Reeva co-owners Roberto Hernandez Guerrero and Roseva Alcerro work side-by-side at their wood-fired Northeast Portland food cart.Mark Graves/The Oregonian
While researching our annual guides to Portland’s best new food carts, what usually stands out are places that challenge expectations. Tidy trucks where fine-dining chefs shuck oysters, baking pastries and plating dishes (on actual plates!). Colorful carts exploring cuisines the city has rarely seen before, or making dishes from family recipes better than any local restaurant. Tumbledown trailers smoking Texas-style brisket as tasty as the stuff they line up for in Austin.
Not this year.
In 2022, Portland food carts embraced street food in all its spicy, deep-fried, stick-skewered glory. New trucks fried up Chicago-style breaded chicken, Lao-style fish sauce wings wings and puffy thighs blanketed with fiery Thai curry. A chef known for his elevated Mexican restaurants embraced the humble burrito. Another cart wraps hot dogs in bacon. The two best things we ate for this guide were the taquitos hand-rolled next to a Southwest Portland gas station and a Honduran-flavored pizza folded in the “wallet” style found on the cobblestone plazas of Naples. Starting price for each? $8.
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That’s not to say there weren’t culinary flourishes. The pizzas from Reeva can hold their own against the best Neapolitan pies in Portland. Tito’s namesake taquitos are made from quality tortillas and come decorated with micro cilantro. Other carts on this list make fresh pasta, Belgian waffles topped with house strawberry compote or chicken smothered under restaurant-quality mole.
Perhaps it’s the lingering effects of the pandemic, or rising food-world inflation, but at a time when a date for two at many new Portland restaurants can cost upwards of $300 with tip, new carts seemed to redouble their focus on comfort food, at a fair price.
To bring you this guide, we visited more than 70 distinct food cart pods from Troutdale to Forest Grove (with many of those miles logged by bike), hunting for interesting carts that opened in the past year or so. Along the way, we enjoyed burgers topped with smoked pork belly at Wolf’s Head Burgerhouse (4250 S.W. Rose Biggi Ave., Beaverton) or made on sweet Portuguese muffins at Bolo (1505 N.E. Alberta St.); sandwiches stacked deli-style at Goodman Charlie’s (818 S.E. Ankeny St.) or stuffed with ham, eggs and Hollandaise at Chubby Bunny (3423 S.E. Belmont St.); and flaky empanadas at both La Carreta Pura Vida (at Portland Mercado, 7238 S.E. Foster Road) and PK’s (6035 N.E. Halsey St.). We had chicken wings smothered in vibrant green sauce at Texicano (1080 S.E. Madison St.); good pulled pork, chips and queso at Wonderboy’s Smokestack (5916 N. Greeley Ave.); chorizo pierogies from the unique Russian-Mexican menu at Rusa (1122 S.E. Tacoma St.); chili cheese dogs at The Tortoise Shell (4400 N.E. Glisan St.); personal pies from Free Pizza (4604 S.W. Vermont Ave.); and more birria tacos than we care to disclose.
Consider those our honorable mentions. Below, find our 10 favorite new food carts of 2022.
A lone basketball rests under a covered patio in the back. Two cornhole boards rest against the bar, where craft beer and margaritas get poured into plastic pints, the latter with a spiced rim. Smart Donkey, former Autentica chef Oswaldo Bibiano’s burrito-centric response to the pandemic, looks ready for a crowd, even if one hasn’t yet materialized. Instead, Bibiano’s team rolls up 10 distinct, hulking burritos, most stuffed with beans, rice and a choice of quality proteins that taste as they should — barbacoa in the style of Bibiano’s home state, Guerrero, with tender hunks of beefy brisket; big pieces of pork in a piquant chile rojo sauce; Baja-style fried fish with a little Topo Chico bubbling up the batter. Some of these burros resemble dishes at the Upside Down, Bibiano’s 5-year-old Brooklyn neighborhood trailer — the “hipster bowl” of braised cabbage, kale and Sriracha-spiced crema is now Smart Donkey’s “hipster burrito.” Plans to fill out the lot with a second truck remain on hold, though Bibiano has begun rolling out weekly specials (loaded nachos, al pastor burritos), occasional live music and an early afternoon happy hour with $7 burritos, $5 margaritas and $3 chips and salsa. Meet you there?
