It goes without saying these days that Portland's food carts are the best way to experience our city's culinary delights for little cash (and only cash). The number of trailers, stands, trucks and handcarts pushing great grub has grown exponentially since WW's first cart roundup in its 1995 Cheap Eats guide. Multnomah County Environmental Health tracks 374 "mobile food units"—126 on the west side of the Willamette River alone.
Trying them all is a daunting task, so we've listed 25 of our favorites by their location. And if you want to get really efficient in your sampling, check out WW's second annual Eat Mobile food cart festival, where you can taste the wares of all the carts marked with a ★, plus temporarily closed Al Forno Ferruzza, soon-to-open Nuevo Mexico and the Grilled Cheese Grill, itinerant Todd Bott's Triangles, and bike-based foodies Cafe Velo, Lulu's Confections and Soup Cycle, all for just $5. BridgePort Brewing and House Spirits will provide $2 beers and $3 cocktails, and all proceeds benefit Mercy Corps Northwest. —Ben Waterhouse
5TH AVENUE POD
There are so many Mexican carts sandwiched together on this stretch of 5th Avenue that it takes a little flair to stand out, and La Jarochita goes the extra mile. One wouldn't expect a $1.25 taco to hold a wedge of fresh avocado, for example, or a $4 torta to be so jam-packed with fatty, meaty goodness, but there it is, looking you right in the face. There's a reason for the lines at lunchtime—La Jarochita is authentic without being boring, and slightly cheaper than your average cart. CASEY JARMAN.
Cheese-dripping chicken fajita tacos, $1.50.
Tacos, $1.25; horchata, $1.25.*
Southwest 5th Avenue and Stark Street, 997-5467, schnitzelwich.com. 10 am-3 pm Monday-Friday.
Affable couple running the cart with speedy service? Czech. Tasty food and plentiful servings? Czech. Silly puns? Czech. But really, when the cart has a sign that reads "Czech out Czech food," how can you resist? Devour Tábor's signature Schnitzelwich, a $6.50 mouth-stuffer of seasoned pork loin or chicken breast jammed into a Grand Central Bakery ciabatta roll with a wonderful breath-killing mix of paprika, sautéed onions and horseradish. Also filling is a 10-inch Bramborak: a potato pancake fried in olive oil. Uh, Czech it out. HENRY STERN.
BEST BITE: The Schnitzelwich.
CHEAPEST BITE: Bramborak, $4.
ALDER STREET POD
Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 975-2549, altengartz.com. 11 am-3 pm daily. 11 pm-3 am Friday-Saturday at Southwest 2nd Avenue and Ash Street. 11 pm-3 am Wednesday-Thursdays and 8 pm-12:30 am Sundays at 219 NW Davis St.
This sausage truck, decorated with a red, black and gold silhouette of Germany, grills up authentic bratwurst made from local pork, with no additives. The brats are plump and juicy, spiced but not too spicy, with a pleasing snap in every bite. The rolls are fluffy and warm. The only toppings you should consider are the sauerkraut, which is more sweet than sour, and the Käse sauce of melted Swiss cheese, garlic and spices. MEGAN BRESCINI.
BEST BITE: Brat-topped sauerkraut and cheese, $6.50.
CHEAPEST BITE: See above.
Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 227-5727, asianstationcafe.com. 11:30 am-2 pm Monday-Friday.
The star attractions of Portland's only dim sum cart are the Shanghai soup dumplings ($7 for eight, $9 for 12). Where's the soup?, you may initially wonder as you pick up what looks like a boiled pot sticker. Then you pop one in your mouth and discover the pork broth is steamed inside, detonating in hot splashes as you bite. It is very difficult not to make this sound pornographic—which it is. AARON MESH.
BEST BITE: The soup dumplings. Ask for some Malaysian coconut curry over the side of rice.
CHEAPEST BITE: Cha siu bao, or barbecue pork rolls ($2 each).
Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street; Southwest 5th Avenue and Oak Street. 490-3387, ayblagrill.com. 11 am-5:30 pm Monday-Friday, noon-4 pm Saturday.
Syrian-born chef Saied Samaiel's two brightly colored food carts hold down spots at the city's two busiest cart "pods," but easily manage to stand out in the crowd. The menu selection ranges in price from $2 for a small salad to $7 for a full super gyro (which may be the best in Portland). Expect a line at either location, but know it is worth the wait. RYAN FLEMING.
BEST BITE: Super gyro.
CHEAPEST BITE: Baklava bites, $1. Small Greek/tabouli salad, $2.
Number 1 Bento
Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 971-570-6040. 11 am-6 pm Monday-Saturday.
At Serina York's Korean cart, one of the only mobile outposts serving that cuisine in the city, you often get more than you bargain for. Order the funky, fried egg-topped bibimbap ($5.50) or habit-forming kalbi ($6.50, barbecue beef ribs) on a cold day and the sweet lady might give you hot shot of chicken soup while you wait. Shell out $6 for a mountain of smoky, chile-laced spicy pork and receive a bonanza of banchan along with your order—bright kimchi, a little mound of iceberg with mayonnaisey dressing and an addictive salad of cold glass noodles tossed with sesame oil and tiny mushrooms. Number 1? Without a doubt. KELLY CLARKE.
BEST BITE: York's spicy pork, marinated in spices and "fruit-something…all natural," with banchan and rice ($6).
CHEAPEST BITE: A small bowl of miso soup ($1.50).
Southwest Alder Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, 757-8802. 11 am-4 pm Monday-Friday.
You're in the right place when a super-friendly server offers a steaming cup of green tea while you puzzle on a rainy day what to order from this Japanese food cart's 14-item menu. And, it turns out, no puzzling was needed; both dishes I ordered were tasty and filling. The spicy teriyaki chicken had a good bite, and the ginger pork packed a yummy punch. One pleasant surprise in both bento dishes along with the rice, carrot stick and broccoli spear: a dollop of potato salad. HENRY STERN.
BEST BITE: Ginger pork, $6 with rice.
CHEAPEST BITE: All dishes are $4 minus the rice.
Savor Soup House
Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 750-5634, savorsouphouse.com. 11 am-3 pm Monday-Friday.
Button-cute and straight to the point, Nancy Ettinger's green-and-white cart serves soup ($3.50-$6) and grilled cheese sandwiches ($4). That's it. And really, when your mix-and-match sandwich bar extras range from housemade pesto and apple butter to caramelized onions and Black Forest ham (50 cents to $1 extra each) grilled between two huge slabs of heavily buttered Grand Central bread, what else would you ever want to eat? Dunk your creation in the flavor maven's excellent soups, which rotate daily—Hungarian mushroom, vegan tomato-orange, posole, Mulligatawny…. KELLY CLARKE.
BEST BITE: Grilled cheddar and Gruyère with truffle oil, plus a cup of "serious" chili, full of Black Angus beef and Italian sausage ($9.50 total).
CHEAPEST BITE: On Thursdays, that'd be a $3.50 cup of creamy, cheesy broccoli-cheddar soup.
Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 330-2037. 10 am-5 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am-4 pm Saturday.
Is it the best Thai cart in town? Well, there's a lot of competition, but it's up there, with a recipe for drunken noodles ($6-$7) that's become a byword among the downtown lunch crowd. Is it the most generously portioned? Probably: Finishing a $6 box of cashew chicken is a challenge. Is it the spiciest Thai in Portland, cart or otherwise? Hells, yes. The default heat setting on dishes is "medium," and that's enough to clear out the sinuses during flu season. I shudder to imagine how they define "hot." AARON MESH.
BEST BITE: The house curry ($7), a red-sauce coconut-laced wonder with shrimp too large for the name.
