Nong at her original location

Image: Karen Brooks

In 2009, alongside upstart carts like Addy’s Sandwich and Potato Champion, PoMo food critic Karen Brooks (at the time, the established Oregonian food critic) named the recently opened Nong’s Khao Man Gai one of her “Top 10 Food Carts” in the O’s A&E section. Said Brooks in her review: “‘Nong’ Poon Sukwattana Narumol works in the style of a Bangkok vendor: staking her reputation on one dish. Her labor-intensive khao man gai could bring a picky Thai grandma to her knees.” 

And with that, Nong became a national darling and the icon of Portland’s then-nascent food cart tourism industry. Nearly a decade later, Nong has two brick-and-mortar locations (the downtown location at 417 SW 13th Avenue is a mere four blocks from the original cart), a successful retail sauce line, and a demanding one-year-old baby on her hands. But on Friday, August 31, Nong disassembled her original food cart for good, a symbol of changing times for Portland’s increasingly developed inner city, and of the fading food cart love affair that continues to drive international tourism. 

“It’s sad,” confides Nong in an exclusive interview. “You know, I met so many people there. The cart has given me everything. When I pull it out, I don’t even know if it’ll stay together.”

The classic chicken and rice order at Nong's

Image: Karen Brooks

According to Nong, the lot’s owner gave notice to the entire Alder Street block between Southwest 10th and 11th: carts need to be completely gone by October 7. According to NextPortland, the lot will become Moxy Hotel, a 12-story, 197-room high-rise under the umbrella of Marriott International. Early plans for the hotel, which was approved by a unanimous vote of Design Commission in February 2018, also call for the allocation of space for food carts at ground level, though this is unconfirmed. Across the street, downtown’s full block of Alder Street carts between Southwest 9th and 10th will be also replaced by “Portland’s first five-star hotel”—a truly massive 33-story monolith, as first reported by the Oregonian.

The loss of the food cart block between Southwest 10th and 11th has historic significance. This is the lot that hatched some of Portland’s original food cart greats: not just Nong's, but also Savor Soup House and Addy’s Sandwiches, and Ole Latte, Spielman Bagels, and Tastebud in later years. “But,” says Nong, “it’s a new chapter—this is New Portland.” For better or worse, she's right.

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In this Article

Editor’s Pick

Nong’s Khao Man Gai

$ Thai Multiple Locations

Nong’s Khao Man Gai's brick-and-mortar Thai restaurant offers the food cart queen's chicken and rice dish on SE Ankeny.

Editor’s Pick

Potato Champion

$ SE Hawthorne Blvd & SE 12th Ave

Recommended: Poutine ($5) This classic Québécois dish has become a kind of Holy Grail of the Portland food scene, and it’s always well worth the pilgrimage—...

Addy's Sandwich Bar

$ Sandwiches 911 SW 10th

Scrumptious sandwiches set on delicious baguettes abound at the brick-and-mortar shop of this former food cart downtown on SW 10th.

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