Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Short Hiatus

To all my faithful readers,

I launched this site in mid-May 2011 to blog about my food adventures and let my friends know about my seemingly endless quest for great (and spicy) creations. Over 500 blog entries, nine states, and countless new friendships later, I'm still going strong. I'd love to hit all 50 states and D.C. before this trek is over. But seriously, adventures like these never end!

I never thought I'd amass over 41,000 page views in the first nine months. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a daily follower, I am eternally grateful to you all.

With that said, I am taking a very short break from posting reviews. When not working out, eating, or blogging, I have been going bonkers studying for one major exam -- the one exam many law graduates cringe about. I know I've done everything in my power to prepare. No regrets. My next review will be posted on Friday, March 2.

Until then, eat something spicy for me, and embrace that pain!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Flyin' Hawaiian (Part 2)

(UPDATE February 2013: After moving back to the Carts on Foster pod for a few months, Flyin' Hawaiian is now just doing catering and a few lunch services at places like Nike and Intel. Check their Facebook page for the latest!)

(Food Carts Portland article -- 1/12/12)
(Original Review -- January 2012)

(Third Review -- May 2012)

Flyin' Hawaiian has crazy sauce! Fit for a crazy panda like me! I mean, if I had a nickname, it would either be "spicoholic" or "spicochist." Still on the fence with that.

I stopped by unannounced a couple of Saturdays ago just to try some of that crazy sauce. Jason applies it to his business partner's Hawaiian sweet chicken. And voila...fire chicken! Numerous volcanic concoctions are added:

(1) Flyin' Hawaiian pineapple habanero sauce
(2) Flyin' Hawaiian mango habanero sauce
(3) Dave's Hurtin' Habanero sauce
(4) Dave's Total Insanity sauce
(5) Dave's Ultimate Insanity sauce
(6) Dave's Ghost Pepper sauce
(7) Sambal Oelek

I got one portion of chicken, just so I knew what I would be getting myself into. Not to mention I had already stopped by a couple other places to stuff my face.

Part two of their ever-expanding menu!
There it is, at the top: Rusty's Hawaiian Chicken, with a spicy option!
(February 2012)
Jason asked me if I should make it as spicy as possible. No hesitation, bring it on! The fumes engulfed the cart, and poor Jason felt the wrath of angry pepper gas. I actually wish I caught that part on camera. But as you can see from the list of ingredients above, it's safe to say many sane human beings probably wouldn't take this on.

Me? I embrace pain! Yeah! (pathetic hulk pose)

Jason added a side of white rice with furikake on top. He then got a front-row look at my spicy food destruction.

Small portion of Rusty's Hawaiian Chicken w/crazy sauce and a scoop of rice
(Flyin' Hawaiian)
I leisurely scarfed down the small helping of crazy sauce chicken and rice in less than two minutes. Yup, that included me rolling the rice in that remaining blissful sauce, consuming that fiery starch, and posing for the camera. And Jason caught it all on video. Thanks again, buddy!

Although there was considerable spice, I could still enjoy the fruitiness in that sauce. The chicken pieces were moist and the rice perfectly cooked. And dude, furikake for the rice? You rule!

Be on the lookout for a possible food challenge at this cart. Find them on Facebook and Twitter for the latest on that. Whatever it is, I'm certainly interested if it involves spice....

I've been here twice and I've barely scratched the surface of their ever-expanding menu. Did you know they have breakfast items now? Spam, Portuguese sausage, breakfast sandwiches, and possibly pancakes. I've enjoyed everything that comes out of this cart. The regular menu items from my last visit, such as those steroidal wings, burgers, fish tacos, etc., are all still there.

I'm not quite ready to give elite status yet, but only because I simply need to try more "regular" menu items. Come on, I think my taste buds deserve a proper Hawaiian vacation instead of getting thrown into Kilauea 24/7! Doesn't matter, because I think I've become good friends with Pele the Hawaiian goddess by now.

It speaks volumes when people from Hawaii (like me) go to a Hawaiian-themed cart and love the food. Soar to Flyin' Hawaiian now for some good eats!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Relish Gourmet Hot Dogs (Part 2)

(UPDATE 10/15/12: Just learned that Chris has moved on to another venture and Relish is now closed. The cart is still at Cartlandia as of this update. Chris rented the cart to someone else and it is now Amore, a pizza cart. Best wishes to Chris and Emily!)

(Original Review -- January 2012)

While at the Cartlandia food pod a few days ago, I decided to go back to the Relish hot dog cart and talk with Chris. He was still a few minutes from opening when I showed up, but for me, no big deal. Well, other than the dang rain.

