When Hanry Ho and Mandy Kao started renting out spaces for their food cart pod, Collective Oregon Eateries (or CORE), it wasn’t just about filling spaces; they wanted to come up with an eclectic, diverse set of cuisines to highlight. “We want to have a certain standard, so we taste each cart before we sign on,” Kao says. “We’re looking for a high caliber. Everyone has to do something different.”
CORE, after all, has been years in the making: Ho was originally planning on opening the SE 82nd pod in 2018, but carts didn’t start rolling in until the beginning of this year, parked outside a shiny new indoor dining space with bathrooms, massive glass windows, and rows of indoor picnic tables. These carts began selling everything from seafood boils to Hainanese chicken to lechon sandwiches, quickly drawing the attention of food writers. Portland big-names like Chicken & Guns and Breakside Brewing landed in the pod, and now, CORE has become one of the most competitive new food cart pods in town, vying for the title of the city’s best.
Kao and Ho have far more in mind for the space than just the carts: Kao wants to run a bar out of a small space on the ground floor of the pod’s building, with drinks that play off each of the food cart’s menus. On the top floor balcony, Ho and Kao want to host bands and djs, to play over the strolling customers and carts below. And down the line, the two plan on using CORE as a location for a farmers market and evening night market. Indoors, the two want to add a moss wall, art and murals from local artists, with space for even more food vendors inside the building.
Note: If a particular cart looks appealing, it’s worth it to check the cart’s Instagram account to see if it’s open; carts can be unpredictable with their opening times. And for more destination food carts, this map may help.
This cart specializes in one of the most popular Thai dishes in the United States, with vegetarian, gluten-free, low carb, and chicken satay pad Thai scooped up and served sizzling in a paper boat. Still, it’s not the only thing on the menu: Those platters of pad Thai come with options like chicken dumplings and flaky curry puffs, sort of like hand-pies filled with curry.
Learn more: BKK Pad Thai [Official]
When they first started making vegan sushi as a part of a pop-up, Nino Ortiz and Summer Ortiz added serious heat to the overarching vegan scene: Using things like Portland-made tofu, black-bean-garlic-truffle puree, and shishito peppers, the two make sushi that stands on its own, even without the fish. The two graduated to a cart after less than a year of pop-ups, but they’re not stopping there: The Ortizes are planning on keeping the cart running until they open a restaurant, so those who want to try this sushi out of a cart should do so while they can.
Learn more: Vegan Sushi Pop-Up Mitate Is Opening a Food Cart [EPDX]
John Hatch, the co-owner of the food cart Papi Sal’s, grew up in and around Philadelphia in an Italian American family; he worked in a Philly deli, making Italian-American hoagies and cheesesteaks. But as a young adult, he found out that he was adopted, with Puerto Rican roots. “It was an identity struggle, but it was also my identity becoming whole,” he says. He started to teach himself Puerto Rican food as a way to connect with his heritage, and in that process, came up with the concept for his food cart, Papi Sal’s: A mashup of his Italian-American Philly upbringing with his newfound exploration of Puerto Rican cuisine. The result: lechon sandwiches with provolone, sofrito mayo, and Puerto Rican long hots; sazon fried chicken sandwiches with slaw and pickles; fries dusted with plantain.
Learn more: Papi Sal’s [Instagram]
Many Portlanders are deeply familiar with Nong’s Khao Man Gai, the Thai chicken and rice cart that took the city by storm. But when Andy Kou moved to Portland, he noticed he couldn’t find the dish’s twin, Hainanese chicken and rice — skin-on slices of chicken over tender rice with an assortment of sauces. So he and co-owners Jeffrey Doung and Sam Yos decided to open a cart, specializing in the Singapore-style Hainanese chicken and rice. Jas’s version comes with three sauces — green onion and ginger, sweet and dark soy, and lemongrass and Thai chili. The menu also includes things like soy-and-cinnamon-braised pork belly rice and a full slate of wings, tossed in everything from lemongrass and Thai chilis to gochujang.
