Last week I jumped on a couple of wristbands online and I’m glad I did, because EatMobile ’10 was sold out a few days in advance. As advertised, 30 carts for seven bucks. Not only a cheap night out for dinner, but a nice way to sample some of Portland’s more promotionally-minded food carts. A great deal for them, being exposed to thousands of potential customers, and a good deal for us. And of course, a good deal for charity. We parked on the wrong side of the river, but made our way over to the east side easily enough. EatMobile was taking place under the Morrison Bridge underpass. The night was a bit brisk, cool enough for more than one long-sleeve layer, for sure. But at least it wasn’t raining, even though the overpass would have been fairly decent shelter, had the rain been falling vertically. We entered at the center of the deal, each being given a clear stone to place in the jar at our favorite food cart, and immediately found no wait at all at our first two food carts, Sawasdee Thai and Bombay Chaat House. I thought the curried rice/potato deal at the Bombay Chaat House was delicious, and little did I know (and this is VERY important information) that the portion would be the largest of the whole affair. I loved it, but anticipating that the 29 remaining carts would be tough to come close to tackling if I ate everything, I tossed half of it. Then, having done that, we spied some pizza nearby, and as the small squares were being cut up with scissors, grabbed a slice of Margherita, with fresh basil tossed on top of it. As we put it in our mouths, the guy from Pyro Pizza (not the one with the gigantic earrings I’ve seen at the cart on Hawthorne), in passing said, “there’s kind of a line here… people are cutting in.” We looked back and saw a line winding around the highway support strut. We’d done a very nice job slicing about 15 minutes off the wait time for a slice o’ Pyro Pizza. Good stuff. Nice crust and delicious sauce. My only problem with Pyro Pizza’s cart is they don’t sell slices. But I suppose the pies are cheap enough that it pays to buy a whole and split it with a friend or take some home.
Now, the lines seemed all to be long. We waited on one for one of the two Mexican places that were adjacent to each other, which had some fair fare. The guacamole, which they let you scoop out yourself, was particularly outstanding at Taqueria Los Gorditos. Then it was a choice of three carts all sporting long lines. We went for The People’s Pig, and as we were waiting, a gentlemen walked by us and showed us what they were serving and said “not worth the wait… pretty bland.” Frankly, it didn’t look that great, so we decided to opt instead for the line at Nuevo Mexico, which is New Mexican style food, owned by the drummer of The Shins. He’s gotten some fairly decent press for that little fact. I am not sure which one is his day job, really. But if he drums as well as he cooks, I’ll buy. I absolutely loved the ground beef and green chiles over a sopapilla. I had stopped in once to their cart on Mississippi, and didn’t order this gem. Now I will forever have that flavor on my mind when I head down to or around Mississippi. Donna had the red chile variety, and didn’t like it as much. We both agreed the ground beef had more flavor, and the red chile seemed to be one layer short of stone-worthiness.
Next up, Flavourspot. Another food cart I’d already visited. This time I tried a small 4-5 bite sample of Marionberry and nutella, since I’d already had the maple version months earlier. Flavourspot hit the spot with this slightly savory and sweet concoction. We laughed at the idea of telling the people online there were only 26 samples left, just to see if they’d start counting, but thought that was cruel. Everyone on line at all of these carts seemed to be having a fantastic time. Lots of good conversation and good old fashioned Portland patience. No one’s in a rush around here.
We decided to skip the pig again, since the line was long, and opted to head east. Donna was done with anything but dessert, so while she was waiting in the Tabor line with me and asked what a Whiffie Pie was, I explained to her that she had to try one simply because it has become a fun late night stop for me since I discovered it, and those I’ve taken there have all enjoyed these homemade variations on the Hostess Fruit Pies we loved as kids (15 cents in my junior high school cafeteria–just about every day!). So, Donna went to hit that line while I waited for some Czech Goulash. I love Tabor’s Schnitzelwich, and was looking forward to my little taste of goulash, since my mother used to make one I couldn’t replicate in my adult life. After a bite, I decided I’d forgo all that meat and threw it away in favor of the cod and basil bruschetta at Garden State. Now, I found this quite interesting. There was no line at the one cart that has quickly risen to the top of the Portland Food Cart scene faster than any other, probably helped by its appearance on Good Morning America’s National Food Cart Challenge a few months ago. I believe they took runner-up honors to a cart in Seattle. I have to say, not only was Garden State’s sample delicious (it later won the judges award), but they appeared to be able to churn those babies out faster than anyone else. Amazing that they had no line, but were serving up a steady stream of deliciously oily bruschettas all evening. And, I hope people appreciated that they were serving up mass quantities of fresh fish!
Donna said she enjoyed her lemon whiffie pie. Flaky and hot, these things are a treat every time. So, I guess she was down for the count now, but I still was feeling adventuresome. I didn’t want to wait on the line for the Potato Champion, given that I’ve had their fries before (and still maintain one can do better in Portland). So I grabbed a brat on a stick at Allengartz, juicy and delicious, with a bit of some sauerkraut that balanced out the sausage very nicely. I mentioned to Donna I had to give them very high marks for not overcooking their brats, especially since I’d just had a very tough schniztel (tiny portion) from Van Schniztel’s. I wouldn’t necessarily eschew future visits to Van Schnitzel’s because of their less-than delightful sample, although the other food carts seemed to be keep quality high in light of the different nature of cooking they were doing. While there were many worthy carts, Allengartz got my stone simply because I found their brat quite delicious and because they had no line, and because they were really pleasant. They seemed to appreciate my “plunk” since they didn’t seem to have anywhere near the number of stones as some of the more trendy carts.
I didn’t feel like the long line for the grilled PBJs. They looked great, but I figure I’ll hit that when they open someday soon. I did note, however, that they got lots of remarks on Facebook and Twitter as people’s favorite cart. The proprietor of Soup Cycle handed out samples of a cauliflower soup with the remark “this is just awesome. You’ll love it.” Sorry, it tasted like flavored oatmeal to me. The beignets are Violetta were delicious, with the mocha chocolate sauce on them, but the two ice cream cups from Fifty Licks, for which we waited on line for too long seemed to be lacking in sweetness, according to both of us.
The Vietnamese Bahn Mi Sandwich from the cart of the same name was quite tasty, and so were the samples from Savor Soup House. I missed Grilled Cheese Grill, although we’ve been there numerous times (turns out an illness prevented them from making their scheduled appearance), and the line was more than I wanted to swallow at Koi Fusion, the Korean taco cart that seems to be the rave. Later on that one.
It turns out the Judge’s choice was Garden State, a worthy champ, and the people’s choice was Whiffie Pies. Something tells me it’s because Portland seems to appreciate campy fun.
I think everyone was a winner. You can’t have more fun on seven bucks.