I kept eyeing the pot of chili for the coney hot dogs. I wanted to just take the pot and start chugging chili right there inside the cart. That stuff is street-dancing panda good. All meat and worth every last morsel.

Meaty Chili! Just how I like it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

PBJ's Grilled (Part 2)

(Original Review -- June 2011)
(Third Review -- April 2012)

(Aaron sitting in Starbucks, an agitated panda from excess studying)
"Aaron hungry! Need fuel!"
(Looks online)
"Hmm...PBJ's Grilled! How long has it been since I had their food?" (Checks)
"Over half a year?!?! Bad panda!
"What the...what is this 'Hair of the Dog' sandwich...?"
"Oh $%&@! Maker's Mark Bourbon! Go now!"

February 2012

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pepper Box (Part 2)

(Original Review -- August 2011)

Simply put, I was hungry, and I wanted breakfast tacos. I hadn't been to Pepper Box in months, so I decided to drive to Portland and catch up with Jim Wilson. Pepper Box is still in the same spot: the lone holdover at the Dreamer's Marketplace lot. Having the space to yourself does have benefits....

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gaufre Gourmet (Part 2)

(Original Review -- August 2011)
(Third Review -- March 2012)

After enduring two days where my stomach practically begged for waffles, I relented and headed to Gaufre Gourmet in downtown Portland. They had been at the Green Castle food pod last year before the place shut down, forcing carts to relocate. Charlene Wesler runs this cart with her boyfriend. Charlene went with waffles because it provides a canvas for countless combinations.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

True Grits

(UPDATE 9/30/12: Not sure if this cart has moved or closed in the months since I posted this review. Please let me know. Thanks everyone!)

True Grits is a food cart located at the corner of N Williams and N Tillamook in Portland, Oregon. It is in the same parking lot as Solar Waffle Works. While the waffle cart was closed at the time of my visit, my Southern palate pretty much dragged me to True Grits.

Wren says hi!
Glenn and Wren were running this cart. When not running the business, Wren is a yoga instructor at The Lotus Seed across the street, while Glenn is a carpenter. Wren's Southern roots led to this cart's opening (only a few months old) and focus on grits. There are a few places serving Southern comfort food, but this is the only cart I know that truly sticks with grits.

So how does a Hawaii-raised dude ultimately turn into a grit-craving spicoholic? Hey, if the food tastes great, I'll eat it!

Menu (February 2012)
They do breakfast specials and are open six days a week!
Cajun Shrimp and Grits. Holy Southern heck of awesomeness. Do my eyes deceive me? I think my palate had a foodgasm just reading the dang thing. Sure, it'll take a little while since the shrimp are cooked to order, but argh, my mouth was practically forcing the words out. "I'll take the small cajun shrimp and grits." Yeah, stomach, I don't want you to explode and die happy just yet.

The cajun spices emanating from the cart tortured every fiber of my being. Can't time go faster? I was like that impatient kid who hated school, looking at the clock and ignoring the teacher, watching that second hand slowly tick.

Glenn mentioned something about the cajun shrimp being spicy? Oh, thanks, I'd like more spice added. Several choices, but I went with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Gotta stay true to form here! Tangy and a bit more spice for the tongue.

Cajun Shrimp and Grits w/Louisiana Hot Sauce
(True Grits)
Mmm...food closeup
Finally, the food! The cajun flavors detonated little jolts of eye-awakening pleasure. Perfectly cooked shrimp. The grits maintained their texture. Good grief, now I think I shoulda been born in the South. You watch, tomorrow, I'll find another great dish and wish I was born there, too. Is it possible to be born in multiple places at the same time?

Wren says one part grits to four parts water. A watery concoction, yes, but put that cajun shrimp and hot sauce on top, and it's delicious.

If anything, I'd like a bit more shrimp, but, to be fair, it was the small portion. This only means the large portion is on death row -- and I'm the executioner. Law school helped for something! I get to be judge, jury, and executioner for foodie purposes.

True Grits still has espressos and great breakfast sandwiches. Sure, coffee works for me, but I'll be doing enough Warriors, Downward Dogs, and Tree Poses to work up an appetite only grits can cure. 8/10

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beijing House

(Also check out my Food Carts Portland write-up)

Beijing House is a Chinese food cart located near the corner of SW 9th and Alder in downtown Portland, Oregon. Run and her husband opened this cart at the beginning of February.

Spicy food is an awesome legal drug of sorts. The taste buds come alive (or incinerate upon the first few bites), and the endorphin rush that follows ensure that moment is embedded in your brain for a significant time. When Run mentioned I could get just about any dish on the menu as spicy as I wanted, I flashed a happy, yet sinister look that my stomach could only interpret as: "Oh f***...."

