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photos by blair Stenvick

The fact that Portland doesn't have an all-vegan food court feels wrong. This is a city known for both its food carts and its embrace of ethical consumption—but so far, there has been no food cart destination offering multiple options for plant-based eaters.

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Fortunately, that's about to change.

On Sunday night I attended the preview pop-up for Shady Pines Vegan Food Court, an exclusively vegan food cart pod in Cully—and judging by the size of the crowd, so did every other vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian in Portland. At one point, the line for one of the carts was 30-people deep, and wait times neared an hour. But it was worth it.

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Five eateries were serving food at the pop-up, though more carts are expected to join when the pod officially opens, which rumor says could be as early as next month. The most popular cart of the night seemed to be Dirty Lettuce, a Cajun/Southern spot that migrated to Portland from Mississippi just to join Shady Pines. I got a sampler plate with fried chicken, BBQ ribs, shrimp-and-grit fritters, candied yams, and corn muffins.

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The seitan-based chicken and ribs were firm and savory, and the crispy skin on the chicken was satisfying enough to rival KFC. I've never been one for plant-based seafood alternatives—something about trying to mimic fishiness feels wrong to me—but those fritters brought me back to a trip I took to North Carolina years ago. The classic Southern sides rounded the meal out perfectly.

I also got to try the Konkatsu ramen from Safframen, a Japanese and Persian-influenced ramen shop. We ordered it spicy, so the broth gave a nice kick to the perfectly pressed tofu and house-made noodles, which had a lovely soft, slightly chewy texture. I often find myself dissappointed by giant ramen bowls overflowing with 10 different toppings, as the flavors can easily get muddled. But Safframen's broth and toppings were perfectly curated to create a simple, but lasting, impression. This is all I want to eat the next time there's a snow day in Portland.

NOODLES FOR DAYS
NOODLES FOR DAYS

For dessert, I stopped by Ramblin Rose for ice cream. Portland is already home to a ton of great vegan ice cream options, from both strictly vegan spots like Virtuous Pie and standard ice creameries like Fifty Licks. But Ramblin Rose raises the stakes by pairing ultra-creamy coconut-based soft serve with artisanal toppings like rose petals, Himalayan pink salt, and Doug Fir-infused sugar. And if you're lucky, you get a free sticker with your ice cream.

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I didn't get a chance to sample the vegan mac and cheese from Avocadamama, a SoCal-based cart that's opening its second location in Portland. But judging by the menu, the long line, and the speed at which customers were eating their mac and cheese, I'm sure I'll enjoy it when I do get to try it.

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🚨 PORTLAND 🚨 We’ve been working tirelessly to bring our whole menu to Portland!! Tonight from 4pm-8pm at @shadypinesveganfoodcourt we’re bringing the following menu: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ OG Mac Buffalo Cauliflower Mac Shredded BBQ Jackfruit Mac Taco Jalapeño Mac Chicken & Waffle Mac Gluten Free OG Mac which can be made into BBQ Mac or Buffalo Mac Our Big Three And we’re featuring a very special raw superfood desert called Terrabits!! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We are so stoked to serve PDX! Come try us tonight with our friends: @dirty__lettuce @sushilovepdx @safframen @ramblin_rose_pdx ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Can’t wait to see you all tonight!!!

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Also serving food was Sushi Love PDX, a vegan sushi spot I've had the fortune of eating at for years—first at the Sellwood Piknik carts, and then at its current Oregon City location. The success of any sushi roll hinges on having varied yet complimentary textures and flavors, and Sushi Love hits those marks better than most seafood-based sushi spots in town. I hope they become a permanent fixture at Shady Pines.

Shady Pines offers a few picnic tables outside, as well as a cute, cozy indoor seating area. I hope to see it grow in the future to include a space for live music, a beer/wine/kombucha bar, and more outdoor seating for sunny summer days. There's no hard opening date yet, but you can bet that every veg-head in Portland will be there when it does open—and you should be, too.

Shady Pines is at 5240 NE 42nd.