Alberta Hop 

Carts, Windows, and Big Flavor in the Alberta Arts District

THE CULINARY LANDSCAPE of NE Alberta has changed significantly in the five years since I lived there. The street is crowded with restaurants and cafés from one end to the other, with seemingly little room to grow. But in the blank urban spaces still left, a number of entrepreneurs have parked carts, trailers, and tents, hoping to catch a bit of that Alberta Street buzz by thinking small and cooking big. You could always find good food on Alberta, it's just now you don't have to walk as far.

The Grilled Cheese Grill

1027 NE Alberta, 206-8959

Tues-Thurs 11:30 am-9 pm, Fri-Sat 11:30 am- 2:30 am, Sun 11:30 am-3:30 pm

Grilled cheese is a deviously simple concept. Yes, you can have your basic bread-cheese-bread combo. You can even have it cut into a cute shape. But the beauty of the Grilled Cheese Grill food cart is in menu items like the jalapeño popper, which uses corn chips, colby jack, cream cheese, and jalapeños to expertly mimic everyone's favorite deep-fried heartburn bomb.

In extremis, the grilled cheese can be a religious experience. You may see God after eating the Cheesus Burger—a cheeseburger with the works, the bun replaced with two grilled cheese sandwiches—but only after you've keeled over from a heart attack after eating the delicious, greasy monstrosity.

Palm State Gumbo

1803 NE Alberta, 493-7286

Wed-Sun 4 pm-2:30 am. Mon-Tues 7 pm-2:30 am, Wed-Fri 11 am-1 pm

This little kitchen connected to a street-facing window is packed with Creole flavor. Naming a place after gumbo requires that your gumbo be up to snuff, and Palm State does not disappoint in that department. The gumbo is thick, rich, and packed with big chunks of tender chicken and spicy andouille. It's dark, complex stuff, with a gentle spice, notes of celery and pepper, and a little bit of fish to round it out.

The rest of the menu is perfect for fueling your Alberta Street stumble. A Muffuletta sandwich was spot-on. And even though I blanched a bit at the cheesy Cajun hot link, smothered in cheese sauce, green onions, and jalapeños, I'd have eaten at least two had I been a bit more drunk.

Homegrown Smoker

NE 23rd & Alberta

Wed-Sun noon-8 pm

Vegan BBQ might raise the eyebrows of some and the ire of others, but I'd suggest you get down off that Huffy bike and taste some meatless chorizo or killer BBQ baked beans.

Hating vegans is no way to go through life, especially when there is perfectly delicious food coming from this big mobile smoker. Yeah, it's not pounds of meat slathered in sauce, but the sauce at Homegrown Smoker is delightful and the tofu curls can be toe-curlingly good. Not to mention, for eight bucks you can acquire more food than you could possibly eat and spare the life of a critter. Win and win.

Spud Locker

NE 27th & Alberta

Wed & Thurs noon-8 pm, Fri & Sat noon-

midnight, Sun noon-6 pm

Before its use as a no-holds-barred spud-cooking pavilion, the Spud Locker was originally built as a prototype mobile military mess unit to be deployed during Desert Storm. It never made it into the fracas and now serves peacetime duty as one of Portland's more unique carts.

Here's another simple idea taken to extremes. Step one: bake potato. Step two: top it with whatever your heart desires. Creations on the menu include anything from Fritos and nacho cheese sauce to a peanut curry sauce and mixed veggies. Or you can let your inner child go wild on one of these bad boys: Tillamook cheese, chicken sausage, and sauerkraut, anyone?

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