Portlandia: Food Trucks

by Chris on July 13, 2011

Noshing our way through Portland food trucks on our recent Oregon road trip.

Portland food trucks

Where: No U.S. city does street food like Portland, where you’ll not only find food stalls bunched up downtown, you can visit “pods,” where food trucks clump together like a mini food court. On our last Oregon roadtrip, we  visited two pods on the south side of the city: Cartopia at SE 12th and Hawthorne and the D Street Noshery on SE Division Stret.

Portland food trucks

Why we went:  On our previous trip to Portland, we spent our time in some of the city’s James Beard-caliber restaurants, Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok and Chris Israel’s Gruner. Both were great, but we looked longingly at the food stalls we saw downtown, especially as many of them were closed. Plus we had vowed to save money on our impromptu trip. How better to save than to head to the places where you could get a meal for under $10?

Portland food trucks

Who’s there:  We went to D Street Noshery around dinner time, and saw everyone from couples to families to teenagers. Those who were drinking age hung out near the Captured by Porches beer bus which served various homebrews in the tented picnic area until 10 p.m. We hit Cartopia at 10:30, after the Waterfront Blues Festival let out for the night. Naturally the crowd was mostly hipsters either fueling up to go out or catching a snack on the way home.

Portland food trucks

Chowing down: At D Street Noshery, Don bought a chicken and pork arepa from Fuego de Lotus, while I couldn’t resist stopping at Herb’s Mac n’Cheese. Our choices at Cartopia were Cajun food from Bubba Bernie’s and poutine at Potato Champion.

Beer from Captured by Porches, a Portland food truck

Libations: A beer bus! What a great idea, right? As we sipped our Invasive Species lagers, served in Mason jars, Don and I ruminated on a world where beer trucks would roam the neighborhood, playing a muzak version of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” that would make the adults come running.

Mac and cheese from a Portland food truck

Order this:  When I got to the counter of Herb’s Mac n Cheese, I was flummoxed. So many toppings, for such a simple dish. So I asked the guys at the counter for their recommendation. They came up with a concoction that included blue cheese, spinach, jalapeños and bacon. Yum! The size you see above is a regular, not the double, btw.

Portland food trucks

Meh: Maybe the truck owners at Cartopia are used to a stoner crowd that thinks everything tastes good. But we were uniformly disappointed with all of the items we bought in that pod. The po’boy from Bubba Bernie’s wasn’t a real New Orleans-style sandwich and my poutine – while exciting to taste, just for its novelty – quickly lost its appeal. Plus, no beer at Cartopia. So D Street Noshery won out for us.

Portland food trucks

The damage: Most food cart items range between $5 to $10, depending on how fancy you get. Most of the pods have ATMs nearby, in case you need some cash. You can definitely fill up for under $20.

Portland food trucks

Go back? Food truck fun is in the variety, I think, and I didn’t find any one dish that would make me follow a certain cart on Twitter. We’d probably hit D Street Noshery again, particularly as it’s within distance of the Whiskey Soda Lounge, a cocktail bar from Pok Pok owner Andy Ricker (hint: You can get the famed fish sauce chicken wings there, without enduring the Pok Pok lines!)

Portland food trucks

Deets: All food trucks keep varying hours; it’s not surprising to go to a pod and see one or two closed. Several websites compile information on the trucks:  Food Carts Portland seems to have reliable info.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Melvin July 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

One of the reasons why I love to live and travel in Europe, but also Asia and Africa is that there are soooo many indiviudual snack shacks. Much better than the big fast food chains. The small ones have a much better atmosphere and often also better food. 🙂

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Chris July 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm

@Melvin – Yes! I love the snack shacks and street food in Europe and Asia, and am SO glad that they are becoming trendy here!

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Doug Parker July 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I think I have a new love for food trucks! We don’t have any in Jacksonville besides bar trucks at 2am with nasty hot dogs.

