Chef Deepak Saxena has become the face of Indian American fare in Portland. His cart, Desi PDX, has become a destination for things like chai-glazed chicken and masala pulled pork, appearing on an episode of Somebody Feed Phil. His brunch restaurant, Masala Lab, smothers saucy tikka shrimp over coconut grits, and swaps the stewed tomatoes and peppers in shakshuka for saag. His other business, Chaat Wallah, was more focused on lunch-y sort of fare like sandwiches and snacks; it originally opened within a bar at the Iron Fireman Collective building, at 4784 SE 17th Avenue, before closing just a few months later.
However, the concept is making its grand re-entrance this week. Chaat Wallah will return Friday, May 12, as a food cart on 72nd and Prescott, with an expanded menu of lamb khadi smash burgers, smoked saag paneer sandwiches, and bhel puri made with Fritos.
Chaat Wallah’s new cart will supply the food for Upright Brewing’s new taproom, on the border of the Roseway and Cully neighborhoods. The building shares a space with Junior’s Roasted Coffee, which is the roaster behind the popular Portland cafe Guilder.
The cart’s snacks — “chaat” is often used to describe a variety of snacks in India — are a natural food pairing for a brewpup. For example, Chaat Wallah’s nachos start with the typical foundation of cheddar and tortilla chips (Juanitas, naturally), with smoked paneer crumbles, garam masala and toasted cumin salsa, lentil dal, smoky yogurt, and a duo of chutneys. The cart’s take on bhel puri, a puffed rice chaat with vegetables and tamarind, swaps the puffed rice for crushed Frito’s. And smaller snacks range from Indian standards like popadam with chutneys as well as popcorn spiced with turmeric, cumin, and sumac.
The real draw of Chaat Wallah, however, is the cart’s sandwiches. Those who made it to the previous Chaat Wallah will encounter the hits from the original iteration: tamarind-ginger pulled pork with turmeric vinaigrette slaw and mango achaar mayo, as well as coconut water and mustard oil-poached tuna salad with in coconut milk tandoori sauce. But the cart will also offer things like a spiced lamb smash burger with buttermilk curry, garlic chile crisp, and pickled eggplant puree. The cart will offer two vegetarian sandwiches: The saag paneer, with smoked paneer and mango pickle mayo, and a chickpea-quinoa tempeh sandwich with ketchup and chutney.
The cart will open with a tipless model, pricing the dishes on the menu to support a living wage for the cart’s staff. If the model is successful, it’ll become the norm at Saxena’s other businesses, as well. The cart is located at the Upright Brewing Beer Station, at 7151 NE Prescott Street.
Correction, Thursday, May 11, at 12:49 p.m.: This story has been corrected to show that the opening date is now Friday, May 12.