If you’ve ever had a restaurant-worthy meal from a food truck, you can thank Portland. The city pioneered the food cart trend more than a decade ago, giving chefs who had more talent than money the chance to follow their dreams without having to fund a full-fledged restaurant. Today’s food cart scene ventures far beyond global street food and into the realm of fine dining.
Consider Artigiano, a self-styled “seasonal al fresco osteria” on Southeast Portland’s buzzy Division Street. Dining from this cart is a multi-course reservation-only affair, but if you plan ahead you’ll be rewarded with authentic, regional Italian cooking made entirely from scratch. Every year for the past 9 years, chef/owner Rachael Grossman closes the cart for the winter to travel through Italy and immerse herself in the country’s cuisine, and she uses the cart as a showcase of what she learns.
In Northeast Portland’s Alberta Arts District, two European-inspired carts — Gumba and Fine Goose — have turned one of the tiniest cart pods into a big draw. Gumba’s handmade pastas anchor inventive, Italian-inspired dishes like tagliatelle carbonara with sumac, lemon zest, chili oil and “cart made” burrata cheese. While the French-born chef-owners of Fine Goose stay true to their roots with dishes like Moulard duck breast with candied figs, or seasonal ratatouille.
Then there’s Wild North, one of Portland’s newest carts serving chef-driven cuisine from the incongruous confines of a brewpub patio. Chef-owners Amelia and Brandon Hughes use a wood-fired oven to create dishes like profiteroles stuffed with smoked foie gras mousse and topped with housemade grape jam and bourbon marinated wild chanterelles. And all ingredients are sourced from within 100 miles of town.
Even fine teas have found a home in a cart. Over in Multnomah Village, a sleepy westside enclave, Aesthete Tea pours exquisite hand-blended teas like Love Potion (assam, rose, caraway and fennel) from a tiny truck complete with sunny deck. The teas are sourced directly from 250- and 500-year-old tea trees on family farms, and the herbs come strictly from local Oregon farms.