. Neopolotin vs. New Haven Style vs whateverstyleyouthinkitis style discussion. Head on over to Serious Eats Slice for the cult of the pizza discussion. I will say this: The pizza at Pizza Contadino is GOOD. Here’s how Pizza Contadino describes their pizza (and business):

… We serve fresh handcrafted pizza with a sourdough crust that is made with a starter from the Alaskan gold rush.  It is baked in a 650 degree oven that creates a crisp exterior with a chewy interior.  Our menu is ever changing with mostly organic produce and ingredients that we source locally.

Some of those toppings include a perfectly cheesy cheese pie and a pepperoni for you pizza purists. Then things get interesting…between the roasted garlic, sausage, onions, you might find fresh Ricotta, Swiss Chard, Roasted Sliced Potatoes, Summer Squash. Meat options are available, but this pizza joint loves it’s veggies equally. Vegetarian pies are available, vegan pies – yeah, they can probably do those too. Just ask at Pizza Contadino and they are happy to accommodate if they can.

Pizza Contadino

photo from pizza contadino’s website

Slices or whole pies are always available. Cash only! And do call ahead, they will have your pizza hot n’ ready for you, and it’s a good way to confirm that Pizza Contadino is indeed right where they say they are and are open when they say they are and can help you fill your hungry pie hole.

Sample Menu:

  • Whole Pies $14 and up for a cheese, add on more depending on ingredients, Ingredients vary depending on what’s in season and chef’s inspirations.
  • Slices: $3 range

Phone: 503 935-4375
Website: Pizza Contadino

Facebook: Pizza Contadino

Bridgetown Bagel Company

Jonathan Amato

Bridgetown Bagels1

Location: NE 52nd and Sandy – Rose City Food Cart Pod
Hours: Mon-Fri, 7am-1pm; Sat & Sun, 8am – 2pm

The Story: I call it the collective “Portland Bagel Freakout”.  I’m not quite sure why, but out of all the cities I have lived, worked in, and visited (and there have been many), Portland rivals only NYC and Montreal for what can only be described as a love of good bagels that borders on crazy zealously. That is, Google “bagels Portland, Oregon” and you’ll see countless, passionate (and sometimes uncivil) discussions on who has the best bagels in PDX, lamentations that Portland “has no real bagels”, cries for “I wish we had authentic bagels here!”…you get the idea. Mike Russell, the food critic for the Oregonian, sure found out about the Portland Bagel Freakout when he dared write about “Portland’s Best Bagels”. Check out these reader comments from that article for a chuckle for a chuckle. The message is clear: DON’T MESS WITH PORTLAND’S BAGELS. Portlanders will cut a biche over a bad, or even a mediocre bagel. It’s a BAGEL WAR.

So when a great bagel does appear on our fair streets of Bridgetown, people get a whole bunch of excited. Enter Bridgetown Bagel Company. Created by owner/baker Jonathan Park, an alum from the much loved, now sadly gone Kettleman Bagels, Bridgetown does the bagel right.

I won’t make claims this is THE BEST bagel in Portland (I’m not up for that knife fight). For I’ve learned, them there’s fightin’ words among Portland’s bagel cabal (that’s a joke, people). However, if you are looking for a very quality, fresh bagel of the East Coast style made they way they should – yes they are boiled, yes they use malt, yes, they are golden on the outside and dense and chewy within, yes, they aren’t super sized like some Godzilla bastard bagel – then Bridgetown Bagels is for you.

Bridgetown Bagels 3

Along with the usual cream cheese spreads, Bridgetown bagel offers the classic bagel and lox combo (with tomato, sliced red onions, and capers if you wish), breakfast and other bagel sandwiches.

I do want to give one big caveat about Bridgetown Bagels. And it’s no dis on them. Bridgetown, like most food carts is a small (read TINY) operation run by one person. He’s the one up at 2 in the morning making and proofing dough, cooking them just the right way, preparing and serving and cleaning up. And because Portlanders are such Bagel Hoarders, it’s hard to gauge from day to day how many crowds will show up and when and if they will buy the cart out on the spot. If you really really have your heart set on a bagel from Bridgetown, as we recommend here at Food Carts Portland for any cart visit, CALL AHEAD. Although they are consistent with their hours, Bridgetown can’t snap their fingers and make new bagels in 15 minutes if they have a rush and run out, and I bet you they’d rather close down than serve a crappy frozen and defrosted bagel. And so, when Bridgetown runs out, they run out for the day.  They are often sold out by noon, especially on weekends.

