1112 SE Tacoma St., 971-325-7323, straitskitchenpdx.com. Lunch and early dinner Thursday-Tuesday.
Sellwood's Straits Kitchen is like no other cart in town—and maybe like no other in the country— a Malaysian food cart showcasing the traditional cuisine of the Baba-Nyonya.
But when partners Angeline Ong and Jessica Wells arrived in Portland roughly a year ago, they may not have originally pictured their dream cart tucked away in a parking lot next to a New Seasons.
"It's turned out to be a great neighborhood and a great community," says Wells. She and Malaysian-born Ong have made Straits Kitchen a bright new star in Portland's cart galaxy that tends to attract aficionados who feel they've seen every iteration of cuisine there is.
Baba-Nyonya (or Straits Chinese) culture and cooking descended from generations of Malays and Chinese who intermarried centuries ago. The Chinese influence is evident in the spicy pickled salads and scallion-strewn cups of chicken that emerge from the window, redolent with Southeast Asian accoutrements like cilantro and kaffir lime.
"With so many food cultures fused together in Malaysia, it's hard to pinpoint the cuisine as anything specific," says Wells. But the dishes and flavors are straight from Ong's childhood. "These are a lot of Angie's family recipes," says Wells.
Excepting vehicles like bread and noodles, everything served is made from scratch—no pastes, no commercial mixes. What's perhaps Straits Kitchen's signature dish, the laksa lemak noodle bowl ($10), is commensurately soul-warming: a bowl of sweet-and-spicy coconut curry broth, fried tofu, chicken and vegetables floating amid a tangle of thin rice vermicelli. The seasonal-special Brussels sprouts ($5), too, are so good that even avowed Brussels haters will be hard-pressed to find fault. Fried salty-crisp and tossed in a soy-lime sauce with thinly sliced jalapeño, cilantro, and chopped peanuts, they're hearty enough for a meal on their own, but are probably best enjoyed with the inche kabin ($6), deep-fried dark-meat chicken bites tossed in that same tangy soy-lime sauce. It's a wonder something so exotic could taste so much like home.