Sunday, January 24, 2016

Food Carts in Portland - Poh Boy, Moroccan, Dumplings and Fried Fish

As we talked about our trip to Oregon, Judy told me several times that we needed to go to Portland so that I could eat from the food carts. It is really a big thing there. The food carts are organized in pods, about 49 currently, with each pod having anywhere from 3 to 60 carts.  At any one time, there are about 500 carts operating in Portland and the variety of food offered is astounding. Each cart focuses on a limited number of food items and my experience was that the wait, after ordering, could be as much as 15 minutes or so. The carts are all outside and the seating is very limited, if there is any at all.

We visited two pods, The first pod was the Mississippi Marketplace, located at 4233 N. Mississippi Ave, SW corner of N. Skidmore and N. Mississippi. I wanted to go there as I'd spotted a cart that sold poh boy sandwiches and I wanted to try another one after having my first one at the Deep End Cafe in Newport, Oregon. I thought the name of the pod had something to do with the kind of food and was disappointed to learn that the name of the pod reflected the name of the street. The pod contains nine carts and does have some outdoor tables with a canopy. However, it was so cold and windy when we visited that we ordered and headed to the car to eat.

I visited Miss Kate's Southern Kitchen which just happens to serve recipes of the cart owner's grandmother from Vicksburg, Mississippi. I surveyed the menu for the poh boy and quickly ordered the Bayou Fried Catfish Po'Boy which included fried catfish, sweet chili sauce, creole sauce, purple onion, arugula, and tomato on a toasted bun. The catfish did have a nice fried crunch on the outside and it was moist. The sweet chili sauce was quite sweet and the bun was moist, yet held-up. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but not to the same degree as my previous fried oyster poh boy. Oyster is just better than catfish and I preferred the all savory to the sweet savory. I also preferred the tartar sauce dressing to the sweet chili sauce. But I am now a fan of the poh boy and will order it given more opportunities.
Miss Kate's Southern Kitchen
Poh boy and cole slaw.
Judy had a queasy stomach and just wanted to order rice. So I didn't pay much attention to the cart she visited or what she got. 

The next day we visited the largest pod in Portland spread out over two blocks. The first block, referred to as SW 9th and Alder, covers the entire block between Alder and Washington from 9th to 10th Streets. It has about 50 carts which ring the outside of all four sides of the block. 
Food carts in downtown Portland.
Across the street is known as SW 10th and Alder with about 10 carts, that ring just a portion of two sides of the block. They are about six blocks northeast of the Portland Art Museum, a little bit further than that from Portland State University, and about 10 blocks northwest of the Willamette River.  We walked all six sides of the blocks before deciding what to order.

We are planning to visit Morocco in March, so La Camel, which served Moroccan food, was first choice.  
The owner, Karim Baziou, originally from Fez in Morocco, was very friendly, particularly when we mentioned we were going to visit Morocco. 
We were torn between the special, a salmon tagine, a kefta tajine which we'd read good things about, and the lamb shank. Karim said the lamb shank is the best thing on the menu so we ordered it. It was beautiful. The lamb was so moist it fell of the bone - no need to gnaw on that baby, which I regularly do to lamb shank. It was spiced very nicely, and came with couscous, warm garbanzo beans, red pepper and potatoes. 
Lamb shank
Lamb shank - so beautiful it needed pictures from two directions. 
Phenomenal. I was ready to order something else immediately and Judy suggested we try something else first. 
La Camel
Judy chose the Dump Truck on the next (smaller) block, a place she and Rachael ate last year (of course, they also ate at La Camel last year too!). It is owned by some people who lived and worked in Beijing, China and fell in love with Chinese dumplings (dump, of course, refers to dumplings). We ordered Le Super Sampler, two of each of the four flavor of dumplings. One dumpling was Mr. Ma's Special (named after the Chinese man that taught them to make dumplilngs), seasoned pork with green onion and ginger and served with soy/vinegar and sweet chili. Another was Down2Earth, a combination of portabella mushroom, rice noodles and cabbage with ginger and served with a spicy tahini. The Potato Curry dumpling is Malaysian-style, potato infused with yellow curry, leek, garlic and coconut served with coconut yogurt. The fourth was a Bacon Cheeseburger dumpling with secret sauce. Unfortunately, I did not really love any of them. They were unusual and the taste of each was quite a bit different, but not for me. 
Cute name.
Weird menu.
Okay food. The dumplings were all unique.
I decided to go back to La Camel and order the salmon tagine. Before getting there I took another hard look at The Frying Scotsman Fish and Chips, about two down from La Camel. What intrigued me is that it serves five kinds of fish with the chips: cod, haddock, halibut, red snapper and mahi-mahi. The owner, James, with quite a Scottish brogue, is from near Glasgow. I asked him which kind of fish was best. He thought for a minute, then suggested haddock. I was tempted, but ordered red snapper, as I have never seen red snapper served with fish and chips. I figured it would have a little stronger taste. 

Then I jumped over to La Camel, two carts down, and ordered the salmon tagine. 

The red snapper had a nice fried coating, but was still moist inside. I enjoyed it, but I do think the cod, haddock and halibut are probably better with fish and chips. The chips were what you would expect and he had good English malt vinegar and a nice tartar sauce for dipping. 
Red snapper fish with chips, liberally soaked in malt vinegar.
Hakim delivered the salmon tagine on a bed of saffron rice with red pepper, beans, onions, potatoes and preserved lemon. The salmon was still quite moist, although I like it a tad bit moister and had a nice flavor. It was good, but a level down from the lamb shank. From the blog, Food Carts in Portland, it was noted that La Camel's Moroccan Kefta Tajine was one of that blogger's "favorite dishes of the year." If I go back to Portland, La Camel will be on my list again, along with many other food carts that look amazing. 
Salmon tagine.
As Judy said, if I lived in Portland I would weigh 500 pounds. I could probably visit all of the pods in a year. My kind of food. I love being able to go cart to cart and try an item here or there. Great concept. Great food. 


  1. I beg to differ on the dumplings. The Mr. Ma's Special and Bacon Cheeseburger are my favorites of the four we tried. Rachael and I had the Kefta Tagine at La Camel last year and it was my favorite dish of all the ones we tried at the various food trucks.

  2. Food carts always seem to have the best and most interesting food in town.