Dining Picks

20 Food Carts that Define Portland Now

Find super-fresh sushi, quesabirria tacos, hand-pulled noodles, and more at the best carts in the city.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton

Customers pose with Kiauna Nelson at Kee's Loaded Kitchen.

Portland is undoubtedly America’s best food cart city, with some offering creative, cheffy fare, others capitalizing on nostalgia, and some hyper-focused on perfecting a favorite traditional dish. But if you’re struggling from decision fatigue, we can’t blame you. There are, after all, hundreds of food carts in Portland—as many as 500, per a recent estimate in Travel Portland. We’ve done the work for you, picking standout carts so you can enjoy the best food cart meals for solo lunches, casual dates, and impressing your out-of-town friends with the likes of wood-fired pork chops, ube bibingka, and cheesy fried fish sandwiches on pandan buns

Baon Kainan

Kerns

Baon Kainan's kare kare fries

Image: Thomas Teal

Portland Monthly’s Cart of the Year 2021 offers its own take on Filipino cuisine—tradition meets cheffy twists and updated ingredients in what owners Ethan and Geri Leung call ”not your tita’s cooking.” Come for straight-from-the-fryer lumpia stuffed with homemade longanisa sausage, a less acidic and almost buttery take on chicken adobo, braised beef kare kare translated on top of the shoestring fries of your fast-food dreams, mouth-puckering hot calamansi citrus cider, and fluffy, warm ube bibingka—an eggy, chewy rice flour cake—topped with toasted coconut that tastes like a marshmallowy cloud. 807 NE Couch St

Bing Mi

Northwest

See why jianbing is a street food staple in China at this friendly cart, which folds giant savory crepes, super-crunchy crackers, and savory fillings into a multi-folded hand-held treat, cut in half and paper-wrapped. It's a year-round comfort food, perfect for warming cold winter hands or for chowing down after a summer hike in Forest Park. Each comes stuffed by default with fried won ton crackers, scrambled eggs, fermented black bean-chili sauce, pickled greens, and green onion. Add your choice of protein including duck, bacon, Spam, tofu, barbecue pork, or smoked Kielbasa. Loading it up with extra crackers and pairing with a warm date soymilk is never a bad idea. 1845 NW 23rd Pl

Birrieria La Plaza

Centennial

If you’re going to serve a small menu, you’ve got to do it well—and it's hard to top this birria de res. This big red truck always has a line for its quesabirria tacos. Underneath those orange-stained, cheese-oozing tortillas is tender, juicy beef made according to a Jalisco family recipe, marinated in guajillo and pasilla chiles, then cooked for hours and served with a cup of consomé for dipping and drinking. Get the Plaza Plate, which comes with a regular taco, a quesabirria taco, a mulita, a tostada, and consomé to find your favorite combo of toasty tortillas and cheese, and be sure to add some of the cart’s sweat-inducing housemade salsa. 600 SE 146th Ave

Erica’s Soul Food

Eliot

Atlanta-repping Erica Montgomery gets a lot of hype for her ATL-style wings, drenched in a pool of buffalo sauce blended with lemon-pepper seasoning—and for good reason. They're juicy, crisp at the edges, and endlessly snackable, served with old-school krinkle-cut fries. But insiders know the drill: roam the menu freely. Don’t miss the tastes-like-home meatloaf or the massive salmon croquettes, with sides like collard greens and black-eyed peas, plus vegetarian and vegan options. For dessert, order massive slices of pound cake or red velvet cake, totally Southern down to the White Lily flour. 120 NE Russell St

Golden Triangle Asian Fusion

Lents

Lao and Cambodian flavors star at this Lents cart, where Sarah Singharaj cooks everything from scratch, right down to the toasted rice powder for her laab. Speaking of which, grab the lobster laab special right away when you can—it’s a delight of massive juicy chunks of lobster, red onion, and bird chiles, cilantro, and mint that she grows herself, with that rice powder adding a hint of nutty toastiness and texture. On the regular menu, the salt and pepper soft shell crab offers copious portions of crustacean, while the golden rolls—a Singharaj creation—combine turmeric pancakes and rice paper rolls with freshly stir-fried ground pork and crisp bean sprouts. 9320 SE Woodstock Blvd 

Jojo

Creston-Kenilworth

Portland’s answer to the fried chicken sandwich craze is this iconic bright blue cart. A day’s haul might include a Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich towing pickles and Alabama white mustard sauce, or an option boasting Mama Lils, caper mayo (Duke’s, of course), and blended provolone, Swiss, and American on shokupan bread. The burgers and patty melts, made of house-ground chuck and brisket, are solid examples of their kind, as are the unexpectedly creative cart-made desserts like blue corn white chocolate chip cookies. But what’s undeniable are the city’s best jojos, encrusted in a thick layer of crispness and spice and served with your choice of ten dipping sauces, Crystal hot honey to sambal mayo. 3582 SE Powell Blvd

