2010 Eat Mobile Food Cart Festival: the retrospective   Leave a comment

We were excited to pre-purchase our tickets for the 2010 Eat Mobile Food Cart Festival even before they were on sale, and so it was no surprise that we planned to show up 30 minutes early to start snacking on our 30 samplers from the 30 carts right at the opening bell. The event sold out (capped at 1200) people, and even though they spaced it over 2 1/2 blocks under the Morrison bridge it still got very difficult to navigate through lines just to get from cart location to another after just an hour after opening. Portland people do love food carts.

First stop was Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches, which I passed on because it's relatively close to where I live. I've had their sandwiches twice: not as good as Best Baguette, but then again this is a cart not a restaurant, and they still are able to offer 8 sandwiches (Best Baguette offers about a dozen, but they also can offer freshly baked bread and other pastries since they have more space at a brick and mortar location). If you are looking for banh mi sandiwiches in the downtown area, I'm not even sure there is anywhere else in the city proper as they are pho houses that I've seen.

Next was Sip, a cart offering organic vegan juices and smoothies. I confess I went back for their tastings of their green smoothie with kale, spinach, and some citrus fruits like apple or orange or lemon) twice. Their location at Division and Powell in the neighborhood of the People's Food Coop isn't an area I go to, but they plan to have a second mobile (actually mobile like driving around) in the summer and are also adding some food to their menu, so I hope to find them again. A lot of the food carts that people seem to fawn over involve pretty unhealthy food that is often rich and savory, but it doesn't always have to be that way and it's great to support food carts that are also tasty but even good for you.

Micro Mercantes were cutting up their jalapeno cheese, pork, and chicken tamales for tasters, and I doused my pork one liberally with my favorite green chili and enjoyed it quickly as I was trying to move through carts quickly before the rest of the line behind us caught up. Even though I linked to their official website, there isn't much information on it, but it does communicate one tidbit many may not know: this cart is actually a coop for Latin women to help economically empower them through their tasty tamales. Their presence is at various farmer's markets and their cheap $2.50 homemade tamales helps them establish a community via housing, healthcare clinics, a credit union, and community centers. I'm not sure which farmer's markets they'll be at this year (I know they are not at the ones downtown), but I know they are at the markets closer to OHSU, one at the Pearl, and several more on the east side of Portland. How can you not want to at least get one tamale knowing this every time you see them?

Moxie was on the ball with their platters of homemade granola with greek yogurt and raspberry rhubarb compote. With all the rich food the other carts were offering, this was an incredibly tasty break for the palate, and they had the most beautiful stop in terms of setting up a feel for who they are at their station at Eat Mobile, so no wonder they wonder they were awarded Best Style of Eat Mobile. They are located at North Mississippi and North Shaver and are very well known for their homemade take on brunch (and people appreciating them, as judged by waiting in long lines)

PBJ's Grilled was one that I saw on the list but had not heard of- and it turns out it is because they are still at the "coming soon" state. PBJ was a surprising discovery of taste for me with their offerings of various takes on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the same vein that grilled cheese has gone gourmet- and they did it very successfully. I'm not usually a fan of pbj sandwiches, but their offerings had me coming back for 3 of these (I just wasn't satisfied tasting just one and not knowing what the other combination's taste profiles would turn out to be- a cruel tease)! When they do open as an official food cart (they are opening April 26 at NW 23rd and Kearney Street), I think they will do well: they were even a runner-up for best tasting food at this Eat Mobile Food Cart Festival as voted by a panel of culinary professionals.

It took a while to understand their selections though: and their write-ups on the table were not very illuminating. The more you document on a big sign the less you will have to explain! And make it big so that by the time someone comes up they already can pick out what they want instead of processing under pressure. There's the process manager in me thinking how I would set up a cart. Although I don't think the tasting versions had all these ingredients, the regular offerings off their future menu include the "Good Morning" had blueberry jam, apple wood smoked bacon, 100% maple syrup, PBJ’s peanut butter, while the "Wildflower" had peach jam, wild flower honey, PBJ’s peanut butter, the "Pumpkin Pie" is a sweet dessert-ty concoction of pumpkin butter, Two Tarts caramel sauce, pie crust, PBJ’s peanut butter. I still prefered the "Spicy Thai" with orange marmalade, sriracha, fresh basil, curry, PBJ’s peanut butter and the "Betty" which will be Gruyere cheese, bread and butter pickles, white pepper, sea salt, PBJ’s peanut butter. I'm going to try to make it to their opening, we'll see if I get caught on some work call or if I can continue my investigation.

