With more than 600 food carts and counting, Portland leaves other food truck-heavy U.S. cities in the dust. The carts are clustered together in pods and are run by trained chefs who whip up exquisite creations that are easy on the wallet. However, with so many options, it can be overwhelming for newbies. To get started, these are Portland's top food carts.
Considered one of the best Texas barbecue spots in the city, Matt’s BBQ always has a line, and they often sell out of meat early in the day. First-timers should try the Whole Shebang: a medley of their perfectly smoked meats (usually brisket, pork ribs, and sausage) and three sides. If you want the same meat served with a twist, give their Texas-style tacos a try at Matt's BBQ Tacos. And you would be doing yourself a disservice if you ignored their famous queso mac and cheese.
Chef Eric Gitenstein is as friendly as they come, and you can’t miss his lone food cart, brightly colored and situated smack dab in the middle of trendy North Williams Ave. His dishes are Southwest-inspired and Portland made. A favorite is the Brunch Burrito, with everything you could hope for to start your day off right. Chef Eric also makes a mean paella, with different flavors each week. And who can forget Taco Tuesdays? If you come at a slow time, he may even come out to your picnic table and strike up a conversation.
Fried Egg I'm In Love
With a nod to the classic Cure song, half of the fun is in the names given to the delectable, hand-held breakfast sandwiches sold here. You'll find yummy morning creations as Sriracha Mix-a-Lot, Smells Like Protein Spirit, and the Egg Zeppelin. The signature sandwich is the Yolko Ono; a delicious pairing of fried egg, pesto, parmesan, and a sausage patty, all wrapped up in perfectly toasted sourdough bread. You can’t miss their cart, because it’s painted in—you guessed it—bright, egg-yolk yellow.
Stretch the Noodle
This is one of the few food carts where you get to see the glorious spectacle of noodle-making. Husband and wife team Xuemei and Duane Simard offer up freshly-made la mian noodles right before your eyes. They are to be eaten immediately, fresh from the steamy pot, to take advantage of their glorious texture. Mixed with some oh-so-spicy chili oil and fresh veggies, and it’s no wonder people keep coming back. The beef soup is a must-try, with savory broth that rivals Xuemei’s perfect noodles. Then there are the dumplings; full of flavor and each containing an entire shrimp with the tail sticking out.
Viking Soul Food
Norwegians don’t get enough love, and they certainly aren't known for their food, but Viking Soul Food aims to change that. Housed in a stylish airstream, newbies to this Scandinavian food cart will discover the wonder that is Norwegian lefse, a potato flatbread that acts as the perfect wrap. Their handmade lefse houses such flavor combinations as meatballs with gravy or sumptuous smoked salmon with dill and crème fraiche. Pair that with their seafood chowder, then wash it all down with lingonberry iced tea. Perfection.
Portland really knows its barbecue, so another southern-style food cart had to make this list. Since its reopening in 2019, their Texas-style brisket and ribs are widely celebrated amongst Portland culinary aficionados. Botto's has a hard-core following who cannot get enough of the slab pork ribs, carnitas chili verde, kielbasa sausage, and pork belly burnt ends.
Childhood friends Jesse (a sous chef) and Robin started their food cart business in July 2016 with a three-item menu written on a paper bag and now the pair run Gumba. This cart in a converted airstream offers a low-cost, high-end dining experience with some seriously good Italian food. The menu changes regularly based on which locally-sourced ingredients are available and is kept short—that way you know that each tasty dish is carefully crafted with love. Give the house-made burrata, served with fry bread, a try before diving into a plate of juicy short ribs braised in red wine, served over pappardelle.
Bing Mi serves up handmade savory Chinese crepes that are a wonderful iteration of classic street food with a flair for the artistic. It’s the little things, like the addition of a wonton cracker inside that gives it a special crunch, a touch of cilantro that adds the perfect pop of flavor, and a perfect blend of pickled veggies. It is the juxtaposition of flavors and textures that keeps you coming back to this popular food cart.
Flew the Coop
Flew the Coop serves some of the best chicken sandwiches in Portland, and that's saying something. Located at the Bite of Belmont, they have perfected the art of the southern-fried chicken sandwich. The menu is tight, so you know each and every item has been honed to perfection. Try the KFC (Korean Fried Chicken), served with a sweet and spicy Korean chili sauce so tasty you'll forget about the fast-food chicken chain of the same name. The Buffalo and Nashville hot chicken sandwiches are also worth a try. For those who want to play it safe, they do have a traditional fried chicken sandwich. All can be paired with delectable sides.
Mama Chow's Kitchen
At Mama Chow’s, the Lollipop Wings are a must-order. The chicken is cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of savory crunch, and the wings are aptly named. You can hold one end in your hand and munch on the other end. Add nicely steamed bok choy, a smattering of white rice, and you have yourself a pretty delectable lunch. Wings not your thing? Opt for Kalua Pork, garlic noodles, pork & shrimp wonton soup, or any number of rotating daily specials.