Food trucks and food carts might be having a big moment, but in Portland, Oregon, that moment is nothing new. Starting in 1965, food carts became a staple of the town, when the first Kosher hot dog cart opened across from City Hall.
By the 1980s, food carts were so popular that they began to cluster into “pods” – a distinctly Portland phenomenon that’s drawn visitors from around the world. Vacant business lots became prime locations for pods, creating an entirely new culture: pods became complete with fire pits, backyard games, pool and ping pong tables, and beer gardens (encouraging people to stay longer and extend business for the carts). Over the years, pods have evolved further, with restaurant-style seating around trucks, full brick-and-mortar bars, and even indoor living rooms completing the recreational utopias.
Not all Portland pods have stood the test of time, with the likes of condos and start-ups vying for space in town. But the ones that remain have become bonafide institutions, along with the carts that inhabit them. Some have even become mini-chains. Carts found in one pod often sprout up in others, making the journey to find your favorite spot that much easier. Some examples of mini-chains are The Whole Bowl (a healthy rice & bean veggie-centric outlet), East Side Thai (classic Pad Thai & noodle bowls) and Wolf and Bears (legendary falafel wraps).
The only catch to all this? The hours of operation, which can fluctuate without warning. Carts make their own schedule, and if they choose to close on a Tuesdays, or nix selling BBQ on a hot day to hang by the river instead, that’s exactly what they’ll do. As Steve at Carts on Foster (who has been in business for over 10 years serving a fantastic rotating selection of craft beer) says, “Don’t we deserve a day off sometimes?!” So before running down to the pod, check your favorite cart’s social media to ensure they’ll be open. Your favorite veggie bowl spot might run out of ingredients and close 2 hours early. The hours of operation won’t always match the sign on the window. But despite all that, the pods themselves still make for excellent destinations. Enjoy the beer gardens, shoot some pool on the patio, or discover a whole new favorite food cart that popped in for the day. It’s a truly unique experience in a city that prides itself on them.
Some Popular Pods to Visit:
Killingsworth Station – N. Killingsworth and Maryland
Highlights: Shaded patio, free pool table, bathrooms. Gypsy Pie Cart, Bluebird Street Thai, Aztec Fusion.
Piedmont Station Food Carts – NE Killingsworth and 7th
Highlights: Patio seating, live music stage. Good Coffee Cart, Korean BBQ, Hapa Howie’s Hawaiian.
Bantu Island Food Cart Pod – NE Alberta and 15th
Highlights: Arts district on Alberta, live music stage. Mexican Food, Sky Kitchen Thai, French and Local.
Fifth Avenue Food Cart Pod – 324 SW 5th Ave
Highlights: Downtown Portland, large variety, low prices. Ali Baba Iraqi Cuisine is open late on Friday and Saturday.
St John’s Pod and Beer Porch – 7316 N. Lombard
Highlights: Large variety, beer garden, patio seating. Juice Bar, Espresso, El Burrito Mojado.
Piknik Park – 1122 SE Tacoma St
Highlights: Unique food choices, firepit. Beer, wine, cider. Picnic tables, heated covered area.
Hawthorne Asylum Food Truck Pod – SE Madison and 11th
Highlights: New location, live metal and rock music, variety, alcohol. Dr. Philly Cheesesteak, Korean Twist.
Cartopia – SE Hawthorne and 12th
Highlights: Patio seating, fire pits, popular, nightlife, open late. Pyro wood fired pizza, Tahrir Square Egyptian.
Carts on Foster – SE Foster and 52nd
Highlights: Patio seating with misters, beer garden, family friendly. Jurassic Cart (healthy options), Road Runner BBQ.