Fancy a Norwegian meatball wrap, Colombian patacones or Czech dumplings? You can try all of these — and pretty much any other kind of cuisine you can think of — at one of Portland's famous street food carts which are dotted around the city in parking-lot precincts, or "pods".

The Oregon city in America's Pacific Northwest has more than 600 carts that are unique in that they don't move, though local laws dictate they must have the means to if required (read: wheels).

A lunchtime tour with Brett Burmeister of Food Carts Portland around the SW 10th and Alder lot is one way to get an overview of the carts and their history, and try out a few of the dishes they have to offer.

A long-time passionate supporter of the scene, Burmeister keeps track of the vendors and writes about newcomers on his website, as well as offering 60-90 minute daily weekday tours and tastings for $70.


The street food scene has grown organically and steadily here since the mid-1980s when the revitalisation of downtown Portland brought office workers — who needed to be fed — back into the city in large numbers.

There was another shifting point in the industry across the country after 2008's Global Financial Crisis, Burmeister explains, when aspiring restaurateurs had to come up with cheaper ways to operate a business.

City-enforced regulations and high standards mean the street food is reliably safe to eat, which has brought about a widening of the demographic frequenting them.

These days some of the carts are so successful they have several incarnations across town, or even "brick and mortar" establishments.

The city's most iconic chicken and rice cart, Nong's Khao Man Gai, was started by the "Queen of Carts", Nong Poonsukwattana, in 2009, and sells out of its signature dish every day — Thai-style chicken and rice simmered with hunks of galangal root, ginger and coriander, and served with Nong's house-made nose-tingling hot sauce. She now has two cart locations and a restaurant in Portland.

Portland's famous foodcarts.
Portland's famous foodcarts.

Another success story is The Grilled Cheese Grill, which promises "a taste of your childhood" (well, an American childhood full of grilled cheese sandwiches anyway) at two locations, with the kitchen on the northeast side of the river operating out of an actual converted school bus. They also have a food truck that moves around.

One exciting aspect the carts offer is the opportunity to explore food within regions.

I sample Yucatan cuisine — a $2.80 panucho from El Taco Yucateco that's almost too pretty to eat, made with a fried tortilla sliced open and stuffed with black bean paste, then put back in the pan for another quick fry and served with lettuce, cabbage, chicken, pickled red onion, tomato and avocado. Divine.


I also try a bowl of mouth-watering smokey North Carolina-style barbecue pulled pork, which has a vinegary taste to its sauce, with black-eyed peas and coleslaw at A Little Bit of Smoke.

Portland's street food is about more than grabbing some great grub on the run, it's a culinary adventure too.

This food may be fast but it's definitely not American fast food as we know it.


Getting there:

flies daily from Auckland to Portland, via LA.

Details: To book a tour, go to

Further information: See and