Food trucks skyrocketed in popularity since the early 2010s, but no other city does them better than Portland’s food cart pods. In fact, food cart pods in Portland’s are the center of the city’s culinary scene; and since Portland ranked as the #1 foodie city in the US, the city knows a thing or two about keeping locals’ and tourists’ bellies full and tastebuds partying 🙂
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The History Behind Portland’s Food Cart Pods Scene
Believe it or not, food cart pods in Portland have gone way back since the 1960s, with the first one selling hot dogs right in front of Portland City Hall. By 2001, Portland has already housed over 175 food carts.
The 2008 recession caused a big baby food cart boom since it allowed locals to eat out without spending an arm and a leg on sit-down restaurants.
Today, Portland has over 600 food carts.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a food cart pod?
A pod is a cluster of food carts in a specific location. On average, there are about 5–10 food carts per pod, and you can find them on every corner of Portland from Downtown to the residential Alberta Arts District.
Why are food carts so popular in Portland?
From a business owner’s standpoint, there is a very low barrier to entry, making it easy to open a food cart in Portland. Or at least easier than other cities. The regulations are lower too, but don’t be fooled; you still have to obtain an Oregon Food Handler Certificate, which covers sanitation, handwashing, cross-contamination, temperature control, etc. I can imagine that regulations have gotten stricter since COVID.
For customers, it is much cheaper to have a meal at a food cart pod than to dine at a sit-down restaurant, especially with Oregon’s low taxes. Also, food cart pods make it easy to sample dishes from different carts, rather than being tied down to one menu. Cecilio and I ordered from different carts and gave each other bites of our dishes, which we wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else.
There are so many different cuisines among Portland’s food cart pods! You can find Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Thai, and other ethnic cuisines around the world in Portland’s food cart pods!
A List of Portland’s Food Cart Pods
5th Avenue Food Cart Pod
324 SW 5th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
While somewhat small, the 5th Avenue pod is one of the most popular food cart pods in Portland. It’s right in the heart of downtown, minutes away from the Pearl District. It’s also the first one Cecilio and I tried when during our first trip to Portland as a day trip from Seattle. With a few Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Asian carts, you are sure to drool over the smells and photos of the dishes at each stand.
Cecilio and I shared some delicious nachos at La Jarochita, made with warm crispy tortillas, creamy guacamole, and fresh salsa. It absolutely hit the spot, and was large enough for the two of us. They also serve breakfast plates, tacos, burritos, and Mexican drinks (don’t forget the horchata!).
3rd Avenue Food Cart Pod
SW 3rd Avenue & SW Harvey Milk Street
Portland, OR 97204
Here’s another one of the wildly popular food cart pods in Portland, most known for Stretch the Noodle, an Asian cart with fresh hand-pulled noodles and stir-fried veggies and meats. There are a lot more Asian eateries in this pod. However, El Masry Egyptian Cuisine caught my eye, and I ordered some delicious spicy gyro fries!
Walk a few blocks down from the 3rd Avenue Food Cart, and you’ll stop by the Tom McCall Waterfront Park overlooking the Willamette River for a laid-back picnic. If you go on a Saturday, be sure to stop by the Portland Saturday Market filled with local vendors selling arts, crafts, and handmade goods! Oh, and let me mention that Voodoo Doughnuts is just around the corner!
Contribution by Alanna from Periodic Adventures
1207 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR 97214
Located on SE Hawthorne, Cartopia Food Carts is home to 8 food carts ranging from pizza, Mexican, and even a potato-only cart. This pod is great for rainy weather because there is a fire pit and covered picnic tables in a tent, so you can enjoy your food while staying dry.
I tried the delicious poutine from Potato Champion, which are flash-fried fries topped with cheddar cheese curds and gravy (beef or vegetarian). The poutine was delicious and welcome on a chilly day!
If you’re feeling adventurous, Potato Champion also sells satay poutine with Thai peanut satay sauce or PBJ fries with satay sauce and chipotle jam! Yum!
BKK Pad Thai is another great spot in Cartopia. They sell Thai food with lots of vegan options. I had their Thai tea lemonade, which was perfectly sweet and sour.
Note that Cartopia does not have bathrooms with plumbing, but there are portable bathrooms in the back you can use!
Carts on the Square
Pioneer Square Courthouse
700 SW 6th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
A handful of Portland’s food cart pods sits on Pioneer Square, known as the City’s living room. Pioneer Square is Portland’s beating heart where concerts and community events are held. There are dozens of shops and restaurants around the corner. Pioneer Square also offers a warm, inviting space for locals and tourists to just chill. The food carts on Pioneer Square are a great spot to grab a bite and people-watch before you stroll around the streets of Downtown Portland. You can’t go wrong with the sushi-rrito from Rollin’ Fresh or the highly-raved Fried Egg I’m in Love.
