5328 N Lombard St., 285-7150, thefishwife.com. Lunch Tuesday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
If you're driving west with the sun in your eyes, you'll probably drive right by the Fishwife. It's not your fault. On a fast-food straightaway of North Lombard Street, between Baskin-Robbins and Subway, the Fishwife looks something between a crab shack and a Rainier-stocked mini-mart, a monument to a bygone era that perhaps never even existed in Portland. New England is dotted with these places: humble, no-nonsense makers of clam strips and oyster strips and chowder, descendents of the fishermen's wives who made use of their husbands' wares and cussed loose gossip across the counter to regulars.
Within, the Fishwife's blue-painted room is a museum hall of seafaring knickknacks from steering-wheel mirrors to framed posters and paintings, with red-topped, chrome-job diner tables and coffee left in pump containers on the counter, presumably for the fishermen going out to the sea that's still hours and miles away.
And though it does serve $20-range, higher-end fish fare from white-wine scallops to massive bowls of cioppino—a spicy, loosely Italian, tomato-based shellfish stew that is the West Coast's only true seafood tradition that matters—the Fishwife is the only place in Portland to so ably serve as family-style trough for the clam-inclined. The coleslaw is mayo and the tartar sauce is heaping with relish, and all forms of fish can be had just as fried as God intended, in the baskets God intended. The chowder is $4 and creamy with clam, a North Portland tradition when the weather cools.
The $9.75 clam basket serves strips big as chicken nuggets, atop salty waffle fries. Your cod and halibut baskets will do the same, cut to squares and breaded to beautiful and flaky lightness. In fact, the breading is nice enough you needn't spring for the expense of halibut, when cod will do. Plus, the beer is half price on Tuesdays—just because—as are bottles of wine, if that's your thing. But who trusts a wine drinker at an old-school fishhouse? It's best eaten, instead, with the accompaniment of a Red Sox cap and a can of 'Gansett. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Southwest Washington Street and 9th Avenue; 10100 SW Park Way, 477-9976; 808grinds.com. Cart: Lunch Monday-Friday. Cafe: Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
[GRINDIN' OUT THE HITS] For years, the key to the 808 Grinds food cart was its simplicity—kalua pork, shoyu chicken, and that decadent fried chicken either singly ($7.50) or as a combo ($9.50)—with some dishes smothered with loco moco if you were feeling, well, loco—all of it as tender, sweet and delicious as any Hawaiian fare you'd find anywhere in town. This year, though, they've added a cafe at the edge of town with whiteboard entrees that have included sesame-flecked Korean wings ($7) and a macadamia-crusted fillet of mahi mahi, drenched in citric beurre blanc, that was an absolute steal at $12, served with wasabi mashed taters and spears of broccolini. Don't let the strip-mall location fool you; it's a hell of a spot for flank steak. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
2454 E Burnside St., 445-6101, ate-oh-ate.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
[DYER-MADE] Hawaiian food is perhaps the most poorly represented cuisine in Portland—or maybe it's just that poi and mac salad doesn't play well off the islands. Either way, Ate-Oh-Ate is about as close as you'll get to paradise without leaving East Burnside. A product of Simpatica and Laurelhurst Market co-owner Ben Dyer, who grew up in Kona, this lunch counter ain't fancy, which should be obvious from the cartoon pig mascot, pun-tastic name and deliberately kitschy iconography, but it does the standards well, and en masse: The kalua pork is juicy and tender, and can be barely be contained by the plate it comes on. But to experience what really places Ate-Oh-Ate on the other side of the rainbow from its competitors, it's best to dive deeper into the menu. Try the lau-lau—steamed cod and pork shoulder served in taro leaves—with a sampler of the house-made kimchi or the poke of the day. MATTHEW SINGER.
