Is anyone really entirely comfortable with the idea of food cart pizza? It has so much working against it: There’s no shortage of cheap, good pizza in Portland to start with, so these carts don’t fill a void; plus, pizza is best enjoyed in a big warm pizzeria or, via delivery, in the comfort of your own home. How can this relationship possibly work out?
And yet, at Pizza Contadino—a little yellow trailer on the east edge of a fledgling St. Johns cart pod—the marriage of pie and cart feels so, so right. Maybe that’s because Contadino’s methodology is so scattershot. There are staple slices like cheese and thick-cut pepperoni, sure, but the rotating “fancy” options are where Contadino’s magic happens. On one visit, the “fancy meat” option (cooked on site in about 10 minutes) included housemade sausage rich with fennel, thick-cut mushrooms and stringy kale that tasted fresh and untreated—nothing here is oversalted or overcooked. That’s an aesthetic you notice before you even order—the cart’s hand-scrawled dry-erase-board menu and hanging baskets of veggies in its front window, not to mention the patchy-bearded, Kerouacian figure behind the counter, are all giveaways.
But it takes more than fresh veggies to make a killer slice, and Contadino’s crust, made from a sourdough starter dating back to the 1890s, isn’t the cracker-thin variation found in many woodfire eateries—it’s the perfect balance of chewy and crispy, doused with a bright, pepper-speckled sauce that’s both sweet like New York and chunky like Portland.
The word “perfect” popping up in the previous sentence is intentional. Pizza is as subjective a food as any—only Philly cheesesteaks are more divisive—but I’m confident in suggesting that Contadino serves one of the best slices you are going to find in Portland. More impressively, it tastes like Portland. For all this city’s fine pizza, few restaurants make a pie that feels as if it were born here. This city has high-end boutique restaurants that make pies fit for formal dinner parties, surprisingly hearty vegan pies with soy cheese and gluten-free crust, and a half-dozen holes-in-the-wall that offer serviceable New York slices, but there are very few shops that taste like the Northwest I grew up in. Pizza Contadino does. And if I have to take a bus to St. Johns to feel like I’m eating Portland pizza, so be it.
- Best bite: The rotating “fancy” meat and veggie slices.
- Cheapest bite: Breadsticks, you bum.
EAT: Pizza Contadino is located at the corner of North Richmond at North Lombard Street, 935-4375, pizzacontadino.blogspot.com. 1-11 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 1-8 pm Sunday. $ Inexpensive.