Perfect meal: A burrito with barbacoa in the style of Guerrero, Bibiano’s home state, plus a tall margarita and a lawn game played on the former car wash parking lot.
Noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 3420 S.E. 50th Ave., 971-544-7219, order online via Clover, @smartdonkeypdx.
Read more: With Smart Donkey, one of Portland’s most celebrated Mexican chefs rolls his recipes into burrito form.
— Michael Russell
Chicago-style bread fried chicken with mild sauce and hand-cut fries from LoRell's in Southeast Portland.Michael Russell | The Oregonian
The key to Lorell’s Chicken Shack is simplicity. The menu is short: Chicken, either wings or tenders, and hand-cut fries. Darell Preston, 36, likes it that way. “I wanted to keep it simple,” he said. “Chicken wings and fries.” Preston learned his fried chicken technique from his mom, Loraine, who everyone called “Lo” (he goes by “Rell,” which is where the name for his cart came from). Preston is from Chicago, but several years ago moved to Portland to work on a political campaign. When that campaign ended in a loss, he decided he needed to figure out what to do next. After his mom died in 2019, Preston took over the mantle of cooking chicken for his family. After a particularly epic surprise birthday party for his wife, he was convinced to take his chicken to the public. The breaded fried chicken Preston makes at his cart is not his mom’s recipe, though he breads and fries it like she did. This recipe has no salt, he said, except for the lemon pepper imported from Chicago and sprinkled on top, which gives the crunch of the chicken a delightful bite. He does put salt on his fries, which are hand-made, as are his “Lo Sauce” (hot honey) and “G Sauce” (a mild, tangy barbeque, also called “mild sauce” that is a feature, along with that lemon pepper, of Chicago fried chicken). For Preston, it’s more important to keep the menu authentic than extensive, ensuring every item is something he would eat. Turns out, a lot of other people want to eat it too.
Perfect meal: The choice is easy. Wings or tenders? And how many of each? Pick wings, and a number of pieces that seem reasonable, and both sauces, just to be safe. And don’t forget the napkins.
1 to 7 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday; 5205 S.E. Foster Road at the Carts on Foster pod; 971-804-6888; facebook.com/LoRellschicagochicken.
— Lizzy Acker
Fried chicken topped with green curry and a wok-fried egg from Chick & Pig, a new cart that hopes to serve Portlanders authentic flavors of Thailand.Michael Russell | The Oregonian
At the Woodstock neighborhood’s Chick & Pig, the pad kra pao comes with perfectly cooked jasmine rice under a wok-fried egg, pork belly tossed in imported soy, bird’s eye chile and, crucially, holy basil. That last ingredient, with a flavor nothing like the leaves used for pesto, lets you know this isn’t your typical Thai cart. For chef Mana Duangphumma, who grew up near Bangkok and previously worked at Forest Grove’s Pac Thai, Chick & Pig is a chance to introduce a new audience to true Thai flavors. Partnering with owners Sureerat and Jaturong Piraban, Duangphumma opened this colorful food cart next to a Woodstock neighborhood Shell station. Here you’ll find juicy grilled pork and turmeric-stained chicken skewers, but no pad Thai. Much of Chick & Pig’s menu is fried, and fried well, from the house-made wontons to more surprising fare — calamari, meatballs, crispy papaya salad? Yes, please. Best of all are the puffy fried chicken and pork cutlets drenched in spicy green or yellow panang curry. But take note: Duangphumma is a fan of heat. On Chick & Pig’s 1-5 scale, the 2 is plenty spicy.