427 SW Stark St., 270-9258, chezdodopdx.net. Lunch daily, dinner Monday-Friday.
[MAURITIAN COMFORT] It's okay if you don't know where Mauritius is, let alone what they eat on the tiny Indian Ocean island. Chef Shyam Dausoa is here to school you, offering up memories about his home while he cooks up some of Portland's most mysterious, eclectic and wonderful cart food. Start with the chutney-topped vegetarian samosas ($7 for two), then build a bowl using a three-step process. The mine frire lamb ($11) tastes like an Indian take on lo mein, with cumin and curry intermingling to perfection. The pulao veggie rice ($8.5) gets a nice crunch with the addition of fritters, and chicken served with traditional dholl puri flatbread ($8) eliminates the need for utensils. Pro tip: spicy means really spicy, so unless you're a masochist, go milder so the unique blends of Chinese, West African, French and Indian influences aren't overpowered. AP KRYZA.
North Lombard Street and Burr Avenue, 867-2475. Lunch and dinner daily.
[WORKING-CLASS HERO] Chowder has long been a staple along the Atlantic Seaboard, a hearty, nourishing stew immortalized in everything from Moby-Dick to Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm. In its soul, it isn't a refined food. It's hearty and masculine, made in large quantities and served to crowds of shouting men. That's why, even on the hottest days, you'll find people lined up in front of Chowdah, the food cart on North Lombard and Burr. Thick and creamy, steaming and salty, with generous chunks of potatoes, bacon and two types of Atlantic clams, a bowl ($5) also comes with oyster crackers that are a mighty preferable alternative to hardtack. ADRIENNE SO.
The Frying Scotsman
Southwest 9th Avenue and Alder Street, 706-3841, thefryingscotsmanpdx.com. Lunch Monday-Saturday.
[KILT TRIP] There's something comforting about stone faced men with accents cooking the food of their homeland, especially when that food is deep-fried fish, organ-meat sausage, and Mars bars. Sorry haggis-heads, while all three at this food cart are perfectly fried and beautifully breaded, the fish and the candy bar are the two winners here. Tender and steaming hot, the former comes with large handful of thick-cut fries and handmade tartar sauce, the latter with a generous handful of sugar adhering to its oily exterior. As far as the variety is concerned, you have choices: cod, haddock, halibut, red snapper or mahi-mahi ($8.50-$11) are the catch. But don't get a large order unless you have seen the slabs of meat first. The Frying Scotsman might have some of the cheapest fish and chips in town, but here you enter a twilight zone where city-besting quality and hunger-busting quantity combine. PARKER HALL.
Southeast 28th Place and Division Street (Tidbit Food, Farm and Garden pod), 560-0393. Lunch and dinner daily.
[HANG TEN] You'll find Hapa Ramen and its Japanese/Hawaiian-style noodles nestled somewhere under the bistro lights and heat lamps of Tidbit, the new food-cart pod in Southeast Portland. The vibe is casual and the chalk menu board is surprisingly simple—just like the ramen. The surfer dude behind the counter greets us warmly and with numerous "right ons," and then swears by the tonkatsu—which he eats on a "near religious" basis. But if bone marrow broth isn't your thing, their signature soy-based shoyu ($9) keeps the flavors laid- back with its rich pork broth and various accoutrements. The accompanying egg is more hard-boiled than soft, and it's the same way in the miso ($9). But the light, nutty flavor and heap of slightly spicy spinach on top of the filling veggie ramen more than make up for it, and the thick curry gravy lathered on the rice bowls ($7) should easily make more than one meal. Righteous. KAITIE TODD.
Maine Street Lobster Co.
8145 SE 82nd Ave. (Cartlandia pod), 770-480-3437, mainestreetlobstercompany.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, lunch Sunday.
[BEST ON A BUN] Let the barbarians of Chicago fill their buns with nitrate-enriched beef product. In the maritime state of Maine, it's lobster you'll find atop that doughy hot dog holder. Maine's roadside food-stand version is wicked simple: a heap of juicy lobster bits, doused in butter and served cold on a toasted roll. Located along the Springwater Corridor in Cartlandia, Maine Street Lobster serves lobster rolls two ways: chilled with mayo and herbs or sauteed with butter, herbs and lemon. If $14 seems steep for a lobster hoagie, make an afternoon of pulling apart lobster tails and you'll have an appreciation for the work owners Cathy Evanson and David Beavers put into the thing. And then before you know it, you're eating a lobster roll while biking into the sunset—an impossible feat with lobster in any other form. PETE COTTELL.