Best Restaurants 2021

A New Kind of Food Cart Pod

From living-room-like nooks to cavernous food halls, these places are reinventing the long-beloved food cart pod.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton December 7, 2021 Published in the Winter 2021/2022 issue of Portland Monthly

CORE boasts a curated selection of carts outside, plus an indoor dining area—with indoor vendors soon to come.

Image: Michael Novak

Who says food cart pods need to be relegated to empty lots? This year, two new spots, Moore Alley and CORE, made us rethink what a pod can be. They aren't just places with plenty of food and drink opportunities at your fingertips, but places that offer  thoughtful, curated vibes of their own, places we want to linger and show off to our dates and out-of-town family and friends.

Moore Alley 

Moore Alley beckons with its Alice in Wonderland–inspired mural and a very different take on the hidden pod off Division. Part hipster hang and part cool grandpa’s living room, the covered patio is half succulent walls, bar stools, and wooden picnic tables, while the other half is filled with armchairs covered in chartreuse or orange velvet, plus a barber’s chair, chess table, and vintage radio. Sometimes, you’ll find the crowd bobbing their heads to ’70s rock beaming from the speakers; other times, live bands appear, lending the aura of an exclusive house show.

A cheesesteak from Moore Food 

What to eat: cheesesteaks served on fluffy, cornmeal-dusted Amoroso rolls from Philadelphia, where thinly shaved steak melds with American (or Provolone or Cheez Wiz), melted until each bit of meat is coated in translucent cheesiness. Or: pork roll sandwiches for New Jerseyites, and sweet-salty Monte Cristo egg rolls combining turkey, ham, and Provolone in a crackly wrapper with maple syrup and berry jam for dipping. There are quesadillas for the kids, there’s local beer for the grown-ups, and, by day, a red-orange Volkswagen camper van converted to a coffee bar keeps you fueled with espresso drinks and drip coffee. 3576 SE Division St, @moorefoodandcompany


From the outside, CORE (short for Collective Oregon Eateries) might look like your standard food cart pod—but the options are more adventurous and high-caliber than most. Mitate, one of our favorite new carts of the year, makes artful, vibrant vegan sushi; Sou’s specializes in salt and pepper squid, with one of Portland’s best renditions of the dish; Summit Shack serves cheffy sandwiches, porchetta to chicken parm, alongside sides like grape must and chickpea-floured kale chips; The Drip’n Crab boils up Cajun-style seafood; Papi Sal’s uniquely fuses Philadelphia hoagies and Puerto Rican lechon. But the other innovative half of CORE is yet to come: the indoor food hall. Already, pod guests can sit inside the heated and air conditioned space. Indoor vendors are coming soon, including popular mochi doughnut maker Heyday. 3612 SE 82nd Ave,, @corepdx