In this shot from 2018, Kiauna Nelson is in her element.

Kee’s Loaded Kitchen may have leveled up in the past few years, with a newly painted bright red exterior (and longer wait times to match), but Kee’s cooking still hits just the same. Now with a full-blown porch, complete with gorgeous planters and an adjacent covered seating area, Kee’s Loaded Kitchen is still rightfully renowned for nailing all the finer details of traditional comfort food, and beloved for its ample serving sizes. She was already busy before 2020—now things are soaring. On a recent visit, the kitchen was offering up a remarkably refreshing mango hibiscus sweet tea, tinted a lovely deep magenta hue. The aptly named “fried crackfish” catfish was heavily seasoned (in a good way), crispy on the outside, tender and moist on the inside, and served with hot sauce. 

Chef-owner Kiauna Nelson used to run the cart by herself, hustling to serve her eager regulars—lovingly referred to as “winners”—who gladly line up in front of her cart in a parking lot on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. She’s recently hired support staff on weekends to handle the line around the block of folks waiting for one of Kee’s loaded plates.

Now that mainstream society has caught on to the act of supporting Black-owned businesses, Kee’s business has gone through the roof. So have donations to her Feed Black Portlanders effort, and, according to Kee’s Instagram, offers from strangers to help Nelson pay the rent at a potential brick-and-mortar. Customers can find sneak peeks of Kee’s weekly soul-food prep work by checking out the videos posted to the kitchen’s Instagram. There, Nelson’s customers and supporters can see her speaking candidly to the camera about her day-to-day, and working her magic on a rotating menu of dinners for around $25. The star of the meal is a loaded protein (smoky beef brisket, fried crackfish, shrimp, chicken tenders) that comes with a bevy of sides like mac and cheese, potato salad, baked beans, macaroni salad, and loaded fried corn with bacon. Vegans, beware; vegetarians and pescatarians, be prepared to communicate with staff to fill your plate. 3625 NE MLK Jr. Blvd, @keesloadedkitchen

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