Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with Korean tacos from California, which joined the union on May 29, 1848.
The state: Unnecessarily large and teeming with Kobes, Kanyes, Kardashians and hundreds of thousands of future Portlanders, California is primarily known in this region as the source of Oregonâs inferiority complex. Itâs a one-sided rivalryâmost Californians still assume the area between San Francisco and Seattle is just one giant beaver habitatâbut in many ways, Oregon, and Portland in particular, has defined itself against the Golden State, from the weather patterns on down. Would anyone here even ride a bike if not for the fact that everyone in L.A. lives in their cars? And I donât think it'd seem so chic to brag about not owning a television if the entertainment universe wasnât centered in the same place where the Lakers play. Anyway, the state will either be bankrupt or underwater in a few years, forcing refugees northward to pave over Portlandâs last remaining cart pods with Googleplexes and Instagram Villas and rename the city in their image. How does âNew Palos Verdesâ sound?
The food: While Portland may have popularized the national food-cart craze, one of the truly novel creations to emerge from the phenomenon originated in L.A.: the Korean taco. Though it has appeared on menus going back to the '90s, the dish, as currently conceived, is traced back to the Kogi Korean BBQ cart and chef Roy Choi, who in 2008 began stuffing corn tortillas with the likes of beef bulgogi and barbecued short ribs and veggies splashed with a chili-soy sauce. Spreading the word via Twitter, which at the time seemed like a real wacky way to promote your business, the cart immediately took off, and the taco spread across the country and up to Portland, marking the first time residents have not screamed "Go back to California!" at an L.A. transplant.
Other dishes considered and rejected: When I lived in California, I used to go to shows in Hollywood and Echo Park exclusively to get a bacon-wrapped hot dog from the tiny Oaxacan ladies selling them outside the clubs when the concerts let out. Alas, that's an Arizona import. Also rejected: the San Francisco burrito, the California roll, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Get it from: Koi Fusion followed quickly on Kogiâs heels, opening in May 2009 with a menu the New York Times wrote âborrowed from Mr. Choiâs in the manner that 50 Cent sampled Biggie Smallsâ and a similar Twitter-based promotional technique, and became one of the cornerstones of Portlandâs emerging food cart scene. Other carts, including Korean Twist in the Southwest 10th and Alder pod, have also âsampledâ the L.A. original, but Koi remains the Portland standard bearer, with 14 stationary and mobile locations from here to Beaverton.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.