Learn more: Jas Kitchen [Instagram]
Summit Shack owners Andrew Sitnikov and Michael Paolino came from the world of New York fine dining, but they moved to Portland to open a sandwich cart. That meticulous culinary backbone goes into the foundations of each sandwich, whether it’s a hot fried chicken with fermented habaneros and a 15-spice blend or a porchetta rubbed in citrus and fennel, sliced paper-thin with garlic aioli. That fried chicken sandwich — spicy or not — comes on a cart-baked potato roll, with pickles made by Sitnikov. “I’m from Russia, so pickles were a huge part of me growing up,” he says. “Mike is Italian, so it’s a cool fusion of flavors, what we’re doing.”
Learn more: Summit Shack [Instagram]
When Shermain Scott first made her seafood boil for Cyril Teal, he had three words for her: “We’re selling this.” When the two began selling bags of snow crab legs, shrimp, and potatoes in Scott’s spicy sauce as a pop-up, they knew they had a hit on their hands. Now, at their new cart, Scott sells a number of different seafood boils, including “Dat Dayum Bag,” a behemoth of crab, shrimp, sausage, potatoes, egg, and corn. Teal handled bowls of alfredo with add-ons like shrimp, sausage, or chicken, and pastry wizard Jermon Walker slings parfaits for a touch of something sweet.
Learn more: The Drip’n Crab [Instagram]
Sou Saechao is captivated by salt-and-pepper squid. “It’s about the texture. The squid has to be not too chewy, not too firm, and crispy,” he says. He grew up eating it, spent years of his adult life perfecting it, and now, he has his own cart dedicated to it. The order at Sou’s is, obviously, the “pepper salted squid,” but Saechao tip-toed out of the salt-and-pepper world to add dishes like pepper salted shrimp, wings, and even a surf-and-turf plate with mac salad and short ribs. Sou’s is still in “soft open” mode, which means the hours are a little inconsistent; it’s best to check the Instagram account to make sure the cart is open before you visit.
Learn more: Sou’s [Instagram]
From the team behind The Mocking Bird, Shark’s Cove is a nod to owner Kayla Lamberson’s former home, Oahu, making vegan versions of fun Hawaiian dishes: The loco moco is made with a Beyond beef patty and a tofu egg, plate lunches with teriyaki tempeh, and using chik’n for katsu. A huge part of Lamberson’s mission with Shark’s Cove, however, is to educate Portlanders and raise awareness of ocean conservation efforts, which she does via the cart’s Instagram account.
Learn more: Shark’s Cove [Instagram]
Kai’s Stir Fry is all about the wok. Almost all of the expansive menu at the cart involves the toss and shake of vegetables, seafood, and meat over high heat, tackling Chinese-American favorites like General Tso’s and chow mein, as well as cart-specific things like Bacardi rum garlic prawns.
Learn more: Kai’s Stir Fry [Instagram]
One of Portland’s most famous breweries, Breakside has expanded into the beer cart business, now selling tap pours out of a converted old-school Winnebago (Winnebeergo). Sip IPAs, the brewery’s famous passionfruit sour, and things like Macchiato stouts at any of the cart’s picnic tables, with an assortment of dishes from the other food carts.
Learn more: The Breaksider [Official]
Portland’s own pollo a la brasa cart at the longstanding pod Cartopia, Chicken and Guns has opened its second cart on SE 82nd, with one notable twist: The Chicken & Guns at CORE only serves wings as opposed to quarter-birds, with add-ons like fried eggs, pork belly, and tacu-tacu. The cart’s roster of sauces is at the new cart, too.
Learn more: Chicken & Guns [Instagram]
An Oregon-based cart chain, From Russia With Love operates little drive-thru coffee kiosks and cafes from Aurora to Newberg. The menu specializes in breakfast piroshki, Russian hand pies, which From Russia With Love fills with everything from bacon, eggs, and cheese to Philly cheesesteak fixings.
Learn more: From Russia With Love [Instagram]
This small chain of Arabic food carts found a slot among CORE’s lineup. The cart serves an array of halal dishes, from lamb saj wrapped with tzatziki to plates loaded with the namesake shawarma.
Learn more: Shawarma Express [Official]
CORE is located at 3612 SE 82nd Avenue.
• Core PDX [Official]