Burgers: Burger Stevens
Located in the Hillsdale Food Park adjacent to the parking lot of Wilson High School, the original Burger Stevens location—it's since expanded to Pioneer Courthouse Square and inside eastside club Dig A Pony—is part of a pod of food carts catering to an area of town starved for street food. Avoid going during the mad-dash weekday rush of the school year and the cart becomes an oasis on the weekend, serving near-perfect Shake Shack-style burgers and trays full of crisp fries. The key is the simplicity: nicely charred patties, melty cheese, crisp veggies and a gloriously buttered Franz bun. Order a regular cheeseburger ($7) with a slightly runny fried egg ($1) and grilled onions instead of the standard double cheeseburger ($9) so you'll still have room for a cone of creamy vanilla soft serve ($3) as you challenge your dining partner to a game of cornhole behind the cart. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
Pizza: Sweet Heart Pizza
With its massive high-rises and sterile aesthetic, South Waterfront doesn't have the baked-in look or feel of other Portland neighborhoods, but fast-casual Sweet Heart Pizza offers a slice of what it would feel like if it did. There is rarely a long wait, and the portions, like the booth sizes, are generous. There are over a dozen specialty pizza options, including two on the rotating seasonal menu. If a starter is a must, go with a "lighter" option like the roasted cauliflower with fried caper crema, or one of the salads—the Peasant Salad is a mix of dandelion greens, radicchio, walnuts and Parm, delicious on its own, but the addition of pork belly lardons sends the flavors over the top. Pizza-wise, the menu includes four white-sauce pies and four with traditional, tangy red. The white-sauce potato and sausage fennel are the two most popular, but you can't go wrong with the lamb merguez and olive or classic pepperoni. TIARA DARNELL.
Mexican: Verde Cocina
Verde Cocina checks most every box on the list of annoying new diets one of your friends has temporarily adopted and incessantly talked about: paleo, gluten-free, vegan. While that might sound like a tedious way to appease today's increasingly picky diners, the politely open to substitutions approach doesn't dampen the vividness or zip you'd expect from Latin fare. Guanajuato, Mexico, native and chef Noé Garnica grew up farming, which gives him a special appreciation for fresh produce. You can find evidence of that respect in his refreshingly lighter version of a chile relleno ($14) that comes reclining in a broth surrounded by what looks like that morning's premium haul from the farmers market. I guarantee you won't leave hungry—the happy-hour portion is huge and only $11. ANDI PREWITT.
Chinese: Szechuan Chef
A spicy-food haven in the barren restaurant wasteland of John's Landing, Szechuan Chef is a best-of-both-worlds Chinese restaurant. If you feel like greasy, hand-shaved noodles with a side of sticky-sweet orange chicken, it's hard to find a better takeout spot in the neighborhood. But when time is on your side, grab a table in the massive dining room and explore the rest of the menu, which encompasses everything from delectable cumin lamb ($14.95) straight from the Xinjiang province to Szechuan classics like mapo tofu ($11.95) that expertly balance subtle heat with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. During the week, Szechuan Chef also offers a lunch special ($7.95-$9.95) that is truly one of the best deals in the city, with smaller portions of most of the menu paired with your choice of hot-and-sour or egg-flower soup and rice. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
BBQ: Holy Smokes Righteous Eats
At this 1.5-year-old cart, positioned next to a 76 station in Hillsdale, the eats are indeed righteous. Holy Smokes purports to serve the only kosher-certified barbecue in Portland, with the cooking overseen and authenticated by a local rabbi. But the food is also righteous in the Bill and Ted sense of the word. Highlights include a giant roast beef sandwich dotted with chunks of garlic, spicy pastrami and coffee-rubbed beef brisket, all for $13. For vegetarians, there's a smoked jackfruit sandwich that comes drenched in house BBQ sauce ($10). If not sold out, grab a potato knish as a side. MATTHEW SINGER.
Wildcard (Hawaiian): 808 Grinds
There's a sleepy strip mall at the intersection of Highways 26 and 217 where you can stuff your face with fatty, greasy Hawaiian goodness until you've entered a slumberous stupor. 808 Grinds is best known for its eastside food cart, which sits outside Gigantic Brewing, but hidden at the far end of this Cedar Hills shopping complex is a full dining room with framed images of pineapples and men paddling an outrigger. While the signature juicy fried chicken is what brings in most, I'm never bypassing the luau-inspired kalua pig ($9). The shreds of meat are so butter soft they seemingly fell off the carcass just minutes before showing up on my table. For the ultimate carbo-protein load, go for the loco moco ($10.50), two hearty, onion-studded hamburger patties smothered in a rich, brown gravy that coalesces perfectly with the broken savory yolk of a fried egg topper—both liquids are then sopped up by a base of white rice. ANDI PREWITT.
Bonus: Noy Viet Lao
3530 SW Multnomah Blvd., 503-686-9367. 11 am-7 pm Wednesday-Thursday, 11 am-8 pm Friday-Saturday.
The menu at Noy Viet Lao features a kaleidoscope of fresh and bright Southeast Asian dishes made to order. The name is an homage to owner Tutu Nelson's mother, and this bright yellow cart has endeared itself to Southwest locals. The cart is family-run, with Nelson's husband, Brian, manning the register and each dish served with uncommon cheer and kindness.
Where to eat cheap: Central Eastside | Northwest Portland | Outer Northeast | Inner Southeast | Inner Northeast | Lower Southeast | Downtown | North Portland | Southwest Portland | Portland Suburbs | Deep Southeast