CHEAPEST BITE: Nothing on the menu exceeds $7. Explore.
Southwest 9th Avenue Alder Street, 473-9372, zibaspitas.com. 10:30 am-3:30 pm Monday-Saturday.
Ziba herself serves Bosnian pitas from the flip-up window of this cozy camper. The dough is buttery and thin, crisp on the outside and hot and gooey on the inside. The choice of fillings will satisfy herbivores and carnivores equally, with feta cheese, spinach or zucchini for the veggies. The Burek meat pita ($5.50, $6.25 with salad) is a standout, filled with beef, potato, onion and spices. A must is the ajvar relish side, for all your dipping needs. MEGAN BRESCINI.
BEST BITE: The meat pita plate with avjar (pepper-eggplant sauce) and sour cream-cucumber salad.
CHEAPEST BITE: Ustipak (small bread rolls), 75 cents.
HAWTHORNE BOULEVARD POD
Southeast 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard. 6 pm-3 am Monday-Saturday.
A Louisiana late-night shack with the techno-savvy touch of a flat-screen computer panel displaying the sauce-drenched po'boys. These range from clam strips and catfish ($6 each) to crab cakes on a French roll ($7). If the kitchen is whipping up gumbo or étouffée, ask to sample the rich Cajun roux—the cook might sneak you a spoonful. AARON MESH.
BEST BITE: The sausage-based gumbo comes with plentiful shrimp ($7.50) or a slightly less generous helping of crawfish ($8.50).
CHEAPEST BITE: A kosher hot dog ($3.50) or the "not so kosher" bacon dog.
Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and 12th Avenue, potatochampion.com. 8 pm-3 am Wednesday-Saturday.
It's 1 am. You're starving. You desperately need some fried carbs to soak up the Sazeracs you downed at Holocene. And that's why Potato Champion exists. The adorably decorated indie-rock fry cart (owned by Reporter drummer Mike McKinnon) serves fresh, hot Belgian-style frites with one of nine sauces to late-night eaters of all stripes. P-Champ also offers poutine, a Canadian monstrosity consisting of fries topped with cheese curds and chicken gravy. BEN WATERHOUSE.
BEST BITE: Large cone of fries with rosemary-truffle ketchup, $4.50.
CHEAPEST BITE: Small cone, $3.50.
Southwest 4th Avenue between College and Hall streets, 270-1732. 11 am-4 pm Monday-Friday.
Crunched into the PSU food row, this oddly named cart offers a massive selection of Thai dishes, with most costing a very reasonable $5. The dark brown cart may seem a bit muted, but it is hard to miss the 20-plus item menu, with pictures and descriptions of each dish. The number of dishes borders on overkill, but no matter what you choose, you will leave satisfied. RYAN FLEMING.
BEST BITE: Drunken noodles, $5.
CHEAPEST BITE: Salad rolls, $2.50.
2000 SW 4th Ave., 442-0476. 11 am-5 pm Monday-Friday. 11 am-5 pm Monday-Friday.
Suliothai nails that rare combination of very good and very cheap. Everything on the mouthwatering menu—which offers Thai favorites like red curry, pad kee mao and pad Thai, as well as a handful of barbecued meat selections—costs $5 or less. For the super-cheap among you, two people could easily fill up on salad rolls ($3) and good-'n'-heavy spicy barbecue pork fried rice ($5). I thought you had to actually go to Thailand for prices like that. CASEY JARMAN.
BEST BITE: Red curry, $5 with rice.
CHEAPEST BITE: The Panang sandwich (french bread stuffed with red curry-style toppings and veggies), $3.
Southwest 4th Avenue between College and Hall streets.
A new cart in the spot formerly occupied by King of Rice, Yassu offers solid Mediterranean food at decent prices. Though we tried decent falafel ($5), the real selling point is the shawarma sandwich ($5), filled with tender and juicy chunks of chicken or beef and a zesty garlic sauce. Next time, I'll surely try half a Cornish hen, served with rice, Greek salad and hummus for just $7. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
BEST BITE: The chicken shawarma.
