JUST STEPS AWAY from the US Bancorp Tower, the Green and Yellow MAX lines, and Broadway’s mix of hotels and high-dollar fare, the food-cart scene here is a boon to both veteran downtown nine-to-fivers and curious tourists looking to garnish their Stumptown experience with some local fare. With a few stalwart operations like Saigon to Go and Real Taste of India dating back as far as 1997, this granddaddy of Portland’s food-cart culture has earned the simplest of nicknames: “The Pod” or “The Lunch Carts.” We just call it delicious.
Tábor: The Schnitzelwich ($7)
For a solid six years, this Mercy Corps-seeded venue has been honing a masterpiece: a hand-tenderized Carlton Farms pork loin that’s been sprinkled with bread crumbs, panfried, and placed hot and crispy into a Grand Central ciabatta roll amid the company of fresh greens, caramelized onions, a spicy red-pepper spread, and homemade horseradish. No reason to change a thing.
Swamp Shack: Shack Bomb ($10)
First, jambalaya and étouffée are prepared separately in an immense, five-gallon cast-iron pot. Then, in a stroke of genius, both are heaped together to form a heavenly union of Otto’s sausage, tender chicken thighs, garlic, basil, oregano, peeled crawfish tails, and the Holy Trinity (that’s Louisianan for bell peppers, onions, and celery). Mop it up with the accompanying cornbread biscuit, and you’ll be happy as a gator in sunshine.
La Jarochita: Huarache ($4.99)
Huarache is the Spanish word for sandal—exactly what this oblong, hand-formed plank of masa resembles. Luckily, it tastes a whole lot better. The supple, open-faced foundation is piled with white cotija cheese, fresh avocado, diced white onions, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, pinto beans, and your choice of meat. We like the tender, flavorful carnitas, which flake apart like a Tex-Mex brisket.
Brunch Box: Black and Blue Burger ($4.25)
At this temple to gluttony, a hand-pressed patty of Angus beef gets a liberal slapping of paprika and chile pepper before receiving a good sear on the flattop grill. With the meat’s juices sufficiently sealed within, grilled onions and blue cheese are heaped on top. Lettuce? Tomato? Mustard? Mayo? Your call. Regardless, it’s coming in hot, aboard a house-baked sesame-seed bun.