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

So What Makes a Smaaken Waffle so Tasty Anyway?

Guess what?  There are a lot of types of waffles out there.  Because we live in a big world and people all over love waffles!  The most popular types are Dutch waffles and Belgian waffles.  But let’s not forget the American waffle, the Italian style waffle and varieties of Asian style waffles (from Hong Kong to Vietnam). 

Portland is well represented with waffles and I will admit I declared one of my favorites sometime last year.  All it took was one bite into a Smaaken Waffle and I was hooked.  When I learned that the word smaaken is Dutch for tasty, it was so obviously befitting.  In fact, Smaaken Waffle is one of my overall favorite food carts in Portland and my go to on a regular basis, even when I am not bringing people there for the Bustling Buckman Food Tour.

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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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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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GÜERO – The Home of La Torta

It’s a food truck turned restaurant.  It may not be the American dream, but it is the Portland dream.  Humble beginnings gather a loyal and excited crowd and eventually, the brick and mortar Güero restaurant is born.  I love it!

Güero has made its name by serving tortas, and more specifically, torta ahogada, which is a drowned torta.  This is the result of a happy accident that happened years ago in Jalisco, Mexico, when the contents of the sandwich fell into a pot of red chile sauce.

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Arrosto – Chicken Like Grandma Used to Make

Arrosto’s, food is nothing like fussy, but prepared with attention to detail. It is pretty much like the type food I would cook at home. But when I don’t have time, I have the comfort and convenience of chicken and potatoes close to my home.

In fact, the potatoes roasted in chicken drippings is what makes me a loyal customer. And once you taste them, I have no doubt you will be coming back again and again.

They are the perfect blend of crispy and salty on the outside, soft in the middle, and enrobed in nutrient dense chicken fat. Perfect any season of the year, any day and any time of day.

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