I'd almost given up hope. After years of bone-dry biryanis, curries like oil-slicked dirt and bricked heat-lamp naan that could chip paint off a car, I had all but resigned myself to long drives to Hillsboro to get decent curry.
Well, thank God that's over. In maybe the saddest food-cart pod in Portland—a seemingly uncurated compost bin of doubled Thai carts and day-drunks using Wi-Fi—"The 9" food cart serves my favorite chicken biryani in town, the richest and most balanced curry, the most sumptuous fried roti bread.
The 9 is a blend of the world's great curry cultures, a fiery mix of Thai, Burmese and Indian influences offering up recipes from the two owners' families. The chicken biryani ($8.50) is in short supply—they make only so much—but it is heaven in a cardboard box, topped with fried scallions, moist within and pungently spiced, served with honeyed chicken-stock Thai-Burmese soup. I was so excited after my first bite of chicken that I literally jumped in place on the sidewalk and scared an old lady.
And yet, the roti ($7) is even better—a cloud of gluten and fat that is unendingly delicious whether topped with tofu or chicken, served with curry that delicately balances heat, oil and sweetness. It requires no embellishment, but nonetheless you get a plastic-cupped side dish of sweet-acidic cucumber salad that's kind of like a pickleback to hot, buttery bourbon. The dish is a tumult, a perfect blend of coconut-milky Thai and densely layered Indian spice that is like a birthday party for your mouth.
The pair that runs this cart just moved here from San Francisco last month. Eat their food, and make them stay. Amid hell and exhaust, between the Shell and the Taco Del Mar, the 9 is a goddamn 10.
- Order this: Roti ($7) or biryani ($8.50).
SEE IT: The 9, 510 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 415-335-8475. 10:30 am-7:30 pm Monday-Friday, noon-5 pm Saturday.