Contribution by Denise from Chef Denise
4233 Mississippi Avenue
Portland, OR 97217
If you want to explore the famous Portland foods, you must visit the Mississippi Marketplace Food Carts. Here you’ll find one of the biggest icons of the Portland food scene, Matt’s BBQ. Pitmaster Matt Vicedomini has made quite a name for himself with one of the most successful food carts and as a part-owner of the famed Thai restaurant, Eem.
I have to admit, when a friend recommended Matt’s BBQ to me I had my doubts. Really, BBQ is a must-eat food in Portland? But one bite of the Pork Belly Burnt Ends and I was hooked. These double-smoked pork bites are crispy and sweet on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. They alone are worth a visit to this food cart pod. But there are so many other delicious offerings at Matt’s like sausages, brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, and queso mac and cheese. Bring a friend, you’ll want to share so you can try it all. Go for lunch, they often sell out.
If you’re here for breakfast, the Fried Egg I’m in Love truck offers an array of yummy egg sandwiches. Koi Fusion, Native Bowl, and Burger Stevens are some of the other popular food carts at this spot.
One of the best things about the Mississippi Marketplace is that Prost!, the neighboring pub shares the courtyard. So, you can grab a beer to enjoy with your meal. Some people even call this food cart pod Prost Marketplace. Whatever you call it, it’s one of the best in Portland.
Park the Carts
7339 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Portland, OR 97211
Cross over on the other side of Willamette River to Park the Carts. Unlike the pods in Downtown Portland, Park the Carts has a huge tent with tables and space heaters, so the seating situation is much better. Since Park the Carts is more spacious than other Portland food cart pods, Cecilio and I decided to sample dishes from each cart. I ordered a Korean ramen with bulgogi beef from SJ Star food cart, while Cecilio ordered a burrito from Ta Bueno Ne.
Nob Hill Food Carts
1855 NW 23rd Pl
Portland, OR 97210
Nob Hill Food Carts is another one of Portland’s food cart pods, located in the upscale Alphabet District, surrounding boutiques, hip apartments, coffee shops, and even more restaurants.
I definitely recommend a glass of local beer or wine from The Pour House (which has a cute little cart) alongside your meal!
If you’re craving New American fare, Farmer & The Beast offers decadent burgers and salad bowls for the health-conscious. You’ll probably see some carts from popular eateries I’ve mentioned above, such as Rollin’ Fresh and Bobalastic. Cecilio ordered boba tea, chicken wings, and gyoza from Bobalastic, which just hit the spot 🙂
Indian food sounded warm and comforting on a rainy day when we ate at Nob Hill Food Carts, so I ordered malai kofta (an Indian dish with cheese, coconut milk, nuts, and tomatoes) from Dhaba Indian Kitchen.
Other Food Cart Pods in Portland to Try
While I didn’t get to try every single food cart pod Portland has to offer, you will stumble across one no matter where you are. They are literally everywhere on each corner all over Portland. With dishes ready to be eaten and small businesses ready to flourish, Travel Portland has a complete list of pods near you!
Tours for Portland’s Food Cart Pods
If you want to sample all of Portland’s food cart pods and get acquainted with the city’s culture, consider going on a tour! Your tour guide will help you navigate all the best spots to eat and drink your way around Rose City.
- Portland Food Carts, Pods & Patios Tour: You will get to sample 7 dishes from Cartopia and stop by a brewery. I highly recommend this tour for first-timers to Portland!
- Food Carts of Portland Bike Tour: Wanna explore even more food cart pods and a brewery in a shorter amount of time, while having fun and burning off all the calories from the yummy dishes? This tour is for you! Helmets are provided for inexperienced or clumsy bikers (like myself).
- The Vibrant Kerns Hood – East Burnside and More: Head over to the off-beaten path into Portland’s Kerns neighborhood, known for “Restaurant Row”. For this tour, you will be able to sample various dishes from restaurants and food carts.
- Brunch on Mississippi Food Tour: Your tour guide will literally walk you through Mississippi District’s finest spots for brunchtime. Wake up hungry, and leave with a full belly and energized body for the rest of the day!
- The Bustling Buckman Hood – Hawthorne, the Goat Blocks, and more: For more hipster hidden gems, Portland’s Buckman neighborhood has a ton to offer in the culinary scene. This tour will lead you to some of the acclaimed restaurants, a food cart pod, and a distillery.
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Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.