It’s a wonder anyone ever cooks at home in Portland, Ore., what with the hundreds of food carts putting down roots in parking lots and vacant spaces across the city.
“It’s hard to, you don’t need to,” says Bo Kwon, founder of the popular Koi Fusion (koifusionpdx.com), which early on brought Korean barbecue to the taco truck scene and in the process created a following of “Kheadz” happy to Instagram their lunchtime bulgogi beef tacos and kimchi quesadillas. “As a culture we really accept this whole food cart scene.”
With eclectic tastes in mind, Kwon suggests these four fast-food tastes of Portland.
“They do Hawaiian food. They do fried chicken and the traditional macaroni salad. It’s island food. I have a lot of Hawaiian friends and it just brings back memories of going to their homes and getting the loco moco. They’re on the 10th and Alder cart pod. That’s the biggest one. It’s not, I’d say, the best one – it just has so many different options.” SW 9th Avenue and Washington Street, 808grinds.com
“Big-Ass Sandwiches is a fun spot. They were featured on Travel Channel, Adam Richman’s show Best Sandwich in America, so they get a lot of buzz. When I want to carb out – like completely carb out – I get the Big-Ass Sandwich: hand-cut fries inside a slow-cooked roast beef sandwich with cheese sauce. They’re located in the Superpod. That’s in Southeast, right across from downtown. We’re actually in there, too. Potato Champion! is there. It has a good mix of carts.” 304 SE 2nd Ave., bigasssandwiches.com
Nong’s Khao Man Gai
“She serves an incredible just-keep-it-simple chicken-and-rice dish. Just chicken and rice on butcher paper with a simple potato soup. And if you can get it – they always sell out – get the crispy chicken skin. She’s in the 10th and Alder cart pod.” SW 10th Avenue and Alder Street, khaomangai.com
Gandhi’s: An East Indian Café
“It’s inside an old renovated Burger King that has multiple vendors inside. It’s downtown on 2nd Avenue. It’s gluten-free Indian food that’s out of this world. I like to order the dal and the chicken vindaloo. The taste is just so intense. Once you have spicy here, you start ordering mild. To me, it’s the best Indian food in Portland.” 827 SW 2nd Ave., archivist.wix.com/gandhis
This interview has been edited and condensed.