Winning spuds

After a night at the bars, nothing is better than waking up the next afternoon to a giant greasy plate of carbohydrates.

After a night at the bars, nothing is better than waking up the next afternoon to a giant greasy plate of carbohydrates. That’s where Potato Champion—located on Southeast 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard—comes in. Specializing in Belgian-style fries and a fusion of sauces, this food cart is as savory as they come.

Mike McKinnon, the owner, opened Potato Champion in April of 2008. After having visited places like Belgium, Holland and Vancouver, B.C., he was inspired; he decided that Portland needed a fry cart of its very own.

At the time, most of the city’s food carts were located downtown; there were only a few food carts scattered around the Northeast and Southeast districts. However, none of them were open late, McKinnon said.

“I always complained that there wasn’t a place like this in Portland, and that there wasn’t a place to get food late at night,” McKinnon said.

Though the cart attracted younger crowds when it first opened, Potato Champion has slowly been developing a very mixed clientele. On any given day, you’ll witness a nice balance of hipsters, older folk and your average Joe hanging out on the picnic tables outside the cart. Sometimes, you might even catch a glimpse of rollerblading crazies.

The food cart is located on a busy Hawthorne intersection, but because several carts border the lot, it feels fairly secluded. The cart draws a big crowd at night, but tends to have a pretty mellow lunch crowd. Also, the staff is friendly and casual, and more than happy to chat.  

The fries are prepared at the main Potato Champion kitchen on Southeast Second Avenue, where potatoes are peeled, cut and washed. In order to retain the Belgian tradition, the potatoes are blanched at a low temperature, according to Potato Champion’s website. Then a batch is driven to the food cart, where they are fried-to-order at a higher temperature. This process ensures that while the fries are nice and crispy on the outside, they remain soft on the inside.

Fries aside, what really sets this place apart is its variety of homemade sauces, many of which are vegan-friendly. From buttermilk ranch to curry mayo, this place has it all (and hopefully we can find them in stores soon). The wasabi mayo’s spicy flavor goes great with salty fries. The horseradish ketchup, which has an odd aftertaste, may not be for everyone.

In addition, Potato Champion offers three main dishes: poutine, chili cheese fries and PB&J fries.

So far, McKinnon said that the poutine is the most popular dish among customers, as well as his personal favorite. A popular Quebecois treat, poutine is a blend of fries and cheese curds, topped off with gravy. Luckily, this dish can be made to please meat-lovers and vegans alike.

“Right off the bat, a late-night vegan option was a big draw,” McKinnon said.

The vegan PB&J fries—which were recently introduced—are definitely something to check out. But be forewarned: This scrumptious combination of peanut satay sauce and raspberry chipotle jelly is not for the weak of stomachs.

A new addition to the Potato Champion family is the “Spudnick,” a mobile food cart that caters for special events like weddings, the Mobile Chowdown in Seattle, Wash., and, more recently, a Deschutes Brewery tasting event.

If you’re on a budget, Potato Champion will fit. Prices range from $2.50 (for a mini cone) to $7.75 (for a family basket). However, prices vary for the dishes. The cart is open from noon to 3 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Whether you’re looking for something to ease your stomach or just quality food, make sure to pay this cart a visit. Potato Champion has managed to turn a simple snack into something truly unique—and just plain tasty.

And the sauces are…

Potato Champion sauces:

Sweet hot mustard

Pesto mayo

Tarragon anchovy mayo


Buttermilk ranch

Curry mayo

Chipotle mayo

Wasabi mayo

Raita sauce

Rosemary truffle ketchup


Horseradish ketchup


Potato Champion

SE 12th Ave. and Hawthorne Blvd.