The only thing people in Portland care about more than what they're eating is where it comes from. For some, that's all about which farm - Viridian for produce, Carlton for lamb - provides what's on their fork. But everyone pays attention to where the food trucks are parked. Landmarks in a city that prides itself on pioneering high-end street food, they rove across town, from hipster havens to the downtown core. In Portland, it's how and where you eat that defines you.
KOifusion This roving truck is the brainchild of Bo Kwon, a Korean-American chef who Tweets often while marinating pork and tofu (this being Portland, everything comes in vegan versions) in "Mama Kwon's" special sauce. The menu bridges Mexico and Korea, which means bulgogi tacos with daikon radish sprouts and Korean salsa as well as the usual onion, cilantro and shredded-cabbage accoutrements.
What KOifusion lacks in sense it more than makes up for in flavour. Put aside your nervousness and dive into the combination of cheese and fermented cabbage known as the kimchee quesadilla. Bo tends to favour a few locations - PGE Park, where Minor League Baseball's Beavers play, gets some nighttime attention - but the only surefire way to find him is to follow him on Twitter. That adds another upside: You'll always know when they're about to run out (and how fast you should bike). Location varies. www.twitter.com/koifusionpdx
Perriera Creperie Stop into the parking lot at 12th and Hawthorne in the middle of the day and you'll think you've landed in the Twilight Zone of food carts. Closed-up trucks hint at barbecue and pasta, but there isn't a soul in sight. Take a walk up to Powell's bookstore and stop back in after 9 p.m. or so, when this little corner really gets rolling, lit up by truck headlights and peals of hipsters' laughter. Some swear by the Belgian frites place, Potato Champion, but the real winners are to be found at this little creperie, famously staffed by some of Portland's most beautiful women, and offering sweet and simple crepes filled with lemon and sugar, or Nutella and banana; and more complex savoury ones, such as the brilliantly flavourful pear, gorgonzola, walnut and honey, and the mozzarella, soppressata, basil and red pepper. Don't miss the smoothies and the milkshakes, in particular the fresh mint and Oreo. Everything about this place is worth the wait, whether it's 10 minutes for the shake or hours until prime time. SE 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard.
Tabor Join the throngs of workers from nearby offices who make their way to this little corner hut. It's a piece of the Czech Republic just a few blocks from the Willamette River, and it's home to the Original Schnitzelwich, a combination of breaded-and-deep-fried pork loin, onion and a single lettuce leaf, a spicy paprika spread, and a smear of horseradish. It comes on a ciabatta pillowy enough to absorb everything on it, which makes for a sandwich that not only sticks to you, it sticks together.
Also on the menu is goulash - with a traditional half-half split of meat and onions - served over pasta or authentically doughy spaetzle, little noodle-like dumplings, and a surprising carrot juice. Order the drink, and its vitamin orange will make you forget all about the decadence of your culinary trip across the ocean. SW 5th Avenue and Stark Street; www.schnitzelwich.com.
Nong's Khao Man Gai
Halfway across the city, this Thai truck is an obsession for Portlanders and visitors alike. Nong offers one dish, hand-scrawled onto a paper menu. You come here for the chicken and rice. If you're feeling extra fancy, you can add a few chicken livers, and if you're feeling extra extra fancy, you can get extra chicken, or extra rice. The dish - slices of chicken breast laid over simply cooked rice - comes modestly packaged in an origami-wrapped wax paper bundle with a side of winter squash soup, but it's good enough to elicit lines almost to the coffee cart on the far corner. The supply goes fast enough that if you get there much past 12:30, you're likely to be out of luck. Some say the magic is in the ginger, garlic and soy sauce, but the real success here lies in the absolute acceptance of what this dish is, on the part of both cook and eaters. It's just chicken and rice. And that's why this place reflects the city as a whole: It knows what it is, and embraces simple things executed very well. Exactly like Portland. SW 10th Avenue and Alder Street; 971-255-3480; www.khaomangai.com.
Special to The Globe and Mail