Ode to the food carts

Personal, Urban Planning
A photo of the foodcarts from 2015
Photo I took on one of my first visits to Portland: die Qual der Wahl.

“Ode” implies lyrical writing or singing, so, sorry for the click-bait title I guess: This won’t be poetic and I won’t sing it.

Anyway, like many others around Portland I’m really sad about the Alder St. food cart block closing down last month to make way for a boring hotel. (OK, I think the particular building going up there is kind of cool, but it’ll just be another fine building among others.)

I’ve only lived in Portland a little over 4 years, so I don’t have much of a say in what defines the city, but I can at least know what defines it for me. As I was “commuting” to Portland for work and looking for a place to live here, the first things that helped me fall in love with downtown were Pioneer Square and the Alder food cart block.

I remember just casually walking around checking the city out and stumbling upon that block. I had seen food carts before, but never more than a handful together at once. My mind was blown. It immediately renewed my hopes and dreams to someday live downtown somewhere, hopefully next to something this magical.

I don’t think I was ever able to choose something to eat there with fewer than two laps around the block. I’d just walk around thinking every single thing looks good.

But what if there’s something better just around the corner!?
Is this the Thai place I had last time and loved so much, or was it that one over there?

I had this last time, is it a waste of the food carts to get the same thing again?
Breakfast in an egg-pouch instead of bread?? Absolutely.
Mmmmm, that fancy grilled cheese sure looks good, but I’ll try that next time.
(Narrator: he never did)

One of my favorites, that sadly only lasted a few months, was the best Döner Kebab I’ve had in the USA. That’s a Turkish-German delight that is kind of like a Gyro, but with some extra amazing. The guy running it had moved here from Berlin, one of the Döner capitals of the world, where his family ran a Döner Laden.

A photo of a döner kebab which is crisp bread with grilled lamb meat, lettuce, tomatoes, red cabbage, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce in it.
Was some large portion of my enjoyment just nostalgia? Who cares!?

I still haven’t seen anything like that block in other cities I’ve visited. Granted, I’m no world traveler, but it still strikes me as a fairly unique feature for a city. Portland has other food cart pods, and they’re nice, but they’re all smaller and not in a prime central location of downtown.

I know cities have to progress and grow, blah blah blah, but for me these are the kinds of changes that shift a city from having unique charm to yet another place with cool looking hotels.

Many of the carts have found a new home nearby, which is exciting, but it won’t have quite the wow factor as the old one. Many of them also moved to a cool new place in Beaverton near where I live, so I’ll still get to eat at some of the places. But those are just consolation prizes to a city losing something that makes it special.

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