Chen’s Express

Jonathan Amato

Location: NE Sandy Blvd and 52nd. Rose City Food Park 
Hours: Mon-Sun 11am-8pm

The Story: A Chinese food cart. Ah, I could wax poetic about my love of “New York Take Out” Chinese Food. Aka “Old School” or “Chinatown” Chinese.  It’s pure comfort food and as American as well, Kung Pao Chicken. Which is to say Chinese-American food is pretty darn American. You know the kind of food I’m talking about, it’s available all over our great country, but especially featured on many an episode of Seinfield, Friends, Sex & the City, and pretty much any show that take place in the Big Apple. When in NYC (and other big East Coast cities), you’ll see menu flyers piled up in apartment lobbies, and hoards of bicycle delivery folk speeding through traffic to get bags of Potstickers, Hot & Sour Soup, and other well known “Chinese American Classics” to their customers. Who hasn’t had a craving at one time or another for this type of saucy, salty, stir-fried, deep fried, steamed cuisine? I know I have.

Chen’s Express reminds me so much of those little storefronts found in New York – in cart form. It’s simple, it’s straight to the point, it’s freshly prepared fast, and it offers all your favorite Chinatown Chinese Food classics at affordable prices: Don’t expect anything CRAZY here, just decent generous portions of fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, chow mein, and a few Szechuan dishes, such as spicy tofu. They even have crab puffs and spring rolls alongside egg drop and hot and sour soup. At entrees that also include a side of your choosing for $6, you really can’t go wrong. No MSG, and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available.

Chen's Express

Chen’s Express

Sample Menu:

  • Entrees plus one side – $6.00 or Two Entrees and a side – $8.00. Choices include, but are not limited to Sauteed string beans, lemon tofu, lemon chicken, Kung Pao tofu, Kung Pao chicken, Mongolian Beef, Tofu and vegetables, General Tsao’s tofu, General Tsao’s chicken,
  • Sides – $1.00 – $6.00 depending on dish and size: Crispy spring rolls, crab puffs, steamed buns, fried rice, chow mein
  • Soups – Small $1.00, Large $3.00 – Hot and Sour Soup, Eggdrop Soup

Phone: (503) 334-7040

Garden Monsters

Jonathan Amato
Garden Monsters

Garden Monsters

Location: SE 50th and Division, Scout
Hours: See Facebook for updated hours

The Story: Maybe it’s this spring weather tease, but I’ve found myself craving fresh, full meal salads lately. Not some lettuce thrown on a plate with some ranch dressing many restaurants pass off as “salads”. No, we’re talking the kind of salads that will fill you up for the afternoon, but unlike say, eating a Double Royale with Cheese burger, don’t make you feel too heavy afterwards.

The concept of Garden Monsters is simple, fun, and makes for an interesting menu. You can pick from one of their signature salads such as the Paul Bunyon with grilled chicken or steak, lettuces, a ton of veggies, garlic croutons and choice of dressing. Or, the Loc Ness Monster – Grilled Salmon or Grilled Shrimp,  Lettuces, Water Chestnuts, Dried Cranberries, Red Onion, Grape Tomatoes, Lemon Wedge,  Garlic Black Pepper Almonds. WOWZA!

There’s also their “Build Your Own Monster”:  pick a base salad, add on toppings, and one of their many housemade dressings. Salads can be made vegetarian, vegan, almost all are Gluten Free.  You can choose a bowl salad, or if you’d like turn it into a giant wrap sandwich. Offerings are wide and varied and made to order. Genius! Garden Monsters tells their story so well in their own words on their website, I’ll just let them do the talking:

My name is Kyle Hulings, Founder of Garden Monsters. For years I have been turning salad into a meal, loading my bowl with a vast array of meats, veggies, cheeses and dressings.  All to often I felt that the only way to really get my money’s worth was to make it at home, as time and time again I found myself overpaying for a tiny, bland, three-day-old and all-around weak salad.

