Monday, October 31, 2011

The Ramen Truck

The Ramen Truck is a ramen food truck located in the alleyway around SE 33rd and Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon.

Menu (as of early October 2011)
Seating area near the truck
I had read several positive reviews on Yelp, but those eventually filtered out, replaced with all negative feedback. After Food Carts Portland did a short review of The Ramen Truck, I had to find out if I should believe the supporters or the haters.

Basically, ordering is simple: pick a broth (only two items at the time I went, a regular tonkotsu pork broth or their garlic-infused pork broth), choose a size (small or large), and add any additional toppings (hard boiled egg, nori, chashu, etc.).

The Ramen Truck makes their own tonkotsu broth and even makes their own ramen noodles from scratch. Very impressive.

I ordered a small ramen with garlic tonkotsu broth, hard-boiled egg, and their spicy sauce on the side. Adding the total up from the menu board, I thought I would be paying $6.50 for the ramen, but the cart owner only charged me $6 here.

Small ramen (garlic broth, hard-boiled egg, and spicy sauce on the side)
(The Ramen Truck)
The lovely house-made ramen noodles and tonkotsu garlic broth!
The tonkotsu garlic broth here was unlike any ramen broth I've encountered. I really enjoyed the thicker, creamier identity that it gave the dish. Very comforting and delicious. I thought the noodles were also very good. Probably a bit soft for my liking (I like my noodles more al dente), but still mad props for making this from scratch.

The flavorful chashu was extremely tender and disintegrated in my mouth without much effort. The hard-boiled egg was perfectly cooked. The spicy sauce appeared nothing more than the sambal oelek one can get from the Asian section of a supermarket. For me, maybe another spicier sauce (for a side condiment) would be nice.

In mid-October, The Ramen Truck added a new menu item: piri piri ramen, a spicy broth with a bunch of spicy toppings. The rave reviews have been pouring in for that one as well. I'll have to try that next time!

The Ramen Truck should consider a vegetarian broth option in the future. I noticed two women coming up to the truck and asking about that. Obviously, they were disappointed when there was no such option available. Catering to specific needs, even gluten-free, would be great, but the GF option may be more difficult to pull off (since the noodles are made from scratch and cross-contamination issues would need to be addressed).

Anyway, I'd have to side with the Ramen Truck supporters on this one. It's a very good meal that should be a hit during the winter months. Personally, I'm thinking anyone giving this cart a negative review could have used any of the following as reasons for their rating:

(1) they were turned off by the thicker broth (perhaps being used to the packaged ramen one likely eats during college);

(2) they had a thinner broth served to them (which the cart owner apparently fixed); or

(3) they had a less flavorful broth during their experience (also seemingly fixed here).

In fact, The Ramen Truck experienced some terrific business after Food Carts Portland did their review. The truck sold out just about each day for a few days after that blog post. At least from what I've been reading since my visit, The Ramen Truck has garnered more and more positive word of mouth. If this cart gets an umbrella or tent for the outside seating, they should continue to be a hit as the chilly weather returns to Portland. 7.75/10

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rock House Grill

(NOTE: Please read part 2, posted July 2012)

The Rock House Grill is located at the Cartlandia food pod in Portland, Oregon. Owner Jimmy Knight serves an array of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options any time of the day. It really is like one of those 1950s diners, but with wheels and no actual rock 'n roll music playing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cake on a Hot Tin Roof

(Second Review -- December 2011; great experience!)

Cake on a Hot Tin Roof, located at the Cartlandia food pod in Portland, Oregon, serves breakfast baked goods, pastries, and desserts. A nice take on the classic Tennessee Williams play ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof").

Friday, October 28, 2011

Deb's Blazin' Grill

Deb's Blazin' Grill is a wiener food cart located at the Cartlandia food pod in Portland, Oregon. Deb's motto..."Nobody beats our wieners!"

Deb's offers up to nine different types of wieners, from the traditional all-beef wiener (one of their top sellers) to an elk dog or buffalo dog (yeah, don't see that often, do ya?). Deb's gets all their wieners and buns from a local vendor.

Menu, part 1 (as of early October 2011)
Menu, part 2 (as of October 2011)
(Yup, they sell T-shirts as well!)
I wanted a bit of spice to my meal this time, so I ordered a Louisiana Hot Link hot dog ($5.25). Deb's offers many standard condiments. I topped my dog with relish, jalapenos, and Coney style mustard.

