: Portland Mercado / Amy Garay

How to Explore Portland’s Food-Cart Pods

September 7, 2021 (Updated June 27, 2023)

From authentic Chinese cuisine to food from Afghanistan, India, Hawaii, Peru, Turkey and any other cuisine imaginable, Portland has long been known for having one of the most dynamic street-food scenes in the world. Drawing locals and visitors alike, these food carts are also incubators for up-and-coming cooks, many of whom have gone on to open brick-and-mortar restaurants thanks to their loyal followings. The scene became a phenomenon in the early 2000s and continued throughout the recession as talented chefs and entrepreneurs found it an affordable way to showcase their culinary talents and test out-of-the-box food concepts. 

Food carts thrive today thanks to the easy access to authentic, affordable, globally inspired restaurant-quality food — along with the fun, social, open-air atmospheres. In Portland it’s just a way of life to meet up with friends at any of the hundreds of food carts, organized into dozens of “pods,” or clusters all around the city. Here are some of the Rose City’s food-cart pods to start your culinary tasting journey.

Plate of rice, seafood, fritters on paper plate
Find enormous servings of seafood paella and other restaurant-quality meals at Portland Mercado (temporarily closed). Courtesy of Jen Anderson

Southeast Portland

One Portland’s newest food cart pods on Southeast Stark Street, Lil’ America features seven carts and sets itself apart by being the only pod in Portland that is exclusively LGBTQ and BIPOC-owned carts. Order Saturday specials like bistec with chile negro (steak in a spicy black sauce) or enjoy spit-roasted al pastor tacos at Los Plebes, owned by Hillsboro-raised cousins. In the mood for a good crab boil? Drip’n Crab offers seafood boils served with all the fixings —sausage, potatoes, corn and even eggs. Try their Portland themed menu like the Dekum Boil, the Killingsworth Boil, and the Alberta Grab Bag.

CORE (Collective Oregon Eateries) houses 14 food carts with indoor and outdoor seating. Open six days a week (closed on Mondays), CORE sits off of Southeast 82nd Avenue, but the noise from the busy street won’t bother you here. Entering the space, you’ll come across vibrant murals and speakers playing soft R&B music. Try barbecue brisket at Briskets & Gravy, lomo saltado at Mama’s Peruvian Bowls or vegan and gluten-free sushi at Mitate, to name a few. Have an award-winning beer poured from Breakside Brewery’s fully customized 1972 Winnebago, the Breaksider, rebuilt from the ground up to enable the brewery to hit the road. A tented area with wood benches will keep you dry in case of rain, and there is a large indoor space.

CORE food-cart pod in Southeast Portland is a showcase of some of the city's most diverse cuisines and up-and-coming talent. Courtesy of Kayla Brock

Also on Portland’s east side, Eastport Food Center is a place to sample cuisine from all over the world at a whopping 25 food carts (plus a 12-handle draft beer and wine bar). A five-minute walk south from CORE on Southeast 82nd Avenue, Eastport offers a wide outdoor seating area and indoor heated seating for the cooler months. The pod showcases a diversity of cuisines including Colombian from Los Parceros, Turkish from Turkish Agha, Greek from Northwest Gyros, Ethiopian from Sheger Ethiopian Eatery and more. Try the bhindi aloo — lightly spiced and seasoned okra with potatoes and naan — from Taste of Afghan.

Portland Mercado (temporarily closed), located off of Southeast Foster Boulevard, is a vibrant and colorful space for Latin American businesses that span food, grocery and retail shops, including nine food carts and six indoor businesses. With covered outdoor and indoor seating, the Mercado hosts a range of Latin fare from Costa Rican at La Carreta Pura Vida to Argentinian at AleCocina, Peruvian at Tita’s Kitchen and more. Peruse the Mercado for some Latin American history and culture as well as a fresh produce market, Nicaraguan coffee shop and fresh smoothie bar.