I am also often faced with the challenge of coordinating meals and eating out with several of my close friends and family members, as many if not most have dietary needs. Some are sensitive to gluten, others dairy, countless varieties of low carb and low calorie diets, vegetarians, vegans, Celiacs and the list goes on. I dreamt of a place where anyone could eat at, without sacrificing taste, and with the body’s needs kept in mind. These experiences helped me develop Garden Monsters’ core values.

We wish to inspire healthier eating in the fast service food industry, to prove that taste doesn’t have to come deep fried, to grow and strengthen ties with the local community, and to epitomize the eco-friendly revolution. You wont find a deep fryer, microwave or freezer in our carts. We use organic and 100% natural ingredients from local resources whenever possible. All of our to go containers are completely recyclable and we compost nearly all of our waste setting a new standard for quick service food destinations. Guilt free never tasted so good.

Right on, Garden Monsters! Crunch-Crunch. Munch-Munch!

[Garden Monsters moved to The Gantry in summer 2015]

Sample Menu:
  • The Colossal Cobb – Roasted Turkey, Roasted Ham, Bacon Chunks, Romaine & Iceberg Lettuce, Bleu Crumbles, Cage-Free Hard Boiled Eggs, Black Olives, Grape Tomatoes, Garlic Croutons and your choice of dressing. We recommend our Signature Avocado Ranch – $8. No Meat- $5.50
  • The Sumo – Grilled Chicken, Romaine Lettuce & Green Cabbage, Mandarin Wedges, Shaved Carrots, our Signature Garlic Black Pepper Almonds, Asian Noodles, Sliced Water Chestnuts, Green Onion, and your choice of dressing. We recommend our Signature Sesame Ginger – $7.25 . No Meat- $5.25
  • Build Your Own Monster (prices vary): Bowl or all-flour white or spinach “wrap” – Choice of Lettuces and greens, 4 free toppings from a variety of: veggies, fruits, “crunches” (croutons, Asian Noodles, Sunflower seeds, and more), cheeses, meats, and other additions such as black beans, water chestnuts. chopped egg, avocado, roasted baby red potatoes, and more. Vegan toppings: vegan chicken, vegan steak, vegan cheeses, tofu.
  • Homemade Dressings:  Blue Cheese, Buttermilk Ranch, Avocado Ranch, Creamy Italian, Light Italian (v,df), Sante Fe Ranch, 10,000 Island, Sesame Ginger (v,df), Honey Mustard, Caesar,  Creamy Balsamic, Balsamic Vinaigrette (v,df), Oil and Vinegar (v,df), Sweet’n’Spicy Sesame Ginger Balsamic (v,df). – v= vegan, df = dairy free.


Organic Island Snow Shave Ice

Jonathan Amato

Location: On the Move (Often found at NE 15th and Alberta)

The Story: Aloha! Today on the Food Carts Portland’s It’s a Small World After All ride, we bring you a signature dish from the tropical islands of Hawaii. Yes, sun and beach loving Portlanders, it’s the sweet cold treat known as Hawaiian Shave Ice!

A True Shave Ice Machine

First off for the uninitiated, it’s SHAVE ICE, not Shaved ice. NO DEBATE. And Shave Ice is more than just a dessert or snack on the islands, it’s part of Hawaii’s soul. There are world famous Shave Ice shacks, and places with special signature flavors – everyone seems to have a favorite. The serious Shave Ice makers use only real fruit syrups made from real fruit purees, fresh juices, and fresh sugar cane (not just fruit flavored high fructose corn syrup junk). Real Shave Ice however, does share one other common trait – it’s all in the ice. Fluffy and fine, no grainy snow cone type ice crystals here. Organic Island Snow makes their Shave Ice the traditional way with a special hand cranked machine and a big block of ice, it looks like some Japanese steam punk art project inspired by the Industrial Age. Way cool (no pun intended).

Organic Island Snow, run by the dashing and charming Ilika, is the real deal Shave Ice. A native islander himself, Ilika is obsessive: all of his own syrups are made from scratch and he has his family ship over some of the fresh fruits, fruit purees, and yes, fresh sugar cane (in lieu of processed sugar) to make some of the most refreshing, bright and simply addictive icy sweets I’ve ever tasted. This is the only true Shave Ice way, my friends.

