Much has been made about Portland and their 500+ food carts, to the point where the city has been rebranded Cartlandia and rather than individual mobile eateries parked in front of parks and sports stadiums, they’ve formed food cart "pods" all over the city, like dense areas thickly populated with these tiny gourmet shopfronts and hungry hipsters leaping from line to line, getting to the unique eats before anyone else does. Portland is a town that oscillates predominantly between sunny and rainy, and when it’s rainy, its citizens simply thank the awnings for their protection from precipitation. When it’s sunny, people forget that ceilings exist, rather opting to spend the day outside lolling on the grass. Thus, the eatery comes to them, in droves, huddled in green parks and hawking original fare that doesn’t quite fit in fine-dining but goes above and beyond fast food. Here’s where to direct your fork in Portland.
Find a taste of Britain in Portland – not in a cheesy faux-British pub, but a truly authentic chippy cart, care of a chef straight from Glasgow. The Frying Scotsman is classic, delicious eating: battered cod, haddock, halibut, red snapper, and mahi mahi served alongside a generous portion of chips (that is, fries), and throws in some housemade tartar sauce. Sounds simple enough, but its the high quality of their offerings that have helped them get featured on the Food Network and a handful of local publications – it also helps that they’re one of the few places in the country that also serve deep fried Scottish Haggis.
To their loyal following, they’re known simply as P Champ, but to the rest of the world, they are The Potato Champion. It doesn’t seem difficult to master the art of the french fry, but the Potato Champion goes above and beyond to emerge victorious. They offer 14 sauces ranging from safe comforts like chipotle mayo to the adventurous in rosemary truffle ketchup and tarragon anchovy mayo; as well as six types of stuff-on-fries, like the classic Canadian poutine, the PBandJ fries topped with Thai peanut satay sauce and smoky chipotle raspberry jam, the pulled pork fries and even palak paneer fries. In the kingdom of Belgian fried potato, P Champ reigns supreme.
Where would the world of food trucks be without the hardworking and always pleasing Korean taco? Somebody’s got to keep that dream alive in every city, and thankfully, the dream is very much alive at the much-lauded Koi Fusion. From Seoul sliders made with Bulgogi beef, shredded napa cabbage, bean sprouts, spicy mayo and cheddar cheese to mozzarella and jack cheese kimchi quesadilla, Koi has proven to a lot of truck fans that fresh ingredients, loyalty to tradition and culinary innovation can turn a humble truck into a national hit. Koi have expanded from one truck into three mobile trucks, two stationary locations and a catering branch, gathering more press accolades and feature profiles on their way.
Simple, simple, simple is what Nong's Khao Man Gai is selling from her humble little truck shack. It’s Thai and Hainanese-style chicken and rice, served in a parcel of butcher paper with a side of Nong’s special sauce. Her chicken is boiled and cooked in Asian aromatics like Pandan leaves, ginger, shallots and garlic lying on a bed of chicken-infused Jasmine rice made with the leftover chicken broth and garnished with cilantro and cucumbers. This dish alone (Nong doesn’t have anything else on the menu) has drawn positive press from all over the country, and beyond, proving that the best things come in simple packages.
A sudden and jarring departure from the simple elegance of Nong’s Khao Man Gai, way on the other side of the spectrum is a food truck that has gained success in lots and lots of fattening, greasy and positively decadent stuff. There’s definitely brunch at the Brunch Box, in the form of their wide variety of breakfast sandwiches on diner’s choice of Texas toast, bun, English muffin, bagel, biscuit or wheat bread. The range includes offerings with the standard bacon and egg, but also Spam, teriyaki and even aardvark. Their real meals come in the form of burgers – messy, slobbery, bursting, and delicious, artery-clogging concoctions.