What to get? There are almost 30 menu items! Some are mere appetizers or sweet items, yet each look so tasty. This time, I wanted chicken. Kung Pao Chicken for $6.50.

More menu items!
As an aside, you have a choice of white rice or brown rice (no extra charge to get brown rice).

My food was cooked to order, and in a few minutes, a dark-red sea of chicken, peanuts, and dried red chiles (Thai chiles, perhaps?) awaited me. On my visit, a guy (likely there to fix or install some equipment in the cart) commented how spicy the dish looked and smelled. Admittedly, he said he can't tolerate spice. I took a good whiff of the chicken. Mmm...spice. (goes into trance)

Kung Pao Chicken with brown rice
(Beijing House)
Closeup shot of the Kung Pao Chicken
The diced chicken stayed moist. The dark red glaze coated each piece, delivering a satisfying, flavorful nudge to the palate. Even though it was requested extra spicy, eating the dried chiles would have been the only way to likely set my mouth ablaze. I gave my palate another shot at life by not eating those dried pods of doom. The peanuts gave that cool texture contrast, although I'm thinking to myself...that's a boatload of peanuts. Whatever, it's protein!

It's a respectable start for Beijing House. I wasn't completely blown away by the product, but it certainly warrants a return trip. Considering they had only been open a week and a half when I visited, I look forward to seeing the progress Run and her husband make over the coming weeks and months. 6.5/10

Monday, February 20, 2012

Love My Bento

(NOTE: This cart has closed)

Love My Bento is a Hawaiian food cart located near the corner of SW 9th and Alder in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pacific Pie Company

Pacific Pie Company is located near the corner of SE 7th and Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon. Pies, pies, and more goodies! Savory and sweet!

Line is forming -- and they've barely been open 30 minutes by this point!
Savory pies
Sweet pies
I had just demolished a dozen ghost pepper wings at Blues City Biscuits (a Super Bowl special Kimberly promoted), and I was still hungry. Kimberly brought up Pacific Pie Company, highly praising a savory pie that had beef and beer. Hmm. That sounds WAY too good to pass up. To PPC!

The place had barely been open for 20 minutes, and a small line had formed inside the shop. Savory pies were around $5 to $7, while the sweet pies hovered around $4. A bunch of delicious options. My brain should not work so hard!

Savory pie choices
Slices of sweet pies are usually all $4

Beef and Stout pie for six bucks. Sounds like the one Kimberly mentioned. Aw, look at that, it's one of those mini pot pies that I could cradle in my arms -- before turning evil and gorging the delicious guts out of it.

Beef and Stout Pie
(Pacific Pie Company)
Turned the flash off on this one so you can see the inside!
The pie crust was flaky and light. The stout used here was from Burnside Brewing Co. I stabbed through the top of the pie, releasing that awesome protein and booze.combo. If I'm not drinking beer during the Super Bowl (stupid studying), I'm getting my fix now, dammit! The carrots, potatoes, and onions all broke down wonderfully, and their essence further fueled my food addiction.

After one bite, it was like autopilot. Wielding a fork in one hand and grabbing pieces of pie crust in the other, the only thing stout at the table was my belly. Winner winner beef and stout pie dinner...I mean lunch!

Shoulda grabbed hot sauce. It's like my hands had minds of their own. It was a Mortal Kombat nuking, and all I needed was some guy to say, "FINISH IT!"

(censored screen; loud screams from the pie)
"Aaron wins...FATALITY"

I'll try to return and try a sweet pie. Figure if I ate any more after that, I'd never leave Portland. Check this place out! 8/10

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blues City Biscuits (Part 3)

(NOTE: Kimberly is no longer the owner at Blues City Biscuits, but a new owner took over in 2013, keeping the same name and recipes! This cart is now at the Good Food Here pod in Portland, Oregon, near SE 43rd and Belmont!)

(Original Review -- October 2011)
(Second Review -- December 2011)
(Fourth Review -- April 2012)

Ghost chile wings. Mmm...pain.

At the Cartlandia pod in February 2012

Going in, I had no clue exactly how spicy they would be, but just mentioning the ghost chile (bhut jolokia) generally strikes fear in a lot of people. I mean, it's over a million Scoville units. It brought back painful memories of the "Marine Burger" I ate at Killer Burger last May. Four dried ghost peppers in there. I was a virtual dead panda after that burger and nearly required hospitalization (not joking).