Flavors include all those wonderful tropical fruits we can never grow in Portland such as Litchi and Passion Fruit. While other closer to home flavors such as Strawberry and Peach, round out the offerings.

For now Organic Island Snow is a roaming cart – catch them as you can by checking out their Facebook Page. But, you can often find this open air cart at the Alberta15 pod on NE 15th and Alberta. Oh, and they also do catering in case you want some Shave Ice in lieu of a cake for your wedding, or even at your backyard BBQ. I know I would!

Mahalo, Organic Island Shave Ice for bringing a true taste of the Hawaiian Islands to Portland.

Sample Menu:

  • Kids Size (8 oz) – $2. Regular Size (16 oz) – $3
  • Flavors – Litchi Lemonade, Mango Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Mango, Peach Tangerine, Strawberry, Pink Guava, Peach

Hours: Varies
(503) 840-5252


Rico’s Burritos

Jonathan Amato

Location: NE 16th and Killingsworth (next to Fruteria Don Pedro)
Mon-Sat, 10am – 6pm

The Story: How many traditional Hispanic taco trucks are there in the Portland region? Our guess is there are hundreds. Next to Thai Food carts, which seem to be every other cart as well, we can think of no other cuisine more proliferate than the mobile Taqueria Mexicanos that dots cart pods, rows, roam the streets, and are flying solo in parking lots from the inner city, to the edge of the urban growth boundary.

It makes sense. I was at an American urban planning conference in 2010 and sat in on an excellent panel run by a Latino Women’s planning group. One of the panelists, of Mexican descent who grew up in the taco truck epicenter of East Los Angeles, explained:

Taco trucks are the original, nutritious, cheap fast food of my people. My community doesn’t have a lot of resources or money to open many restaurants, families are often extremely busy working 2-3 jobs to get by, and no one has a lot of money to spend on food. Taco trucks have been around for decades in my community, the Food Truck fad is nothing new to us. (note: I’m still searching for her presentation online to link to if you are interested in this sort of thing).

Hats off to Rico’s Burritos for honoring this tradition of affordable, nutritious, and mouth watering food.  I’ll admit, we can sometimes get a little “tacoitis” burnout here at Food Carts Portland, as we eat at so many similar taco trucks on a regular basis. Rico’s surprised me by the quality and care put into their food. The proprietress and I, a lovely and elegant older woman, were limited in communications by my Gringo lack of Spanish language skills and her lack of English, but man did we relate when it came time to tasting her food.  It was surprisingly good.

I’m a big fan of all seafood, and Rico’s serves a very fresh, very nicely seasoned fish taco as well as a fish burrito. The first time I visited we determined, though a comic exchange with the owner in my hodgepodge Spanglish, that it was Tilapia, and my two tacos came seasoned with just enough chilies for a bright red-bite. Rico’s doesn’t skimp on the amount of seafood, and load the fresh, soft, handmade tortillas up to the brim with vegetables including slices of avocado at no extra charge.

My dining companion ordered an Asada Torta, and it too came filled with to the brim with meats and veggies, making for one giant, sloppy, perfectly satisfying sandwich for just a few dollar bills.

I was able to gather with the help of a fluent Spanish speaking translator that Rico’s has some cool plans in the works, different than most taco carts in Portland. The owner, perhaps inspired by the popular Podnah’s Pit BBQ across the street, is thinking of adding Pollo Asada. That’s roasted Mexican style chicken on the BBQ, by the way. For that we can only say, Por Favor!

I’ve probably been to Rico’s 3 or 4 times this month alone (Confession, I live two blocks away). Each time I’ve been, they’ve always welcomed me with a warm smile, and some warm, outstanding traditional taco truck fare. My ‘hood’s strip on NE Killingsworth can be a bit of a wasteland for food options, so having Rico’s so close is a godsend for those days where the hungry monster takes over, but my time and money is limited. Portland food carts, you just keep getting better and better. Thank you Rico’s for contributing to Portland’s food cart scene.

