After dark, as the eateries begin to close and dim, the sprawling Carts on Foster lot begins to look less like a food pod and more like a spooky trailer park—the sort of backwater roadside spot you've always heard is home to the best barbecue.
Well, it is. At Road Runner Barbecue, Texas-born Jimmy Hart slow-cooks his tender take on the mesquite brisket ($11) that's sent generations traveling the country highways winding between Austin and San Antonio. The sliced version lets you survey the handiwork in the colors of the beef—its smoky bark, center and lovely pink rim are so brightly distinguished, it's like the inside of a thunder egg—but on the sandwiches ($7-$8), the fattier chopped version may be king.
They were out of chicken on my visit, but the cart's painted picture of The Simpsons' Chief Wiggum announced the best pig in town—and indeed, the humble pork butt ($10), a fatty mess of meat chunks textured with char, manages to rival the beef, if not quite surpass it.
The house tomato-based sauce, served on the side, is molasses-sweet and blessedly hot even when the squeeze bottle says "mild." The "hot" version adds habanero for the masochist, but the mild is a perfectly balanced masterpiece; those who travel to Buster's just for the sauce can now stop doing so. The other sides and garnishes, from the unexpected bite in the potato salad to the mustard-seeded pickles, show equal attention to spice. In the flat, dead air of a Portland winter, a little parking-lot Texas heat might do you some good.
- Order this: Chopped brisket sandwich ($7), or sliced brisket platter ($11) with sides of mac ânâ cheese and potato salad.
EAT: Road Runner Barbecue, Southeast 52nd Avenue and Foster Road (Carts on Foster pod), 310-2728, roadrunnerbbq.com. 11 am-8 pm Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 pm Sunday.