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Since 2016 Xuemei and Duane Simard have been slinging fresh hand-stretched noodles alongside handmade pork and shrimp dumplings from their downtown Portland food cart, Stretch the Noodle. Their dishes are so popular, they attract a steady line that can wrap around the block. “We get 100 to 125 people a day from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.,” Duane says.
Located at the Third Avenue Food Cart Pod, Stretch the Noodle is one of downtown Portland’s mainstays. Xuemei and her husband, Duane, met in 2009 in Xuemei’s hometown of Zibo, Shan Dong, China. Duane, originally from Alaska, was teaching middle school English for a year and was introduced to Xuemei by a mutual friend.
During Duane’s two-hour lunch breaks, he would go explore the town and came across a noodle shop which is where Duane first saw noodles being hand-stretched. “I was just fascinated by it, and I loved the texture of the noodles so I said, ‘Xuemei, you’ve got to learn how to make those,’” he says.
After the school year ended, the couple moved to Colorado but Xuemei soon headed back to China to learn how to stretch the noodles and brought the method home. She uses a Shaanxi-style hot oil and black vinegar garlic sauce that keeps diners coming back for more.
In 2015 Xuemei and Duane decided to travel a bit and rented a camper van for a West Coast road trip. When they arrived in the Rose City they fell in love with the food culture and saw it as the perfect market for their business. “We saw that there were a lot of food carts around here, and we were like ‘Oh, it’s like in China,’” Xuemei says. “In China there are little street-food stalls everywhere.” They also saw that no one else was doing something similar.
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.
Opened in June 2021, 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 Thai at BKK Thai, seafood at Drip’N Crab, or vegan and gluten-free sushi at newly opened 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.
Eastport Food Center
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., the brand-new 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, 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.
Also in Southeast: 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 Food Cart Pod
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.
Also in North Portland: 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.
Nob Hill Food Carts
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.
Third Avenue Food-Cart Pod
Home to Stretch the Noodle and many other diverse eateries, 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.
Also downtown: 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.
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.