Perfect meal: Pad kra pao or fried chicken with panang curry eaten in the cart’s shade with a Thai iced tea.
11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 4228 S.E. Woodstock Blvd., 971-219-1079, chickpigthaistreetfood.com.
Crispy rice salad with lettuce wraps and iced tea from Khao Niew, a new food cart with ties to a Lao restaurant and beer bar in Northeast Portland.Michael Russell | The Oregonian
Khao piak sen is a restaurant giveaway. Chances are, even if the rest of the menu is Thai, if you see this chicken noodle soup, with its tapioca-rice flour noodles and healthy dusting of white pepper, the chef is likely from Laos. At this new food cart with a familiar name, there’s no ambiguity. One of the few places in Portland to find a Lao menu marked as such, Khao Niew comes from Nong Phimmoungkhoun, brother to Ae Sangasy, the force behind Northeast Portland’s Khao Niew restaurant, which shares space with beer bar Cully Central. The siblings, including a second brother, Narong Ittihrit, previously ran a Happy Valley food cart, but the menu and recipes have been honed over the years. Here at this new silver truck behind the Portland State University library, an otherwise quiet pod occasionally interrupted by air horn blasts from a nearby football practice, Phimmoungkhoun makes crispy rice salads, juicy grilled lemongrass sausages and bowls of that khao piak sen, which is known is Laos as a breakfast and late-night dish, but can serve as lunch here. The siblings also do a healthy snack trade. If you see a bag of shrimp chips, or some wildly spicy, sticky-sweet beef jerky, snatch them up.
Perfect meal: Khao piak sen, Thai iced tea and some beef jerky to go.
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 979 S.W. Harrison St.
Read more: Bar with Lao food, Oregon beer pairs Portland obsessions
Meliora Pasta, a food cart at the Bantu Island cart pod in Northeast Portland.
“I try to never say that it’s Italian food,” Meliora Pasta owner Jim Millar says. “We have pasta, sure, but pasta comes from China originally, and most of the flavors from Italy come from the Middle East.” Instead, Millar is experimenting with taste and shape. Millar met Breckin VanRaalte, his business partner and fiance, while working at Chicago’s Michelin-starred, since-closed Spiaggia. About 10 months ago, they moved together to Portland, where Millar worked at Coquine, and VanRaalte at Ripe Cooperative, Naomi Pomeroy’s restaurant-market hybrid in the former Beast space. But they longed to open a business all their own. Meliora’s menu changes frequently, but typically features traditional Italian pasta shapes (sacchetti, the “little sacks,” or mandilli di seta, the evocatively named “silk handkerchiefs”) with non-traditional flavors, including everything from pickled onion to coconut to sumac-spiced lamb neck. In early August, the starter was a delicate salmon crudo featuring fennel, peaches and a large cart-made cracker, and the mandilli di seta were tossed with blistered cherry tomatoes, olive oil and tiny basil leaves. Now, the menu has changed again, but, whatever is on it when you happen to go, it will certainly be fresh and tasty. Just don’t call it Italian.
Perfect meal: With half portions priced around $8, it’s easy to order the whole menu, with Millar bringing dishes out one at a time. Savor the pasta and save room for a bite of Angel food cake for dessert.
5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, 3:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday; 1525 N.E. Alberta St. at the Bantu Island pod, 312-981-9023; meliorapastapdx.com.
Dalmatian waffle with strawberries and pave potatoes at Honeycuspe.Lizzy Acker/The Oregonian
Eric Beaudoin knows something about practice. After high school, Beaudoin, 30, studied classical piano performance at an art school in Seattle. After college, he worked in restaurants in the Seattle area, then opened the original Honeycuspe in Olympia, where his girlfriend was living. Beaudoin, who grew up in Portland, didn’t have a specific menu in mind, but he knew he wanted to have both sweet and savory options and he loved breakfast foods and pastries. He landed on waffles. “I’m not sure what else you could put fried chicken or ice cream on and they would both be equally good,” he said. It took him a year to perfect his yeast-leavened dough, which rises light and crisp in an imported cast-iron griddle from Belgium, which can cook 12 waffles at a time. “It’s like a musical instrument,” he said. One he has perfected. Beaudoin moved back to Portland and opened Honeycuspe in April (the Olympia location remains open). He plans to be in front of that impressive waffle iron every day they are open for at least a year before letting someone else work alone.
