Portland’s food carts have a long history and have earned their reputation as one of the city’s landmark attractions, with a diverse selection of cuisines and dishes from all over the world spread throughout the city’s labyrinthian concrete jungles and hazy suburbs. Most food carts are separated into pods, each scattered across the City of Roses, carrying their own distinctive identity with them.
One of the most popular spots for food carts on Portland State’s campus is the 4th and Hall food cart pod located on 4th Avenue. The singular block composed of haggling chefs and a lineup of carts that is too nebulous to ever fully pin down acts as a beacon for students and Portlanders as a whole to congregate in search of the best the region has to offer. So why not get outside, enjoy some sunshine and get yourself some good food at four of these excellent carts?
Chunky Subs & Pasta
Chunky Subs & Pasta exists in a strange, nearly liminal space in the 4th Ave. pod, as it offers a selection of food unparalleled by any other cart nearby, yet seems to disappear behind a curtain of faded matboard menus and orange paint that cannot hope to stand out amidst the flashy marquees of its neighbors. Despite its humble appearance, Chunky Subs is a cart that always manages to convince me to make the pilgrimage to its doorstep, and I’ve never gotten the same thing twice—which is more than I can say for most other places, given my propensity to pick the same dish over and over again in favor of trying new things.
Chunky Subs feels like a Portland bodega, with its menu a haphazard blizzard of tacos, burritos, salads, pastas and most importantly—sandwiches. In a block crowded with entrees, plates and gyros far too large to hold in just one hand, they provide a form of reprieve with their cheap, diverse and flavorful grilled sandwiches. If you want the best fresh-off-the-grill cheesesteak you can get for only $6, or a bacon and roast beef sandwich with enough mushrooms to scare even Mario off, then Chunky Subs is the place for you.
Thai food is nearly universally-loved, and one of my first desires when I moved to Portland was to find a place that served good, cheap pad Thai. Suffice to say, Poompui delivers, and they don’t just deliver pad Thai. One of the few actively open Thai carts in the pod, Poompui serves an array of noodle and rice dishes, curries, soups and stir fries—many of which I have embarrassingly shafted in favor of getting my usual order of pad Thai again.
Despite my own negligence as an eater, I would be remiss not to give this cart my full recommendation. Their crispy pork potstickers and peanut sauce make for a delicious appetizer in unison with any of their delicious (albeit slightly greasy) noodle dishes, and their tom kha soup is a personal favorite of mine on a cold winter morning.
One of the greatest tragedies of the Pacific Northwest is that everything closes at a reasonable hour. That means that there are very few places to find food to satisfy cravings at that hour of drunken stupor or weed-induced munchies. While Taqueria Villanueva is not a 24/7 joint, it serves staggeringly delicious Mexican food up until 10 p.m.—which, by Portland standards, is practically 3 a.m.
Taqueria Villanueva holds a particularly special place in my heart; my CS classmates and I frequently visited it at the bookends of our evening classes, congregating like moths to a candle as we flocked towards the one cart still glowing in the aching hours of the night. The warm smells of refried beans and cheese that emanated from the cart would drift into the cold winter air, instilling a sense of ragged comfort unparalleled by any other cart on the block.
Sentimental ramblings aside, the dim bulbs of Taqueria Villanueva is the closest 4th Ave. has to Golden Arches, beckoning hungry travelers at all hours of the day to stop by and grab a burrito that’s not only better, but cheaper than Chipotle.
Old Taste of India
Old Taste of India serves some of the most comforting Indian food I’ve ever had in my life. It is—in comparison to my other recommendations—a cart that I head to when I’m actively seeking a sense of simplicity and repetition. Their name is no facade, with their menu carrying a selection of curries and rice dishes that evoke a sense of a home far away. There is no “show” with Old Taste of India, and almost everything is exactly as cut-and-dry as the menu describes it. Their food tastes warm and kind, and its restraint is exactly what makes it stand out in the busy pod of carts serving similar dishes and cuisine. Old Taste of India is food for the body and soul, perfect for any occasion or feeling.