At the beginning of the year, Kimberly announced a limited-time special on her ghost chile wings, only for Super Bowl weekend. A dozen for $15. Take one guess on the only nutcase that decided to take Kimberly up on her offer. The days passed by, and all I thought about was envisioning the inevitable pain.

I decided to videotape myself eating these wings. At the worst, it could serve as my last will and testament. Hey, I'd be going down doing what I love, right? Best case scenario, a triumph for man, a few spice burns, and some dancing in the street.

I arrived just a bit after 10 a.m. the day before the Super Bowl. My timing was pretty good. Kimberly had just finished getting the wings out of the fryer.

Kimberly: "I made yours (wings) spicier than the ones I made yesterday, since I know you like 'em hot."

(Me thinking): "Oh (bleep). How thoughtful of you! Glad I got my camera!"

Kimberly: "I kept trying to assure my husband that (Aaron) wants to be killed!"


As Kimberly rattled off the ingredients in the wing sauce, it didn't sound as daunting. Frank's Red Hot for the base, tasty! Honey for sweetness, awesome! Molasses...yay stickiness! Oh wait...what is this ghost pepper vinegar and pureed pickled ghost chiles? Venturing into some unknown ingredients here! I can only imagine the heat if Kimberly used fresh or dried ghost peppers. Gotta have flavor, people!

No turning back. Paid for the wings, let's do it! Camera on...figure I can call for my last will and testament at any time.... And we're off!

Ghost Chile Wings
(Blues City Biscuits)
(Thinking after first bite): "Hmm...awesome flavor. Smoky, sweet, sticky, spicy, just as promised."
(After two wings): "Damn, this is addicting."
(Several more wings in): "Oh, there's some heat. But I can handle this."
(Near the end): "Dammit! I shoulda ordered two dozen more! So awesome!"
(Starts dipping carrot sticks and celery sticks in the wing sauce, licks fingers for camera)

Breezed through the dozen wings -- plus carrots and celery sticks -- in about six and a half minutes. No buttermilk ranch needed for a cooling agent. No water needed. No dairy ingested. I triumphed over the ghost pepper this time...well, in pickled and vinegary form.

Here's a video I created -- and a picture of 12 eaten wings. It's been on YouTube for some time, and a few of you may have already seen it. I sped up the footage of me eating so you don't have to sit around as long horrified at my poor manners. Enjoy!

Yes, I was sweating a little, and my nose was running. The wing sauce branded its presence on my face and hands. Temporary spice burns! Now I know next time...order more wings. I won't get to Kobayashi's 337 wings in 30 minutes at Wing Bowl 20, though.

The sauce was absolute money. I'd immediately do a few shots of that stuff next time. Perhaps for a person like me, habanero sauce could be part of the base. Kimberly and I both agreed we need the full-sized wings in the future.

FYI, no bad aftereffects. In fact, I hit up another place right after. But that's another review. Two wing-sauced thumbs up!

(Aaron scans Twitter a few weeks later)
"Biscuits with chocolate gravy..."
(record screeches, Aaron looks at attached picture)
(Aaron falls out of chair)

Hold the phone again! Chocolate gravy?! That sounds like something out of Willy Wonka's Southern chocolate factory. Intriguing enough for me to head back down!

Sure enough, biscuits in chocolate gravy, a special for this past week. Pretty much the standard gravy base, but adding all this chocolaty awesomeness to the picture. Topped with pecans and bacon?! Sliced bananas?! Wha-what?!?!

It also hit me on the drive to Blues City Biscuits that I hadn't even tried Kimberly's simple biscuits and gravy dish. Only one way to solve this....

For $7, I got one biscuit with the chocolate gravy and one biscuit with sausage gravy. The biscuits are such a perfect vehicle. Firm on the outside, soft on the inside.

(Photo taken 2/16/12)
Biscuits w/Sausage Gravy and Diced Bacon
(Blues City Biscuits)

Sausage gravy is so peaceful. It may have been a cold, dreary, rainy Portland day, but my mind focused on a sunny, grassy field with bunnies, flowers, and birds. Mmm...rabbit and bird stew. Er...I mean, mmm...sausage gravy.

(Photo taken 2/16/12)
Biscuit w/Chocolate Gravy, Pecans, Bacon, and Sliced Bananas
(Blues City Biscuits)

But damn. How to describe this chocolate gravy? It's a little thicker than a sauce and also not overly sweet. The chocolaty magic was like watching Captain Planet.

"By your powers combined, I'm Captain Awesomeness!"

Well, that was an unfair quintuple-team on my mouth.

The bananas were the key. With the almighty bacon and a somewhat savory chocolate, a sweet component needed to balance things out. Let's hear it for bananas! Yay! The pecans added a crunchy, nutty dimension that bolstered the dish from "woohoo!" to "holy crap, this could pass for an epic dessert-y brunch at 10:45 in the morning!"