Kabba’s Kitchen

Humboldt

This Senegalese and Gambian cart is one of only a few places in Portland serving West African food, and it does so with excellent flavor and heaping portions. We particularly love the niambi ak ndiebe, chunks of chewy-crisp fried cassava with black-eyed pea tomato stew, with the option to add on a whole fried fish for just $7 (an obvious must-do). Equally tempting is the dibi, with juicy lamb grilled in mustard and sweet, caramelized slices of onion, sided by a simple salad and surprisingly good French fries. 4631 N Albina Ave

Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen

King

What other Portland cart has customers lining up before opening, even in the rain on a random Thursday? None that we can think of, and that’s because few can match owner Kiauna Nelson’s excellent cooking, flavors and portions and personality big enough to send you into a giddy stupor. The Loaded Everything plate includes a taste of every protein on that day’s rotating menu, fantastic fried “crackfish” catfish filets dusted with umami-loaded seasoning to brisket to wings. That doesn’t even count all of the sides like the famed Mac ‘n’ Kees made with Tillamook cheddar, or the textbook-perfect potato salad and baked beans. Nelson rightly believes that no meal is complete without dessert, so save room for the desserts like mammoth pound cake slices and wedges of chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting that come with every meal. 5020 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd

Kim Jong Grillin

Richmond

This legendary cart has been a staple of Portland’s food cart scene for over a decade, and even today, it’s easy to see why. The bibimbox, which the menu rightly describes as Portland’s favorite hangover cure, translates the bibimbop experience into a cardboard takeout box. In the mix: crisp-chewy japchae, housemade kimchi, sesame bean sprouts, sliced mushrooms, lettuce, rice, a sesame-sprinkled fried runny egg, and a protein choice,  house galbi to the snappy, juicy Seoul Sausage, a Korean BBQ sausage made in LA. Equally alluring is the KJG Dog, a massive, meaty Zenner’s sausage on crackly Binh Min bread with lightly pickled mango, bean sprouts, and a slathering of kimchi mayo. 4606 SE Division St

Kind Coffee

Sunnyside

Some mornings, you don’t want a leisurely brunch; you want a cup of black coffee, a quick and portable bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel, and a cannoli for later, all served with a kind welcome and no-nonsense New York hustle. That’s where this Belmont Street cart comes in. The coffee is inexpensive and strong, the breakfast sandwiches are impeccable and dependable (especially the one combining gingery maple-flavored housemade pork sausage, gooey American cheese, and a fried egg on an English muffin) and endlessly customizable, and you can order them ahead for pickup in as little as 10 minutes. It’s perfect grab-and-go fuel for a day at the office or weekend adventures in the Gorge. 4255 SE Belmont St

Loncheria Los Mayas

Beaumont-Wilshire

Tacos and panuchos from Loncheria Los Mayas

Image: Michael Novak

Cochinita pibil panucho. That’s the must-order at this bright orange cart that sits alone in a parking lot with its own covered picnic tables. Two handmade corn tortillas get deep-fried, then stuffed with black bean purée while still hot. The pork is slowly cooked in a tangy, velvety achiote sauce, topped with slices of avocado and pickled onion. Eat it immediately: it’s a delight of texture, temperature, vinegar, and spice. The tacos on handmade tortillas are no slouches either, especially the carnitas, and for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, the spinach sopes are a great way to sneak some greens into your meal. 4212 NE Prescott St, 503-754-3059

Matta

Kerns

Richard Le shows off the fish sandwich at Matta.

By day, power couple Richard and Sophia Le serve up childhood love for fast food through a Viet Kieu (foreign-born Vietnamese) lens with fish sauce cheeseburgers, Filet-O-Fish homages, coconut-glazed pandan donuts, and Sunday-only pork patty and hashbrown breakfast sandwiches—our favorite in the city—on house-baked green pandan buns. Dinner is Richard’s take on Vietnamese American comfort food, from Grandma’s beef stir fry with fries and Thai basil to pork belly in ginger-fish sauce to coconut milk-dredged fried chicken. 807 NE Couch St

Matt’s BBQ Tacos

Mt Tabor

Barbecue tacos on flour tortillas

The only way to make some of Portland’s top barbecue even better? Put it in a taco, all built upon a lovingly made, lard-laden fresh flour tortilla—a rarely seen carb in this city. Chopped brisket and sliced pork belly, both topped with pickled onions and guacamole, are easily must-orders, as is the migas taco melding together eggs and tortillas—a breakfast favorite now available all day. 2216 SE 50th Ave

