Portland’s food carts show they can pivot, and many are thriving

People sit around a table eating food
People sit around a table at Ruthie’s, a Portland restaurant that has thrived during the pandemic. Elsewhere in the city, food carts are succeeding.
(Christine Dong / For The Times)

While many of Portland’s bricks-and-mortar restaurants struggled to survive during the pandemic, food carts — long associated with the city — have been hanging in there and, in some cases, thriving. Relatively lax regulations and a plethora of carts for sale have made food carts an attractive option for new and emerging chefs.

The famous Alder Street pod in downtown Portland is now gone, replaced by construction for a high-rise hotel, but newer pods like Collective Oregon Eateries and the Shady Pines Vegan Court have sprung up in a burst of entrepreneurial energy.

Many Portland chefs and restaurateurs are finding the wherewithal to look forward.

Aug. 13, 2021

Some of the best carts of the last 18 months include Erica’s Soul Food, where Atlanta-born founder Erica Montgomery brings a chef’s touch to dishes like hot lemon pepper wings, boiled peanuts and pimento cheese fries; Poppyseed, a food cart from pastry chef Lissette Morales Willis and chef Tim Willis (Le Pigeon) offering preserved-lemon chicken salad sandwiches, cart-made foie gras and Morales Willis’ almond Black Forest cake; Sorbu Paninoteca, a Sicilian cart specializing in torta di ceci, a chickpea flatbread upon which chef Chris Ericsen heaps mozzarella and eggplant, as well as massive, glowingly fresh salads with greens from nearby Praxis Farms; and Skidbladnir, a Celtic cart serving elaborate seasonal smørrebrøds, lamb sandwiches and whiskey-cured salmon. In addition to these new entries, prepandemic-established cart stars including Matta, Jojo, Bing Mi, Matt’s BBQ and Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen draw waiting crowds.