Now that the hype has died down, food carts have settled into the Portland landscape. We could just name our top five carts, but they're notoriously bad at keeping to their posted hours, and some of the best will simply run out of food and close. Instead, we suggest that the best way to enjoy carts is to head out to a solid pod and treat the experience like an outdoor-mall food court: shop around, mix and match cuisines and share the polystyrene-box bounty with your dining companions. Here, then, are our top five cart pods, with a few suggestions on what to eat at each.
Southwest 9th and Alder
Between Southwest 9th and 10th avenues, and Washington and Alder streets.
The city's largest cart pod, with a regularly changing lineup of 40-something carts covering more than an entire city block. This pod exists mostly to service the downtown lunch crowd, and weekends and dinner are therefore iffy. Prepare to battle cubicle monkeys if you hit it during peak traffic between 11:30 am and 1 pm. Seating is extremely limited, but on a nice day you can sit in nearby "Paranoid Park" (Southwest Park Avenue and Washington Street) and watch gutter punks ride BMXs.
4233 N Mississippi Ave.
The first pod to pair a bar with food carts. Neighboring German pub Prost! allows diners to bring in their cart fare to enjoy with a frosty pint from the fatherland. The cart roster has almost entirely changed since big names like Garden State and Nuevo Mexico made this a dining destination, but there's still great food being turned out. Weekend lunch is when this lot is at its busiest, but most carts sell out early, so hedge your bets and go for brunch.
Southeast 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard
When bars call "last drinks" in Southeast Portland, all the hip young things move the party to this late-night Hawthorne pod. Even if you didn't pick up while out boozing, there's still a chance someone here is just drunk and horny enough to go home with you. The best way to tackle this pod is to eat "family style" with a group of friends: Order from every cart and lay out a fried-food buffet at one of the big wooden picnic tables.
Good Food Here
4298 SE Belmont St.
A well-curated Belmont neighborhood pod, Good Food Here looks slightly less like a repurposed parking lot than most of its counterparts thanks to potted plants and a heated seating area. Although the pod's biggest draw, Lardo, moved to brick-and-mortar digs earlier this year, this pod is still a popular family dinner destination due to a good mix of kid- and adult-friendly options.
A La Carts
4926 SE Division St.
There are several good cart pods and stand-alone carts along Southeast Division Street, but A La Carts offers the most dining choices and best seating of all of them—the heaters under the big-top tent are a nice touch—and is good for both dinner and lunch. It also has a hair-salon cart, in case you want to trim those bangs while waiting for your tacos.