Portland Food Carts

LA has food trucks. Portland has food carts. What’s a food cart? At first, I thought it would be cheap fast food to go, that was not so good, but its more along the lines of the food trucks. Really good food to go, but probably not as innovative as the LA food truck scene. However, it does have one advantage in my mind. The food carts don’t move! I’m a foodie, and I’m first to try whats new and hot, but as far as the LA food truck movement goes, I’ve only tried Kogi. I’ve totally wanted to hit up all the other trucks but I really cannot handle the fact that the trucks move! I just wish they stayed in one place. It’s just a hassle to go chasing these trucks around and then have to find parking at the same time. RIDICULOUS! Carts on the other hand are there when you want them. They’re in the same place everyday with predictable hours.

Food Carts Portland is a very comprehensive blog mapping out all the food carts. They’re all over the city, but I just stuck to the carts that were within walking distance to me. I was too scared to hop onto the public transportation. Me and public transportation do not get along.

Below are the food carts on 10th & Adler. Its seriously a block full of carts, maybe over 20? Some of the carts have not so good food, and some have pretty solid eats. The prices are reasonable, but not dirt cheap or anything. Like a Vietnamese sandwich is probably ~$3-4 while its 2 for $3 in OC. I would say $6-7 + drink will buy you a solid lunch.

With the nice weather in Portland right now, you will find crowds of people out and about enjoying the sun and warmth during their lunch breaks. That would be a downside to the food carts. They are mostly open for lunchtime and closed by dinner =(

So my first day I just went sorta blindly. Just trying the carts willy nilly. Although this did not seem that promising from a taste perspective, I was just attracted by the name.

The problem with Food Carts Portland is that they do not review all those food carts, so its hard to figure out which are the good ones. I just had to try this place because of the concept, dumplings!!

I ordered the sampler. What’s interesting about the food served by these carts is that the to go boxes look like they’re made from recycled paper. There is no styrofoam used here. Is that just a Portland being green thing? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised. At the airport, they have special water saving toilets. Pull the flusher handle up for “liquid waste” and push it down for “solid waste.”

The dumplings taste like they have been sitting in the steamer for a while. The skins take on this dried out chewy quality, but its not a huge deal. When it comes to dumplings, its all about the fillings.

This is the traditional dumpling with pork, scallions, and ginger. I read that one of the proprietors actually spent time in Beijing and learned to make dumplings from a couple who owned a Chinese restaurant close to her home in the States it sounds like. I think the owners need to spend some time in the SGV to taste better traditional dumplings. This dumpling had waaay too much ginger, but it was a good attempt. Tastes as good as any dumpling I can make.

The cheeseburger dumpling really tasted like a cheeseburger. It wasn’t oozing cheese, so I’m not quite sure how they incorporated that flavor in it. You could definitely taste the beefiness of a burger in this one. The special sauce had the kick of cocktail sauce that was reigned in with the creaminess of mayo or something, I can’t be sure.

The potatoe curry dumpling tasted like a samosa. It was served with a coconut sauce which was pretty sweet. It was interesting for sure. I think the last dumplings just shows you that really anything can be folded in a dumpling skin and sold as a dumpling.

With so many truck choices, I don’t think I’d waste my stomach space on any more Dump Truck offerings anytime soon.

So with 6 dumplings down, I felt like I had room for more. There were just too many choices and I was walking around and around trying to listen closely to what my stomach was saying. I would definitely say theres a majority of Asian food choices. I joke that if there are any Asian people in Portland, they are probably working out of the food carts. Tons of Thai and Vietnamese food carts. Japanese and Korean come as a close second. Then Indian, Mexican, Eastern European, and American varieties.

So the Korean taco fad has not bypassed Portland. In fact there are plenty of Korean food carts that serve all the usual in addition to tacos and burritos. There’s even a Korean taco truck up there that is quite popular. So I had to have a try. I went to Korean Twist on 10th & Adler. For $7 you can get a trio of beef, pork, and chicken tacos served with a side of fried rice and salad or kimchi.

The tacos are served with a “special sauce.” Any guesses as to what this special sauce could be? Gojuchang! Thats the spicy bean paste sauce that goes in bimbimbap. I am not a fan of this sauce in large quantities. The tacos were slathered in it. It was totally overwhelming and after 3 bites I was already tired of eating the tacos. The meat itself doesn’t taste that special, like any pre marinated meat you get at the Korean market. The taco was also too thick. My favorite part of the combo was actually the fried rice which was pretty light in oil and in taste.

I could not figure out what sort of dressing was on this salad. I don’t know anything that’s purple except taro. I couldn’t even figure out what it tasted like. I think my tastebuds were dulled by all that gochujang.

Despite the disappointing first lunch at the food carts, I had high hopes for day 2. There was one cart that had much potential, Nong’s Khao Man Gai.

Look at all the publicity!

It’s seems like one model of the successful restaurant is having a small menu that focuses on perfecting the few things offered. Take In & Out for example or Luscious Dumpling. Nong figured this out too. All she serves is the Thai version of Hainam Chicken, which apparently is found very commonly as street food in Bangkok.

She makes a point of serving it the same way they do in Thailand, simply wrapped in butcher paper.

I like that its served with soup, although I was hoping it would be a chicken stock, but this was a soup of pickled mustard greens. It’s a familiar flavor since Vietnamese pickle mustard greens too, but I can’t imagine all people liking this.

The chicken was all white meat and quite moist. The rice was delicious but could have been more flavorful. All was forgiven after tasting the sauce. MMMMM!!!

The sauce was definitely the winning component to the dish. I was racking my brain trying to figure what was in the sauce. I could definitely taste ginger, sugar, maybe garlic and onions, and after that I was at a loss. I would assume fish sauce but it didn’t have the right color or consistency for just fish sauce. Of course google filled in the blanks. It’s fermented soy beans of course! Next time I make my Hainam chicken I am making this sauce!

After feeling quite satisfied with day 2’s winning lunch, I was anxious to see what could possibly follow-up Nong’s delicious khao man gai. Thai papaya salad was on the menu for day 3.

Again a relatively simple straight forward menu.

I love Thai salads for their tangy, savory, sweet and sometimes spicy dressings. This one was especially well balanced. The shredded papaya and carrots makes for some good crunch. The chicken was forgettable. The sticky rice was an interesting variation. Some of the Oregonians were complaining that the sticky rice came wrapped in a plastic baggy. I think it offended their go-green sensibilities. Apparently its served in a plastic baggy in Thailand too. Overall it was a perfectly balanced lunch. I would highly recommend it.

This won’t be my last post on Portland food carts. I have plenty more I need to try. Let’s hope they’ll be winners like the last 2 carts. I think I forgot to mention how Portland is such a nice, clean, and green city. It really reminded me of SF. It has a laid back vibe, but still metropolitan. It’s just a tad on the small side.

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