Perfect meal: Get the decadent dalmatian — a chocolate chip waffle with chocolate sauce — with added strawberries and a side of the potato pavé — laminated cubes of thinly cut, deep-fried potatoes.
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 1401 S.E. Division St., at the Books with Pictures pod, @honeycuspe.pdx
A carne asada "gringa" taco, built on a flour tortilla, with steak wrapped up in cheese melted directly on the flat-top grill at Southeast Portland's Chayo.Michael Russell | The Oregonian
You can be forgiven for assuming David Lizaola, who often wears a royal blue L.A. sweatshirt to walk to work, then listens to Dodgers games when he gets there, was a born and raised Angeleno. But despite selling Sonoran hot dogs — one of Los Angeles’ most-popular street foods — at his year-old Chayo food cart, Lizaola actually hails from Salinas, in Northern California, and those bacon-wrapped “dogos” were actually inspired by ones he ate while living abroad in Mexico, as are the sandwiches and gringa tacos. Lizaola, a former Portland Public Schools educator, has the mentality of a chef, hunting for local rolls with the sponginess of birote, a popular lonche (sandwich) bread in his parents’ home state of Jalisco. Try a lonche layered with seared pineapple and pork slices marinated in an adobo sauce cribbed from his mother, Rosario, a former cannery worker for whom the cart is named. But Lizaola’s greatest dish just might be the gringa, a plus-sized taco with shredded cheese melted directly on the flat-top grill until it forms an orange-colored rind, which then gets rolled around seared steak, topped with pico de gallo slaw and avocado sauce and placed inside a toasted flour tortilla. It’s a symphony of crunch, tasty enough to make even a seasoned Los Angeles taco fan tip their cap.
Perfect meal: A carne asada gringa and good conversation with a late-season baseball game playing in the background.
11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday; 3601 S.E. Division St., @chayopdx
Chicken al Pastor tacos from Mole Mole food cart in Northeast Portland.Sean Meagher/The Oregonian
Mole Mole is the ultimate family business. Roberto Flores, 43, creates the dishes alongside a sous chef, Alejandra Rendon, who happens to be his wife. His four sons help out when they’re not in school. And daughter Brenda Flores, 21, works the counter, does prep and handles other aspects of the business, like talking to the media. Roberto calls Brenda his “left hand.” Roberto is from Puebla, and has been perfecting his home state’s signature mole for years while working at various Portland restaurants, including Tamale Boy and Cha Cha Cha. The details are what sets Mole Mole’s mole apart. The dark version is semi-sweet and made with spices and nuts. The green has poblano peppers and jalapeños, pumpkin seeds and pistachios. The pink gets its color from beets. All three options are fresh, delicious and look lovely atop the individually painted Pueblan plates, a detail important to Brenda and Roberto. Mole Mole has been open for about a year and has become a popular spot, serving crowds of fans on Alberta Street. “Even during extreme weather,” Brenda said, “people still came.”
