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.”
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.