Louisiana Hot Link
After topping the hot link with my choice of condiments
Yup, I picked the proper hot dog here. I really liked the kick of the Louisiana Hot Link, and adding extra jalapenos to the dog really made me one happy panda. The bite of the Coney mustard and the tang of the relish rounded out a nice snack for me.

Unfortunately, I found it hard to cleanly bite through the hot link's casing. Also, I would have liked the bun toasted a bit (or a bit more if it really was toasted). In my book, eliminating those two flaws would make a great hot dog. Finally, it just didn't feel like this hot dog (or very many hot dogs, anyway) was worth $5.25. A pretty good hot dog, especially with a nice choice of condiments, but still some room for improvement. 6/10

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Roxxy

(UPDATE: Roxxy closed yet again this past summer 2012 after a valiant attempt from new ownership. Just an unfortunate spot, perhaps? Please also view part 2, posted in July 2012)

Roxxy is a restaurant-and-bar establishment located on State Street in Salem, Oregon. It is next to Taj Mahal, Sassy Onion, Adam's Rib Smokehouse, and Willamette University. It is home to the former Lefty's establishment from a few years ago.

Roxxy was open under the same name until sometime in 2010, when it had apparently shut its doors permanently. But Roxxy re-opened at the end of September under new ownership, and is looking to become the place to be in this small-town capital city.

Their grand opening sign still up a couple weeks after re-opening
Their hours (as of October 2011)

I made my trip to Roxxy on a cloudy, rainy Monday. I had been reading about Roxxy's re-opening for a few days and decided to make the short trek down to see what they had to offer.

Roxxy's Breakfast Menu (as of early October 2011)
Roxxy's Lunch Menu (side 1) (as of early October 2011)
Roxxy's Lunch Menu (side 2) (as of early October 2011)
It was a little after 11 a.m. and I was looking at the menu (posted outside), when one of the servers (Kelly) came out and happily greeted me. She mentioned Roxxy was under new ownership and now had an awesome five-star chef cooking up amazing dishes (as opposed to the pizza place that occupied the area for the past few years). Intrigued, I walked in and took a seat.

The interior hadn't changed from the last time I was in Roxxy about two years ago. It's an ideal place to be if you want any semblance of nightlife Salem possesses. It houses a full bar, and Roxxy will have entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights -- when the place stays open till 2 a.m.

I asked Kelly what some of her favorite menu items are. She immediately mentioned the Homemade Bacon Mac and Cheese ($8): bacon and macaroni blended with four kinds of cheese, topped with bread crumbs and Parmesan, served with their house side salad.

Homemade Bacon Mac and Cheese on the menu!
For sandwich options, Kelly suggested the Dixie Chicken sandwich ($7): grilled or crispy chicken, their house-made hot sauce, bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion on grilled sourdough bread. It's served with sweet potato fries or tater tots, although you can get a cup of soup or side salad for $1 more.

Dixie Chicken Sandwich on the menu
For my first trip, I went with the lighter option and got the Dixie Chicken sandwich, opting for their side salad (with Italian dressing) instead of the fries or tots. As a note, Roxxy will always have the dressing on the side when ordering a salad. I like this option; it gives the customer the choice of how much dressing he or she wants on the vegetables.

Kelly started me off with a small complementary helping of their soup that day: chicken and rice. A very refreshing, comforting sample here. The chicken was moist and cooked nicely. The rice was also cooked well, maintaining its texture without going gummy on me. The vegetables gave the soup a vibrant appearance. It was the right amount of seasoning (not oversalted) and put me in a happy mood to enjoy the rest of the meal.

Chicken and rice soup (Roxxy)
Then I dove into the salad. Again, very refreshing. The Italian dressing had subtle tang and a peaceful overall flavor, allowing me to enjoy the integrity and texture of the fresh vegetables. Shredded cheese is not something I normally see in a side salad, but it worked with the dressing and added that creamy dimension to each bite.

Side salad with Italian dressing (Roxxy)
Finally, the sandwich. I really loved the toasting of the sourdough bread. To me, there's nothing like biting down into a sandwich that has perfectly toasted bread (of any sort). It's something about warm, toasty bread that seems to be my Achilles' heel, a soft spot of vulnerability that simply makes me happy. One of my comfort foods, I guess.

The chicken was great and retained its moisture. But honestly, three items really made this a great sandwich. First, the bread, as stated above. Second, the hot sauce added a lovely tang and very mild kick (for me anyway). Lastly, bacon. Why? because everything's better with bacon -- especially when it's crispy bacon strips. And the bacon wasn't greasy...even better.