Perfect meal: The tri-color mole enchilada special to stay, so you can have the experience of eating three different beautiful, nutty moles off of one of Mole Mole’s unique (literally, they’re all different) plates, and a tropical fruit aqua fresca to wash it down.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday; 2231 N.E. Alberta St., 503-498-1749, @molemole_mexicancuisine
Portland's Reeva Cafe y Cocina a la Leña food cart 2022
On our hunt for Portland’s best food carts, we often ask two questions: Is this place bringing something new to the city? And if not, are its signature dishes better than what’s already here? Neapolitan pizza cart Reeva is the rare find that answers both in the affirmative. Here, chef and co-owner Roberto Hernandez Guerrero creates unique pizzas, some with Central and South American flavors, all while firing traditional Italian pies tasty enough to hold their own against Portland’s best. Start with a margherita pizza, gently topped with bright tomato sauce, chewy mozzarella, basil and good olive oil, with a leopard-spotted bottom crust that wouldn’t be out of place at Nostrana or nearby Pizzeria Otto, where Hernandez Guerrero most recently worked. But the dish that keeps us coming back is the pizzaleada ($8), a Reeva original riffing on the baleada, a large Honduran taco made expertly by co-owner Roseva Alcerro’s mother. Here in a gravel lot fronting landscaping company Blossom, the pizzaleada comes on thin-stretched, char-dappled dough with refried beans, cheese, chile-spiced crema and your choice of chorizo, avocado and fried egg. If you drop by in the morning, as you should, you might find Hernandez Guerrero listening to mellow jazz — “I love KMHD,” he says of the local radio station, " but it gets a little too energetic in the afternoons” — and maintaining his calm ahead of that day’s prep. Between chopping veggies and forming balls of pizza dough, he might pour you an espresso, then cook and fold your pizzaleada in the portafoglio (wallet) style popular on the cobblestoned streets of Naples. With its paper slip barely containing the yolk from a flash-cooked egg, it remains one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten this year.
Perfect meal: Espresso and a breakfast pizzaleada eaten alongside the soothing sounds of light jazz.
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, 7727 N.E. Sandy Blvd., @reevapnw
Read more: With flavors from Honduras to Peru, new food truck Reeva ranks among Portland’s best wood-fired pizzerias
Chef Anthony La Pietra (left) and longtime friend and associate Carlos Mendoza stand outside Tito's Taquitos, La Pietra's Southwest Portland food cart.Tim Brown, The Oregonain/OregonLive
Whether he was catering Hollywood productions or preparing plates at his own Los Angeles restaurants, Anthony La Pietra was always given the same advice by his stepfather: That someday, he should turn his culinary skills toward the humble taquito. It took a pandemic to make it happen. La Pietra, who moved to Portland five years ago, was laid off from his cooking job at Adidas in 2020. Tito’s Taquitos — named for his late stepfather — opened the next year, serving fried-to-order taquitos in Southwest Portland. In May, Tito’s Taquitos reappeared after a seven-month hibernation next to the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway 76 Station, its new white truck tricked out with a shaded deck overlooking a leafy ravine. There are tacos here, and they’re very good, with toppings ranging from al pastor-spiced chickpeas to crunchy fried fish to nicely braised beef, all on tortillas pressed fresh from Three Sisters Nixtamal masa. But it’s the taquitos that make Tito’s a destination. Hand rolled daily, each stack of golden taquitos is presented traditionally with shredded cabbage and avocado sauce. From there, La Pietra puts on his own spin, topping each plate with micro cilantro and optional veggies or meat from the taco filling list. If it’s your first time, order them unadorned for one of the city’s most delicious $8 dishes. Whether you know them as taquitos, flautas or even tacos dorados, this is the best version we’ve found in Portland.
Perfect meal: Taquitos, a sweet pineapple agua fresca and a little tres leches cake loaded with berries for dessert.
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 503-406-5935; 3975 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy., @titostaquitospdx.com
Read more: Tito’s makes the best gas station-adjacent taquitos in America
Taquitos topped with grilled shrimp at Tito's Taquitos.Michael Russell | The Oregonian
Portland’s best new food carts of 2021
Crippling delays, rampant crime mar effort to save food carts displaced by Ritz-Carlton
Portland’s best food carts of the past decade — where are they now?
— Michael Russell and Lizzy Acker
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Portland’s best new food carts of 2022 – OregonLive
Reeva co-owners Roberto Hernandez Guerrero and Roseva Alcerro work side-by-side at their wood-fired Northeast Portland food cart.Mark Graves/The Oregonian