A land where all things mass produced are shunned and mainstream is boo-ed. It’s no secret, Portland is a little different. Portland is a city where if it’s not micro it’s not cool. A city where if you can’t see where your food was grown from your table, it’s not local enough. It’s also a place where you can’t go more than a block or so without seeing a food cart serving something tasty.
Portland’s one of kind vibe is so quirky a TV show, Portlandia, was even made about the city. Although a bit over the top, you can see a bit of Portlandia on the actual streets of Portland. If you look past some of the stereotypes, it’s more than beards and beanie hats – there is a very progressive feel to the city — it’s something you just can’t grasp until you visit. Of all the great things to do in Portland, the one that shows off the uniqueness of Portland is the food carts of the city.
The Origins of Portland’s Food Cart Scene
Food carts have existed in one way or another since forever – but no one does food carts quite like Portland. The food cart revolution that has taken over Portland is a relatively new phenomenon: As the economy started to tank, the people of Portland needed work and a few creative individuals hit the streets and put their own twist on food carts. The low start-up cost of a food cart was just what they needed. Born out of necessity, the food carts were an immediate hit in Portland. A few passionate food cart purveyors turned into hundreds and can now be found in almost every neighborhood of the city.
We Shall Call This Place, Food-cart-landia!
As the food cart scene exploded in Portland new terminology developed, words like ‘pod’ came to define clusters of 3 or more food carts. With new carts appearing all around the city, parking lots were transformed into pods. In true Portland fashion the pods were given names like: “Cartlandia”, “Cartopia,” and the self-promotional “Good food here.” With so many pods and carts as a visitor it can be hard to know where to even start. Try a food cart tour to help you taste your way around Portland’s expansive food cart map.
The Food is What Makes it
All the fancy names and quirkiness that goes along with Portland’s food carts wouldn’t mean anything without the quality of the food — it really makes Portland’s food cart scene what it is. We’re not just talking about hotdogs here; these carts are serving up complex dishes that you’d expect to see in trendy high-end restaurants. You wouldn’t expect to have some of the best Japanese ramen of your life from a cart parked in Portland, but you will. One of the most memorable on a our tour around the city was a Thai crispy rice salad with 12+ ingredients from the Carte Blanche food cart on Hawthorne Avenue. The options are endless, from Korean fusion tacos to fresh roasted espresso to Georgian (like the country) cheese breads. You’d need to find a hotel in Portland and really stay for a few weeks to try all the great food cart dishes.
The people of Portland are passionate people. The food carts really care about the food they are putting out and the people care about the food carts. It’s something that could only work in a place like Portland. Aside from the very loose zoning laws, it’s the attitude of the people that has driven the food cart revolution in Portland. Each pod is like a little community. Only one type of restaurant is allowed in each pod and all the food carts depend on one another to be successful. In a world where everything is rapidly being bought out by big brands and competition is high, it’s a refreshing approach.
In a way, food carts are the perfect symbol of what Portland is all about: Local, passionate, foodie, and of course, a little quirky.
About the Authors: Author & Photographer at GettingStamped.com, Adam kicked his corporate job to the curb and said good-bye to the “American Dream” in June 2013 and has been traveling the world ever since with his wife Hannah! They have traveled to 6 continents, stamped in 54 countries, slept in 200+ beds, and made countless memories. Follow Adam & Hannah on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @GettingStamped for a live sneak peak of their travels.