Find Latin American food your littles will love at the new Portland Mercado.
With our glorious summer days ahead, trying out a new food cart pod with the kiddos should be tops on the to-do list. My family headed over to the new Portland Mercado’s rainbow of food carts on southeast Foster at 72nd Ave. The pod features all Latin American cuisine, including Colombian, Mexican, and Cuban fare. The inside retail space boasts a grocery store, meat market, smoothie place, coffee shop, candy store, and beer and wine shop.
The Las Adelas cart — named after the group of women who ran the mess for soldiers during the Mexican revolution — specializes in huaraches, thin, oval-shaped stuffed corn tortillas topped with lettuce, sour cream, onion, tomato and avocado. My husband tried the birria plate — shredded adobo beef ($10.95). We ordered a bean huarache ($7.95) for my daughter, but she was more interested in devouring my husband’s rice and beans. Not surprisingly, he felt the portions on his plate could have been a little more sizable. (They are probably just fine if a toddler doesn’t jack your meal.) Eventually my daughter, coincidentally named Adela, took several approving bites of her huarache.
El Gato Tuerto, a Cuban/Argentinean cart, offers empanadas, plates of ropa vieja and several sandwiches. I wanted to try the Milanesa chicken sandwich (thin, breaded breast cutlets lightly fried), but even though it was early in the evening, they were out of chicken. So I settled for a Cubano sandwich of roasted pork, mustard, pickles and Swiss cheese with a side of fried plantains ($8.50). I shouldn’t say settled because it was delicious. It was a good-sized sandwich and the hoagie roll was nicely griddled.
The pupusas and horchata from the 5 Volcanoes Salvadoran cart were the highlight of our trip. Cheap, hot and tasty, the 5 Volcanoes chicken and cheese pupusa ($3) may be the perfect cart food. Pupusas are similar to the huarache — corn masa filled with goodies then cooked on a hot griddle — but thicker and crunchier. My toddler gave it a thumbs up, too. I’ve loved horchata, a sweet and creamy rice milk drink, since I was a kid. So I started looking for it as soon as we got to the pod. The 5 Volcanoes version is the best I’ve ever tasted. In addition to the traditional cinnamon, their horchata ($2.50) is flavored with sesame and morro seeds, and cacao — that makes it richer than most horchatas and gives it chocolate and peanut butter notes. I deeply regret that the cart’s plantain empanadas were sold out — hopefully they won’t be on our next visit.
The Mercado carts were crowded when we visited on an early Saturday evening, so plan for a bit of a wait when you go. And the large, picnic-style tables were packed. Also it’s a tight squeeze because the covered tables are right next to the carts, so you have to maneuver around the lines of people ordering to find a seat. Pro tip: There wasn’t really enough room for a car seat on the benches, so next time I’ll wear my baby.
Portland Mercado, 7238 SE Foster Rd., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. portlandmercado.com
More kid-friendly cart pods in your ’hood.
The food cart revolution in PDX began at SW 10th and Alder streets downtown, with a small number of lunch trucks that catered to the midday, worker-bee crowd. Now the Alder Street Food Cart Pod is a can’t-miss destination that has been a jumping off point for some of the city’s best-known restaurateurs. Our kids love the rice and bean and Tali sauce concoction at The Whole Bowl; we remain faithful to the perfectly poached chicken and rice at Nong’s Khao Man Gai. Get your food to go and eat at nearby Director Park.
The Tidbit food cart pod, at Southeast 28th and Division, features covered seating, cozy fire pits and plenty of room to run around. Kids love the roasted potatoes at Ingrid’s Scandinavian Food, the waffle sandwiches at Smaaken and the gussied-up hot dogs from Dog Town. Grown-ups will go for the crave-worthy Hawaiian-Korean fusion from Namu and of course, the beer garden.
Up at Northeast 52nd and Sandy Boulevard, the Rose City Food Park has a dedicated kids’ play space, open summers only. Bring the dog, too — there are bowls of water set out for four-legged friends. Cackalack’s Hot Chicken Shack gets raves from foodies, while kids will like smoothies from Lip Smackers. — Julia Silverman