Vendors rallied together at the Portland Food Cart Festival last Saturday to promote community awareness and raise funds for ALSO, Inc., which actively cares for the welfare of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, the thirteen carts lined up on a rather sweltering day. I walked in expecting a booming crowd—it was at the Moda Center, after all—but the venue had a rather slothful air. Only a sparse number of people milled around, the brave of heart who endured the roasting heat. Nonetheless, the hunt for grub redeemed the experience.

IMG_6754Thank goodness for Moberi. It had an ingenious attraction, a bike that customers could pedal to power a blender that churns up smoothie ingredients—literally the easiest workout. But I opted out with the perfect logic that I simply didn’t want to move. My choice was the Fresh Prince, a refreshing concoction of acai berries, banana, apple juice, and coconut water. I usually dislike coconut water, but while I could taste its distinct flavor, the other fruits mellowed its presence. I guzzled down a $7.00 smoothie with no regrets.

IMG_6685Then Phat Cart’s sign coaxed me to try its “famous fried chicken bento.” I immediately became curious about what made this particular fowl such a celebrity. The bento consisted of plump white rice covered with chicken pieces adorned with a slightly sweet breading and drizzled with lime aioli. I felt deceived, however, when some of the breading lacked chicken and the rice was rather dry. Still, this Asian fusion cart delivered quality with incredibly tender meat that didn’t have a hint of tough stringiness, and later on it even snagged the grand prize of best food overall.

IMG_6808PDX Sliders came next, which disappointingly only featured one item, the Broadway slider. Though this 3-inch sandwich cost $5.00, it had impressive flavors. With each bite, I tasted savory, soft braised pork stuffed with arugula and smeared with a spicy aioli that dribbled down my fingers and soaked into the ciabatta bun.

IMG_6898Churros Locos, a converted mail truck championing this iconic fried confection, caught my eye for dessert. (Confession—I’ve only ever tried Costco’s version). The owner created an indulgent sundae by liberally dusting cinnamon sugar over the churro, then splitting it and sticking pieces around a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream, caramel and sprinkles. I wish the churro had been piping hot, but the dough had a pleasant, airy texture and crackled when I sank my teeth into it. Goodbye, Costco.

IMG_6995My stomach groused about feeling quite portly at this point, but then I spotted Beez Neez Gourmet Sausages. Of course I had to try the runner-up for the grand prize. In fact, this cart turned out to be my favorite of the five I tried with its stellar blend of flavors and prowess at grilling. I chose a sausage that boasted a combination of Alaskan caribou (“Yes, it’s real reindeer!”), beef and pork, split down the middle and grilled to a beautiful charred color. It had a wonderful spiciness—the kind that makes your taste buds tingle. Onions and a roasted jalapeno accompanied the juicy meat, and then I scooped on some (extremely tart) pickled cabbage apple slaw. I’d told myself to try only one bite. But that turned to multiple bites.

At last, my stomach declared itself bursting. Despite the underwhelming first impression, the Food Cart Festival showcased some fresh vendors that have a shot at fame and also show how life’s not just about business but about helping others, too. #blessed, Portland.