Trailer Food Around the U.S: How Portland, Oregon’s Pods Stack up Against Austin

Euro Trash Food Cart Photo by Tiffany Harelik
The Swamp Shack Photo by Tiffany Harelik

Sure, everything is bigger in Texas, but how do we rate in terms of trailer food? I’ve been searching for our nation’s best street food stories and recipes over the last few years, and I still think the Lone Star State ranks among the top three trailer food cities. Easy. But Portland has some pretty amazing carts to talk about; from beer carts to viking trailers, I’ll give you the scoop.

My journey recently took me to Portland, Oregon, which is very similar to Austin in terms of style but rather different in terms of flavors. For example, with the exception of a few, the food carts in Austin and Portland are not truly mobile. They might as well take the wheels off, because the only times they need them are once a year to go to the health department for inspection as well as a few special events.

Euro Trash Food Cart Photo by Tiffany Harelik

Some stand alone, but most of the trailers are located in popular pods that have their own artistic feel and sense of nostalgia. In both cities, they pay anywhere from $400-$1500 per month for their parking space which may or may not include electricity fees. On top of those expenses, add a monthly commissary rental, food costs and labor, and you’ll see that running a food cart isn’t a cheap endeavor.

Among the differences between the two cities are the flavors each offers. The top three foods produced in carts in Portland? My guess is something Asian, waffles and something vegan.

Most notably, Portland had an overwhelming variety of Asian cuisine. For every ‘other culture’ represented, there were 10 food carts offering chicken satay and rice, dim sum or spring rolls.  Some of the contributions in the Portland edition of the Trailer Food Diaries cookbook series will include a Viking hot sauce, spicy vegan dishes, Alaskan reindeer sausage (caribou), pulled pork and cole slaw parfait in a waffle cone andarugula/bacon/camembert waffles.

About those waffles: Flavour Spot may have been one of the original waffle trailers in Portland and hopefully they see competition as a form of flattery because I found a variety of great waffle trailers while visiting.

Another difference was their downtown ‘pod,’ which outnumbered the normal pods by about 30 trailers. I didn’t count them all, but the downtown carts encompass a city block all parked facing out towards the street. Behind the carts is a square-shaped, jam-packed parking lot. Local restaurants seemed to be displeased with the carts since they have pulled away their lunch crowd, which brings me to my next difference: Most of the Portland food carts are only open for lunch (11:30 a.m – 2:30 p.m.). I only encountered a few that served breakfast, while a little more offered dinner.

Portland has the country’s first beer trailer too. Captured by Porches is their name and local brew is their game. They purchase a special permit daily (offered only to brewery owners) to sell their local beer as well as some Rosemary kombucha out of an old painted school bus. Because the permit renewal is a constant effort, their hours are limited to Thursday through Sunday.

And yes, they contributed a Wheat Porter to the cookbook which will launch during Portland’s annual Eat Mobile festival next April.

While the food cart explosion may have happened in Portland ‘first,’ I think Austin’s food trailers would perform well against some of their best tasting vittles. Stay tuned to all things trailer food by checking