Big things are happening in the meat on wheels department. In the last several years, Portland has accumulated a quintet of amazing barbecue carts with mind-blowingly beautiful briskets and smoky ribs that peel off the bone.
Just this fall, the tiny Matt’s BBQ Tacos truck on Southeast Hawthorne was named one of Bon Appetit magazine’s Top 10 best new restaurants in America, and Food & Wine dubbed Portland the “unlikely barbecue hero the West Coast needed.”
Here’s the rundown on the five carts any essentialist must hit:
Holy Trinity BBQ
3582 SE Powell, Thurs-Sun 11 am-3 pm, holytrinitybarbecue.com
Since May, Texas-native ’cue master Kyle Rensmeyer has been hawking the “Texas trinity” referenced in his business’ name: pork ribs, brisket, and sausage. Located in the parking lot of the former Original Taco House next to all-star newcomer cart Jojo, Rensmeyer has been selling out of his excellent selections nearly every day. My money is on the ribs, which are totally worth messing up your fingertips while sitting at a picnic table that’s nowhere near any running water. I dig the cheesy grits, but the wise move would be to bring a friend and order jojos, fried chicken, AND barbecue—and then have 911 on speed dial.
Bark City BBQ
1080 SE Madison, Wed-Sat 11 am-7 pm, Sun 11 am-6 pm, barkcitybbq.com
Virginia native Michael Keskin’s Bark City BBQ features a pig in its logo, but you can order any meat on the menu and walk away happy. I’m not usually one for pulled pork, but Keskin’s is juicy without being too greasy and dodges the overly salty flavor typical of the medium. Smoked turkey is juicy with a snap of cracked pepper over the top and perfect when dipped in the housemade white Alabama barbecue sauce. And don’t sleep on the pickled avocados, which cut the rich meat and are unlike any other way you’ve had Millennials’ Favorite Fruit™.
4233 N Mississippi, daily 11 am-7 pm, mattsbbqpdx.com
When native Long Islander Matt Vicedomini opened his Texas-style barbecue cart in a weird empty lot off Northeast MLK in 2015, the game changed. The brisket is a *chef’s kiss* of sweet tenderness and a bark that would make an oak jealous. Now located next to Prost on North Mississippi, make sure you get there early, as Matt’s usually sells out. To wit: Vicedomini has since sprouted a small and hugely popular empire with Matt’s BBQ Tacos (see below) and my personal favorite new restaurant of 2019, Eem.
Matt’s BBQ Tacos
3207 SE Hawthorne, Wed-Sun 8 am-7 pm, mattsbbqtacos.com
Is it wrong that my favorite thing about this all-day smoked meat taco joint with lines down the block are the flour tortillas? Made with lard, they’re soft, supple, and absolutely perfect. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that the smoked meats within claim Matt’s pedigree, made all the better with the addition of eggs, potato, and cheese at breakfast. The migas, with eggs, pico de gallo, cheese, guac, and tortilla chips are available all day, and for a good reason. Go early and often: These babies tend to sell out pretty quick, especially with that national media spotlight.
2204 NW Roosevelt, Tues-Fri 11 am-7 pm, instagram.com/bottosbbq
Botto’s opened in 2016 to much acclaim, especially for its brisket and ribs, done up in the Austin, Texas-style that owner Darren Bottinelli loves. It closed when Bottinelli went to the minimum-security Sheridan Federal Correctional Institute, convicted of stealing $3 million from his former healthcare fundsmanagement company. Botto’s reopened this year, and the barbecue remains as good as I remember, especially the lean brisket cuts with a kick of housemade sauce. The smoked turkey and a side of broccoli and cauliflower casserole were both a bit sogged down with grease, but it’s nothing a side of pickled veggies couldn’t cure.