Closer in to Portland’s central city try Cartlandia, with 32 carts, indoor seating and a full-service bar; Hawthorne Asylum, with more than 20 carts and an abundance of seating; and Cartopia, one of the oldest food-cart pods in Portland.

Killingsworth Station and other food-cart pods are perfect spots for casual outdoor dining. Several have indoor or covered and heated seating as well. Courtesy of Kayla Brock

North Portland

Open seven days a week in North Portland, Killingsworth Station Food Cart Pod invites early birds to Coffee Villa to start their day with fresh organic coffee and daily sandwich specials. For lunch head over to Sweet Lorraine’s Latkes & More to get New York-style Jewish comfort food, or vegan fish and tacos from V3 PDX. With a half-dozen carts, local craft beer, covered seating and heaters, you can’t go wrong. 

St. Johns Food & Beer Porch has over a dozen food carts and a variety of local brews, ciders and more on tap. Wander down to North Mississippi Avenue for more tasty fare at Prost Marketplace, which includes 10 top-notch carts clustered around a gorgeous patio and beer garden.  

Northwest Portland

Located on the popular Northwest 23rd Avenue with local boutiques and Forest Park’s hiking trails nearby, eight food carts occupy Nob Hill Food Carts. Indulge in Indian food from Dhaba Indian Kitchen, try Thai noodles from Drunken Noodle, or grab an Oregon albacore tuna-loin sandwich with cabbage slaw and soy-ginger vinaigrette from Farmer and the Beast.

The food carts at Third Avenue in downtown Portland are ideal fare for a waterfront picnic along the Willamette River, just two blocks away. Courtesy of Kayla Brock

Downtown Portland

Home to Stretch the Noodle and many other global cuisines, the Third Avenue Food-Cart Pod is in the heart of downtown. Since this is a carts-only pod (no tables or tents for seating), you can carry your food two blocks east to Tom McCall Waterfront Park to sit along the Willamette River. Among the carts you’ll find Mediterranean, Thai, fresh seafood dishes and more. Sink your teeth into chicken shawarma topped with spicy red-pepper sauce from El Masry Egyptian Cuisine, or try a fried-shrimp po’boy dressed in lettuce, tomato, pickle and remoulade from PoBoyz

Look for food-cart pods all across downtown, including Carts on the Square and the carts clustered around Fifth Avenue. Be the first of your friends to check out The Cart Blocks, adjacent to Southwest Ankeny Street along 8th and Park avenues. This city-supported pod is home to nearly two dozen beloved carts that were displaced due to construction at the former Alder Street Pod. Find everything from Mexican and Thai to Chinese, Ethiopian and Iraqi food.

two containers of noodle dishes with colorful veggies
Stretch the Noodles' chao mian (top) and biang-biang noodles are made to order and come in different spice levels. Warning: the spicy is extra hot. Courtesy of Jen Anderson

If You Go:

  • When you’re hungry, find food-cart pod maps and vendor lists to plot out your next visit. This is by no means a comprehensive list of Portland’s food-cart pods — just a taste. If the choices are overwhelming, consider a food-cart tour or use Travel Portland’s Food Cart Finder to find a cart near you.
  • When you’re visiting a food cart, please dispose of any trash in nearby trash cans, and consider bringing reusable to-go containers to avoid taking away more paper or plastic products. 
  • Many small businesses are still struggling during this time, so be sure to treat owners and their staff with kindness and, if you can, tip well for their amazing service and meal.
  • Each cart is different, but the majority accept credit/debit cards; some may only accept cash. Check the cart’s website or social media page before visiting to see if there are any unexpected closures or changes to their hours. 

About The

Kayla Brock
Kayla Brock was the Global Integrated Marketing Content Editor at Travel Oregon. She loves photography, traveling, and attending various arts performances around the state. Her perfect day would consist of grabbing brunch in the city followed by attending an arts performance before heading to the Oregon Coast to soak in the sun and waves.

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