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Location: 8438 SE Woodstock Blvd

El Nutri Taco on Urbanspoon

El Nutri Taco is just off the 205 freeway, so I have to believe many hungry travelers have passed it by without a second thought before eating at Taco Time or Taco Hell down the street. And guess what, they blew it. Only in Portland would a sketchy looking Mexican cart in someone’s front yard have an extensive Vegan Menu. And then actually be good, too. That is the story with El Nutri Taco.

It took me years to try this place – Taco carts aren’t hard to come by and like I said, it looks sketchy, but we kept hearing they had great vegan food. And since the psudeo-vegan in my life cares about that sort of thing, eventually we went, and guess what, the rumors were true.

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Potato Burrito. Not shown actual size.

Even knowing what I know, it still feels strange to pull up to someone’s house and order food in their front yard, but inevitably you will not be the only one. This place is fairly busy and once you get your food, you’ll see why. Not only are the portions ridiculous, but the burritos are interesting and unique. This isn’t just a beans, rice and cheese place, they put all sorts of goodies in them — cactus, peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, basically whatever you could think of. They also have multiple kinds of veggie meat, and for me, real meat as well.

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There’s a little covered seating area behind it, although if you’re scared of giant old german shepards, that might be an issue (there’s one that lives there, but he seems nice.) If you’re really opposed to carts, there’s also a brick and mortar location in Northeast, but to get the true experience, well, you gotta go to this one. It’s good, I promise.

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3848 SE Gladstone st. Portland, or 97206

Technically, Shut Up and Eat is a real live brick and mortar restaurant, but I’m counting it because it used to be a cart. I went there when it was in the Ala Carts pod and got the pork sandwich. It was crazy windy and the sandwich was giant and hard to eat, but holy shit, it was amazing. So when they opening up shop on the corner of 39th and Gladstone, I was stoked it was both in my quadrant and has indoor seating.

Obviously my first trip back I got the pork again. It’s adorned with papini, red peppers, provolone and an au jus and even inside, it’s a challenge to eat. Oh, and it’s a solid two meals. But on the second try I realized, it wasn’t really that exciting. Aside from the joy of having something to dip it in, the sandwich itself is kinda bland. But luckily, they have other sandwiches.

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Since then I’ve tried the Italian sausage, meatball, chicken parm and my new favorite, the steak and eggs. The sauce-based italian style sandwiches are good, as long as you like garlic. They love that stuff here. Again, they’re two meals, I usually ask for half to be pre-wrapped when I get them. Don’t be scared, it’s a good move, and since it’s a $9 sandwich, a sound investment as well.

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On my latest visit I got the steak and eggs, a breakfast sandwich which is served all day (yes, this place is THAT CRAZY.) It comes with greens, cheese and pickles in addition to the title ingredients and is served on a kaiser roll. This one is a one-meal sandwich and it is messy as hell, but damn it is good. However, the best part of shut up and eat? The homemade potato chips. Get them.

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Location: 42nd and Belmont
Number of carts: 15
Types of Food: Veggie, Seafood, Korean, Norwegian, Ice Cream, Coffee, American, Mac and Cheese, Fried Chicken, etc.
Covered: yes

Tucked just off of 39th Ave, I mean, Ceasar Chavez Ave, lies the Good Food Here pod. This aptly-named pod boasts a maze of carts, many of which do indeed serve good food. (Seeing as I’ve only been there once, I didn’t eat at all of them, but we can always assume there’s a dud in the mix when you have anywhere over 5 carts.) Anyway.

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The pod is pretty jam packed with options and in the middle is a covered portico with picnic tables surrounded by foliage. There’s an ATM and the vegetarian cart redeems itself by serving booze. It’s also crowded. On a Wednesday there was a steady flow of traffic and as Stan pointed out “way more hotties” than the previous cart pods. Over all, it’s a little overwhelming, but definitely a decent place to eat a meal.

As for food, I had heard rumor of the Viking Soul Food cart (who knew Vikings had souls?) and it being really, really good, so I went for a Lefse. Lefse’s are Norwegian potato pancakes, super thin, and then filled with all sorts of stuff. I had a special wrap that included chicken, collard greens, tomatoes and garlic-something. There was lots of garlic. As with any food that gets hyped up before I try it I had overly high standards, I was by no means blown away by my meal. It tasted really good, but for $8.50 (including a water cup and the credit card fee) left me a little unsatisfied. Next time, I’d go with the meatball and add some chips or something.
Viking Soul Food on Urbanspoon

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Veggie Reuben from Divine Cafe
Divine Cafe on Urbanspoon

Jared went to Divine Cafe and got a veggie Reuben that looked damn good for being, ya know, vegetarian. He also came back with Tofu tots, which while they looked amazing, actually tasted much like cardboard. I’m not sure if they purveyors of this cart know that potatoes are actually vegetarian and they could make regular tots just as easily that would have been filled more with delicious potato instead of what was basically air.