F's favorite and his People's Choice vote was Asaase Ital Palace, African-Carribean food that is vegan/vegetarian: I had to admit their "fish" did taste like fish. I only had a shared bite of Fat Kitty Falafel, where they were already behind in the first 20 minutes as they struggled to produce their freshly fried falafel in time to meet the crowd. But, their falafel deserves the buzz it gets. Addy's Sandwich Bar was trying to offer 5 different types of tastings, which was quite ambitious… for what at the opening was a one woman operation. The "line caught Oregon tuna with capers, red onion, cornichon and house mayo" was good, as was the rich "country pate with dijon and cornichons) and the "duck confit with cranberry relish". This cart is located at SW 10th and Alder, not far from the trolley line and in company of other great carts such as Nong's Kao Man Gai, Eurodish, Zita's Pitas, Altengartz and Savor- a very strong cart pod. I have them on my wishlist to try their consistently well reviewed ham, gruyere, and butter sandwich, which did not make the tasting menu at Eat Mobile.

After 2 weeks of pizza for lunch as leftovers, I didn't have the heart to try Pyro Pizza, but I heard lots of rave reviews and as evidenced by the long lines every time I went by after that, they did very well. My foodie friends couldn't say enough good things about their pizza with caramelized torpedo onions with gorgonzola and parmigiano-reggiano cheeses and pistachios. They are normally located at SE 12th and Hawthorne, neighbors to Potato Champion and Whiffies. I'm kicking myself a little for getting out of line after these foodie friends had come to be raving about Soup Cycle, which I had skipped since they can actually deliver if I wished it. I ended up getting 2 tastings of Soup Cycle that evening anyway- when I went back to drop off my glassy stone for my favorite cart (that's how they tallied votes for the People's Choice Award), Soup Cycle had no line, while Pyro Pizza still was 20 people in the weeds. Well, the cauliflower apple gruyere soup was still delicious both times I had it, so I don't regret that! And I'm sure that SE 12th and Hawthorne cart will still be visited by me: now I'll just have 3 carts that I'm aiming for, not just two.

My vote at the Eat Mobile Food Cart Festival went to Nuevo Mexico for their stuffed sopapillas (fried sweet dough that is then stuffed) and their green chili chicken stew. Both were on fire with flavor! And, I appreciated their large signage and line of preppers in their area… so I guess I was also awarding them my appreciation of a good setup. The first food picture is a look at the green chili chicken stew on the left, and on the right is the ground beef and green chili sopapilla decked out with cheese and tomatoes and beans. My choice was the carne adovada, with pork and red chili: messy but worth it, and the sopapilla was the perfect sponge for all the chili and sauce from the carne. Thank you Nuevo Mexico for bringing sopapillas to Portland (at Mississippi and Skidmore).

I kept glancing to my right at the equally long line (Pyro Pizza, Taqueria Los Gorditos, and Nuevo Mexico were all right next to each other), which was Taqueria Los Gorditos, offering Mexican vegetarian and vegan.. I wanted to run off with the giant guacamole of Taqueria Los Gorditos: I was surprised they actually let everyone help themselves to the guacamole portion, so they must have had lots ready to keep filling that pestle up! I was curious bout the blue corn beverage but didn't try- their lines were long mainly because you had to wait for each person to guacamole-themselves up. All three still boasted the same long lines of patient people a couple hours later- but were not out of food, unlike others I had skipped then/went back later but were out, like Bombay Chaat House, Mono Malo, and Sawasdee Thai.

The Carne adovada is when my hands started getting super messy, but the People's Pig is what sealed it. A long line that wrapped around chairs and tables hinted at what was to come: a piggy looked on as people line up for The People's Pig offering of cuban pulled pork taco as a taster. I put down the extra $6 to get the porcetta from the People Pig… which I then carefully wrapped, put into my purse, and into tupperware to enjoy the next day!

