Ever since L’Unico Alimentari closed suddenly in February 2021, there’s been a pasta cart-shaped hole in my life where the Dungeness crab and squid ink bucatini used to be. But there’s hope for pasta lovers looking to consume some creative carbs in an informal food cart pod environment. Food cart Meliora Pasta, with a targeted opening of March 31 at the Killingsworth Station pod (1331 N Killingsworth St), will specialize in handmade pasta, seasonal salads, and rotating angel food cakes.
On the menu, look for pastas with not-so-traditional twists: coffee-braised beef ravioli with meaty coconut caramel sauce, salsa macha, lime, and mint, or agnolotti with clams, ginger, and finger limes. Vegetarian options might include polenta-stuffed mezzaluna with nutty, housemade ricotta, garnished with seasonal herbs. Ingredients will be sourced from local growers and distributors, including produce from local farmers markets, wheat from Oregon and Utah, meats from Nicky USA, and cheese from Cowbell. The cart will offer pastas in small (around $8) or large (around $12) bowls, making it easier to try lots of dishes at once. Salads will take advantage of seasonal farmers produce, while angel food cakes might be inspired by nostalgic desserts like the Creamsicle, amped up with orange chantilly cream. There’ll be some quirks to the cart, too: it’ll accept cryptocurrency payments including Bitcoin and HEX, and a bubble machine will crank out soapy orbs when it’s sold out of pasta. Hours will likely be noon to 8 p.m., Thursday through Monday.
Behind the inventive menu is Jim Millar, a Chicago-born chef with a resume full of Italian and French cuisine. In Chicago, he worked at now-closed, formerly Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Spiaggia, where he met his wife, fellow chef, and future cart co-owner Breckin VanRaalte; she’ll also help out at the cart when she isn’t working as chef de cuisine at Ripe Cooperative. While in Seattle, Millar worked at fine dining restaurant Canlis; upon arriving in Portland five months ago, he began working at Coquine.
The couple isn’t abandoning their high-end restaurant background, though. Once the opening jitters have settled, they hope to add a dinner tasting menu, priced around $40, that’ll include one or two starters, two pastas, and a dessert, all served on real plates. But even their regular pastas, they hope, will offer something that’s not commonly seen in Portland’s thriving food cart scene. Meanwhile, they'll work on improving their craft—after all, the Latin word meliora, Millar says, means "ever better."
“We don’t need a whole restaurant to make handmade pasta,” says Millar. “We thought this was a really good chance to work on developing a name for ourselves, developing more recipes, while offering local Portland communities the chance to have restaurant-quality pasta inside of a food cart.”