I TRIED to be a vegetarian in college, inspired by the Introduction to Buddhism class I signed up for my senior year. (You have my permission to laugh.) But after about a month, my internal monologue was approximately this: "Meat. Meeeeeaaattttt. MEAAAAAAAAAT!!!!" By midterms, I had proceeded to the nearest wing shop. So unless it's, like, not your karmic thing, man, these three new meaty carts are must-visits for the meat lovers.
- Matt's BBQ
- Michelle F Mitchell
4709 NE MLK
We arrive 15 minutes before Matt Vicedomini opens the locked chain-link fence separating his converted travel trailer from the traffic on NE MLK. We're the only ones who showed up that day before opening time—but it was insurance against the inevitable: the moment Matt's BBQ sells out of meat.
From a tin-roofed addition behind his cart, Vicedomini is quickly earning a reputation as a top-tier Texas-style pit master. It's a skill he honed in... Melbourne, Australia. Apparently, American barbecue is relatively unheard of down under, and Vicedomini helped introduce it at a local bar, turning out brisket, pulled pork, and even goat. Vicedomini is still traveling to perfect his craft; from October 28 to November 3 the cart will be closed so he can eat his way through Texas.
A testament to his powers is that his best cut is also the hardest to get right—brisket. Smoked in white oak with meat from Brandt Farms in California, its deeply blackened bark surrounds beef so succulent that even the lean cuts are fork-tender (we also got some burnt ends, wondrous first cuts for the early bird). The pork ribs have the right amount of bite resistance, with a perfect smoke ring inside. The sausage, which is never my favorite, is a just-fine softly spicy iteration.
Get greedy and order them all as a platter for $16, with all three of Matt's BBQ's competently produced sides (the beans have a nice splash of cumin) and cornichons. I'm pushing for a goat special, but Vicedomini says he'll probably offer beef ribs next. Either way, I'll get there early. Wed-Fri 11 am-7 pm, Sat 11 am-6 pm, 516-374-4739, facebook.com/mattsbbqpdx
- Chicken and Guns
- Andrea Damewood
Chicken and Guns
1207 SE Hawthorne
Chicken and Guns has to be the best cart name in the whole city. I don't know where it came from, and I didn't ask the owners. There are no (visible) guns at this salvaged-wood and tin Cartopia spot, but there is mighty fine chicken.
Just like the great Pollo Norte and the pretty good Polli-Tico, Chicken and Guns focuses on Latin-style bird, but it ditches the rotisserie in favor of wood grilling. The smoky, juicy results pair amazingly with the fresh herb-and-vinegar housemade green Peruvian ají sauce. Choose a quarter ($9), half ($16) or whole chicken ($24). Next, waffle over whether to get the potatoes—big chunks of impossibly crispy-on-the-outside-steamy-on-the-inside miracle food—or the lite version, with a chimichurri-topped farmers' market salad recently served with baby bok choy, thinly sliced yellow carrots, and romesko. Add a fried farm egg ($2) to yolk up that salad.
Things will get messy. Plastic forks and knives will just get in the way of your mouth and the prime vittles—pick up and gnaw at the chicken, and ignore the teens in crop tops eating crêpes from a nearby cart. This is another shot across the bow to those who dare serve mediocre chicken in Portland. Tues-Sun 11:30 am-midnight, 234-7236, chickenandguns.com
Pig 'n a Pen
5221 NE Sandy
The self-proclaimed "best from the Midwest," Pig 'n a Pen is tucked, appropriately but coincidentally, next to a mural of pigs in a pen at the Rose City Food Park. It bodes well that on a recent visit, co-owner Derek Hill was sporting an Indiana University sweatshirt, because this cart's specialty dish is pretty much limited to the Hoosier State and its neighbors. Hill's sister and Pig 'n a Pen co-owner Lauren Hill moved to Portland from Indiana in 2012; he came out to start the cart with her.
Pig 'n a Pen specializes in pork tenderloin sandwiches, either grilled (as if!) or deep-fried (yasss). Order the No. 1, a pounded pork cutlet topped with melted American cheese, Hoosier sauce (mayo, mustard, pickles, and fresh lemon juice), and shredded lettuce. It arrives on a Franz bun, a vessel as unpretentious as a cornfield. Be sure to add more pickles or mustard—the extra acidity amplifies the rest of the ingredients.
Everything from the crinkle-cut fries to the pork breading needs a lot more salt, but those from the central US—and who in Portland isn't these days?—will surely welcome the culinary postcard from home. Mon-Fri 11 am-8 pm (closed Wed), Sat noon-8 pm, Sun noon-7 pm, pignapen.com