FISH FIND: Eurotrash's delish deep-fried sardines. IMAGE: chrisryanphoto.com
The food-cart invasion continues with yet another installment: a refurbished parking lot next to Movie Madness on Southeast Belmont Street dubbed Good Food Here. All the folks manning their mobile empires here are infectiously enthusiastic, not only about their products but also the community that has popped up around them. Like an old European market district, it's not uncommon to see one cart owner exchanging food with another, or chatting each other up. This international roster of carts is in full swing, so we decided to give the tires the proverbial kicking.
Lucille's Balls is fairly self-explanatory, with meatballs and vegan balls as its primary focus. The menu is modular, so you pick your ball type, pick a starch, add a sauce and maybe a salad, and you're set. The vegan balls with puttanesca sauce and polenta ($6.50) are light and airy, the housemade bean-and-spinach orbs a welcome change from the leaden pseudo-meat dishes you might find elsewhere. (For info, search "Lucille's Balls" on Facebook.)
This cart's Twitter page calls its food "Mediterranean-inspired dishes with a sloppy American twist." After munching down the last of my "Fishy Chips" ($5), I determined nothing could be more aptly American than taking a classic foreign ingredient, in this case a Spanish sardine, and breading and deep-frying it. Nor as tasty. Truth in advertising indeed. (Info at facebook.com/EuroTrashCart and twitter.com/EuroTrashCart )
NAMU KILLER KOREAN BBQ
Less a cart and more an ever-expanding stand, Namu has a menu done up plate-lunch style, usually with a marinated and grilled protein, a variety of Korean banchan side dishes, and a scoop of rice. The Korean teriyaki chicken plate ($7) sported a relatively small portion of ho-hum boneless chicken, but the spinach salad had a nice sesame punch to it. The kimchi was tart and spicy, but lacked the fermented funk you often find in other Korean joints. (Info at 828-4260.)
DOG EAT DAWG
Here there be tube steaks, of the Chicago variety. For the purists, they indeed offer your traditional Nathan's kosher, sport-pepper topped, well-relished beastie, but on my visit I opted for the "Dog of the Week" combo ($7.50), a dollar of which goes to the Oregon Humane Society. All the spicy Polish dog with garlic fries was missing was a ballpark. (Info at 806-1651.)
Every cart space needs a coffee vendor, and Da-Pressed steps up nicely, pulling locally roasted coffee (Millar's Wood and Ristretto) and serving up pastries from Sweetpea vegan bakery. Not in the mood for coffee? Pick three fruits from an ever-changing list and have Da-Pressed whip you up a smoothie ($4). A mixed berry, strawberry and peach mashup was a little heavy with the agave sweetener, but still refreshing. (Info at twitter.com/DaPressedCoffee and facebook.com/DaPressedCoffee )
Slinging the comfort food, Rockabillies is all about sandwich mainstays. Want a tuna melt? It's got one. BLT? Sure. On weekends it pulls super-late hours, so if that half-rack of Rolling Rock you downed needs some company, grab a "Hillbillie" ($6). This traditional pulled-pork and coleslaw number is more sweet and tangy than spicy, but coupled with some huge onion rings ($3) it makes for a nice restorative. (Info at twitter.com/Rockabillies and facebook.com/Rockabillies )
CRÈME DE LA CRÈME
Escargot? From a food truck? Believe it. This converted bus aims to please the hordes of Portland Francophiles, and after tucking into one of its béchamel-laden, ham- -and-Gruyère-stuffed croque-monsieurs ($7), I like its chances. A small roasted beet salad ($4) is bigger than your face, and though the dressing on their greens could use a touch more acid, the earthy beets and tangy blue cheese are the real deal. (Info at twitter.com/thefrenchbus.)
Making the move east from its spot next to Zupan's, this is the inexpensive and simple taco truck that is the cornerstone of any good cart space. You won't find much in the way of innovation, but honestly, that's not why folks go to taco trucks. The carnitas are grilled crispy, the onions and cilantro are fresh and the salsas potent. And a taco's a buck fifty. There's the standard complement of taco truck items, including a generously cheesy quesadilla ($2.75), as well as burritos and sopes. Most if not all items can be had veggie or vegan as well.
FAT HAPPY: Grab a Fra' Mani mortadella on ciabatta at Lardo. IMAGE: chrisryanphoto.com
Both the cart and the folks working it are charming, and their Italian sandwiches are all sorts of awesome. Any place that slings a porchetta is welcome in my book, but the Fra' Mani mortadella sandwich ($7) with spicy peppers and provolone, absolutely kills. Get napkins, since the crispy Fleur de Lis ciabatta roll will protect your fingers, but can't contain the wet, exploding goodness of the pickled peppers. (Info at lardopdx.com.)
A one-man micro farmers market, the proprietor of this fruit-standlike operation delivers organic produce from his farm in Hood River to customers in multiple ways. You can buy his gorgeous fruits and vegetables directly, have them added to a pizza he bakes for you while you wait, or have them juiced or turned into a smoothie. There are no price lists and everything seems to be negotiable, but a small pizza with mushrooms and sausage ended up $7.
This North Portland expat rolls grilled, handmade flatbreads into meat- and/or veggie-stuffed wraps. Start simple, like the roll-up with garlic and Asiago cheese ($3.50), to appreciate the slightly tangy, chewy bread right off the grill.
This bright yellow cart is Aybla's second location doling out Mediterranean specialties. While the gyro-meat cone rotating in the gleaming stainless steel interior does beckon, the falafel sandwich ($5) should not be missed. As much as I think all falafel sandwiches should have pickles, the creamy-centered, parsley-infused balls here need little help. (Info at ayblagrill.com.)
The kao soy huang ($7.50) shouldn't have worked. The Northern Thai cart's item sounds good on paper—stir-fried noodles, mushrooms, pickled cabbage and shallots—but in practice it was a mound of what looked like ramen noodles, with a very salty sauce. And I couldn't stop eating it. Perhaps it was the contrast between the raw shallots and the earthy mushrooms or the slightly peanutty, not-quite-curry sauce, but I polished it off. From the descriptions of the other menu items, Yum Zap looks like a nice break from the Americanized, overly sweet Thai food a lot of places are serving.