Food & Drink: Tigard’s Food Carts Weather the Storm

Squad Goals...Slow Smoked ‘cue at Smoke Squad Barbeque.

With the pandemic still upon us, and regulations on dining dampening an industry, albeit keeping Oregonians safe by reducing the spread of COVID 19, many restaurateurs have had to make dire decisions to keep food on the table and doors open. Some in Tigard have been fortunate to pivot during these difficult times, focusing on take-out and delivery, while others have remodeled to accommodate modified outdoor dining, even with the cold and rain of winter setting in. I wish them all good fortune, continued support from our community and hope that this will end soon.

However, in this review of local dining, I’ve also pivoted- toward eateries that had long mastered to-go food and outdoor dining- shifting away from the traditional “brick and mortar” restaurants in the area, and toward the “steel and wheels” spots that our town has to offer. Enter the Tigard Food Carts.

Although not as numerous as their brethren in PDX, the Tigard food cart scene is here and despite some shutdowns, it is strong. They are proudly crafting amazing, flavor-packed food with small crews in tiny kitchens…on wheels. Whether it’s hometown fare from old family recipes or mind-bending fusions that you crave, the carts are ready to serve your next breakfast, lunch or dinner (or any combination of the three):

Downtown Tigard 

Kevin and Cindy Lopez/Tacos y Las Pupusas Locas.

Tacos y Las Pupusas Locas
12425 SW Main St. (behind Sherrie’s Jewelry)

Located behind Sherrie’s Jewelry Box, the mother and son team of Cindy and Kevin Lopez are churning out homemade traditional Salvadoran and Mexican favorites with spark, spice and love, six days a week (closed Mondays). For the unfamiliar, pupusas, are a doughy, cornmeal based Ecuadorian flatbread (think tortilla meets a pita) on which the Lopez’s are painting meaty, savory, sweet and spicy masterpieces. I strongly suggest the Pupusa ala Mexicana con al pastor, a decadent layering of grilled pork, jalapenos, tomato, onion, bell pepper and pineapple finished with crema, queso fresco and cilantro- a flavor explosion, that I dare you to finish in one sitting. 

Kiaha Rasmussen Hangin’ Loose at Hapa Howie’s on Main.

Hapa Howie’s
12425 SW Main St. (behind Sherrie’s Jewelry)
www.hapahowies.com

Next to Pupusas Locas, facing Kiss Car Wash, sits one of my favorite carts in town- Hapa Howie’s. Favorite, partly due to my uncontrollable affinity for Hawaiian cuisine, but also because Hapa Howie’s does it right! Owners Kiaha Rasmussen and Stephanie Hansen began their dream of bringing a delicious taste of the islands to the PNW in 2019, and continue the “aloha spirit” as an homage to Rasmussen’s grandfather, Howard. From traditional favorites of Shoyu and Mochiko Chicken and yummy Sweet Soy Salmon, not to mention four types of Musubi and a killer Mac Salad- Howie’s is rocking great eats five days a week (closed Sunday and Monday).  Don’t miss the Kalua Pork Hawaiian Nachos – a tender tower of succulent pork, sesame slaw and fried wonton chips slathered with savory, sweet and spicy sauces. Mahalo. Hammock please!

Tigard’s home to chicken bento, Sarah Jane’s Insane Chicken…

Sarah Jane’s Insane Chicken
12215 SW Main St. (next to Post Office)
www.sarahsinsanechicken.com 

Amid the excitingly fast-paced and groundbreaking environment of Silicon Valley in the 1970s, a seemingly innocent, yet strangely controversial tenet of program writing was born: Do One Thing and Do It Well. Although decades, hundreds of miles and industries apart, this philosophy is the backbone of Sarah Jane’s Insane Chicken food cart. No decisions to be made: The Chicken Bento Box…so simple- so good. All right, I must admit, I lied…but only a little fib; there was one decision to make…which sauce to adorn my perfect poultry, veggie and rice combo. There’s Tso Good, described as: “sticky, sweet with a little heat,” or Lemongrass Ginger, “light, bright and zesty.” What to do? Noticing my conundrum, Sarah Jane herself, who champions the lunch rush (11am-2pm) five days a week (closed Sat. and Sun.) and has for over three years, offered her sage advice: “Get both, Tso on this side- Lemongrass on the other,” and then winked as she added, “when they meet in the middle… that’s where the magic happens.” Sure enough, she was right- it was magical…and delicious, and as I inhaled my Insane Chicken Bento, I realized I’d go insane if I didn’t return…soon. 

To the South

Hot Diggity – pick up a box of nails and a tasty dog in one stop!

Hot Diggity
14800 SW Sequoia Pkwy. (Home Depot Lot)

Conveniently located next to Home Depot, Hot Diggity may have dibs on prime location with endless streams of contractors, weekend warriors and DIYers, but keeping that location takes good eats. They lure you with the smell of the grill wafting through the HD parking lot, lifting you off your feet by your nose and dragging you (willingly) to their cart. Whether Polish, Spicy, Smokey or All Beef Dog, you’re in for a treat. Nab a quick hot dog meal deal or go “all in” on Sweet T’s Teriyaki Chicken (over rice or on a hearty bun). Some might say I’m a dummy for not getting the Biscuits and Gravy considering the early morning, to which I say, “Next time” and “It’s never too early for a Smokey Dog.” BTW never, repeat, never forget the Grilled Onions!

