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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lunch in Portlandia

We found ourself in downtown Portland at mid-day yesterday for a work-related meeting. Parked at a meter -- $2.40 for 90 minutes, and we had to restart our car to move it over the stupid "space lines," which are a nasty trap for the unwary. The $2.40 was a classic Sam Rand gouge -- but cheaper than Tri-Met, even taking gas into account, and a lot more efficient and comfortable.

After the meeting, we visited the nearby food cart village at Third and Stark. So many options to choose from in this third world setting. We picked out a cart, paid eight bucks for a sandwich and a Pepsi, and took it back to our office, because there was no place to sit and eat it, of course.

It was one of the blandest, most amateurish sandwiches we have ever been served in our 34 years in Portland. Their "special of the day," no less. There may be great food in those carts somewhere, but this sure wasn't it. No wonder these guys are standing around in a trailer all day. A bricks-and-mortar place serving this stuff would be shut down in a month.

Comments (19)

When I had an office downtown some of my employees raved about the food carts. I tried it a couple of times and like you, Jack was not impressed. I would wait until 3PM for my lunch and go to Jakes Grill for happy hour and get the greatest burger and fries for two bucks. That and the cocktail came out a lot less than what the food carts charged for their swill. One day my employees that ate at their favorite food cart the day before called in sick. Food poisoning, salmonella or something. They had the runs for a couple of days.

I don't get the "magic" of the mini-food trailers either (they're not carts).

Sure, there's a few good ones here and there, but most are just gloried deep-fat fried or griddle food, i.e, greasy-spoon fare for twice the price and if you're lucky you get to sit on dirty picnic benches with no facilities nearby.

At you least you had a sandwich.

Carts are no different than brick and mortar restaurants when it comes to quality. There are the great, the average, and the plain bad. Only difference is you have more room to experiment with being bad without all the fixed costs of a real storefront.


If you start questioning the wonderfulness of Portland's world-famous food carts, you might start questioning whether "everyone wants to live here".

If you start questioning the wonderfulness of Portland's world-famous food carts


You'll be told you're welcome to "move back to California", without any regard to whether you actually at any time lived in California or not.

I was told to "move back to California" and I was born and raised in Portland. Have the birth certificate from the old Adventist Hospital on Belmont, before they moved out to I-205, to prove it.

Random: worse,if you start questioning their wonderfulness, then you'll be overwhelmed by retired young people crying over how your being a negative hate merchant who brings down the whole world is what keeps Portland from being great.

I know they got rid of the individual parking meters. But couldn't they have left the posts that held them up, as a guide for motorists parking? They could have sold ads, or put slot machines on them or something. As it is, there is no way to tell whether you are lawfully parked in a striped space without getting out of the car for a look-see.

Everyone knows that it is far more important that Portland be "world-famous" than that it actually function as a city.

An actual quote from a post on OregonLive explaining why Jefferson Smith makes the perfect mayor for Portland:

"We're picking a leader for our famously green city - that brings in people from around the world to study our sustainability practices and environmental protections - and that has whole industries based on our environmental credentials."

You should have gone to the carts with someone who knew what they were doing. There is fabulous food to be had at some of them, average food at more, and some truly awful food at a few.

I am on my way to the SW 10th and Alder pod for some insane Thai at a great price.

In the Army they call a roving lunch counter a "roach coach"...

Look, lets face it the focus of Downtown Portland no longer revolves around the concept of Excellence, putting our best foot forward as a city, or offering any net "value" for those living here. That's the real issue of this blog isn't it? It is not about the political divide, but to point out how our City has been hijacked by mediocrity, isn't it? Food Cart's, food scrap recycling, plastic vs paper grocery bags, public transit, etc., the focus no longer revolves around doing our best, or putting our best foot forward, it has declined into a city culture that pits neighbor against neighbor, based upon income, color and political viewpoint.

tank fixer wrote: roach coach

We call them gut-bombers, or gut-trucks.

I only patronize the carts that existed before the fad took off, and these only infrequently.

I find the attitude of the proprietor to be the most reliable indicator of cart quality; but, it's always a risk.

I don't understand the difference between parking downtown and any standard parking lot with "little lines painted on the ground."

Check out the food blogs to determine the jewels in the pile of rocks. Also observe the lines. There are good reasons why some of the carts seem to have consistent, long lines. There is an especially good one, http://www.foodcartsportland.com for cataloging the hundreds that exist around town. You'll have to look elsewhere for reviews pro and con.

There's even walking tours of the various carts, where the fearless leader will fill you in on some of the best, and perhaps even provide some samples. Not sure if payola is involved.

John Benton also has a good suggestion. If you must eat at the normal lunch hour, the daily special at Jake's Grill has never let me down. If you pass on the drinks, quite competitive to the cart food, price wise.

Before the carts became "famous" there were a few decent deals to be had. Somewhere along the way, $7 for lunch became the minimum. As others have mentioned, you can find a place to sit and upscale food at the brick and mortar joints nearby that aren't nearly as expensive.

I'm consistently baffled 1) anyone needing to actually go downtown for anything these days and 2) who in Portland has the money to day after day spend $10 for lunch at a food cart.

Jack, if you're over in that cart pod again, check out Built To Grill, which is roughly in the middle of the bank of carts on the 3rd Ave. side. Notwithstanding the name, it's an Italian place. Everything I've tried there (sandwiches and pastas mostly) has been excellent, and I'm particularly fond of the penne alla vodka.

I'm consistently baffled 1) anyone needing to actually go downtown for anything these days

The way transportation options are being manipulated and "planned" throughout the region by Metro, you won't be able to go too many other places but downtown unless you want to walk or bike to your destination. And of course, while downtown you can do some shopping or dining, or "just have a beer".

$10 for lunch at a cart (more likely $7) is expensive compared to what? A Happy Meal? And if you don't like it, don't eat there!

$2.40 for 90 minutes of parking in the downtown area of a major metropolitan area. You think that's a lot of money? Been to Boston NY San Fran Atlanta Seattle Chicago Salt Lake City Austin?

Austin is a buck an hour. Every single other city listed is $1.50 an hour and higher.

Paul, $1.50 an hour = $2.25 for 90 minutes. Even at Reed.

Been to Boston NY San Fran Atlanta Seattle Chicago

Yeah, great cities. Portland, Oregon? Laughingstock.

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