Lets talk about food carts. I know you’ve heard of them. Maybe you’ve seen that food cart show Eat Street on the Cooking Channel, or Anthony Bourdain’s many segments devoted to the art of the food truck. Its undeniable that the Portland food cart scene is a lively one, so chances are you’ve been to a couple.
Lets talk about food carts. I know you’ve heard of them. Maybe you’ve seen that food cart show Eat Street on the Cooking Channel, or Anthony Bourdain’s many segments devoted to the art of the food truck. Its undeniable that the Portland food cart scene is a lively one, so chances are you’ve been to a couple. Maybe you’ve been to Potato Champion in Southeast in the middle of an all-nighter, or maybe you’ve enjoyed the various offerings at the Mississippi Marketplace pod up on North Mississippi Avenue. Food carts are easy to find, but, for the uninitiated, their appeal can be a bit difficult to articulate.
Food carts were originally conceived as a working-class eating option. Around the world, street food vendors have catered to construction workers and attendees of public bazaars—you could even argue that humble hot dog vendors at the baseball stadium fit into the street food category as well. There’s just something to be said about watching food slingers who can do so much with such a small amount of space, and getting to connect so directly with owners and chefs; it’s one of those intangible feelings that just about every Portlander seems to get.
So what about PSU? Essentially, Portland State’s campus food cart scene breaks down into three categories. So, please, use this carefully curated list and enjoy some good food—and be sure to Google the Go Box thing. It’s awesome.
Southwest Fourth Avenue and Hall Street
Throw a rock at these food carts and there’s no telling what kind of cuisine you might hit (but please, fellow Vikings, don’t actually throw rocks). The initial visit to this food cart mecca can be an overwhelming one. With so many food carts, where to begin?
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
All talk of the best food cart at PSU begins and ends here. This is it. It’s been profiled by media outlets from the Cooking Channel to Canada’s The Globe and Mail to Bon Appetit, and for good reason. Nong’s Khao Man Gai serves up a Chinese staple done perfectly. The best place to start is the No. 1, the eponymous khao man gai. The ingredients, just chicken and rice after all, are simple—but the results are divine. You come at the king, you best not miss.
Salvadoran Pupusas and Tamales
I had never even heard of pupusas before attendingPSU. Simply put, they’re delicious. Imagine a pancake-thick corn tortilla stuffed with cheese and jalapeno or meaty pork goodness. That’s what this cart serves up, and mighty affordably too. Be sure to check out their tamales as well, if you’re into that sort of thing.
There are so many Thai food carts in the 97201 zip code it’s impossible to profile them all. That said, Thai Pasta is my favorite. They offer an inventive take on the usual Thai food cart fare, using unexpected pasta to liven up Thai staples—their delicious spaghetti kee mao being the perfect example. They’ll also pair most of their dishes with an appetizer and a beverage in an affordable combo option. That said, steer clear of the fried rice. I made the mistake of deviating from my usual go-to and was greeted by a one-way ticket to Pea and Carrot City, population one kajillion. (“You know what the best part of that dish was? The peas and carrots!” said no one ever.)
Southwest Park Blocks
This is where the Portland Farmers Market, which is home to some of the area’s oldest food carts, congregates every Saturday.
Basha’s Mediterranean Cuisine
The “Original PSU Food Cart,” Basha’s has been a go-to lunch spot of mine for years. They always have affordably priced lunch specials and falafel you can depend on. Be sure to ask for the spicy sauce!
Hot Dogs and Fries
Have you been to PSU’s newest food cart, Hot Dogs and Fries? Ask yourself, “Do I like hot dogs? Do I like fries?” If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then consider giving this cart a try. The chili cheese fries are incredible: fresh crinkled fries smothered in delicious meaty chili and topped with spicy sausage. The owner is incredibly friendly, and when I told him that I was hungry he replied, “That’s good, because these chili cheese fries were designed specifically to cure hunger.” Good to know. There are also a variety of sauces—from garlic aioli to chipotle mayo to the classic Thousand Island—with which to smother your dog. Doggone it, what are you waiting for?
Hey vegans! No, you haven’t been forgotten. Tandem Treats, “all local and mostly organic,” brings you an eclectic menu of various meatless hot dog offerings from a cart that’s propelled by a tandem bicycle. If you think that’s neat, just take a gander at the amazing double-unicorn logo. Whoa!
Fifth Avenue Parking Lot (at Harrison Street)
Its only a two-cart pod, but the ground floor of the Fifth Avenue Parking Garage houses two excellent food carts with ample seating.
La Casita Mexican Grill
La Casita serves up some of the best Mexican food in the city at an insanely affordable clip (their three-taco special is only $5) and also offers a plethora of delicious handmade salsas to drench your tacos in. The combo meals are delicious and come with rice and black beans.
We Be Wieners
One of several excellent hot dog carts in the area, We Be Wieners opened in 2005, bringing a lot of variety to the table with items like corn dogs and Frito pie. Be sure to try the Porklandia sandwich—much more enjoyable than the show it’s named after.