On Pacific Highway

I’ll take one of Everything…at The Mac.

The Mac
11540 SW Pacific Hwy. (next to U-Haul)
the-mac-restaurant.business.site

Chef Adrian and the crew at The Mac have done it again- by “it” I mean: cooking ridiculously delicious Mac & Cheese and terrifically tender smoked chicken- to order. And by “again” I mean: Six days a week (closed Sunday), every week, from 11am-6pm. Close by U-Haul on 99, you won’t miss the slickly designed cart- just let the well-dressed, tube man wave you in. With this menu, however, the problem arises. Where to start? The answer, don’t let it be a problem, start everywhere. The Mac & Cheese is done the way it’s supposed to be done- gooey, cheesy, salty with perfectly crispy panko on top. My first Smoked Spud experience was sublime- whole new potatoes bathing in chicken drippings are the epitome of smoky, savory goodness. Leaving, then, the Smoked Chicken- luxuriously tender swaths of the most flavorful yard bird one can find. Go there…now! And be sure to get a Dirty Mac Popcorn Chicken Slider! Don’t ask. Just trust.

Real Deal Tacos on 99W.

La Real Taqueria
11540 SW Pacific Hwy. (next to U-Haul)
www.facebook.com/larealtaqueriapdx

You’d think sharing the “mini-pod” with The Mac would be a daunting task. And, it would be for any food cart that isn’t the “Real Thing,” which is exactly what El Real is, serving traditional “legit” Mexican fare at breakneck speed, from 10am-10pm, six days a week (closed Sunday). Opening early, yet limiting their “Breakfast Menu” to one item (Breakfast Burrito) leads me to believe- a) it is a ridiculous Breakfast Burrito, and b) from 10a-10p there are no rules, every menu item is fair game- Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner! From Asada to Pastor to Pollo to Carnitas- Real Deal ingredients and Real Deal flavor whether in Tacos, Tostada or Torta. My favorite, however, has to be the Quesatacos, aka Birria- melted cheese and slow cooked beef filled tacos, bathed in a housemade beef consommé…that I would gladly drink from a Jacuzzi. My only regret- not getting more.

Smoke Squad Barbeque
11540 SW Pacific Hwy. (next to U-Haul)
www.smokesquadbbq.com

I didn’t get it…Brisket, that is. I mean, I’ve gotten it before, at other BBQ places, and had my dear Bubbe’s, but that was very different. I just hadn’t really, fully enjoyed and understood the allure of Smoked Brisket until I had the immense pleasure of getting it at Smoke Squad. And, just like that, I couldn’t help myself. The aromas filled my Jeep, and I dove in hands first (but it might as well have been face first), love at first bite- every savory, salty, smoky morsel- and *poof* a ½ pound of Brisket- gone! Jake and the crew at Smoke Squad have completed the “cart-trifecta” at the Munchies Pod on 99W for over a year now, but have been proudly serving real-deal BBQ to Tigard since their modest beginnings years ago at a gas station a little further down the road. Pulled Pork that melts in one’s mouth, Spare Ribs that fall off the bone, and although I’m sure it’s all great with the sauce slathered on, I suggest SOS- it allows you to truly appreciate the slow, local fruit-wood smoked meat in all its glory, served up Tuesday thru Saturday (11-7). Save room for sides- the best Macaroni Salad you’ll ever have; rich, smoky BBQ beans; and Pesto Ranch Rice, which will have you asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Serving up Soulful Peruvian fare at Rocoto.

Rocoto Peruvian Kitchen
13770 SW Pacific Hwy. (near Tigard Grange)
www.facebook.com/rocotoperuviankitchen

Located next to Tigard Grange Hall, Rocoto is the new cart in town, transplanting from SE PDX to Tigard in October 2020. However, what married team, Loretta Alcocer de Salazar and Nelson Salazar, may lack as far as time in the area, they more than make up for in out-of-this-world flavor, experience and loyal following. Rocoto celebrates the fusion of the distinct flavors of Peruvian food and, what has become a phenomenon in Peru- an influx and influence of Chinese food on the culture and cuisine. The traditional Aji Amarillo pepper walks hand in hand with ginger and soy sauce, creating tangy, rich, robust and soulful flavors in a variety of carnivorous and vegan dishes, including the Tallarin Saltado, stir-fried noodles that are “lick your lips good,” and the crispy Patacones (plantains) topped with decadent stewed chicken and vegetables. Nelson proudly stands by all the food at Rocoto, but affirms that the Empanadas, hand made by Loretta, of course, are “the best in Portland! Hand to fire.” Please, no self-immolation needed, maybe just a few more empanadas.