I had a couple of concerns with the sandwich. First, I would have liked to see the cheese melted, instead of merely placing an intact slice inside. Second, there was too much onion inside the sandwich for my liking. Because the onion slices were also fairly thick, the bite of the onion lingered on my taste buds for a while -- even long after I had left the restaurant.

Dixie (Grilled) Chicken Sandwich (Roxxy)
Cross-section of the sandwich
Right now, I also don't see very many vegetarian options on any of their menus. For their Sunday breakfasts, they have French toast, breakfast burritos, and an "Absolute Bloody Mary" as possible non-meat items. However, for lunch, many of the vegetarian meals are either appetizers or salads. While I'm sure one can make any wrap or sandwich vegetarian (i.e., grilled cheese), I'm hoping the dinner menu will carry more vegetarian options, as I know several friends who don't eat meat and would love to try this place out.

Local Girls

(Please also read Part 2, posted in July 2012!) 

Local Girls is a Hawaiian shave ice and plate lunch food cart located at the Cartlandia food pod in Portland, Oregon. Note that Local Girls tends to close during the winter months and re-open again in the spring. It's a move several food cart owners make to save costs; the winter tends to be quite slow anyway.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Year of the Fish

Year of the Fish is a fish-and-chips food cart located near the corner of SE 47th and Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon. As of late October, they have only been around for about 2-3 months, so they are still technically a newbie to the Portland food cart scene. Ed MacGregor runs this food cart, and from what I gathered, he chose to run a fish and chips cart after seeing a similar cart (likely Frying Scotsman) become a success in downtown Portland.

UPDATE (11/10/11): Year of the Fish has moved to the A La Carts Food pod (SE 50th and Division)

I ordered the cod and chips basket with a side of cole slaw ($7.50 total). The cole slaw is a blend of green cabbage, purple cabbage, onion, likely some celery, and his house-blend cole slaw dressing (which contains horseradish). Ed also makes his own tartar sauce, which includes pickles, capers, herbs, and other tasty ingredients. The chips are cut in plank form and are the fresh, natural-cut frozen crap here.

Fish (cod) and Chips (Year of the Fish)
Tartar sauce in the bottom left corner
Cole slaw in the back right corner
The cod was just perfectly cooked here. The cod has a delicate, mild flavor. More importantly, it was extremely moist, easily flaking into my mouth. The crunchy fried breading was not too greasy and provided a welcome contrast to the cod itself. The chips were also very good. Crispy and firm on the outside, soft on the inside, just how I like it. The tartar sauce had a wonderful creamy consistency, with ingredients like the pickles and capers adding some chunky identity to this one. Squeezing the lemon over the fish and chips cut through all that fried heaviness. And yes, I thought the breading was a bit thick for my liking.

Inside of the cod...very moist fish!
I'm not used to seeing cole slaw minced up like that, but I enjoyed it. Good flavor, great fresh crunch from all the vegetables.

Year of the Fish has a myriad of condiments to choose from. I'm personally a fan of spicy condiments, like the cayenne pepper sauce and the Tiger Sauce. They also have soy sauce, sriracha, malt vinegar, Frank's Red Hot sauce, tapatio, cholula, sweet chili sauce, Worcestershire, and Tabasco.

Year of the Fish also offers red snapper, halibut, and prawns instead of cod. According to Year of the Fish's Facebook page, you can even get a combo platter of any 2-4 pieces (cod, halibut, red snapper, or Tiger prawns). And Ed even caters to the gluten-intolerant population, offering a GF option (fish coated in a rice flour batter).

If you don't care for the fried foods, Ed can saute the meal for you. Or heck, if you want something raw, try the Oyster Shooters ($2).

For the upcoming colder weather months, Ed will continue to sell his house-made clam chowder ($3 cup; $5 bowl). It's the same chowder he made at Kay's Bar in the Sellwood District of Portland.

If you're in SE Portland and craving something fried for lunch, look no further than Year of the Fish! 7.75/10


(NOTE: Dogfeathers has closed permanently as of November 2013)

Dogfeathers is an organic coffee and fresh juice food cart located in the Mississippi Marketplace food pod in Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cool Harry's Frozen Yogurt

(NOTE: There is a part 2, posted May 2012)

Cool Harry's Frozen Yogurt is located at the corner of SW 10th and Alder in downtown Portland, Oregon. Open since (roughly) February 2010, Cool Harry's has graced Portland with generous portions of this light, guilt-free treat. Cool Harry's is a seasonal cart that closes for the winter months.

