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“Pod” Cast: Portland’s Food Carts: April 2015

“Pod” Cast: Portland’s Food Carts: April 2015

“Celery is a Chinese chef’s way of telling you to fuck off.”

Steak Your Claim
steakyourclaim.com
(503) 863-1940
Hours: 11am-6pm M-F; 12-5 Sat

Synopsis: Steak Your Claim is a cart serving somewhat highly priced sandwiches, fries and hot dogs. For $8.50-10.50, you can get a Philly cheesesteak with ribeye beef and a number of additions for additional costs. Also, they offer pastrami sandwiches also with doctorings. The hot dogs are about $4; the sides are between $2.50 to $5.

We ended up ordering a Reuben to try the pastrami and a side of Freedom Fries ($4: French fries with “whiz,” which is known to our Texan readers as “queso”). We added the rib-eye add-on for $5 to try it out. It turned out to be a rib-eye rip-off, as the rib-eye was fairly tasteless and a meager topping no more than 3 ounces at best.

We attacked the gooey fries first–the Cheez Whiz topping was not something we were accustomed to but ended up being a bit of a guilty pleasure. The fries were cooked perfectly crisp in little shoe-strings. It was indeed America summed up in a dish: awkwardly tasty cheese-product over misnamed, deep-fried potatoes and beef.

The Reuben started off very strong. “This may be better than Kenny and Zuke’s,” we quipped. It may be–it was lean, peppery, less fatty. But as we continued, it became cloyingly salty. Not sure if that was a property of the pastrami itself or the sauerkraut or something else. But it left us thirsty. I’d personally try it once more, though. The marbled-rye bread was crispy and toasted perfectly as well; it was a nice addition.

Scores:

Time: We got our order in 10 minutes. It was freshly prepared, and the help was talkative, but not to an awkward degree.

Value-2: We struggled to get everything in under our $20 limit. The giant pickle we did as an add-on wasn’t worth $3, but was pretty good. The rib-eye add-on, as mentioned, was not worth it.

Gut check at 3pm: I’m okay. I’ll be ready for an early dinner, but I’m still drinking fluids…

Sustainability-2: While they don’t employ GoBox, they do use unlined paper containers, which are completely compostable. Beef, it must be noted, is the meat most responsible for global warming. So, I netted this out. They get a point for sourcing locally, though, which, to me, is one of the main drivers of eating at food carts: they tend to have high-quality sourcing.

Fear Factor-1: [in a Philly accent] Wha’, are youse afraid of a cheesesteak? [/accent] Anyone other than vegetarians will not be afraid of this place whatsoever. It is the simplest of American delights.

Staying Power-3: This is a tough call. They’ve been in business for 2+ years, but they’re a bit expensive, too. Rumor had it that the cheesesteak itself was a bit small for the ~$9 you’d spend on it. So… time will tell? Or maybe they’ll go brick-and-mortar?

Creativity-2: They’ve got a great name, I’ll give them that. Meat, cheese and bread, though, deserve no credits.

noodlesNoodle House
11am-6pm M-Sat

Synopsis:

Hand-pulled noodles with otherwise unremarkable flavors. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It was just… food.
This somewhat Chinese cart offers the wonders of hand-pulled noodles, as well as several other Chinese-like dishes. We had the noodles (one with seafood ($7.50), one with chicken ($6.50)) which we ordered spicy. They weren’t spicy. They also had available sweet and sour dishes, which we passed on due to their plain-looking nature. The pot stickers ($3.50) were also somewhat unremarkable, but were tasty yet likely store-bought. All in all, meh.

Scores:

Time: We got our order in about 7 minutes. Total eat time was under a half hour. This was a good thing.

Value-3: It was a pretty decent portion. The prices are just about right for a food cart.

Gut check at 3pm: I’m good. I’ll need a meal in about 3 hours, so we’re clear.

Sustainability-2: They use GoBox, but otherwise, I don’t see any local or organic or anything like that.

Fear Factor-2: Noodles. Chicken. Celery. Carrot. Okay, the assumed industrial nature of the supply are a little wince-inducing, but the food itself was too tame to be super scary.

Staying Power-2: While a decent value, the return potential of this place is pretty low. I feel that they’ll have to up their game in order to stay in the foodie scene.

Creativity-1: This is fairly straightforward Chinese cooking. The hand-pulled noodles are nice, but hardly creative.

chopchopChop Chop
11:30am-8:00pm Fri-Wed (although getting there early has historically been an issue for us)

Synopsis:

Classic Amer-Chinese food that your grandfather would be happy to eat with you.

“Celery is a Chinese chef’s way of telling you to fuck off.” This is something that my dining partner and I agree on. “And this chef must have liked us, because we got very little.” After several attempts to eat here, we finally were able to sample the inexpensive wares of Chop Chop. Most menu items are $6.50, and the menu includes a classic array of deep-fried-and-sauced meat, rice, noodles. The inexpensive nature of this let us sample their small bites menu ($3.25-$4.00), which includes pot stickers, egg rolls, spring rolls. We ended up with the egg rolls which were house made and the wontons filled with pork. They were crunchy, hot, greasy and delicious.

The sesame chicken was hot, deep-fried and glazed in a sweet sauce and doused with white sesame seeds. It came on a bed of white rice. Crunchy, hot and sticky this was exactly what I expected. The special lo mein was pan-fried with veggies, beef, chicken and shrimp. It wasn’t incredibly wow, but it was decent. Notable was their homemade hot oil, which was chili-garlic awesome. I put it on everything.

Scores:

Time: Our order took about 15 minutes to get. The new help was sort of spacy and awkward. Our questions as to why they never seemed to be open even though we tried to go here for the last three months are still left unanswered. The help was friendly, but not incredibly attentive.

Value-4: The pile of food you get for $6.50 is a good value. This is why you eat from carts: for a cheap, plentiful fill up of chicken and rice, no?

Gut check at 3pm: I’m good and may even skip dinner.

Sustainability-1: While the packaging was minimal (paper take-out containers lined with foil), they didn’t seem to have an eye for sustainability in the slightest.

Fear Factor-2: For some reason, my dining partner still winces at seafood at a cart, although we all know they have refrigeration like everyone else. For anyone familiar with classic, somewhat Americanized Chinese food, this will be a familiar menu: orange chicken, General Tso’s chicken, chow mein, etc. It’s pretty easy.

Staying Power-4: As long as they’re open consistently, this place will do fine. It’s got a wide variety of offerings, and because of that, has a high return potential. We’ll definitely be back. And the value they provide is the kicker.

Creativity-2: There’s not a lot of creativity. This isn’t some provincial menu: it’s simple deep-fried-meat-and-sauce or noodles or fried rice. But sometimes, you want familiar, don’t you? And it’s better than the mid-century Chinese places forever memorialized in A Christmas Story. They get a point for the extraordinary la you (hot oil), though.

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