Merendero Estela

Brentwood-Darlington

This cart off 82nd serves a small yet mighty menu of Honduran dishes, our favorite being the humble baleada: a thick handmade flour tortilla charred until spotty and flaky, smeared with mashed red beans, fresh cheese, and sour cream. Or upgrade to the special baleadas, loaded with  avocado slices and tender scrambled egg, plus your choice of meat (may we suggest the  juicy, charred carne asada?). But the pollo con tajadas is another close contender—a super-crisp, succulent fried quarter chicken topped with pickled red onions, mayo-laden cabbage salad, and paired with thinly sliced fried green plantain. Grab drinks, too, like a cinnamon-laden, not-too-sweet horchata, or thick, comforting atole flavored with fresh cheese. 7107 SE 82nd Ave

Mira’s East African Cuisine

Montavilla

Portland’s finest example of Somali food lives at this cart, where owner and former social worker Samira Mohamed cooks up a menu of curries, rice, and flatbreads. Open with sambosas, crispy-shelled and filled with beef, dipped in punchy hot sauce. The suqaar melds yellow rice, each grain distinct and chewy, with chunks of beef, tender slivers of potato, and a tangy yogurt sauce. The vegetable curry is a coconut milk concoction with lightly cooked cauliflower, green and yellow beans, potatoes, and carrots; add optional meat like lamb, complete with juicy riblets, and use the subayaad, a buttery flatbread, to scoop up every drop of sauce. 8220 NE Davis St

Mitate

Lents

Even as a die-hard fish lover, the flavors and textures of Mitate’s vegan sushi make it one of our top sushi spots in the city. Rather than sticking to the usual vegan rolls like cucumber or avocado, the sweetness and flakiness of crab gets replicated with artichoke hearts, cauliflower, and apple, while sweet potato and shishito peppers stand in for spicy tuna. Bonus: Everything is  gluten-free. 3612 SE 82nd Ave

Mole Mole

Concordia

What can’t you find at this Alberta Street cart? Not much, is the answer. They've got Enchiladas, check. Pollo en mole—green or red? Yup, both. Tacos, burritos, and tortas, of course. Soups, too, and a whole menu of aguas frescas, and plates of seafood and an entire selection of plant-based options, vegan tinga to soy curl mole. Usually, with a menu this big, there are bound to be hits and misses, but everything we’ve tried so far has been stellar. Standouts include chicken in green mole, a tangy pumpkin seed sauce; roast cauliflower with sikil pak and pumpkin seeds; and soups including the comfort food standby of red pozole with pork, as well as the beefy, bacon-laden hard-to-find Jaliscan soup, carne en su jugo. Everything comes on real ceramic plates—ones lovingly hand-painted in Mexico with the cart’s name on them—and even the aguas frescas, especially the agua verde blending cucumber and honeydew, are handmade with care. 2231 NE Alberta St

Ruthie’s

Richmond

A spread of wood-fired food from Ruthie's, including the essential Grandma's rolls

Image: Thomas Teal

Combine comfort food from a Utah Mormon grandmother named Ruthie, a do-it-yourself ethos, seasonal Oregon produce, and a wood-fired oven, and you have the recipe for this standout cart, tucked in a hidden alley. The Grandma’s rolls are sweet, chewy, and light, baked to a golden brown in the wood oven; they makes the perfect base for rockfish sliders. Or order anything with pork, like the standout coppa with roasted peaches and padron peppers we scarfed down last summer. Everything has wood-fired flair, even the salads, which might sport oven-baked popped sorghum and cornbread atop peak-sweetness corn and tomatoes. Catch the guys at Ruthie’s on days when they play it a little silly, like with a Valentine’s Day special of shokupan with dino nuggets, ranch powder, and caviar. 3634 SE Division St

Stretch the Noodle

Downtown

Grab handmade noodles for lunch downtown at Stretch the Noodle.

Image: Michael Novak

Downtown Portland’s greatest cart draws lines every weekday for its handmade noodles. The repertoire stretches from the wide hand-ripped biang biang noodles in chile sauce and black vinegar to the carefully folded dumplings with pork, whole shrimp, and corn, complete with shrimp tails poking out of the wrapper. Go right when opening or just before closing to cut down on your wait, though it’s well worth your time—you’ll likely get two meals out of a single order. 223 SW Washington St

Yoshi’s

Multnomah

A spread of sushi from Yoshi's—the best cart in town that can also smash most brick-and-mortar sushi restaurants.

This is not just Portland’s best sushi cart—Yoshi’s can smack down most of the city's brick-and-mortar sushi restaurants, too. The fish is pristine, and chef Yoshi Ikeda adds subtle flavor boosts that put this sushi over the top. The seared sea scallop nigiri is buttery and tender, dotted with zippy yuzu marmalade, while the salmon gets dabs of ginger miso and microgreens. The lime green roll, a creation of sesame spinach, avocado, cucumber, and more, is a fish-free flavor bomb, while vegetarians can also grab stellar inari, shiitake nigiri, or spicy jackfruit rolls. Portlanders are in on the secret. So heads up: no walk-up orders. Call starting at 10 a.m. for pickup later that day. 3530 SW Multnomah Blvd

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