Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015 Portland Food Cart Festival

On July 18, 2015, the 2015 Portland Summer Food Cart Festival kicked off at the Rose Quarter. Approximately 15 carts and other food vendors came out to sling great food for the masses. I had the privilege of being a judge yet again this year. Commence panda face stuffing.

2015 Portland Food Cart Festival Judges!
There were awards ranging from Best Looking Food Cart to Best Dessert. Most of the vendors would vie for Best Entree (ALSO Cup Award) and the runner-up for Best Entree. There was also a People's Choice award (and a second place for said award).

But first, beer thirty. Awesome Blood Orange IPA from Payette Brewing Company!

On the judging panel, I was joined by Amy from EatingMyWayThruPortland, Scott Batchelar (longtime food cart supporter and enthusiast), Roy and Kimmie from Retrolicious, and Missy Maki (Mrs. Maki Cooks).

We had this form as a guide, but we ended up using the back to take notes.

The first entree we had was a reindeer sausage from Beez Neez. Frankly, one of the best dishes of the competition, right out of the gate. From the cabbage slaw/kraut to the mustard, everything worked. Blistered jalapeno added some lovely heat.

PDX Sliders presented a slider with braised pork, arugula, Mama Lil's peppers, and spicy aioli on ciabatta. Great job getting a crispness on the juicy pork. Coulda used a bit more heat here -- but are my taste buds already broken from the stuff I eat? Another wonderful slider from this cart!

El Taco Yucateco brought a Cochinita Pibil in taco form, topped with cabbage and some chayote. The corn tortilla was one of the highlights; it brought a very fresh corn tortilla flavor and feel. This could have benefited from some hot sauce and a bit more color. This is where I wanted his panucho dish to shine once again. It's a dish I haven't had in eons, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Next was a Kafta Gyro from Ramy's Lamb Shack, the meat being a lamb-beef mix. Great job on the cart-made tzatziki and tahini sauces. For me, the dish needed more acid (hot sauce?) and the meat could have been seasoned even more. No mistaking that lamb was front and center.

On to Big Fat Weiners for the next submission: a hot dog topped with coffee-caramel-glazed brisket, lemon horseradish sauce, and fried onions either yet even more coffee-caramel glaze. The hot dog, while good, almost got too heavy and also needed more refreshing acidity. But wow, their smoked fries were unique and delicious. While the onions and fries could have been crisper, I couldn't stop thinking about those fries. Big-time thumbs up. On a side note, I will need to try their spicy hot dog.

We got a slight break to check the cart designs. Two of them, Beez Neez and Ramy's, caught my eye -- especially for being so similar in design and color scheme. Same art guy?

Kimmie and Missy got matching mugs from Ole Latte Coffee. Christen the mugs with beer! Because that's only logical.

Phat Cart's Larb Gai Tod Bento was phenomenal. Thai-style fried chicken topped with romaine, shallots, a spicy lime vinaigrette, and what looked and tasted like sushi rice. Everything was memorable, from the spice (a lingering but pleasurable spice) to the shallots and vinaigrette. Outstanding presentation.

Lei'd Back is a catering company specializing in Hawaiian-style plate lunches, so I already knew I'd be extra particular on this one. Their huli chicken was decent, nice smoke and juicy. The mac salad needed more bite (more al dente on the pasta) and crunch (perhaps some celery) for texture. I personally love my mac salad with extra black pepper. Still a good meal overall.

RivPDX brought some Cantina Cali-style tacos to the table. I loved the simplistic, colorful presentation. Solid tacos, with a lovely crunch to the tortilla. In what seemed to be a recurring theme for several entrants, it needed that hot sauce to tie everything together. It looks like these guys are opening a cart in PDX real soon!

Rounding out the entrees was some grilled chicken from La Merced, accompanied with some Mexican rice, beans, and corn tortillas. This seemed fairly standard; nothing popped or made me want a lot more. Good corn tortillas, though. The sauces were the usual roasted pepper and tomatillo offerings. Just instinctively, I'd be hoping and searching for carne asada or carnitas tacos, topped with the same hot sauces.

Then it was on to dessert. Sweet Annie's came all the way from Redmond, Oregon, and wowed us with their mini cinnamon sugar doughnuts. Soft and fluffy. A wonderful balance of cinnamon and sugar. Could have those all day with coffee and/or ice cream. Everyone raved about the simplicity and excellent execution.

Ramy's Lamb Shack came back with some baklava, which I have praised to no end in the past. Flavors were just how I remembered it -- awesome. A couple of judges commented that the temperature (both inside the truck and outside in the sun) may have altered the texture of the baklava, perhaps softened it a bit more than normal. It was nearly 100 degrees outside that day, so I can only imagine what it was like in the cart.

Even when splitting all the courses six ways, the judges faced an onslaught of mostly heavy dishes. Leave it to Moberi to come to the rescue. Ryan submitted Uncle Jesse's Acai Bowl, with fresh sliced bananas, fresh sliced strawberries, and toasted coconut. The acai is in smoothie form, underneath all the toppings. Frankly, I was happy just to get the picture. Easily the most stunning dessert on appearance. If I hadn't gorged on all the food and beer prior to this, I would have eaten the whole acai bowl myself.

The final dessert came from Churros Locos: a Bacon Churro Sundae. Churros wrapped in bacon should basically be declared illegal for how good those are. Would eat all day and five times on Sunday.


At the end of the day, the judges had a tough decision, but came to a consensus. The awards are listed below. I linked to the business FB page or other social media as confirmation if possible.

Best-Looking Food Cart Design:
  • 1st place: Moberi
  • 2nd place: Sweet Annie's

Favorite Entree (ALSO Cup Award):
  • 1st place: Phat Cart
  • 2nd place: Beez Neez Sausages
Favorite Dessert:
People's Choice
 Looks like Phat Cart and Sweet Annie's were the big winners on the day!

 Huge thank you to everyone for putting on a successful food cart festival, from the vendors to the volunteers. I hoped that the event would be located in Portland this year, and ALSO did a tremendous job in securing the Rose Quarter for the event. I look forward to next year!

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