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Rose City Perfects the Cart Pod

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THE FIVE-MONTH-OLD Rose City Food Park is a top-shelf cart pod. It features plentiful free private parking in the heart of Northeast, a selection of 11 higher-end carts, a spacious dine-in tent, and plentiful outdoor seating. I spent last week sampling all the carts; while I couldn't come close to trying the full menu at each, I found a remarkable number of highlights.

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Rockin' Robyn's Sassy Burger

This was the best of the bunch. Their signature item is a restaurant-quality, hand-formed burger, charred but still pink in the middle, on an ideally sized and textured bun. There are around a dozen variations, along with very good fresh fries, hand-scooped milkshakes, and a cleverly priced McDonald's beater: $5 for a quarter-pound cheeseburger, half-order of fries, and generic can of soda.

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Chen's Express

Chen's serves made-to-order American Chinese classics. General Tso's chicken is about as exotic as it gets, but considering that a guy with a 31-item menu is turning the food out quickly from a cart and achieving wok hay (that fragrant suggestion of char, indicative of a hot and well-seasoned wok), it's an impressive feat. The food is simple, flavorful, and clean. One entrée and a side go for $6, two entrées and a side for $8, with soup. It's a great model for replicating throughout the city and attaching to a delivery service... do you hear me, Mr. Chen?

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PDX Six Seven One

The legendary Guamanian food cart has bestowed its vote of confidence in Rose City, and it's as solid as I remember it from the early days in Overlook's North Station pod. In my mind the kélaguen mannok ($7.75 with titiyas, a tortilla-like flatbread grilled to order) is their signature dish: a delicious cold grilled chicken salad with coconut, peppers, onion, scallion, and lemon—a spicy, meticulously prepared, and refreshing meal for one.

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Bangkok Xpress

Recently relocated from the perpetually foundering pod at NE 60th and Cully, this cart serves fresh, well-flavored $6 Thai basics like phad thai, tender and delicately dressed phad sa ew, rice stir-fries, and curries. The large menu concludes with the unique, banh mi-like "Hurry My Curry Sandwich" ($4)—sweet curried chicken, cilantro, and fresh bell peppers on a light, toasted roll.

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The Bridgetown Bagel Company

These bagels are rolled, boiled, and baked right in the cart. It's an impressive feat and, in this case, leads to an excellent product: chewy yet soft, with a thick golden crust by which most others pale in comparison. Seven traditional varieties are available for $1 (poppy, onion, etc.), with spreads for $1 more. Breakfast bagel sandwiches start at $3, and lunch bagels go for $5-9.

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Moberi Smoothies

The clean-cut kid that runs this cart is as peppy as a hyena on a fizzy lifting drink (must be all that time on the modified exercise bike that powers his blender), but more importantly the selection is heavy on nutrients: kale, avocado, hemp protein, carrots, that kind of thing. You can go for pure fruit, or do the "post-workout" premium superfood thing, $5.75-6.50. Watch out: This guy is always in a good mood.

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Garcelon's Soup & Grilled Cheese

Comfort foods here are rotating scratch-made soups and creatively filled golden panini. Order soup or sandwiches à la carte, or get the soup-sandwich meal combinations for $6-8.50. Try the cubano-esque Castro (ham, pickle, and swiss, $7 with soup), and a bowl of the thick and rich cream of wild mushroom with morels.

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Dagostino's Italian American Food

Dagostino's is a rare thing: a walk-up window to an old-school Italian American home kitchen. Red gravy, penne, breaded chicken cutlets with peppers, and a massive meatball parm wedge sandwich are served by your new favorite aunt, Bette Dagostino. The wedge had a good, simple red gravy, generous cheese, and three large, tender, homemade meatballs—the only drawback on my visit was the tough store-bought roll.

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El Guero

Generously filled tacos are $1.25, massive meat burritos are $5, and full plates are only $6 at this fairly standard, always-open Mexican cart. The husband-and-wife team runs a fast and friendly operation. My favorite item was the deeply satisfying bacon and potato breakfast burrito; my only disappointment was the chewy pastor and asada.

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Ramy's Lamb Shack

Gyros, kebabs, and falafel are the mainstays here. I didn't try the kebabs, but the small lamb gyro ($7) had a disappointingly scant portion of meat buried in sauce and lettuce, and what was there tasted only of dried spices, not of lamb. Great baklava ($2.50)—not as tall and crisp as some, but fresh, sweet, and moist with honey.

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The Sugar Shop

The pod's sole pastry cart offers around 20 varieties of cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, and brownies. Molasses and peanut butter cookies ($1.50) are fine but could be more moist; their best item is the thick, not-too-sweet and generously sized lemon bar ($3.50). Cheesecakes are cut from a sheet pan and have a light, frosting-like filling, but seem a little small for the $3.50 price.

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Hours vary, check rosecityfoodpark.com for details.

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