Menu (late October 2011)
I ordered a "way small" Triple Berry yogurt ($2.50). To my surprise, a small mountain of yogurt awaited me. Now I shudder to think what the "Super Large" size is like.

Triple Berry frozen yogurt ("way small" size)
Wait, this is the SMALLEST size? I shudder to think what the Super Large is like....
I really liked this yogurt. A slight tangy sensation combines with a hint of berry for a balanced, light treat. Unlike some other FroYo places I've been to, this frozen yogurt kept its shape instead of collapsing to some goopy mess.

Cool Harry's runs promotions on Facebook where you can get free toppings, usually upon saying a secret phrase. While I didn't get any toppings this time, I'm glad to see the toppings are generally on the healthier side...none of these hot fudge, candy bar pieces, etc.

Cool Harry's offers just a couple of flavors, rotating different flavors every so often. While brick-and-mortar places may offer more flavors, we're talking about a food cart here, so I couldn't possibly expect them to have 10-15 flavors in such a small space.

I'm a fan of this place. Just simple, honest, proper frozen yogurt. Be sure to check them out this week, before they go on hiatus for the winter!

Stepping Stone Cafe (Part 2)

(Original Review -- May 2011)
(There's also an epilogue to this, posted May 2012)

A friend and I went back to Stepping Stone Cafe about two weeks ago. I was craving one of Stepping Stone's signature items...the mancakes!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Green Castle Pod Closing

Food Carts Portland and Viking Soul Food both announced that the Green Castle Food pod will be closing effective October 31, 2011. Apparently, the owners of the lot could not work out regulations with the city to allow food carts on the lot.

Also, some people on Food Cart Portland's Facebook page stated that allegedly, at least two people had voiced concerns about not wanting the Green Castle pod, and now it's closing. I hope those people are happy that a nice place to get food has shut down.

UPDATE (10/25/11 @ 1:10 p.m.): Another FCP follower has shed more light on the subject, stating that the Green Castle pod owner did not get the proper permits to begin with, and would have paid significant fines had he kept the pod open during that time.

UPDATE (10/25/11 @ 6:17 p.m.): Food Carts Portland posted a link to the land use review decision. It's extremely detailed, to say the least. Basically, the food pod was in a zoned residential area, and the admin panel denied a request for a Nonconforming Situation Review allowing the area to operate as a food pod, citing that "the proposal for a food court will lessen the residential character of the residentially zoned area."

Regarding cart relocation, as of right now, I have learned the following:

Burger Guild will be moving to A La Carts Food Pod on SE 50th and Ivon
Gaufre Gourmet will be moving downtown to SW 9th and Alder
Viking Soul Food will be moving to the Good Food Here pod on 43rd and Belmont
Sushi PDX will also be moving to the Good Food Here pod
We Be Wieners has moved to SW 5th and Harrison (near Portland State University)

At this time, it's unknown where other carts will go to, but it's a sad day for a "cartivore" like myself. Stay tuned on Food Carts Portland for the latest.


Scoop, run by Amanda Rhoads, is an ice cream food cart located at the North Station food pod (N Killingsworth and N Greeley) in Portland, Oregon. They make homemade ice cream using quality organic ingredients, and Scoop rolls out various seasonal flavors depending on the time of year. While Amanda makes her own waffle cones, perhaps the more impressive thing about Scoop is catering to people with special dietary needs. Scoop usually has one or two vegan options available, as well as gluten-free cones.

Scoop will be closing for the winter on October 30, likely re-opening next summer. So with just a few days left, hopefully you'll get your dessert fix here before then!

Flavors on 10/23/11
Before placing my order, as I do with every ice cream establishment, I like to try several flavors:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip: Obviously a seasonal flavor. I loved the chocolate chips here, and they did attempt to take over the pumpkin flavors here, but the important thing is that I still tasted the pumpkin on my sample. A great ice cream for fall!

Sweet Potato Pie: Again, another seasonal (fall) flavor. Honestly, this one really tasted like pumpkin pie, and I'm cool with that. Simple flavors here (not too sweet) and very satisfying.

Oatmeal and Brown Sugar: I liked the textural aspects here, catching some oats on my sample. Again, not an overly sweet ice cream (but it's there so you get your sweet craving fix).

Triple Threat Ginger: The ginger came through loud and clear on this one, but the other sugary components of the ice cream prevented the ginger from overwhelming the palate.

In the end, I went with a mini scoop ($2.75) of one of Scoop's most popular flavors: Salted Caramel Stracciatella. It's their signature salted caramel ice cream with chocolate shavings blended in.