CHEAPEST BITE: Lentil soup or Greek salad, $2.
The best of Oregon, Italy and New Jersey in one shiny, silver, retro cart, Kevin Sandri's Garden State marries local, sustainable produce and meats to a fabulous rotating menu of Italian-ish street food. Warm up your belly up with sausage and peppers with homemade fennel sauerkraut ($5), a meatball sub ($6) or a smoky chicken "Saltimbocca" sandwich dressed with peppery arugula, salty prosciutto and provolone ($7). Just save room for Sandri's signature addiction, perfect-fried risotto balls stuffed with something new every week. KELLY CLARKE.
Arancine—most recently, it was saffron risotto balls stuffed with wild nettles, toasted garlic, and mozzarella ($1 each) and a Limonata ($2).
Those addictive arancine or a crisp, rosemary-laced Yukon potato fritter (cazilli, $2).
Kiko's Taqueria Uruapan
Southeast 13th Avenue and Lexington Street, 960-9756. 11 am-4:30 pm Monday-Friday.
The true measure of a good taco cart is the carne asada. Despite its limited menu—offering only tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas—Kiko's Taqueria Uruapan rivals many of Portland's best Mexican lunch spots with its asada tacos ($1). Kiko's keeps it simple, with a hardy glob of grilled steak atop a corn tortilla and a couple squeezes of fresh lemon and cilantro. When something is this good, why bother with anything else? MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
BEST BITE: The asada and pastor tacos
CHEAPEST BITE: Did I mention the $1 tacos?
Bombay Chaat House
804 SW 12th Ave., 241-7944. 10 am-7 pm Monday-Saturday.
If you're a little confused about the two Indian options on the corner of 12th and Yamhill, then here's the deal: Bombay Chaat House, the green-and-white cart that's closer to the library, is run by Avtar Kaur, who used to own nearby India Chaat House with her husband. He split town, they sold the original cart, and she opened her own—Bombay. Fortunately, the signature dish, a huge and incredibly tasty $5 lunch special with naan, dal tarka and aloo channa—is still on the menu. It's the city's best vegetarian bang for your buck. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
BEST BITE: The aloo channa, loaded with potatoes and some of the best curry you'll ever taste.
CHEAPEST BITE: The free chai tea offered to every customer.
★Fat Kitty Falafel
2016 SE Division St., 995-2724, fatkitty.biz. 11 am-5 pm Monday-Saturday.
A trip to Fat Kitty is good for two things: some of the best falafel in town and some of the weirdest stories. Owner Al Herre has been operating the cart since 2002, and on a recent visit he was in an especially jovial mood, telling me about the problems with his fryer and the time his car was hit by a huge, 'roided out dude with "Big Swede" on his vanity plate. Herre's falafel sandwich ($5) rivals his big mouth, with four pieces of nutty, not-too-greasy falafel served with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and a tangy cilantro tahini. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
BEST BITE: The first bit of the falafel after it comes out of the deep fryer.
CHEAPEST BITE: The $5 falafel!
Corner of North Mississippi Avenue and Fremont Street, 282-9866. North Lombard Street between Denver and Greeley avenues, 289-9866. flavourspot.com. 8 am-dark Monday-Friday, 9 am-dark Saturday, 9 am-3 pm Sunday.
One-handed consumption makes the Dutch taco (waffle "taco" with fillings) the most convenient brunch experience in town. Banish your hangover with sausage patties and maple butter ($4.50), or get a gooey lunch with the ham and cheese ($4). Like all things, the wafflaco can be taken too far: God never meant smoked salmon ($6) to go on a Belgian waffle. But these are rare missteps. There's a good reason this corner gravel pit is crowded almost every day. ADRIENNE SO.