Sample Menu:

  • Burritos – $5
  • Tacos – $1.50
  • Tortas – $5
  • Sopes – $2
  • Choice of meats for above – Pollo, Asada, Carnitas, Pastor, Fish
  • Chicken Enchiladas with Flour Tortillas – $5
  • Breakfast Burrito – chorizo, egg, tomato, onion, chile – $2.50

Hours: Mon- Sat, 10am – 6pm
Contact: unknown



Jonathan Amato

fish taco food truckLocation: SE 43rd and Belmont, Good Food Here
Tues-Sun, 12 – 8pm

The Story: A friend and I were lamenting the lack of great seafood restaurants in Portland. No, sushi doesn’t count. Yes, we have Granddad places of varying quality such as Jake’s or Dan & Louis Oyster Bar, Fish n’ Chip shops, and a couple of young gastronomic upstarts (the fancy fish place in Fox Tower downtown for example). And yes, you can get great seafood in markets, a few other carts, and it’s always available on most restaurant menus. But, unlike other port cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Boston or New Orleans, Portland dining isn’t just very seafood focused. Perplexing.

When Dustin and Angie, the owners of the very new Fishbox cart started daydreaming, FISH is what they came up with, a plan that’s been hatching in Dustin’s head since at least 2003. “I was up on the Columbia River, and it was salmon season, and people were up at Mt. Hood fly fishing for trout, and I thought, man, we have all this seafood around and near Portland, we need a really great fish cart,” Dustin told me in an interview one sunny spring day. He comes from formal culinary school training, and years and years working in Portland’s restaurant industry. Dustin was burned out working for crazy restaurant owners and living the often hard livin’, hard partyin’ restaurant lifestyle. The man knows his way around a kitchen for sure though, and knows how to handle fish dishes. From the food I sampled, he’s a hell of a great cook.

Dustin and his partner Angie took their time opening and have put a lot of thought into the menu and kitchen of this simple white van. It’s a great lesson for other wanna be cart owners. “I wanted to build out my kitchen and truck from scratch so that I have it and the equipment EXACTLY the way I need it. I didn’t inherit bad equipment or a clunky layout, which will save me money and time in the long run, especially when I get ready to expand” Dustin explained. Dustin was also very picky about getting a van, rather than a trailer type cart to offer more mobile flexibility and because a van is easier to move for catering and other special events. Dustin continued, “it was more expensive upfront than a cart and the build out took longer, but I think it will be worth it.”

fish taco food truckBut how about that fish? It’s not purely focused on wild seafood or local seafood, but it’s super fresh, very high quality and prepared with a light touch. The day I visited, the menu featured items such as a very chunky, very creamy clam chowder as good as anything you’d find at the coast, a wild salmon satay with Asian style pesto served with rice, a textbook Caesar Salad (with option Ahi tuna or wild salmon), an Ahi Tuna melt sandwich, a dark roux non-seafood gumbo, and Wild Salmon or Ahi Tuna seared tacos. “It’s funny because before I opened I was always telling people, I’m NOT going to be a taco truck,” Dustin laughed, “but tacos have turned out to be my biggest seller and most popular item.”

fish taco food truckThere’s a reason why. These aren’t your regular petite fistful Mexican tacos in corn tortillas, but large gourmet tacos in soft big flour wraps. Bursting with perfectly cooked and seasoned seafood, and a generous amount of lightly dressed slaw, three to an order is worth the $9. I was plenty full after just two.

Food is always the best part about visiting Portland’s intense food cart scene, and the Fishbox keeps its side of the bargain up quite nicely on that end. But the stories behind the carts really make me smile. Everyone is unique, and has a terrific story to tell. We think it’s the people that contribute as much to our vibrant cart community as much as the food does. The Fishbox is yet another wonderful, friendly, and tasty addition to our always cool food cart scene.

Sample Menu (contact vendor for current menu and pricing):

  • Seared Ahi Tuna or Wild Salmon Tacos – $9
  • New England Style Clam Chowder – small $4, large $6
  • Veggie Fried Rice Bowl – $5. With tuna or salmon, $9
  • Wild Salmon Satay with Asian pesto and veggie fried rice – $9

Hours: Tues-Sun, 12 – 8pm