Several hours removed from all that, my boggled mind still tried to comprehend such majesty. I guess Kimberly and her prized dishes took Chuck Norris classes. An elite cart!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Koyotes Tacos

Koyotes Tacos is a Mexican food restaurant located on Monmouth Ave. N in Monmouth, Oregon. It is the same building that M Street Diner once occupied (apparently, M Street Diner closed late last year). Koyotes is about a half-block away from Western Oregon University, so it can be a fairly good location.

Likely during their first few weeks of business
(Pictures taken in early February)

I attempted to walk in on a Tuesday around 10:30 in the morning.

(Has trouble with door)

Hmm. Maybe I used all my strength up in the gym this morning. (tries again, to no avail)

The woman at the front counter saw me and let me in. "Yes, we're open." Never woulda guessed! Your signs say "OPEN," and the hours posted on the door said you're open from 8 in the morning on weekdays! Not much eye contact or smiling from her throughout my short visit.

Having read Chuck B.'s review on Yelp, I also went with the Koyote Burrito ($6). Steak, potatoes, salsa, cheese, egg, bacon, and sour cream. A hefty lineup of ingredients for my grumbling stomach. I 86'd the sour cream, as usual. I did get two small containers of sauce, one hot and one mild.

In-house menu board
(February 2012)

Koyote Burrito
(Koyotes Tacos)
The flavors are good. I mean, there's diced bacon in this burrito, so that should be an auto win. This pork product was largely soft jerky-like in texture, with perhaps a bit of the remaining bacon fat offering some lubrication. The eggs were minimal in my burrito, but fine for what it was. The diced steak was fairly average, a majority if it on the overcooked side. If you didn't tell me there was salsa in the burrito, I wouldn't have noticed. Just heavy item after heavy item canvassed my mouth.

The potatoes were seasoned well, with a browned exterior and soft interior. Perhaps the best thing in the burrito.

I didn't find the hot sauce spicy. I added the mild sauce anyway because it was there -- and perhaps I was a desperate panda. A good life lesson can be applied here: "Never settle, Aaron. Never settle."

For six bucks, it could still sorta be deemed on the reasonable end. Other burritos are around $4.50 or less and may be more worth my buck. Combo plates (with rice and beans) are anywhere from $6.50 to $7.25. Overall, the prices are very affordable.

It seems they have only been in business for a few weeks, so I'll still consider returning. It would be a bit a more positive experience if the front-of-the-house staff smiled more and promoted some top menu items. Err on the side of too much smiling and friendly promotion, instead of silently standing there like a robot waiting for the order to come in. 5/10

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Speedy Tacos

Speedy Tacos is a Mexican food truck found at the corner of Commercial St. SE and Ferry St. in Salem, Oregon.

I still have a burrito addiction.

Back in college, I ate the frozen ones found in stores when living in off-campus housing. Then I got completely sick of them and avoided these wrapped bundles of joy like the plague. Then, for some random reason in Oregon, I started eating burritos at several Mexican food carts and never looked back. What a random cycle of life.

So this particular cart is your standard Mexican food truck menu, serving tacos, burritos, and combo plates.

(February 2012)
Ooh, the word "spicy" popped up again! Which for me is extremely mild, but still, it's like a baby infatuated with shiny objects. Must get it.

Spicy Pork Burrito
(Speedy Tacos)
Cross-section of burrito
I got the spicy pork burrito ($5): diced spicy pork, lettuce, white rice, beans, and salsa inside a large flour tortilla. I nixed the sour cream (which would have also gone in the burrito). Fresh veggies and salsa were a hit. The pork had good flavor and stayed juicy. Honestly, I wish I had more meat in this one, even though the ratio of meat to non-meat items was fairly balanced. The rice was on the gummy side, but at least it helped combine everything. The tortilla was warm, likely steamed here.

I got some more red (smoky) salsa on the side. As expected, not much spice for my mouth, but still a positive experience overall. You can also ask for a green salsa if you want.

There's even a little seating area right in front of the truck that can seat up to six people. Little things like a possible "dine-in option" could generate more repeat customers.

The beef burrito is the most popular, then the chicken. There is a "Macho Burrito" for $5.95, which is basically a burrito with stuff on top (cheese, salsa, lettuce). The breakfast burritos ($4.50) sound awesome, especially because bacon is an option. Speedy Tacos may also have a few advertised specials.

I got a good burrito at a reasonable price, and it's not far from where I live. I'll definitely go back. 7/10