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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hours vary, check rosecityfoodpark.com for details.