Still, as the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, get out your cell phone, call ahead, get there early and enjoy a Bridgetown Bagel before a bonkers bagel band of Portlanders beats you to it.

bridgetown2

Sample Menu:

  • Bagels: Plain, Sesame, Poppy, Garlic, Onion, Salt, Everything. Each – $1,   ½ Dozen- $5.50    Baker’s Dozen- $10
  • Spreads: Cream Cheese (Plain, Scallion, Smoked Salmon) – $1,  Tofutti, Hummus, $1,  Butter, $0.50
  • Cheeses: Cheddar, Provolone, Swiss, Mozzarella – $1,
  • Veggies: Lettuce, Red Onions, Black Olives, Pickles, Capers- $0.25, Tomatoes – $0.50, Avocados: -$0.75
  • Meats – Ham, Sausage, Bacon, Salami, Pepperoni –  $1 Lox: $6, Whitefish: $4
  • Breakfast Sandwich –  Egg & Cheese Bagel: $3, add meat: $1
  • 3 Little Pigs Sandwich (Ham, Sausage, Bacon, Cheese, Egg) – $5
  • The Bridgetown Sandwich (Ham, salami, pepperoni, mozzarella, provolone, black olives, pickles, tomato): $7
  • Pizza Bagel: 1 Topping: $5  add topping – $0.50/each

Website: Bridgetown Bagel

Phone: (503) 268-2522
Facebook: Bridgetown Bagel

Chefinos

Jonathan Amato

Chefinos

Location: NE 26th and Alberta
Hours: Tues-Sat, 11:00 am -7 pm

The Story: On a street with at least four Taquerias, in a neighborhood with just as many taco trucks and carts, we bring you yet another traditional Mexican food street vendor to the Alberta Street mix.  Chefinos is a bright red cart with homey touches such as potted plants and a covered area with benches and a tables for eating out of the rain. Over the years, several food carts have come and gone on this tire shop’s parking lot: I can recall a baked potato cart, a couple of different taco trucks, and I think at one point there was a juice truck. It’s hard to keep track.

No matter the reasons the other carts have come and gone, Chefinos is making a go of it, serving more than just tacos and burritos. Originating from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, owner Maria (last name not given) offers regional Oaxacan fare as well as burritos and tacos. Dust off your Spanish and look for items usually found in Mexican street markets such as  Tamales de mole oaxaqueno an hoja de platano (Tamales with mole sauce Oxacan style wrapped in banana leaves) and when in season, Elote Asado (Corn on the cob with mayonnaise, spices,  shaved Queso Fresca cheese, and lime).

Chefino also has Molotes –  described by this Oaxacan food and culture website as:

 …a very special “holiday street food”, found in Oaxaca during Guelaguetza, Easter, and Christmas times. It is made with a disk of fresh masa then filled with a Chorizo and Potato filling, fried, then topped with Black Bean Puree, Queso Fresco and garnished with sliced radishes.

On one of my visits, I tried the Tlayuda – a 14″ toasted tortilla with refried beans, shredded chicken, lettuce, red chopped radish, Oaxaca cheese (like a string cheese), and avocado. In some distant way you can see this dish might be a traditional precursor to a Taco Hell Tostado, or heck you might even call Tlayuda the original Nachos. Although, obviously resembling nothing like the neon orange cheese and salt-lick tortillas found in convenience stores across the great U.S. of A.

Chefinos `2

Hours here are spotty, and there’s no website, phone or even printed menu to take home. It’s what I call a “worth the hunt” kind of a food cart. One of the reasons we love food carts is the sense of adventure and discovery and the hunt. Sure, there’s carts you can rely on over and over – order online and pick up when ready even. Then there’s carts like this one – traditional to a capital Taco. Yes they use lard, and no they don’t take credit cards – it’s cash only, por favor.

Chefinos – keeping it real. One Tlayuda, Taco and Tamales de mole oaxaqueno an hoja de platano at a time.