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Chris July 13, 2011 at 9:43 pm

@Doug – You would be amazed at how sophisticated some of the food trucks are. In LA and even Seattle, chefs are starting out in the trucks first, then moving into storefronts once they get enough money. It’s a yummy trend that I wholeheartedly endorse!

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Jason Castellani July 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Now that is a lot of food trucks! From everything I have heard, I would love Portland. We have some food trucks in Miami Beach. Still a lot to taste.

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Chris July 13, 2011 at 9:42 pm

@Jason – I ate at a cool grilled cheese food truck when I was in Miami during Art Basel last year. They’re popping up all over!

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jade July 13, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I love food trucks… that pie truck looks adorable- and I’m sure it’s delicious!

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Sheri Doyle July 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm

If you’d had the chicken and rice at Nong’s (top picture; in the pod at 10th and Alder downtown) you would definitely have a place you’d want to go back to! It’s amazing. Ever since I tried it, I have to have it every time I’m in Portland ;-).

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Chris July 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

@Sheri – Thanks for the tip! We weren’t downtown this time, but Portland has gotten under our skin now so I’m sure we’ll be back soon.

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Don Faust July 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Sheri – I ate at a truck in the same pod near Nong’s. I ordered a gyro, and it was every bit as tasty as the best ones I have had (plus they really filled it with gyro meat).

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Jenn July 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I swear I am hungry now…LOL Those food cars are so cool how they are decorated. The food looks wonderful too!! Wish we had something like this going on around here this week! LOL Cheers, Jenn

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Chris July 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

@Jenn – Yeah, when you arrive at the food truck pod, it’s almost too hard to make a decision! As they all look so cool.

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Sherry July 14, 2011 at 3:11 am

I always find street food more interesting when I travel. And, I’ve had some of my best food experiences from food trucks. I’m so glad that the quality of trucks are rising in the U.S. since there’s more competition now. There’s a similar “pod-like” truck community at lunch time in the Lake Union area Seattle where all the trucks serve comparably great tasting food; a must try.

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Don Faust July 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Sherry – we’ll have to tray the Lake Union trucks. Seattle seems to have a number of regulations which have hindered the food truck movement a bit, but I hope that changes.

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Andrea July 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm

These look awesome – I love this trend. The entrepreneurship and, most of all, the food. We see these food trucks on TV but since we aren’t in the US don’t get to experience them often. I really want to!

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Abby July 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Love it! Love your colorful pics. We just did a similar thing in San Fran, with Kristin Luna, Spencer and Diana — we had a blast! (YUM)

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Chris July 19, 2011 at 10:20 am

@Abby – OMG, what fun (and what great company!) I just love how food trucks are popping up everywhere. It’s a great starting point for creative chefs – and fabulous for all of us foodies out there who don’t want to pay a ton!

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Michael July 18, 2011 at 5:38 am

WOW! Portland, here we come!! On our next visit to the US definitely.
Tummy filling post, this.

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SG August 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Nong’s is NYTimes famous. And it is delicious!

I’m sorry Cartopia wasn’t what you expected – it is indeed a hipster hangout, not a culinary one. So it’s perfect at 1am when I’m insomniatic and can go a crepe (The Crepe cart is great!) and watch the hipsters giggle at each other while some play music and do capoeira while others give each other dinosaur horoscope reading (it’s weird and involves tiny plastic dinosaurs.)

So many other fantastic carts!
Try the Fifty Licks ice cream cart on Belmont sometime – they have maple bacon ice cream!

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/05/08/travel/1194840085440/portland-s-food-cart-scene.html
http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/travel/10Portland.html

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SG August 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Wait, I’m confused – you didn’t go to Nong’s but you have a picture of it?

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Cailin February 9, 2012 at 7:15 pm

OMG! I’m jealous of this post! I was just in Portland and I saw all of the food trucks but none were ever open when I was around. I’m sure partly because it was the middle of the winter… haha
I must go back now! 🙂

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Don Faust February 9, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Cailin – Herb’s Mac & Cheese is to die for. It has to rank up there with the best mac & cheese I have ever had, and they have a lot of inventive styles.

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