Food Carts in Portland – the Story Behind the Icon

I will admit, I hesitate to write this article, because what could I possibly say about food carts in Portland that has not already been said?  Probably nothing, but it has been fun for me to travel down some rabbit holes, learning the history of how food carts have become synonymous with Portland.

Officially, the food cart scene blew up in 2008, during the Great Recession. Although that was 95 years after the first food cart set up moveable shop in Portland.  As you can imagine, the cart was pulled by a horse back then!

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What are Arepas? Find Out at Teote

Practically everyone has heard of a tortilla, but not everyone has heard of an arepa.  Not having traveled to South America, I wasn’t familiar with arepas until I ate at Teote, years ago in Portland.

It all starts with corn. Corn is important to Latin American cultures. So much so, that there are prayers and celebrations in honor of this life giving plant, which is maize in Spanish.

The versatile corn plant, crafted into arepas

And since there are a couple dozen Latin American countries, spread out over two continents, it only makes sense that corn is crafted into many different dishes. Tacos, tamales, tortillas, pupusas, posole, and arepas come to mind.  When I’ve traveled in Mexico, I have seen women smacking maize back and forth in their hands, until they form a flat tortilla.  When I was in El Salvador, I took a cooking class to learn how to make pupusas.  Pupusas are slightly more complicated, as they contain not only maíze, but also beans (frijoles) and cheese (queso) and possibly vegetables.

Come and sample arepas (and more) at Teote

And I am positive when I make it to South America (hopefully winter of 2021), I will see arepas sold as street food and in the markets. And with luck, take a class on making arepas. In the meantime, I will keep eating at Teote.  And I will keep bringing guests on the Bustling Buckman Food Tour to the Teote House Café, which is located in a refurbished vintage home near Ladd’s Addition.  And I will note, that since Teote opened up there in 2013, they have expanded with the Mezcaleria in the Alberta Arts district and the Outpost in Pine Street Market downtown.  So you have lots of options!

Arepas are the Columbian and Venezuelan corn dish of choice and have been, long before the Europeans colonized the New World.  In fact, it is believed that they are not much different now than they were 3,000 years ago.  Talk about endurance. 

They are thicker than a tortilla, but definitely round and flat.  Another key difference is that the arepa flour is NOT alkali treated, like so many other maize products.  The soaked kernels make for a moist batter.  Although the magic comes when they hit the grill.  Lightly fried to perfection, the outside is crispy and the inside is still moist.

Sounds so yummy! How are they served?

Grounding and nourishing, arepas can be eaten any time of day.  Traditionally, they are either an accompaniment to a meal or a snack themselves.  They are perfect for sopping up spicy and/or wetter foods, which is exactly how they are served at Teote.  Or picture them stuffed with beans or cheese, or grilled meats, fish or chicken.  The adjective versatile comes to mind. 

Teote is Venezuelan cuisine, but not in the strictest sense.  They utilize South American grilling techniques (YUM!) and combine that with Northwest ingredients.  This translates into organic and local meats that are braised with the spices and sauces best paired with the cut of meat.  Examples include chicken with a distinctly smoky sauce or brisket with a salsa verde.  And vegetarians, we’ve got you covered with black beans accompanied by a plantain sauce.  A generous sprinkle of local veggies gives the arepas that extra pop on what is essentially a divine ethnic comfort food.

I don’t want to give too much away.  But at the end of the Bustling Buckman Hood Food Tour, guests name Teote as their favorite stop about 75% of the time.  The arepas are THAT good!

  • Teote House Cafe
  • 1615 SE 12th Ave
  • Portland, OR 97214
  • Teote Mezcaleria
  • 2700 NE Alberta St
  • Portland, OR 97211
  • Teote Outpost
  • Pine Street Market
  • 126 SW 2nd Ave
  • Portland, OR 97204
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The Teote House Cafe – as featured on our Portland food tour

Fun Facts about Chocolate – Portland Food Tours

A really sublime chocolate experience is heavenly.  And chocolate is a health food and has been considered such for eons.  Only in relatively recent times has chocolate been denigrated to junk food, because of the additions of so much milk and sugar. It shouldn’t surprise you that a self-proclaimed foodie has a bookshelf full of books about food.  Many cookbooks, but also a lot of books that focus on a single ingredient, or the cultural aspects of food.  So I whipped out my book The Chocolate and Coffee Bible and dug around for some fun facts about chocolate.

