Best Food Cart City: Portland or New York?

I wanted to play down the Portland carts vs. New York City carts part of this morning’s post about Mayor Bloomberg, but in typical underdog fashion dieselboi from Food Carts Portland is looking to turn it into a fight “discussion”. The truth is, some arguments aren’t even worth having- and I think this might be one of them, right? Don’t get me wrong… Portland is an amazing food city, which has experienced a cart explosion over the past few years. And in that time PFC, which is one of my all time favorite blogs, has been there to cover the action. The city boasts some pretty spectacular looking street carts, with pretty much every kind of food you could possibly imagine being offered (we would kill for some Thai food from a cart in Midtown!)

But in the end it’s not really a fair fight…

You just can’t beat the rich history of New York City’s street vendor scene. Take Midtown (where the chicken and lamb over rice with white sauce and hot sauce from a cart was pretty much invented), add Chinatown, the Red Hook Ballfields, and our own little crop of hipster vendors, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good dogfight. Of course once you throw Jackson Heights and Astoria in there, it’s no longer really a competition.

And that doesn’t even take into account the question of what exactly qualifies as a street cart. Most of the “street vendors” in Portland pay rent to the lots they are parked in, and leave their “carts” or “trucks” or “shacks” parked in those spots permanently. So really, they’re almost like restaurants.  Can you imagine how many more sweet ass carts we’d have in NYC if they were allowed to pay rent and just leave the carts in their spots permanently? (We’d have a David Chang pork bun cart by now, that’s for sure!)

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that one is better than the other. I’ve been wanting to visit Portland for a few years now just to check out their amazing food scene… and if I was going to move to a smaller city than NYC or LA, Portland would be #1 on my list.  I’m just saying it’s not really fair to compare Portland to New York City, although I can certainly understand why dieselboi and the Mayor of Portland want to! After all, calling out the best is usually the quickest way to get attention…

Interested in reading more about the Portland food cart scene?  Be sure to check out Food Carts Portland… although beware:  pangs of jealousy may occur. (They have like 7 Vietnamese carts in a city of 575,000 people!  Our city has 8 million people, and just one ok banh mi cart.)


  • I was in Portland last summer, and the variety definitely beats out NY by a mile. Especially when you consider the proximity factor. There are strips where you have like 7 different street “carts” all lined up next to each other. Also, “downtown” Portland is friggin tiny. You could walk through Portland with great ease. Ain’t no way anyone walking from a Chinatown cart all the way to Jackson Heights.

    So while I still prefer NY carts, I have to say that Portland does beat us on the whole sprawl issue. Their carts are also pretty good too.

  • I’m pretty sure Portland can’t do lots of the carts standard food here any justice. NYC Pizza can’t be replicated. Perrone truck pizza in Portland? Pshaw, they would fuck it up. (excuse my language) Lamb/chicken with those homemade Middle Eastern spices? Just try. Red Hook’s Ecuadorian, Salvadorian, Dominican and Mexican carts???!! They couldn’t come close in their wildest dreams.

    That said, Portland is also a place I’ve always wanted to move to if I wanted a smaller city.

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    My over sized spork and biodegradable to-go container will take you all on…

    No, in all seriousness, I agree with the article above. Each city offers up something unique and tasty for the ultimate food cart enthusiast. I do love the choice we have and as Dan pointed out, one can walk through the choice of at least 75 different carts during a single lunch hour downtown. Oh, and we have waffle carts. Have you tried those?

    Come on out, I’ll buy you lunch. Great site.

  • I want to go to Portland for the coffee. NY coffee consists of Starbucks and cart coffee. Independent coffee shops are few and far between.

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    i WISH we had more variety in my area… im right by washington square park and all i ever see are halal carts, hotdog carts, and halal trucks!

    one time i saw a cupcake truck but i had to walk a few blocks to find it

  • Austin has great food trucks that are permanently parked too.

    greats tacos out of a truck.

  • Wellerfan, have you tried Gorilla Coffee? I think it’s based in brooklyn only (they probably have a website), but it’s the best I’ve had.

    dieselboi brings up a interesting idea, let me expand it. Can we get a chicken and waffles cart? I like the idea behind our pulled pork over waffles w/slaw at the waffle and dings truck, but throw some chicken on top of that!

  • Having lived in both NYC and Portland (and Austin too, Steve, which is a significant step down IMO), I’d say it’s a question of quantity versus quality. Portland doesn’t have dirty hot dog carts on every street corner. It doesn’t have dirty water period, except perhaps for some bong water. It doesn’t have the numbers and tourists to support that many carts so pretty much every cart has to be super high quality or unique to survive. The Vietnamese, Balkan, and even Czech food I’ve had from carts in PDX would put most stuff in Midtown to shame. Don’t get me started on Reggie Deluxe from Pine St. Of course, NYC has more carts as a gross #, and probably more good carts as a gross number, but here you can get away with being pretty mediocre too(looking at you Moshe’s).

    But yes, tin Portland they’re mostly in shacks, not carts. And the Wlliamsburgification of Portland has gotten a little too far gone recently, where novelty might soon trump quality as a consideration.

    Two finals points. Mexican food on average is as good or better in PDX than NYC. But LA, of course, is all alone in that race. Wellerfan, don’t forget that Starbucks started as a small Northwest coffee chain.

  • @wellerfan – you aren’t trying hard enough. Manhattan and Brooklyn (at least Williamsburg) have plenty of local coffee places.

    Not in Midtown, granted, but pretty much everywhere else, concentrated in the Union Square area, and Chelsea. Grumpy, Grey Dog, Joe? I even have a Noi around the corner from me on the Upper East Side. Let your Google do the walking.

  • Thanks all for the coffee tips! Oh yeah, not to mention Portland’s own Stumptown opening in the Ace Hotel.

  • I’m still waiting for a po-boy cart.


  • Orens > Stumptown. That is all.

  • If Jay-Z had to respond to every 2 bit rapper who contested his status as the best in the game, there would be no time to enjoy life.

    And Sarah, I think you mean Intelligensia > Stumptown. Oren loves his momma, but not his schwag coffee.

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    Holy fuckwad gone wild it’s a goddam comment box not a soap box.

    Rule of thumb: if it can’t be said in two sentences nobody gives a flying fuck.

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    I lived in Northwest Portland a while back and really miss it out there. Ironically, one of my favorite cheap eats along 23rd Street was a pizzaeria called Escape from New York. I think they bragged that they brought in water or flour (or both) from NYC. The pies were pretty good, with large slices — two of those were often my dinner, for less than $5!

  • he’s gonna show up at your doorstep with a fleet of carts behind him and challenge you to a find-the-best-street-meat throwdown

  • Oren’s is crap…their espresso is always burnt. A *properly* brewed cup of Stumptown rivals any coffee! Unfortunately not many places brew it properly. Roots Cafe in Park Slope does it right (Gorilla is decent too)

  • Oh yeah, Portland does EVERYTHING better than New Yawk City — trust me.

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    I would sell my soul to get out to NYC often to do a fair bit of eating, but it’s nice to know the carts here in Portland are a good n’ plentiful thing. I guess I take it for granted. Why the hell aren’t other cites going nuts with carts?

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    People who have never been to Portland think that NYC has better food carts.

    You should at least *try* a single food cart in Portland before declaring yourself the victor, or saying the comparison is unfair.

    Just had Koi Fusion today, first time. Amazing. @KoiFusion on twitter.

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