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Our Seven Favorite New Food Carts of the Summer

A lot of the real momentum for Portland restaurants has returned to the parking lots.

Maybe blame it on the pop-ups, or maybe it really is just hard to open a restaurant in Portland these days. But while there's no shortage of three-hour, $100 meals cooked for a tiny cadre of well-heeled tourists and industry people, it's been a slow year in Portland for truly exciting restaurant openings.

Surprisingly, a lot of the real momentum has returned to the parking lots. We're not just talking about ex-Le Pigeon sous chef Andrew Mace's short-lived experiment with a seafood cart, or Laurelhurst Market's great blacktop grilled chicken. This summer, it's like the cart scene caught an adrenaline shot to the sternum, serving up Marseillaise ratatouille according to grandma's recipe, clams with squid-ink pasta by Bar Mingo's sous chef, and sustainable high-end nigiri in St. Johns. Here are our seven new favorite carts of the summer's bumper crop.

Related: Our Top 5 Food Carts of the Year

Gumba

1477 NE Alberta St., 503-975-5951, facebook.com/Gumbacart.

Pasta is arguably perfect cart food. The supple, fresh version requires inexpensive ingredients but careful craftsmanship, meaning it's exactly the sort of thing an ambitious proprietor can make a living at. Well, Gumba makes the best pasta dishes I've had in Portland this year. The menu changes pretty much daily, but the pappardelle ($11) is a constant. Served in a rich and earthy short-rib ragu with nutty shaved pecorino, it's maybe a little rich for a hot summer day, but you'll be craving it through fall. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Kazumi

8926 N Lombard St., 503-309-2548, kazumisushi.com.

High-quality sushi carts in Portland are as rare as bluefin tuna are in the Pacific—especially since Belmont Street's Sushi PDX closed. Kazumi, a new St. Johns cart, adds to the former without damaging the latter. Chef/owner Kazumi Boyd worked at the well-regarded West End joint Masu Sushi before spending three years at Bamboo Sushi, and focuses on sustainably caught fish like albacore and salmon. But for a non-aquatic highlight, get his exceptionally creamy tofu made in house (or rather, in trailer), which comes with grated ginger, scallion and soy. Note that prices are higher than most food carts—$17 nets a light meal of a spicy salmon roll with pickled burdock, two pieces of albacore sashimi and that wonderful tofu bowl. ZACH MIDDLETON.

Tehuana Oaxacan Cuisine

1331 N Killingsworth St., 360-721-3457. Facebook.com/tehuanapdx

Antojitos—meaning literally "little cravings"—are pieces of pure deliciousness. New Killingsworth food cart Tehuana Oaxacan Cuisine offers a strong introduction to that Mexican region's famous street foods. Tacos al pastor are rich and moist, not dry like they so often are elsewhere. You can also find huge tlayudas and their smaller relatives memelitas—flat, crisped tortillas covered with frijoles revueltos (pureed black beans) and topped with your choice of meat, finished off with a mound of shredded cabbage and string-cheeselike Oaxacan cheese.

All of the cart's tortillas are hand-pressed and surprisingly delicate. Meanwhile, an agua fresca was made from beautifully ripe cantaloupe, and was insanely refreshing in the heat of the mostly shadeless asphalt parking lot. ZM.

Related:

Fine Goose

3267 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503-539-7318, finegoose.us.

Fine Goose is like something you'd find in the south of France—the sort of low-cost, domestic, humble, peasant-dish eatery that might serve fresh nicoise salad and a cold cucumber soup. Except in the case of Fine Goose, it's Nimes chef Jean Broquere's family recipe for ratatouille—a cockle-warming summer vegetable stew—and probably the only quiche in Portland I've truly loved.

The $8 rotating greens-topped egg tart, filled with bacon and onion on my visit, is so soft, rich, savory and airily fluffy, it makes quiche-and-salad into a compliment for the first time since maybe 1955.

A plate of hearty pâté and rillettes is bewilderingly cheap, at a mere $5. And $12 nets a whole country meal: a plate of just-so salty duck confit atop voluminous mashed potatoes, with fresh salad and a little tomato gratiné. If the potatoes were a tad dry, it's no big whoop: Fine Goose makes a very fine duck. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Le Pantry

113 SE 28th Ave.

Ankeny Street food cart Le Pantry serves perhaps my favorite green salad in the city. The fresh greens come varied, sweet and flavorful without any microgreen bitterness or overthought dandelions, topped with a delicious, subtly citric vinaigrette. It's as remarkable as it is simple.

Those greens are also perhaps the one constant at this French-influenced, lovingly domestic food cart—served as a side for rotating seasonal fare like a delicious smoked-trout-and-egg salad ($10) on crusty country-bread toast and topped with sprigs of fresh dill, or green-tomato-dappled pork belly ($10), whose texture is managed with admirable delicacy. A sweetly caramelized short rib topped with apples and flecked hard cheese, large enough for a full meal, seemed criminally cheap at $12.

Maybe best of all was a mushroom dish with rice gravy, like risotto in photonegative. Le Pantry feels less like a cart than home-cooked fare from someone's actual pantry who happens to have one hell of a garden. MK.

Bari

5205 SE Foster Road, 360-213-7200, facebook.com/barifoodcart.

This cart makes panzerotti, essentially deep-fried stromboli with a light, airy dough. They're made by a man from Southern Italy, who makes them just like he does at home. At $8 for a large that's not quite a meal for one, they're a little pricey for cart fare. Because they basically have the nutritional profile of a mozzy stick, they also don't make much of a meal. But they are exceptionally tasty, popping with bright marinara and gooey cheese. MC.

Boke Dokie

Southwest 10th Avenue and Washington Street cart pod, bokedokie.com.

I don't know why the people at Boke are so much better with veggies than meat—I'll still take their great fennel dashi over the pork version at the Boke Bowl ramen spots—but there you go. At sandwich cart Boke Dokie, I'd eat the fried tofu sandwich before the ever-so-slightly oversweet chicken version, though both are pretty good fried up in breading with a kimchi and pickle top. But while the wealth of mayo is a bit much on the chicken, it's just right for the tofu.

Even better are a mix of crisped, spicy veggies and a killer bag of shoestring fries that are best naked, without the sauces thrown in the bag. Just don't get dessert. That tiny hand pie tastes the way a Walgreens smells. MK.