I was getting pretty full at this point, but still had room for Flavourspot which was just next door to People's Pig at the Eat Mobile. Flavourspot proclaims themselves the home of the dutch taco, aka this mix of savory and sweet with the waffle wrapping cheese and maple sausage. With 3 locations across the city and also scoring runner up for the People's Choice Award, they are proof that waffle sandwiches are a winning combination of flavor

I forgot to capture the photos of Whiffies, but their bbq beef with mozzarella was pretty good- and since Nuevo Mexico's sopapillas are a bit harder for me to get to location-wise, Whiffies is a fine substitute of fried goodness sponging up flavor, just in fried pie instead. They won the People's Choice Award for Eat Mobile 2010. Rather then selecting one of their sweet versions of pie (like the peanut butter with chocolate chips I tried), go for fruity frozen ice-pop like offerings of Oregon Ice Works (they are working with Whiffies but will be opening their own cart soon). Their raspberry was so chunky with raspberry I had to chew it, while the lemon was like a perfect summer tart lemonade. Although I appreciate the audacity and coolness of Fifty Licks' offerings of hand made ice cream in flavors that include Tahitian Vanilla, Stumptown Coffee, Maple Bacon (all three of these are winning combinations!) and Red Bull Cola, I can't help but prefer the fruity ice more as a cool clean refresher that doesn't have the cream of Fifty Licks. I don't want to think about how many calories I'm having…

Potato Champion's poutine was as good as I was expecting: and considering I've had my eye on this cart ever since I moved here and still haven't made it over, my expectations were pretty high. I'll be visiting that cart pod this year, it's my goal!

Top honors for best tasting food as judged by the culinary panel this year at the Eat Mobile food cart festival went to Garden State, offering Sicilian street snacks. I've heard only good things about this cart, but their location in Sellwood is inconvenient for me to get to by public transit even as they are being raved about even on a segment of Good Morning America. They also have a new Mississipi location. Garden State's taste offering of grilled alaskan cod with vinaigrette (along with lettuce and orange slices) on a slice of baguette was a pretty healthy offering and showcased their ability to put together a clean taste profile, eve
n as a cart
(though I wasn't sure what was the Sicilian snack part of it)

I wrapped up the last bosnian cheese pita (sirnica) that Ziba's Pita had before they were out, then tasting seconds at Soup Cycle and Sip (which I've sworn I will now have to patronize twice more this summer to make up for it), and also a taste of the grilled cheese turkey, Tillamook cheddar, and truffle oil at Savor Soup House (The Grilled Cheese Grill was supposed to be at Eat Mobile but had to drop out because of an illness: I guess I'll still have to plan on visiting their school bus), and a few blocks away, a beer at Green Dragon. There were many other carts I didn't try- some because I've been to them before, others because I know I can easily get to the cart myself on my own time- but it wonderful to see so many options at this festival. It would be great to see this continue to grow. The $7 per person for all the tastings is a steal, honestly, but even if they moved to a ticketing system like Taste of Chicago does (so you can decide for yourself how many tickets to spend at each cart to get a choice of different samplings or a full size portion: in some cases if everyone wanted to taste it made sense to put tickets together to get a full size everyone could enjoy then just individual bites), I'd have no problem coming back, no hesitation, and it was even for a good cause. And, that would also make it more fair for places like PBJ where no one just wanted one little taster.

And next time, consider our groups' two browsing strategies. I came in with a must-try list of carts, often based on what I hadn't had before and also based on how difficult it would be for me to get to, car-less and relying only on public transit and based on their hours of operation. The second strategy was to divide up and grab samples for friends so instead of waiting in all lines, you wait in half of them- generally with the men being sent to scout for the shorter lines to bring goodies back while the ladies chatted in the longer lines patiently nesting :X Being stuffed almost like its Foodcartthanksgiving FTW.

This coming weekend we have some Chicago friends and a birthday at Rogue/Green Dragon, so I am pretty excited to get some more friend and food time in before my work project takes me on the road for two weeks again.

More on the awards and a few more pictures of Eat Mobile 2010 can be found at The Examiner's coverage, and much better photos by ExtraMSG on Flickr. Hey, I was eating.


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