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Weirdest Wine Shop in Portland – Pairings Portland

Pairings Portland’s claim to fame is “Weirdest Wine Shop in Portland.”  I have not patronized enough wine shops to firmly agree, yet still, I agree!  The weirdness is undoubtedly part of its charm and so is the fact that it is totally unpretentious and uber quirky. Additionally, there is a focus on organic wines (from organic grapes) and natural wines (no added yeast).

The first time I went in was Tarot reading night.  A man in a wizard hat did a simple tarot reading to address whatever question I asked.  After that, he did a tarot reading to assess my mood.  The three cards he selected yielded states of being and I brought them up to the counter and then it was the wine expert’s task to find me a wine that fit my mood.  How fun!

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What Makes Wolf and Bear’s Falafel Epic?

Wolf and Bear’s has almost a cult like following.  I know that is claiming a lot for a humble chickpea dish.  But indeed, Portlanders just go gaga over the falafel pita wraps.  Currently, Wolf and Bear’s has two food truck locations.  One on North Mississippi (between Shaver and Failing).  And the other in Pod 28, which is on SE 28th and Ankeny, on the southern end of the renown Kerns Restaurant Row.

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A Slice of Hog Heaven – Tails and Trotters

Every time I walk into Tails and Trotters I comment (to myself), “this is a slice of hog heaven, well actually it is not heaven for a hog, but it sure is heaven for a human.”  Of course this assumes that you are not vegetarian.  And if that is the case, then keep reading!

Pork is nutrient dense and flavorful, not to mention adaptable to different cuisines.  Now imagine if those happy pigs were finished off on hazelnuts.  I bet you realize that would impart a distinctively complex and rich flavor to the meat.  Well that is exactly what you can discover for yourself at Tails and Trotters.

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Jasmine Pearl Tea Company – a tea lovers’ delight

I had already noticed signs at other local businesses displaying “We Serve Jasmine Pearl Tea” so I assumed Jasmine Pearl was a local company procuring and possibly making their own blends of tea.  There is a sign before you step in requesting you do not use your cell phone or other electronical devices.  How refreshing!  Somebody thinks tea is sacred and is bold enough to make others acknowledge the same.

The spacious room has plenty of varieties of tea and tea preparation paraphernalia.  Tea pots, tea cups, tea infusers, and other accessories are all on display in an appealing and uncluttered fashion.  There are different styles, mostly Asian inspired, but some European styles.  And there is a rack with the more popular tea varieties prepackaged in two ounce bags for customer’s ease. Jasmine pearls are a tea variety themselves. The leaves from green tea are rolled up into little pearls and blended with jasmine flowers, which are intoxicating in their own right.

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Portland’s Pizza of Many Origins on Restaurant Row

Pizza aficionados are very attached to their favorite type of pizza.  I grew up in NY and gorged on pizza for a couple decades, with the occasional hiatus to gorge on bagels, egg creams, and pastrami sandwiches.  So, I admittedly have a bias for New York pizza.  But when a wave of rationality sweeps over me, I am the first to admit there are other contenders for excellent styles of pizza. And Portland’s pizza is worth taking a closer look at.

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Providore Fine Foods – Visit on a Portland Food Tour

Providore claims to be a purveyor of fine foods and it is indeed just that.  It is actually a mix of several businesses that each occupy space in the same building.  And the synergy of the mix is awesome.  Providore’s website lists:  Pastaworks (fresh pasta, wine, and a deli), Arrosto (rotisserie chicken), Flying Fish Company (replete with its own oyster bar and soup samples), The Meat Monger (think duck, quail, hazelnut finished pork, and pasture fed beef), Rubinette Produce Market (with unusual varieties of usual fruits and veggies), Little T Baker (artisan bread and sweet treats) and Hillary Horvath Flowers (think seasonable like eye popping peonies and wild berry flowers).

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Pambiche – a Slice of Old Havana

I discovered this gem years before I moved to Portland.  It came to me through word of mouth in one of those classic “where are the fun restaurants in Portland” conversations.  Although I did not purposely move a few blocks from it to be nearby, it’s certainly an added benefit of living in the Kerns. And how terrific that on a rainy Oregon day, I can slip into Pambiche – a slice of old Havana with Cuban hospitality.

So Pambiche, touts itself as Cuban food, which I believe you will find to be very similar to other food from the Caribbean and Central America.  Countries in those regions are geographically small, therefore the overlapping of food crops that thrive there is to be expected.  And yet, each country develops its own customs of preparing food, creating a sense of national identity.

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