Imaginative chefs and entrepreneurs have had an indelible impact on Oregon’s culinary landscape thanks to the soaring popularity of the food cart. Unbound by brick and mortar, their creativity has taken off. Today there are upwards of 3,000 food carts around the state, many of them parked in vibrant clusters that often boast fire pits, local artwork and a centralized bar.
“The trucks are such an entryway, especially for our minority groups, that allow so much diversity in our food,” says Leah Tucker, founder and executive director of the Oregon Mobile Food Association. “You can have the world at your fingertips.”
In recent years, new food pods and halls have started popping up across Oregon to deliver eats inspired by a variety of cultures. The meals served in these food-cart pods or halls — a first in the respective cities of Salem, Hermiston and Lincoln City — will satisfy your cravings for food from around the globe.
International Traditions and Global Fusion in Salem
Not long after Fork Forty opened as Salem’s first food hall in 2020, the city’s culinary scene got a great global boost. In 2021, Mr. Coquí joined forces with the others — located inside a historic building that’s been home to eateries since 1907 — and brought Puerto Rican classics to town. Chef Mariam Aryan’s Syrian Kitchen was born, as well, from Aryan’s success with traditional pastries at the farmers market. Her lamb shawarma and chicken shish tawook go best with an Aleppo side salad dressed with tahini and mint, and to drink, a fizzy British soft drink with raspberries, grapes and blackcurrants called Vimto.
Fork Forty also plays host to La Lucciola, with its Mexican-inspired avocado-cilantro pizza, and even more global fusion at Chubby Bao House, the brainchild of chefs Joe and Sara Ngo. The eatery focuses on Chinese steamed buns but serves them stuffed with fillings inspired by other cultures. Try the carnitas bao, a bun filled with Mexican slow-cooked pulled pork and topped with poblano sauce, or the chicken and bao, a riff on the American chicken and waffles.
Central American, Asian and Barbecue in Hermiston
This city on the Columbia thrives with excellent food crafted by passionate cooks, but now the Hermiston Food Pod — fully upgraded as a permanent pod location in 2021 — brings a vibrant array of unique cuisines all into one convenient spot.
Nine carts sit around an outdoor common area and offer everything from burgers and shakes to delicious far-flung treats. For starters there’s the El Salvadoreño, the second food cart from owner Dolores Amaya, who serves up her savory pupusas with chicharrones and beans, asada tortas, and other offerings from her native land, as well as quesadillas and tacos.
Nearby at the new, bright-green Twisted Filipino Variety Cuisine cart you’ll find tastes from owner Maureen Dickens’ homeland with tangy chicken and shrimp pancit, adobo and rice, and a filling pinoy sampler plate that comes with flaky, crunchy, mouthwatering lumpia. And then there’s the cart that started it all, Southern Twain BBQ, where pitmaster Patrick Hunt, manager of the pod, does St. Louis-style ribs, Texas brisket and North Carolina pulled pork to bring the trifecta of globally renowned Southern meatcraft to the Pacific Northwest.
World Tour of Cuisines in Lincoln City
Located in the artsy, historic Taft District of Lincoln City, The Pines Dine Food Truck Village opened in spring 2022 — the first of its kind on the Central Coast — with a smorgasbord of great eats, from Sushi 101 to Nepalese at Momo on the Wheels, that highlight the creative and eclectic talents of ambitious chefs.
The pod offers outdoor seating around a covered central area that holds more tables and a bar, and in all the pod can hold a dozen carts. You can find traditional Greek cuisine like gyros and baklava at Gyropoulos, which came to town after the success of its Salem location. Don’t miss the melange of Taino, African and Spanish cultures that define Puerto Rican cuisine — think fried plantain mofongo and mojo-marinade chicken — at La Wawa Puerto Rican Soul Food.
And if you’re wondering about the food truck named Stoopid Veganz, the first of the carts to join the pod whips up 100% meat- and dairy-free “stoopid specials” that are anything but silly. Try the vegan banh mi with “chick’n” sesame salad and pickled onions for Stoopid Veganz’s take on the classic sandwich from Vietnam.
Before heading out, save room for that Tawainese treat, bubble tea, at Bobablastic, a staple of the Oregon food-cart scene with multiple locations (including one in the new Hermiston food pod). Try any of 50-some drink and topping combinations — iced creamy honeydew tea or watermelon lemonade with lychee jellies are just two of the possibilities.