It's common to hear a certain class of foodniks proclaim the local food-cart craze is over. Which is true—if by "craze" you mean a "brief period when trained chefs thought it would be cute to make opulent sandwiches in a cart until the right investment scout winked as she swiped her finger across the Square-equipped iPad."
Now that those people are ensconced back in their LEED-certified towers, the cart scene is again a platform for hard-working outsiders trying to claw their way into the restaurant industry by serving busy people and immigrant communities.
At least that's the dynamic driving traffic at Southeast 102nd Avenue and Stark Street. Rahel's, one of the newest carts at that pod, is the second Ethiopian cart in town, meaning Portland has twice as many Ethiopian carts as there are Ethiopian restaurants in the states of Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi—combined. The cart even sells $5 bags of green coffee beans to be pan-roasted before being ground and brewed in the traditional Ethiopian way. "The Americans don't buy those," says the cart's owner. "Just the Ethiopian people."
Rahel's sells six main dishes, including doro watt (slow-cooked chicken in spicy berbere sauce, $8), siga watt (stewed beef, $7), tibs (pan-fried beef cubes, $7) and miser kay watt (red and yellow lentils simmered with berbere spices, $6). All are served on a blanket of thicker-than-average injera with a side of crisp, pleasantly bitter collard greens. The greens, beef and lentils are all allowed to keep a little of their crispness, avoiding the mushiness that is a common problem with Ethiopian food, especially when it's served from a row of slow cookers.
Rahel's may or may not eventually grow into bricks. But, as it's 50 blocks east of the nearest Ethiopian competitor, I'm happy to see it, trends be damned.
- Order this: Siga watt ($7).
- Best deal: Miser kay watt ($6).
EAT: Rahel's Ethiopian Food, 10175 SE Stark St., 896-7204. $.