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Cartlandia

Text & Illustration by Celina Coppetti

As so many travelers and city dwellers have realized, some of the best food to be had in any city is at street carts, food stands, and other non-brick-and-mortar restaurants. What most patrons forget to appreciate is their increased economic, social, and spatial impact on those cities. Whether acting as magnets for residents and tourists in otherwise mundane landscapes, increasing public safety, supporting small businesses, or increasing a city’s livability, food carts and food cart pods have dramatically improved urban environments. Designers, city planners, and policymakers alike have helped these spaces become a focal point of commerce and community—after all, the presence of people gathering in places attracts more people.

Stroll through any Portland neighborhood and you’re bound to run into a food cart or two. What began as a perceived short-lived trend in the mid-2000s is now an integral fiber of Portland’s public space. Today more than 600 carts call Portland home, and while some carts prefer to go rogue, most congregate into one or more of the 40 food cart pods scattered throughout the city. Their quirky, habitually artisanal vibe often transports us to a strip of storefronts on a carnival fairway where the performers are made up of creative entrepreneurs, expats, hipsters, and some of the best chefs Portland has to offer. From mac ‘n’ cheese, Viking soul food, and fish ‘n’ chips to takoyaki, Korean-style tacos, and khao man gai, food carts are an essential part of what makes this wonderful city so exciting to explore, and dining in Portland wouldn’t be the same without them.