Kargi Gogo, 950 SW Washington St., 489-8432, kargigogo.com. Lunch Monday-Saturday.
Perhaps in keeping with their precarious geography, at the Asian-European border between Turkey and Russia, Georgians are known both for their quick hospitality and equal speed at giving you the knife. At Kargi Gogo, a downtown cart serving Georgian street food, the knife comes with a fork.
Kargi Gogo (Georgian for “good girl”) is pure comfort fare. Georgia’s national dish, khachapuri ($6), is basically a grilled cheese sandwich—a partly pickled blend of Georgian cow-milk cheeses curdy enough to be goat, melted into toasted Balkan-style flatbread. It is as if the native pungency of a farm has been distilled into bread and cream, and it is wonderful: It’s the simplest item on the menu, and likely the best.
The cart’s khinkali ($6) is soup, meatball and dumpling at once. The broth-filled teardrops of dough must be bitten into and slurped from upside down before one can safely finish the meal of bitter herbal beef and pork. (Note: Do not wear white while eating or it will get spotted with broth.)
Meanwhile, the garlicky badrijani ($6) is a vegan version of bacon-walnut hors d’oeuvres. Rolled strips of eggplant fill in the savory notes, while seeds of decadent pomegranate add a tart wallop.
The cart’s owners are a pair of friendly Midwesterners and former Peace Corps volunteers who learned to cook while partaking in a number of supras—lengthy Georgian feasts. A “supra” containing a bit of each item on the Kargi Gogo menu is available for $8, and it’s the best option. Eaten individually, each item seems like a large-portioned appetizer; served together, they are, if not a feast, certainly a lovely peace offering. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
3962 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 477-5266, bardobre.com. Dinner Tuesday-Sunday.
At first glance, the Polish-inflected Bar Dobre can seem scatterbrained, swinging from fried cheese curds to charcuterie, from chicken liver banh mi to pierogi. Keep your focus on the several varieties of homemade kielbasa in the middle of the menu. The wedzona, a pork-beef blend, is satisfyingly smoky and redolent of garlic, coriander and paprika. As a platter ($14), it comes with warm sauerkraut, deceptively light potato pancakes and braised kale studded with bacon. And lest you think this is only a place for carnivores, Bar Dobre marks its menu with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. REBECCA JACOBSON.
The Frying Scotsman
Southwest 9th Avenue & Alder Street, 706-3841, thefryingscotsmanpdx.com. Lunch Monday-Saturday.
Sometimes people try to chit-chat with Chef James of Scotland (say it all together, like he’s royalty, because he is) at his hilariously busy cart. He doesn’t understand what they’re trying to do. “Would you like something?” he asks them, stone-faced. The man is working, after all, and with impressive speed. There’s always a line for the best fish ’n chips in Portland—available in cod, haddock, mahi-mahi and snapper, with occasional specials, for the ridiculously low price of $9 ($11 for an unnecessarily large size). There’s haggis now, too, also $9, but I’ll admit I couldn’t pry myself from the fish except to try that very same batter around a melty Mars Bar ($3.50). It makes a mockery of the South’s fried Snickers bars. Just a mockery. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
113 SE 28th Ave., burrascapdx.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Sunday.
Tuscan food by a recently imported chef from Florence, serving food you’d gladly pay double for in a restaurant. See our Food Cart of the Year feature.
1205 SW Washington St., 241-1133, grassapdx.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Let’s focus on pasta. Lots of different kinds of pasta, from staples such as the standout bacon-and-egg enriched carbonara ($10) to a cross-cultural parmesan brodo and capellini-based “Italian Ramen” ($10) to a noodling rotation of other options that appear and disappear on the big menu board without warning. Killer garlic bread ($3) and a handful of salads and simple roasted vegetables keep the suburbanites from bitching about the absence of red-checked tablecloths and cheap chianti. Ordering at the counter, communal seating and too many kids are all still irritating, but they’re a fair tradeoff. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
4950 NE 14th Ave., 477-9224, martinsswissdressing.com. Dinner Tuesday, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday.
Possibly Portland’s only lunch spot where posters of 1930s Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku share wall space with alphorn players in full lederhosen. The bright but narrow dining area hugs the kitchen, where co-owners Jennie Wyss (whose parents ran Honolulu’s Swiss Inn restaurant for decades) and Tammy Hay bottle batches of the Wyss family’s tangy salad dressing and fry up massive, well-sauced plates of schnitzel with spätzli ($12.50). It’s a cultural mash-up made for comfort, not calorie-counting. Even the delicately curried mulligatawny soup leaves cream rings in the bowl, and a $6 side of rösti (Swiss-style hash browns with bacon crumbles and onion) is heaping enough to make a mountain miss wish for a hammock rocked by a soft tropical breeze. RAMONA DeNIES.