Road Trip: Portland Food Trucks
Portland is increasingly known for its eclectic and funky Food Cart scene. Step into the main square in the city’s downtown, and you’ll find dozens of them. Even for those staying on the city’s fringes, you’ll find the food trucks just about everywhere.
By Meg Hemphill
Street food is a way of life in Portland, Oregon. No other city has as many clusters of unique food carts cooking dishes like reindeer sausage (bet you don’t find that everyday) and bowls brimming with steaming ramen. Although hours vary from season to season and from cart to cart – and sometimes closing time is “when the food runs out” – if you visit one of these pods anytime before 3 p.m., you’re bound to find something delicious to fill your tummy. Here are the eight main food truck pods in Portland worth a visit.
Good Food Here: SE 43rd Ave. and Belmont St
This cluster of carts is a favorite on the Eastside and probably the most well-organized pod in Portland. For an interesting meat fix, try LARDO. On the sweet side, SUGAR CUBE is arguably the best dessert truck in town (but closed during winter) with its Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes filled with Salted Caramel and dipped in Chocolate Ganache. If that doesn’t put you in sugar shock, maybe the Stumptown Coffee or Maple Bacon Ice Cream at FIFTY LICKS will.
PARK: There’s an actual parking lot next to the pod dedicated to cart customers, but street parking is free and easy to find (helps if you’re a good parallel parker).
EAT: Beneath the pines on a picnic table between the parking lot and trucks.
SW 4th Ave., Between Hall and College
This block-long strip is known as the PSU pod because of its proximity to hungry co-eds at Portland State University. One of the most popular trucks in the city, NONG’S KAO MAN GHAI, just opened a location here (following it’s first location at the 10th/Alder pod). The KHAO MAN GAI is a delicious Chicken and Rice dish that needs to be sampled to be fully appreciated. There are also Vietnamese options at BANH MI SANDWICHES, Lebanese food at AHLA W SAHLA and Sandwiches at PASTRAMI ON RYE.
PARK: Finding a street meter can be more challenging when school is in session, but not impossible. Head to this pod on a Saturday at lunchtime, rather than during the week, for the shortest wait time.
EAT: This small-but-clean campus has plenty of benches and spaces to sit while you scarf down your meal.
SW Alder St., Between 9th And 11th Aves
This pod of trucks lines an entire square block (and expands across the street) in the Northwest part of downtown Portland. It’s worth surveying all of them to see what really tickles your fancy. Locals queue up for KOREAN TWIST (try one of the Korean Tacos or Kimchi Quesadilla), MINIZO for Ramen, GAUFFRE GOURMET (have the Porklandia Pulled Pork on a Jalapeño Cornbread Waffle) and the WHOLE BOWL, which offers one item: a delicious Vegetarian Rice and Bean Bowl.
PARK: Street parking is available for 90 minutes, but can be somewhat tricky to find during the workday. If you can’t find a meter, opt for the Smart Park garage at 8th and Stark.
EAT: Take your meal kitty corner to O’Bryant Square at 9th and Washington, a park with plentiful seating. Some of the carts have their own folding chairs, but it’s reserved for patrons of those carts, so don’t be cheeky and saddle up if you ordered from elsewhere.
Food Cart Alley: SW 5th Ave, Between Stark and Oak Sts
This stretch of 5th Avenue has a handful of carts including EL CUBO DE CUBA 2 and TABOR CZECH, whose menu boasts the famous Schnitzelwich. It is here that you’ll find one of the best breakfast sandwiches in town. Step up to BRUNCHBOX. Or you can go big time (gluttony, that is) with its YouCanHasCheeseburger, a Burger between two Grilled Cheese Sandwiches for $5.50. Yikes!
This downtown cart cluster is most crowded with business people at the lunch hour, though lines move fast.
PARK: 60 and 90-minute meters line the streets, but again, can be hard to come by during trading hours. Meters in downtown are active Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. There’s a City Center garage at 315 SW 5th Ave, at Oak.
EAT: While a few of the eateries have seats, there isn’t a convenient public space to eat in the immediate vicinity, so you might want to pop back into the car to be most comfortable.
SW 3rd Ave, Between Washington and Stark Sts
Just two blocks east from the SW 5th pod is the 3rd Avenue one, which boasts Asian options, a couple of Sausage Stands, Taquerias and Vegetarian Specialties. Nestled among downtown office buildings, this pod sees its heaviest traffic during the lunch hour (which typically ranges from noon to 1:30 pm in Portland). TITO’S BURRITOS is a must stop with its delicious $1.50 Tacos.
PARK: Again, 90 minute meters or Central Parking on Washington between 2nd and 3rd.
EAT: If you aren’t grabbing a Reindeer Sausage to take back to your office, consider strolling three blocks to the pretty Willamette River to sit on one of the benches overlooking the vast scenic waterway.
Cartopia: SE 12th Ave and Hawthorne
This small cluster of carts is at a busy Eastside intersection. Because it stays open later than the others (some are open as late as 3 a.m.), this pod tends to be hoppin’ with post-bar crowds looking for a late-night nosh. WHIFFLE FRIED PIE CART is popular for its empanada-style stuffed pockets; and PYRO PIZZA serves up hot, wood-oven goodness.
PARK: Street parking is free but may require circling the one-way blocks a few times.
EAT: Finding a spot is easier here. There’s a tent with tables (if you don’t have to rush back to your illegally parked car with the hazards flashing).
Mississippi Marketplace: N. Mississippi Ave. and Skidmore St.
On a rainy day (and are more than a few of in Portland), this Northeast pod may be your best bet, especially if you’re a German beer drinker. This grouping has 10 carts situated just outside of PROST, a German pub that allows patrons to bring cart food inside with the stipulation that you purchase beverages. One of the more popular meals is the BURGATROYD BURGER (optional toppings include Calabrian Chili Aioli or Sunchoke Relish) with a side of Burgafries.
PARK: The 2-hour free spots might be harder to nab on a weekend, but there’s plenty of free, unregulated parking in the surrounding neighborhood.
EAT: At the bar in Prost on a drizzly day; outside at the picnic tables when rain is at bay.
North Station: N. Killingsworth Ave. and Greeley St
This small pod in North Portland may seem a bit out of place in a predominantly residential neighborhood, but it’s a popular lunch destination for employees at Adidas’ North American headquarters just down the street. There are eight carts, including PDX671, which serves up Guamanian cuisine including Shrimp Fritters and Chicken dishes. For dessert, try the organic Ice Cream at SCOOP.
PARK: Anywhere. Street parking is free, unregulated and abundant.
EAT: At the picnic tables, which are also tented and have much-appreciated heat lamps.