Sample Menu:

  • Burritos (choice of meats from asada, chorizo, chicken, beans, among others) – $4.50 – $5.50
  • Tamales – $4.50
  • Tlayuda – $10.00
  • Elote – $2.50
  • Tostada – $3.00

Phone: None

Sea Verdes

Jonathan Amato

Seaverdes1

CLOSED

Location: N Vancouver and Fremont
Hours: Tue, Thu-Fri 11:30 am – 9:00 pm, Wed 11:30 am – 7 pm, Sat 1 pm – 9 pm, Sun 1 pm – 7 pm

The Story: For seafood lovers, there’s a saying, “If it’s from the sea, then it’s for me!”  Mussels, Tilapia, Catfish, Shrimp and Oysters make up the foundation for Sea Verdes’ menu, with a healthy dose of entree type salads, smoothies, and specials such as grilled cheese sandwiches, pastas and other delights.

Sea Verdes reminds me of those little beach side food shacks found in coastal communities such as New England, Florida, or Hawaii. They serve locals as much as visitors, and are usually a come-as-you-are affair for those picking up a nutritious dinner for their families, or hungry beachcombers who need some substance between hitting the waves (or the beach blanket).

Crispy seafood (choice of  comes dredged in cornmeal and unbleached flour and is flash fried – crispy, not at all greasy and the fresh seafood shines through. We tried the Oysters on our first visit: Plump and fresh, they were magically crispy on the outside and tender within – it’s all the richness and mineral brininess oyster fans crave.  For those looking for something not fried, there’s mussels and shrimp in a white wine broth,  an Italianate inspired shrimp pasta, and a Tilapia with vegetables and rice.  They’ve also recently added gumbo (in this case crab, shrimp, beef sausage, chicken and mussels to the menu specials mix, something  that might not be a traditional gumbo recipe, but has what my New Orleans friends call, “Da Flavor!”. Yeah, you rite, Sea Verdes.

Salads can make for a whole meal in generous portions – a textbook classic Caesar, or a Thai Beef blow anything from the local salad bar out of the water (pun intended). Yet for those in a salad bar kind of mood, there’s a mix and match choice of toppers such as Shrimp, salmon.

Seaverdes2

Sea Verdes in N. Portland. Photo from www.seaverdes.blogspot.com

Smoothies round out the offerings. Located on the popular N Williams/Vancouver bike corridor – a smoothie would be a perfect pick-me-up on the way home from when you’ve just spent 1000 calories battling traffic and hills from work. I felt downright healthy AND decadent at the same time after finishing Sea Verdes’ Mixed Berry Smoothie – made with almond milk, dark cherries, bananas and mixed berries.

Owned and operated by lifetime Portlander Elsya Watkins, this talented chef, Portland State Alumni (Go Vikings!), and mother’s positive energy and commitment to nutrition is infectious. In Ms. Watkin’s own words:

I opened Sea Verdes because of North and North-East Portland’s food dessert. The lack of healthy and affordable places to go eat-out is a prevailing inconvenience for Portlanders. I serve fresh seafood, crisp salad greens an I make healthy and tasty protein green smoothies. My food serves vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians and offers selections for the paleo diet.

Oh, yes.  A little bit of soul, a bunch of health, and a whole lotta love: Sea Verdes. Another great addition to Portland’s mighty food cart sea.

Seaverdes3

Sample Menu:

  • Fried seafood (served with rice). Choice of Oysters, Tilapia, Catfish in small or large platters  – $5.50 – $13.00
  • Talapia (broiled -2 pieces), served with rice and made with basil, tomatoes, garlic and lemon- $9.50
  • Thai Beef Salad with lettuce and kale, tomato, red onion, yellow onion, cucumber, basil  –  $8.50
  • Salad Plain or with Salad  toppers (shrimp, salmon, Tilapia) or  choice of dressing  – $2.50 – $6.50
  • Tropical Sunrise Smoothie – Almond milk, pineapple, banana, oranges, grapefruit juice – $4.75
  • Kya’s House Cherry Lemonade – $2.50

Website: Seaverdes.blogspot.com
Facebook: Sea Verdes
Twitter: @SeaVerdesPDX

Phone: 503-933-5251

Email: seaverdesllc@yahoo.com

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