Dive into the Best Food Carts in Portland for Food Cart Dining Month
What’s one of the first things that come to mind when thinking of Portland, Oregon? The incredible food. From simmering ramen to Texas-worthy barbecue, Portland’s food scene is in a class of its own, encompassing global cuisines and food cultures as well as innovative fusion experiments. While an excellent meal is always to be found at any restaurant, one of the things that makes Portland’s food scene so unique are its hundreds of food carts. Located throughout the city on their own or in groupings known as “pods”, Portland’s food carts are as multicultural and diverse as the overall dining scene, serving up everything from hearty burgers to Filipino fare. And they do it all from the tiniest kitchens.
In honor of Food Cart Dining Month in April, we’ve picked some of the hottest and most popular food carts to highlight around Portland, as well as offering a handy guide for how to dive into Portland’s food cart scene.
Exploring Portland’s Food Cart Pods
One of the best ways to start exploring and discovering the best food carts in Portland is by visiting some of the many food cart pods set up around the city. While food trucks in other cities will often change location, food carts in Portland generally stay in the same place, hence why locally they’re known as food carts and not food trucks. In these groupings of multiple carts, you can try a wide variety of different dining options, and they frequently have amenities like seating areas and heaters.
Varying in size from a handful of carts to mega-pods with more than 20 food carts, upwards of 15 food pods are scattered around town. The bulk are located centrally around downtown and the trendy Southeast neighborhood, home to major foodie streets like Hawthorne, Division and Belmont. In many of the pods, like the Hawthorne Asylum, Cartopia and St. John’s Food & Beer Porch, the carts have a ton of different cuisines to choose from, like sushi burritos, Burmese, Thai, Russian, Cajun and many more. But other pods are centered around a distinct part of the world or culture. Portland Mercado is just such a hub for all manner of Latin American grub, from Oaxacan at Tierra del Sol to Peruvian at Tita’s Peruvian Kitchen.
And if you’re vegan or vegetarian, don’t worry. Portland food carts have you covered there as well. Portland has one of the most forward-thinking vegan food scenes anywhere (we should know, as the popular Plant Based Papi serves his delicious vegan food at Sentinel’s Fortune bar), and you’ll find vegan food carts recreating all sorts of cuisines and beloved dishes into vegan and vegetarian-friendly options. You’ll find plant-based Southern fare at Dirty Lettuce, Chinese classics like dan dan noodles at Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen, veggie-heavy sandwiches and mains at Flourish and much more.
The Best Food Carts in Portland
Honestly, it would be impossible to pick and completely list the best food carts in Portland. On top of there being so many – there are estimated to be at least 500 around the city - each is delicious in its own way. But there are some that are among the most popular and are considered must-try destinations for out-of-towners looking to discover the best that Portland food carts have to offer.
At this Chinese food cart in the downtown area, thick, lengthy strands of noodles are hand-pulled right in front of you for lamian noodle soup with beef bone broth or stir-fried chao mian with vegetables and a protein like chicken or tofu. Rotating options of pan-fried dumplings and jian bing Chinese crepes are also available.
Looking for a taste of the South here in Portland? Hit up Erica’s Soul Food for the ultimate comfort soul food, from can-never-have-too-many chicken wings in a variety of flavors to crispy catfish. The sides all hold their own too, with rich, creamy mac & cheese, black-eyed peas and collard greens.
If visiting the Nob Hill Food Carts in Northwest during peak hours, expect a bit of a wait for this cart at the back of the pod. But it’s so worth it. Specializing in jian bings, which are a popular Chinese street food similar to a savory crepe, they’re made hot and fresh to order with fillings like egg, green onion, wonton crackers and their signature bing sauce. You can also get them loaded with other ingredients like roasted duck or Chinese sausage.
Start your day off right with a breakfast sandwich from this popular food cart in Pioneer Square. Made with toasted sourdough bread, tuck into filling sandwiches with fun, punny names like the Egg Zeppelin, which comes with egg, sausage patties, cheddar and their house made “aardvark” aioli or the sausage patty, parmesan and pesto-based Yolko Ono.
If you have a hankering for Korean barbecue or Korean cuisine in general, sidle up to the ordering window at this food cart along Division Street in Southeast Portland. It’s impossible to go wrong choice-wise, from tender bulgogi beef to kimchi fried rice to tasty Korean hotdogs.
Arguably the best chicken sandwich in Portland can be found at Jojo in Southeast Portland. Along with burgers and wings, the fried chicken sandwiches are full of flavor and texture, with a crunchy exterior and chewy interior. And don’t forget the side of jojos potato wedges, available on their own or loaded up with add-ons like cheese and caramelized onions.
Barbecue lovers, take note. Matt’s needs to be on your food cart foodie tour list. Located at the Prost Marketplace on North Mississippi Avenue, this food cart serves up the best Texas-style barbecue outside of the Lone Star State. Chow down on drool-worthy favorites like succulent pork spare ribs, sausage, brisket, barbecue sandwiches and more, with delicious sides like mac and cheese and pinto beans. After you’re done (and have room again) head over to the Hinterland Bar & Carts in Southeast Portland to visit their sister cart, Matt’s BBQ Tacos. Cradled between warm flour tortillas, savor juicy pork belly or pulled pork topped with guacamole and pickled onions or breakfast tacos piled high with fluffy eggs, potatoes, cheese and other toppings.
Who doesn’t love a sandwich where the fillings are almost too much for the bread? This Japanese-style sandwich joint in downtown knows what’s up. Squeezed between two pieces of white bread, giant slabs of crispy panko-breaded chicken or pork katsu with cabbage and sauces or delectable egg salad make for a delicious, filling lunch.
Birria, which is a shredded beef stew originally hailing from Jalisco, Mexico, is all the rage right now, and this family-run food cart is worth the trip to the far-out reaches of Southeast Portland. The cheesy tacos de birria are a stand-out hit, best dunked into a cup of consommé broth for maximum flavor. You can also get birria burritos, tostadas and more.
On top of classic Vietnamese dishes like thit kho braised pork belly and shoulder and cá chiên fried catfish, this Vietnamese-American food cart in Northeast Portland also specializes in exciting collaborations between Vietnamese and American food, like pandan donuts and a brunch breakfast sandwich made with a curry-spiced hashbrown. New offerings and creations are constantly popping up, so this is a great place to go time and time again to try something new.
Discover Portland Food Carts with Provenance
In Portland, a good meal is never far away. And from our local Portland hotels, it’s even closer. Many popular food carts and food cart pods are within walking distance of a Provenance property. Hotel Lucia, Woodlark and Dossier are just a few blocks from the food carts in Pioneer Square, as well as the many great food carts around downtown like Stretch the Noodle. Sentinel, Hotel deLuxe and The Heathman Hotel are also close by. You can easily walk from your hotel room to grab a bite to eat, or even order delivery as many food carts offer delivery. At Provenance, we want our guests to connect with the local culture and experience the best our city has to offer. And Portland’s food carts represent Portland at its diverse, multicultural and boundary-pushing best.