Portland's world cavalcade of cart-centric delicacies—somewhere between a pith-helmeted exotic travelogue and a globetrotting, Proustian memory-madeleine trip—is surely one of the city's great cultural assets. Never mind the unseemly economic and cultural wars America wages, one of the upsides of globalism's shrinking borders is a PDX passport to the culinary traditions of Thailand, France, Wrigley Stadium, the Czech Republic, Central Mexico, Russia, Djibouti, Andhra Pradesh and beyond—all from the window of a trailer. It may sound dilettantish, but for five bucks and some change, anyone can feel like a global citizen and enjoy the vivid, sensual tastes of faraway lands on the rainy streets of Portland daily. And going to a food cart sure beats eating up your frequent-flier miles.
We are what we eat. We are the world.
Snow White House Crêpes
The ebullient Abby (Limin Tian) has been hard at work for well over a decade bringing the crêpe, in all its savory and sweet varieties, to the masses of Portland. Traditional versions like ham with cheese, custard and seasonal berries, and lemon juice with brown sugar coexist alongside kid-popular updates like the pizza-pocket crêpe and the opulent avocado-cheese-spinach model. Southwest 9th Avenue and Yamhill Street. Hours vary; generally lunchtimes, seven days a week.
Tábor Authentic Czech Eatery
Resembling a tiny hut along the Vltava, Tábor deserves immortal status for its Wienerschnitzelwich alone—a god-sent creation of breaded pork loin between Grand Central Bakery ciabatta accompanied by an earthy paprikova spread, horseradish and crisp lettuce. But Tábor (named for the Czech birthplace of the owner, pictured above) also makes an excellent chicken paprikash, rich goulash, and damn fine spaetzle (with sausage), too. Southwest 5th Avenue and Stark Street, 997-5467. 10 am-3 pm Monday-Friday.
Wynn's Hot Dogs—King Dog and the Weenie Queen
Every other dog-contender pales next to Wynn's high-quality, 8-inch, quarter-pound franks (from Canada, no less) in an array of fashionable getups, like the Seattle (cream cheese and bacon), the Chili, and my fave, the Chicago (cucumbers, tomatoes, and celery salt). Buy 10, next one's free. Corner of Southwest 4th Avenue and Morrison Street, 309-6028. 10:30 am-2:30 pm Monday-Friday (spring-fall).
Sawasdee Thai Food
Not only one of the most welcoming carts in downtown, Sawasdee is without a doubt one of the most popular and consistently excellent around. Ultra-fresh vegetables, a stealthy House Special (red curry with peanut sauce, broccoli, carrots and cabbage), chile paste fried rice with cashews, fragrant salad rolls, or heavenly pad se ew—18 menu items in all, ready to be as sweet/spicy/sour/hot as you want 'em. Southwest Alder Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, 330-2037. 11 am-5 pm Monday-Saturday.
Taqueria Lindo Michoacán
Hands down the best burrito al pastor you're apt to ever hoover down, this humble truck (within spitting distance of both Lauro and Pix) is an eight-cylinder celebration of Central Mexican delights. Exquisitely seasoned birria de chivo (goat), lengua (beef tongue), barbacoa and carne asada inhabit a range of tacos, tortas, sopes, enchiladas, and handmade tortillas in a way that'll make you downright evangelical. Parking lot between Southeast 33rd and 34th avenues at Division Street. 11 am-7 pm Monday-Saturday.
Real Taste of India
Not to be confused with its neighbor New Taste of India or the late, lamented Taste of India, Real Taste is one of the better bets for Indian on-the-go. Sometimes ordering can feel like Malayalamese bingo, but you'll score with a great buttery chicken Makhani, crispy samosa, refreshing mango lassi and the ever-popular $4.50 five-course lunch special. Southwest 5th Avenue between Oak and Stark streets, 295-5564. 11 am-6 pm Monday-Friday.
Horn of Africa
The flavor-rich food of Eastern Africa (Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia)—redolent doses of lemon, nutmeg, bay leaf, cilantro, cumin, and coriander—is a good reminder of why spice played such a deep role in the development of the modern world. Dig the lukkuu akhaawi (spice-rubbed chicken) and any of the beef or lamb dishes. Abyssinia there (I'll be seeing you there...get it?...I crack myself up). Saturday Market Food Court, under the Burnside Bridge near Southwest Naito Parkway. 10 am-5 pm Saturdays, 11 am-4:30 pm Sundays.
OK, it's not a cart and the prices have been recently jacked (thanks, Capitalism), but the Russian food at this Java Man coffee shop is a beloved secret weapon for damp, cold days—doughy pierogis filled with cabbage and beef, a substantive borscht, rich pelmeni (dumplings), and the ground jewel: golubtzi (cabbage rolls, a classic of Russian soul food). Bow to the household god of sour cream. 518 SW Taylor St., 279-0298. 6 am-6 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-6 pm Saturday.
Fat Kitty Falafel
Discovery is about opening your senses to the improbable and the land beyond the what-ifs. Case in point: The best falafel I've experienced (outside of the Marais section in Paris—improbable, non?) comes from a fast-talking, larger-than-life, yarn-spinning NYC transplant named Al Herre. Outlandish stories come on the side and are gratis, as is the addictive cilantro tahini. 2016 SE Division St., in front of Mirador Community Store, fatkitty.biz. 11 am-5 pm Tuesday-Saturday.
Nuvrei Fine Cakes & Pastries
Pastry chef Marius Pop has expanded his wholesale French dessert business with a wholesale cart, luring in the unsuspecting with gourmet croissants, orange-infused French toast, and to-die-for Parisian macaroons—not to mention French-press coffee and organic teas. Nuvrei elevates the on-the-go coffee and pastry to the sublime. Expect new savory lunch items in the coming weeks, too. 404 NW 10th Ave., 546-3032. 7 am-3 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-3 pm Saturday.
Around the world in a cart—we've got the tastes of this big blue marble at our fingertips. How about rallying our global neighbors in the next year and make Portland's we-are-the-world quotient perfectamundo? Australian pie floaters, Quebecois poutine (gravy and cheese curds atop french fries), Belgian vlaamse frites or delectable takoyaki (octopus balls), anyone?
—WW intern Shoshanna Cohen contributed/ate for this story.
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Introduction: Cheap Eats 2006
Hot Chef/Cheap Eats: Portland's best chefs get outta the kitchen and eat the street.
Cart-ography: Our take on takeout carts.
Really Cheap Eating: Or how a celeb chef could never survive on $40 a week.
Restaurant Listings: From A to O
Restaurant Listings: From P to Z
Editor: Byron Beck
Assistant Editor: Johanna Droubay
Art Directors: Thomas Cobb, Maggie Gardner
Photographer: Jenna Biggs
Stylists: Alex Bravo and Tera Hersel
Models: Kristina, Sarah and Alex of Q6 Models
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Copy Editors: Matt Buckingham, Ian Gillingham, Margaret Seiler
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