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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.