BEST BITE: The MB9, which pairs six slices of Canadian bacon with three strips of American bacon, plus maple spread, $6.
CHEAPEST BITE: Butter and sugar waffle, $2.50.
North Albina Avenue between Blandena and Humboldt streets, 880-0851, juniorambassadors.com. Noon-4 pm Saturdays-Sundays.
Junior Ambassadors, located in an otherwise empty lot near the Mississippi strip, offers a wide selection of soups and panwiches. However, the real star is the gonzo ice cream. The flavors might seem a bit unusual at first, but don't let that stop you from trying the coconut curry or smoked salmon and cream cheese. RYAN FLEMING.
BEST BITE: Ice cream, $6.50 per pint.
CHEAPEST BITE: Ice cream scoop, $2.50
★LeRoy's Familiar Vittles
Southeast 12th Avenue and Division Street, 442-7241. Noon-7 pm Monday-Saturday.
Let us talk for a moment about collard greens. Cooked indifferently, they're disgusting, barely an improvement on boiled spinach. Prepared right, they'd blow Popeye's head off—the vegetable keeps its crisp pop even when soaked through with hambone brine. LeRoy's makes the best collards in Portland. Serve these to small children, and the kids will grow up to demand roughage at every meal. They will become strong enough to defeat Bluto in mortal combat. They will be virile, and sire generations of plant appreciators. These collards are made of Southern magic. Oh, right: LeRoy's also serves a mean barbecue. AARON MESH.
BEST BITE: A half-rack of pork spare ribs ($12) with two sides—pick the mac 'n' cheese and, of course, the collards.
CHEAPEST BITE: Pulled pork po'boy ($6).
★Los Gorditos Taqueria
Southeast Division Street and 50th Avenue, 875-2615. 11 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday.
Reasons to love this heavily accessorized taco truck: the wild, pink-and-blue mural, the covered deck, vegan tacos. That's right, Los Gorditos has tapped Portland's underfed soytotalers with a menu that offers tofu, soyrizo and grilled veggies alongside the carnal delights of carne asada, pastor and cabeza. The truck has an all-vegan cousin at Southeast 8th Avenue and Ankeny Street. BEN WATERHOUSE.
BEST BITE: Carne deshebrada burrito, $4.50.
CHEAPEST BITE: Tacos, $1.50.
North Mississippi Avenue and Shaver Street, moxierx.blogspot.com. 9 am-3 pm Thursday-Saturday.
Getting a fizz on a hot summer afternoon has become a Mississippi neighborhood tradition. Tucked onto a small lot beside Mississippi Records, the quaint, steel-sided cart would look equally at home on a dusty Alabama roadside, but the food is fresh, delicious and totally Northwestern. Owner Nancye Benson bakes all of the rolls and pastries every day. Try the maple steamer (milk and syrup, $3). ADRIENNE SO.
BEST BITE: The eggs and greens ($7) with bits of wild salmon.
CHEAPEST BITE: Blueberry fizz ($2.75).
In front of People's Coop, 3029 SE 21st Ave., myspace.com/getyoursipon.
Brian Heck's 1967 trailer serves up delicious, organic, vegan juices and smoothies year-round, plus vegan "milkshakes" in warmer months. Whole boxes of fruits and vegetables disappear into his blender, emerging as colorful and filling concoctions poured into tall quart jars. The Tropical Greens smoothie contains kale, spinach, orange, pineapple, coconut oil, agave and ice in one smooth and cooling quaffer. BEN WATERHOUSE.
BEST BITE: The Standard, a sweet and spicy blend of apple, lemon, ginger and carrot, $4.50-$5.50.
CHEAPEST BITE: Hot chocolate, $1.75.
s Eat Mobile 2009 takes place at right off the MAX Yellow Line at Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave. 5-9:30 pm Saturday, April 18. $5. Find a full schedule, cart list and details at wweek.com/eatmobile.