While Portland may be known for many things — craft beer, strip clubs, PBR-toting fixed-gear enthusiasts, and, of course, the infamous Unipiper — some of the city’s greatest treasures are its splendid food carts. Home to a variety of diverse pods ranging from the Latin-inspired Mercado to the humble Tidbit pod and beyond, you can find food from just about every corner of the world represented in one of them.
Since walking around in search of a good food cart is one of Portland’s greatest pleasures, we’ve rounded up the best dishes served from food carts the city has to offer. We’re talking about the kind of dishes that are so good they almost demand to be eaten, aka the kind of meals foodie dreams are made of. Time to crack open a beer and get exploring.
Forget everything you ever thought you knew about burritos because KOI Fusion’s delicious Korean burritos are here to steal your heart. While you can choose from stuffing your burrito with a range of meats including chicken, pork, and steak, it’s the short rib — made perfectly tangy with a hint of kimchi and a hefty dollop of guac alongside — that’ll have you audibly moaning in no time at all.
Kingsland Kitchen’s all-day British fry up serves as the perfect antidote to the kind of earth-shattering hangovers earned after an especially raucous Sunday Funday. Chow down on bangers (pork sausages), bacon, fried eggs, baked beans, and tomatoes complete with a French roll and HP sauce for the kind of breakfast that’ll bring all the carnivores to the yard.
Proof that a humble dish done well merits fame and fortune, Nong’s signature dish is a Portland staple that’s dazzling in its simplicity: It’s just chicken poached in an aromatic broth served with rice and herbs. The broth is nourishing in the kind of way chicken soup hits you when you’re sick, and tastes like it’s been cooking all day, to boot, making it one of the most elementary must-have meals you can have in Portland.
Residents of the South Waterfront have one distinct advantage over the rest of the city: steady access to some of the best tri-tip sandwiches you can get your hands on in the PNW. This mighty cart cranks out BBQ sandwiches that are practically overflowing with juicy, tender tri-tip, grilled onions, and cheese for a mere $8, making it an ideal spot for those in search of a tasty, filling lunch.
The premise here is simple yet immensely satisfying. Grab a bowl full of hearty rice, beans, cheese, avocado, and salsa for a guilt-free-burrito feel on the go. What makes it deliciously addictive, however, is the Tali sauce, a gift from the gods themselves in liquid form that’s irresistibly tangy and will have you shamelessly licking your fingers for hours later.
Cute punny names aside (Sriracha Mix-A-Lot, Egg Zeppelin), all the sandwiches here are served on toasted sourdough from Portland French Bakery, made with locally sourced eggs, and sprinkled in a special “magic egg dust” spice. As sandwiches go, The Yolko Ono takes the crown: lovingly paired with a fried egg, pesto, Parmesan, and sausage, it encapsulates the meaty, salty essence of breakfast at its finest.
If the secret to perfectly cooked meat is love, care, and ample amounts of smoke, then the folks at Chicken and Guns have reached peak form with the Latin-style wood-smoked chicken. Not only is the chicken naturally raised from local farms, it’s also served with ample amounts of the Peruvian-inspired Aji sauce (cilantro, jalapeños, and sour cream) and double fried crispy potatoes to top the whole thing off.
Quite possibly some of the best BBQ in Portland, Matt’s BBQ serves up a frenzy of succulent Texas-inspired ribs, spicy hot links, and more — but it’s the brisket that’s really worth hanging around for. Think of it as soulful, melt-in-your-mouth meat butter. Get it in sandwich form or naked alongside more traditional sides like coleslaw and potato salad.
Open till 3am to cater to eager, munchie-ravaged bar hoppers, Potato Champion specializes in serving up Belgian-style fries (and poutine) along with a range of gourmet sauces that elevate the humble little potato to new heights. Try not to drool as you go through the sauce list, which features dips like bourbon honey mustard, chipotle mayo, and buttermilk ranch.
What happens when Korean meets Hawaiian food? A crazy delicious crossover that makes for killer lunches, that’s what. Served up with rice, kimchi, spinach, and cucumber, the Bulgogi beef is full of delicious umami flavor without being too salty or sweet, and compliments the creamy avocado alongside it perfectly. You should also add some extra macaroni salad onto your bowl, because it’s just that good.
Nothing quite says Portland like a vegetarian friendly Mexican joint with a reputation for stuffed-as-fuck burritos. The Garbage Burrito — filled with chicken, beef, pork, beans, rice, and cheese plus salsa — is perhaps best summed up in one Yelp review: “When I’ve had a really bad day, I eat an entire garbage burrito and the world seems like a better place.” Burritos can be a magical thing, indeed.
In a town that’s already packed with delicious crispy wings, Mama Chow’s still stands apart. These lollipop chicken wings are dangerously good. Tender and juicy despite their crispy honey and soy glazed exteriors, these wings near perfection when paired with the garlic noodles for a combination of salty and sweet with a hint of spice that makes for an incredibly satisfying experience.
Specializing in Peruvian-style cuisine, Polli-Taco’s all about “pollos a la brasa,” aka charbroiled chicken done right. Dry rubbed and tenderly roasted to juicy perfection on a spit, the rotisserie chicken is served in quarter, half, or whole sizes with sides like rice, beans, and plantains, but the chicken is so good it almost warrants being eaten on its own.
You can think of the dish Jian Bing as a Chinese breakfast crepe. It’s a grilled crepe filled with a variety of ingredients, including chili sauce, pickled veggies, fried egg, and cilantro, and manages to hit a wide range of flavors including salty, tangy, sweet, and crunchy all at once, making it a texturally satisfying dish to snack on while on the go (or anytime, really).
Served best when super-sized, this gyro is filled with ample amounts of tender, shredded lamb tucked into a fluffy pita with tzatziki and feta cheese for extra tangy flavor beyond your wildest dreams. And at only $9 for that big-ass portion, it’s the kind of gyro you can’t help but think back on fondly — and often.
With three school buses compromising the Grilled Cheese fleet, it’s easy to get your cheese fixin’ on just about anywhere in the city. Go beyond the grilled cheeses of your childhood and tuck into The Cheezsus, a delightful concoction with two separate grilled cheese sandwiches acting as the buns for a burger patty. Only in America, friends, can grilled cheese be elevated to such a form.
Pizza was made to be wood-fired, a fact you can taste when biting into the crispy, thin crust of the Number One. Having earned its namesake most likely due to its wild popularity, it’s a pizza decked out with tangy tomato sauce, hints of Calabrian chili, and roasted garlic along with sausage and mozzarella that demands to be eaten large mouthfuls at a time.
Proclaimed as “Portland’s favorite hangover cure,” the Bimbim Box is Korean BBQ served alongside rice, Japchae (potato noodles), and a rich, fried egg on top. The textural contrast of the egg alongside the soft rice and crispy fermented veggies is deeply satisfying, and made even more so when served with kalbi short ribs, complete with a nice kick of heat and giant portion sizes to boot.
This is a mole that’s as authentic as you’ll ever find stateside. Made by Pueblan native Juan Fernando Otero, this mole recipe uses more than 30 ingredients and takes more than 13 hours to prepare. The chocolate is even homemade, which brings us to our final point: You can literally taste the love and devotion that goes into this dish. Do yourself a favor and go get some immediately.