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Kafta from Aybla
Aybla Grill on Urbanspoon

Stan went to the Mediterranean cart, Aybla Grill, as did our friend Kelly and at $5 a pop, both seemed stoked on their purchases. The cart that I’m mostly likely to go back for though is Namu, a combo Korean/Hawaiian spot. Most of the menu is plate lunches and from the pictures they looked damn good. Then when our friend Laura Lynn showed up with the vegan combo and it actually looked good, well, I’m sold on at least trying it. So that said, I’ll certainly return to Good Food Here.

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Vegan Combo from Nabu

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Location: Woodstock Cart Pod
Price range: $2.50-$8
Cuisine: American Mexican

Today I set out on a mission to  get a Danang Pork sandwich from Graffiti, but alas:

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Vacation!? How dare you take a vacation!

Once I finished feigning outrage, I walked the two feet to the right, opting for a burrito from El Gallo. Mexican carts aren’t hard to come by in Portland, and as they go, this one isn’t my favorite. But, it’s also not really Mexican. As evidenced by the white guys working there, this place is Ameri-mex at best, despite the actual Spanish in its name.

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So, as you can probably assume, this isn’t my favorite burrito in Portland, but it is somewhat unique. Inside is meat, cheese, cabbage and pinto beans, as well as some cilantro and presumably salsa. Then the whole package is grilled up all crispy and there’s more sauce to be had on the side. Their salsas are good, but nothing to write home about. I think the big selling point here is that all the ingredient are local, natural, blah blah blah. It’s cool to eat food at Monsanto in theory hasn’t fucked with.

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Really, my favorite thing about this cart is that they have free water. I hate buying bottles of water, not just cause it’s terrible for the environment, but because I’m cheap. The cups and jug are a huge plus. Jared likes it because they have Mexican coke, which is exciting because as he wanted me to point out — not all coke in Mexico is Mexican coke.

El Gallo Taqueria on Urbanspoon
El Gallo Taqueria on Foodio54

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Location: SE 50th and Divison
Number of carts: 14
Covered: Yes
Pros: Lots of entertainment options, wet naps, free wifi, good food choices.
Cons: Beer is only on weekends, really close to Los Gorditos.
Types of food (check their site for current carts): Turkish, burgers, coffee, seafood, Pork, Venezuelan, chicken and waffles, Pizza, Southwestern, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai

Ala Cart is much more than just a cart pod. It’s like a cart experience filled with fun for the whole family. What does that even mean? Well, I’ll tell you. In addition to some 14 food carts, there’s also a little playground for kids, cornhole for big kids, sidewalk chalk for beautifying the parking lot and trivial pursuit cards on the tables. Care about cleanliness? They have free wet naps and the port-a-potty has a sink in it. Oh and perhaps the most exciting for a nerd such as myself- FREE WI-FI! And that’s not all. There’s a hair salon (perhaps a trim while you wait?), an ATM and plenty of covered and uncovered seating.

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Of course, if all the carts sucked, all this would be unexciting (although you could grab food at Los Gorditos – the best Mexican food in Portland right down the street and sneak it in) but that’s not a problem. There are several carts that serve interesting and delicious food. I’ll be honest, I fully judge a cart by its cover, and today I selected La Arepa because their menu was all pictures. The cart specializes in Venezuelan food, which is rice and bean based, but was sold me was avocado and plantains. I got the number 15, which was awesome because I didn’t have to attempt to speak Spanish and it tasted damn good. You can tell this place is muy authentico since the dude had a really hard time with my name and ended up calling out “Brulalala” or something.

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Jared was not in tow so I don’t know what food was spicy but not too spicy, but Stan got a stuffed burger from the burger Guild with sweet potato fries. Including a drink, he paid $9 which is a damn value if you ask me. It was certainly not the neatest burger ever eaten, but his review was quite favorable, and like I said, free wet naps!

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The pork chop cart hooked up Lemmy with a water bowl and even a treat, giving this cart high marks for dog friendliness too. Over all, I would like to go back and try more of the carts and Stan gave Ala Carts a hearty two thumbs up. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, how can you be mad at the fun play on words that is the name?