WHEN HIS CONDO PROJECT tanked last year, low-key developer Roger Goldingay became Portland’s Accidental Food Cart Visionary, transforming an empty lot into a new model for street food: an intentional food-cart community and neighborhood gathering place. Curated and comfortable, Mississippi Marketplace boasts 10 spiffy carts, pop-up vendors, and a craft-food mentality, plus plentiful shaded tables in a revival-tent atmosphere. Goldingay lured some budding food-cart stars, discovered unknown talent, and created an outdoor eating destination (and vegan stronghold) unlike any place in the country. Don’t expect fast-food or deep-fried goofs here. Think Slow Food-Cart Movement, where dedicated cooks grind quinoa into flour, carefully source ingredients, and pay attention to presentation. Twenty minutes for a fried-egg sandwich—are you serious? Then again, it may be the best you’ve ever had.
Garden State: Cured Lemon Chicken Sandwich ($7.50)
Sellwood cart hero Kevin Sandri upped his ambitions at this Mississippi expansion, reimagining his Sicilian-Jersey roots in ever-changing sandwiches and specials like rockfish and roasted radishes, all built around hyperlocal vegetables from community-supported agriculture shares, with surprising compositions and plenty of finesse. (Who else hits a hoagie with orange marmalade-balsamic spread?) Among the finds: the Cured Lemon Chicken Sandwich, stacked with beautifully grilled marinated thighs, crunchy pencils of asparagus, Sandri’s divine salt-and-sugar-cured Meyer lemons, and a slick of honey. Check out our video about Garden State’s Sellwood location.
The Big Egg: The Arbor Lodge ($6.50)
Every breakfast joint has fried-egg sandwiches, but this egg yolk-colored cart puts them on the pedestal as its raison d’être, each one artfully constructed with the unexpected, from fresh organic jam to nasturtium blossoms. The Monte Cristo, on cardamom-flecked French toast, is already a legend, but the Arbor Lodge is the sleeper: beds of deeply grilled, thick-cut portobello and slow-cooked balsamic onion provide a cozy berth for an over-easy egg, all lacquered with roasted-garlic aioli on buttery, toasty brioche.
Nuevo Mexico: Sopapillas ($6)
Adorned with dangling chile lights and Mexican-wrestler toys, former Shins drummer Jesse Sandoval’s cart is an ode to the brow-mopping foods of his New Mexico youth, from posole to tamales cloaked in green-chile stew. This may be cowboy food, but it’s demanding—and despite keeping inconsistent hours, Sandoval goes the distance, flying in the right chiles and sweating over the long-simmering details. Essential order: stuffed, hand-rolled sopapillas (think flaky Hot Pocket) holding a creamy mass of beef crumbles, tender pinto beans, and righteously hot chiles, under the requisite New Mexican mantle of shredded cheddar and iceberg lettuce.
Sugar Cube: Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake ($3.50)
Rising cart phenom Kir Jensen dispenses style, sophistication, and sass from Portland’s first haute dessert wagon, where the impressive repertoire includes vanilla-bean ice cream sandwiches bound by pecan-chunked “Triple Threat” cookies glazed with salted caramel. Even the drinks here are special, including fruit smoothies and fizzes spiked with Japanese drinking vinegars. The ultimate splurge can be found in the Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake—an elegant chocolate buttermilk cake crowned with whole Ruffles potato chips rising from the deep, dark frosting, draped in drizzles of Jensen’s salted caramel sauce. Die now … with a smile.