Two things tell you all you need to know about this Kerns neighborhood gem—a sign on the counter says "all meat brined, smoked and roasted in house," and a banner on the wall promotes the Chicago Cubs. You'll never want to eat another sandwich made from packaged meat after you've sunk your teeth into the flagship Italian beef ($12), which comes sliced thin and topped with an addictive chopped vegetable-and-hot pepper sauce called giardiniera and sweet peppers brined in beef juice and roasted. Ice the cake by pouring the small pitcher of beef juice that accompanies the sandwich over the crispy baguette. The owners also run Pastrami Zombie, one of the city's top carts, and their genius with that meat shows up on the titular sandwich ($14), a sublime treat with just a touch of sweetness, delicately balanced by the sourness of rye bread and crunchy slaw. For sandwich lovers, this is Mecca, Chicago-style. Now if only the Cubs can regain their World Series form. NIGEL JAQUISS.
Pizza: Pizza Jerk 2
Tommy Habetz has cobbled together a fine career making what Portlanders love to eat most: pizza and sandwiches. Recently, Habetz shut down the original Southeast location of Bunk Sandwiches and opened a second outpost of his beloved pizza joint in its place. Unlike the Cully original, where spacious environs lend themselves to free-range parenting and small children taking full advantage, the new outlet has just a few tables and is situated close to several bars and clubs. Pizza by the slice is also an option here. Beyond that, though, the menu at both is the same, featuring thinner 18-inch "New York/Connecticut-style" pies and, for desperate Midwesterners, 12-inch pan pies. Habetz is a Connecticut son, so opt for the former, in particular the pepperoni ($25), with delectable, not-too-greasy pepperoni slices, or the East Coast classic Clam Jam ($27), available white, red or 50-50. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
Sometimes, when carts graduate to brick-and-mortar respectability, they lose the spark that made them burn. Not so for Güero, which got its modest start a few blocks south of its current location on 28th Avenue's restaurant row, in the cart pod behind Crema bakery. Come for the tortas ($11): Güero's by-now-famous ahogada, which bathes tender, generous helpings of carnitas in an achiote-tomato sauce; or the pollo pebil, chicken roasted in banana leaf. The bolillo buns are crispy, the sauce just enough. The cart bowl ($9) is packed with enough salad, beans and other vegetables to qualify as health food, while the cotija, poblano crema and meats (which cost extra) satisfy any craving for the strong, substantial flavors that make Mexican food irresistible. Everything that comes to the table includes a little extra thought: pickled carrots, paper-thin radish, a sprinkle of cotija, and a dash of guajillo chili oil turn chips and guacamole ($7) into a treat. At maybe 1,000 other Mexican restaurants, my wife says the horchata ($3.50) is too sweet, and I say the aqua de Jamaica ($2.50) is thin and tasteless. Here, like everything else, they are just right. NIGEL JAQUISS.
609 SE Ankeny St., marukinramen.com, 11 am-9 pm daily. Second location at 126 SW 2nd Ave., No. 109.
You won't be carted away in broths of fatty bliss at Marukin, but you will leave full, content and on the edge of soupy stupor. The small Southeast ramen spot—part of a chain founded in Tokyo that now has two locations in Portland—is sleek, packing dark-stained family-style tables along the length of the building, which it splits with Thai chicken and rice phenom Nong's Khao Man Gai. The signature bowl is a pork bone broth-based tonkotsu shoyu ($11), which comes in a spicy variant and is piled high with fresh noodles, shredded scallion, tender pork and a soft boiled egg. The broth is dense without being overly heavy, and the red spice mix offers a mild dose of heat. The ramen is plenty alone, but hungry diners should try the chicken karaage ($5), very lightly fried chicken morsels doused lightly with lemon and served with a mild, Japanese-style tartar sauce. ELISE HERRON.
BBQ: Bark City BBQ
1080 SE Madison St., 971-227-9707. 11 am-6 pm Wednesday-Sunday.
You'll want to carve out time for a nap after a trip to Bark City. The small cart—located in the new Asylum Pod—smokes succulent, fresh cuts of meat daily, including brisket, pulled pork and ribs. The construction paper-lined $14-to-$16 trays come stacked with a couple inches of your BBQ-sweet and fresh pepper-spiced meat of choice. A staple, the chopped brisket, marries rich fat and salty-sweet sauce into shredded bites of quick dopamine release. Sides, like pickled avocado and lightly dressed mustard vinegar coleslaw, offer refreshingly crisp accompaniments. You'll want to fork a little bit of everything into your mouth at once—it actually does taste best devoured together. ELISE HERRON.
Wildcard (Balkan): Two Brothers Rakia Bar & Grill
829 SE César E. Chávez Blvd., 503-232-3424. 11 am-9 pm Tuesday-Friday, noon-10 pm Saturday, noon-8 pm Sunday.
You have to respect a place where the main vegetable options are french fries, ajvar (roasted red pepper dip) or just a handful of chopped raw onions. OK, Two Brothers does technically have a few salads, but you came here for piles of smoky meat with sour cream and fluffy, Balkan-style pita, and because sharp Bulgarian feta is served with everything. Add an appetizer or a side, and any of the three combos (pork or chicken kebabs, sudzuka sausages, or meatballish chevapi; $15.99) will feed two people. Turkish coffee, the Slovenian Coke known as Cockta, and Croatian beers are all fine whistle-wetters, but be sure to take advantage of the carefully curated selection of rakia—the eau de vie of the Balkans. HEATHER ARNDT ANDERSON.
Last summer, the best Russian restaurant in America split into two. Kachka, once Willamette Week's Restaurant of the Year (and always a favorite), moved into larger digs on Southeast 11th Avenue, while the bar-centric Kachinka established itself in the original location. Think happy-hour bites all night long: $9 dumplings, $6 Moscow mules, and a slew of cocktails for under $10—to say nothing of Kachka's housemade vodkas (the horseradish infusion is a revelation).