The best meals often don’t come from restaurants…
Portland, I love you. If you had slightly better weather I would consider you for a living destination, simply for the food you have to offer.
Now, there’s no denying that you have risen to a top dining destination in the U.S. and for good reason; you’re surrounded by a bevy farmers committed to growing pristine produce and raising delicious animals. Portland, you truly embrace the farm to fork mentality. Oh and if that weren’t enough, just 30 minutes away is the Willamette Valley, producing some of the finest Pinot Noir on the West Coast. You are also home to six micro-distilleries and 30 microbreweries. All I wanted to do while visiting was eat and drink and eat and drink and eat and drink, and never grow tired of eating and drinking.
Somehow, despite all the great restaurants, you weren’t satisfied; and so you adopted food trucks. Now, everywhere I go, I see communities of food trucks serving everything from ethnic fare to hot dogs, fusion food to ice cream. I appreciate that your food trucks are not nomadic like they are back home; rather you have embraced these little gastro-shacks. Thanks to your support, Portland, the city is now home to over 450 food trucks. You made licenses affordable ($315) and rent cheap ($500) giving these little pods a permanent location.
My friends, in the heart of downtown Portland, entire city blocks have become a destination for hungry business folk, students and tourists. Food trucks cluster in abandoned parking lots on the outskirts of the city, in suburban areas, and patrons flock to them for a quick, cheap meal.
And the best part of it all: the food trucks are paying attention to the details, using the same outstanding ingredients that the 3 and 4 star restaurants use. Oh, and it will probably cost you on average, $5-7.
My favorite part of Portland was discovering these little gems of culinary genius. I’m always looking for meals that can make me smile, and every single food truck left me grinning from ear to ear – despite the impending heartburn that would come from eating my way through the city.
Food truck owners aren’t making millions, but they are doing pretty damn well for themselves, and they are eager and happy to please their patrons with whimsical treats in cones and wrappers – some dainty and some the size of your head. Street food used to be about hot dogs and giant pretzels, but in Portland, they are reinventing street food.
We had 3 days in Portland, which really wasn’t enough time to eat till we could no more, but we managed to get taste for what Portland has to offer in the form of food trucks.
Day 1: Tabor’s famous Schnitzelwich.
This place came highly recommended from a tasting room associate at one of the wineries we visited while in Willamette Valley. The skinny: 1 pound of pure joy for $7. Breaded pork loin or chicken breast in a Ciabatta roll with lettuce, paprika spread, sautéed onion and horseradish. (Also pictured, breaded & pan-fried Muenster cheese in Ciabatta roll with lettuce and Czech style tartar sauce) How can you go wrong with fried cheese? This sandwich is hard to get your mouth around, and yes, it literally weighs 1 lb. If you finish every last bite, you will be painfully full – but it will be a good hurt.
Day 2: Korean Twist
I’m not sure when the craze of putting Korean food into tacos and burritos took off, but I’m forever grateful for the person who decided this would be a good idea. Located downtown, just around the block from Tabor is Korean Twist, serving up bulgogi tacos and burritos and kimchi quesadillas. 3 tacos for $5 – it really doesn’t get much better than that. The tacos are filled with bulgogi (Korean barbeque) a little slaw and cilantro, and topped with a sweet and spicy sauce. Korean Twist did not disappoint, and another full belly some how managed to walk over to Voodoo Doughnuts just a few hours later for a tasty treat.
Day 3: Things in Cones
I don’t recall how I found out about Awesome Cone, but I’m sure glad that I did. Located in the SE on Division, in a community known as the D Street Noshery, Awesome Cone serves up savory treats in – yup, you guessed it, waffle cones. $6 gets you a large cone filled with goodness: pulled pork with a slaw, chicken and dumplings, seasonal, ever changing special cone. This guy puts a new twist on whimsy and food. Everybody loves a good waffle cone, so why not put savory items in them instead of ice cream. I should note that he makes his own waffle cones. The verdict: Awesome Cone. Pretty awesome.
Since we made the journey over the bridge in our car, rather than simply walking downtown for lunch, we decided we should seek out another food cart serving up a more traditional treat in cones, Salt & Straw Ice Cream. Salt & Straw is ice cream done “farm-to-cone,” serving up ice cream made from the cows at Lochmead Dairy in Eugene, Oregon, as well as using other locally sourced ingredients, including Stumptown Coffee and Rogue Creamery blue cheese. Their flavors go outside the box. It’s not just about vanilla and chocolate; it’s about brown ale and bacon, pear and blue cheese, and honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper. Located on NE Alberta, they are serving up their slow-churned creations from a cart, but will soon have a permanent storefront location on NE Alberta.
Every day while in Portland, we couldn’t wait for lunchtime, eagerly wanting to check out what our $6 could get us. And we did our best to check in on Facebook with images to make you all drool and jealous.
Food will always act as a binding agent, an all-encompassing ingredient that can bring friends, family, and strangers together to celebrate its magical quality. I observed people gathering in lines (no matter how long) and sitting on picnic tables and on city steps eyeing each other’s food. As the smells waft your way, the spell is on, and you find yourself controlled by your stomach.
The food trucks in Portland were definitely the highlight of our trip. I’m so excited to see this kind of food taking off, and I can only hope that the rest of the country will catch on to this trend and offer up more food trucks across the nation. It’s the small things like food trucks that keep me passionate about food. It’s not always about the perfectly plated, high-ticket meal; sometimes it’s as simple as putting something in a cone and dropping $6 on lunch instead of $16.
The food trucks have quickly established themselves as part of the culinary fabric in Portland, and well I couldn’t imagine visiting without eating at them.
Thank you Portland for some of my most memorable bites.