Food Cart City

Measuring Up

A quick look at how Portland compares to the food carts in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

By Eric Blokland August 17, 2010 Published in the September 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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OH, SEATTLE, you can be so quaint. Citywide restrictions passed in the 1980s prevented food carts from selling anything more than popcorn, hot dogs, and coffee. City Council promised to reconsider the street-food policy this summer, but it’s already September. You may have the Mariners and the Seahawks, but we have twice as many food carts—and they’re better. But are there other cities that could give our carts a run for their money?

New York City

Arguably America’s oldest cart scene, the city boasts more than 10,000 vendors and a years-long wait for licenses. And the Big Apple’s infamous hot-dog and pretzel carts increasingly share curbs with Zagat-worthy chefs. In 2005, the annual Vendys—the Oscars of food carts—brought some much-deserved glitter to New York’s growing tribe of culinary nomads.

Los Angeles

The Kogi BBQ taco truck navigates LA’s wildly varying vending regulations by staying on the move, but its 68,000-plus Twitter followers ensure long lines wherever it parks. Meantime, two organizations, Save Our Taco Trucks and the Loncheros Association, are spearheading a campaign to slash through the bundles of red tape stunting the growth of this classic SoCal street fare.

Washington, DC

The capital’s cart population fizzled under a 1998 moratorium on permits. In 2004, frustrated vendors and officials agreed on a 32-block "demonstration-zone" of relaxed rules, and the city killed the moratorium two years later. Today, from traditional lunch staples to farm-direct fare, DC is enjoying a street-food renaissance.

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