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.
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.