Salted Caramel Stracciatella (Scoop)

The salted caramel exploded with flavor in my mouth, perhaps the most intense salted caramel ice cream I've ever had (and yes, I've had it at several ice cream shops and carts). But the chocolate shavings really took this ice cream to unforeseen levels. If I had a party, I'd probably want about a gallon of this ice cream all to myself. Yeah, I'd put on a few pounds, but whatever...that's what the gym is for!

If you're not in the mood for ice cream, you can also get milkshakes, floats, or smoothies here! Scoop also has hot drinks for the colder days.

It's unfortunate that ice cream food carts may close up for the winter (doesn't take a genius to figure out why). But I'm glad I got to try Scoop's ice cream before it was too late. They are a must-try, in my opinion, and hopefully people in  the Portland area have time to go get their fix! 9/10


Prasad is a vegetarian/vegan cafe on NW Davis St. in Portland, Oregon. They are located inside Yoga Pearl and serve various healthy bowls, wraps, soups, salads, smoothies, juices, and more.

I arrived for a late breakfast, ordering the Chili Scramble ($8.50): roasted garlic chili, chipotle tempeh, dark greens, spinach, avocado, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), scallions, and quinoa, served with a side of garlic tahini sauce. I also received a side of toasted gluten-free New Cascadia Teff Bread and their vegan butter.

Chili Scramble (Prasad)
(Vegan butter in upper left corner; garlic tahini sauce on the upper right)
Gluten-Free New Cascadia Teff Bread
A delicious, filling, and healthy meal here. The quinoa was cooked nicely, and the chili really partnered well with the multitude of ingredients. The pepitas brought that nutty dimension, the avocado added a creaminess to each bite. I also enjoyed the gluten-free toast. A big plus to find delicious GF meals in Portland.

I would have liked a little kick in the meal (the chipotle tempeh wasn't enough heat for me by any means), but I see that Prasad has hot sauce, a green chili sauce, and even a jalapeno cheese sauce. Prasad has an impressive menu for such a small space. Parking can be a pain (gotta pay to park), but hey, the food is healthy and delicious. It's worth checking out! 7.25/10

Jam on Hawthorne

Jam on Hawthorne is a breakfast-and-lunch bistro located at the corner of SE 23rd and Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon.

 For starters, there are actually two "Jams" here, side by side: "Little Jam" and "Big Jam." "Big Jam" is (obviously) the larger of the two establishments, has a contained play area for children, and a bar in the back. Little Jam is a cozier place, but can have a much louder atmosphere. I went into Big Jam on a Saturday morning, and basically the place was packed.

I decided on a small takeout order just to sample a couple of their standout breakfast items. I ordered two side orders: one lemon ricotta pancake with blueberry compote and a side order of their vegetarian chorizo ($5.50 total).

Lemon Ricotta pancake w/Blueberry Compote (Jam on Hawthorne)
Veggie Chorizo (Jam on Hawthorne)
The chorizo was very good. Excellent savory flavor that didn't make me miss the real thing at all. It wasn't necessarily appealing in terms of appearance (looked like overcooked pebbles of meat at first glance), but the taste matters more to me. And the fact it's house-made scores major points with me.

I really enjoyed the lemon ricotta pancake. A light, fluffy pancake here. I got a hint of the refreshing lemon in the cake, and the blueberry compote was an ideal complement. In my opinion, the ricotta seemed to get lost in the shuffle here, and I'm not sure what that necessarily contributed to this pancake.

Regarding the compote, I liked the intact (yet cooked-down) blueberries to give the compote more of an identity. I would definitely prefer the compote that Jam gave me over some pulverized chunky compote or a blueberry syrup any day.

I will have to return in the future for some of the other menu items, including:

Ty's Big Breakfast ($8.75): "Two eggs any style & two vegetarian sausage parries on an open-faced English muffin. Smothered in vegetarian sausage gravy, topped with green onions. Served with hashbrowns."

Grand Marnier French Toast ($8.50): "Two slices of braided challah dipped in Grand Marnier infused batter then grilled. Drizzled with house Marionberry reduction & seasonal berries. Served with real Maple syrup."

Oatmeal Chai Blueberry Pancakes (vegan, wheat free; $8): Two pancakes with Bob's Red Mill oats, spelt flour, whole blueberries, chai tea, & spices. Served with real maple syrup. (Earth Balance Vegan Butter available on request)"

Jam on Hawthorne also makes their own corned beef, and I was tempted to get that as well. But I'll save it for another day. I'm a fan of Jam...check them out for yourself! 7.75/10