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Family Biking: Food cart pods are almost the perfect spot for bikes, kids, and pets

Posted by on August 27th, 2019 at 12:07 pm

The Lot at Scout Beer has great food, great bathrooms, and great kiddie play area, but zero bike parking.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

There’s a lot to like about Portland. Our plentiful bike lanes (for an American city, that is) and our high percentage of bike commuters (again, by American standards), our temperate weather, and one of my favorite Portlandy things: our food cart pods!

While I love hanging out and eating at food cart pods, lately I’ve realized there are a lot of them that aren’t exactly bike-friendly, which downgrades them to almost perfect spots.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Odds are you’re reading this from one our 40 food cart pods, but in the off chance this is a new term for you, food trucks now come in a stationary variety called food carts. Many have wheels and look mobile, but they stay put. Much like whales, food carts are social creatures who hunt and migrate together so their groupings are called pods. A food cart pod can contain just a few different carts or dozens of them. Some have plentiful seating, sometimes including a canopy for shade and rain protection and heat lamps for the winter. Some have restrooms and fun little kid areas. Some have great parking, but a lot of them don’t. And a lot of them are on busy streets (which is a good place for large parking lots, which they might otherwise be) making that last block of food cart pod travel a walk or ride on the sidewalk.

I love a lot of things about food cart pods:
➤ They’re outside so I can bring our dog along.
➤ Lots of kids prefer dining outside.
➤ There’s a wide variety of foods for eaters who want different things.
➤ Often they’re spacious with room for bikes within sight so no need to lock.
➤ Not a customer thing per se, but I also love that food carts provide easy entry into the food biz, especially for immigrants.

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I love the pods that have carved out room for lots of bike racks. Often the bike racks are within view of seating areas. If we’re seated right next to our bikes I don’t even bother locking up! Being able to keep an eye on the bikes while eating is awesome, and makes it possible for kids to walk back and forth to bikes to retrieve stuffed animals or tuck leftovers into cargo bags on their own.

Due to the transient nature of the lots that host the pods (Tidbit, I miss you!) it’s not worth listing family biking pros and cons of each and every pod. Also, I’m a big believer in sticking close to home to keep our bicycling mileage reasonable, so we tend to mostly visit the pods in the southeast quadrant and I don’t know all the things about the pods farther away.

I’ll share my thoughts on a few pods so you have an idea of what one can expect and I’d love to hear in the comments about your nearby or favorite pods, specifically what the streets are like in the immediate area and if there are bike racks and potties.

It takes a lot of maneuvering to get a big bike out of the Cartlandia bike racks if cars fill in the adjacent spots. Also, this is an old picture — Voodoo Doughnuts is no longer there.

Cartlandia (8145 SE 82nd Ave) is easy to get to along the Springwater Corridor Trail and has bike racks…but they’re hard to access if the adjacent car parking spots are full. There’s lots of seating, including inside a hangar-type room (with a gender-neutral bathroom), under a canopy by the bike racks, and you can even bring your food and kids (but not drinks of any sort nor pets) into the bar sharing the parking lot (which has bathrooms of the gendered variety).

SO WHAT ABOUT THE LACK OF BIKE PARKING LOOK AT THIS ADORABLE PLAY AREA AT THE LOT AT SCOUT BEER!

The Lot at Scout Beer (5029 SE Division St) is where many of the Tidbit carts moved, but there’s no bike parking and it’s on a busy street. But it has the best bathrooms (two gender-neutral ones) and a play area for toddlers!!!

Te quiero Portland Mercado.

Portland Mercado (7238 SE Foster Rd) is on a busy road, but easily accessed from the non-busy side. It has great bike parking with a corral by the parking lot and lots of staples on the sidewalk. The indoor area has restrooms. I love every cart of this Latin American pod, but I haven’t found one the kids are big fans of yet, though they’ve been willing to try new things here more than most places.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for those following the Portland Public Schools calendar so happy first day of school to those of you affected! Food cart pods make excellent après-first-day-of-school destinations, but we’ve got a less Portlandy tradition and will hit a conveyor belt sushi joint. One with good bike parking and a nice bikeable route, though!

The Bite on Belmont: great food, but busy road and no bike parking.

Which is your favorite food cart, and which is your favorite food cart pod? I have grand plans of making my way through the entire Smaaken menu (three locations). Thanks for reading!

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com if it sounds like fun to you.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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14 Comments
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    Ryan August 27, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Only been there once, but I really liked Hawthorne Asylum. Really cool industrial look, and they’re continually making improvements. Has a covered area with heat lamps, and while I didn’t notice bike racks there were quite a few people who had their bikes with them and it didn’t seem to be a problem.

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) August 27, 2019 at 1:22 pm

      Hawthorne Asylum is great! And it has a Smaaken 🙂 I’ve brought bikes in with me when it was only moderately crowded, but real bike parking would be nice.

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        Ryan August 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm

        Ah yes, I had Smaaken at the Asylum! I’m a fan now 😀

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        Ryan August 27, 2019 at 7:03 pm

        Gresham has had a food cart pod for a little over a year now that’s actually fairly convenient to get to by bike. It’s right along the Gresham-Fairview Trail just off Burnside. Haven’t been there for awhile but there was plenty of room to park bikes out of the way but still within sight. Feel like they could improve the cart options (and a couple just weren’t that good) but I’m glad they’re trying!

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      esther August 27, 2019 at 2:06 pm

      When i visited Hawthorne Asylum, i parked my bike at east side deli (diagonally across Madison) where there is a small rack in their lot just east of their dumpster corral. It’s a bit difficult to get out of the bike spot when cars are parked on both sides of it though. There are a few streetside staples for locking up along 11th there too.

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    Chris I August 27, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    The Baerlic Barley Pod at 61st and Halsey has decent bike parking. It doesn’t really have a kid play area, but has good food selection and fantastic beer. I haven’t really seen a food cart pod with “great” bike parking. It definitely seems like space is at a premium. They would rather cram in one or two more food carts.

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    Eric August 27, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    If you’re in Beaverton and haven’t checked out the GB Foodcartel your’re missing out! It’s also only a two minute walk from the MAX stop at The Round so even of you don’t live/work in the area you should check it out!

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    Gary B August 27, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    My regular pod is the Kruger(formerly) Beer porch on Lombard in St Johns. Great food and beer options, but despite being quite accessible by bike (via Willamette or Central, for example), it inexplicably has terrible bike parking. One non-standard rack that’s useless for my cargo bike in the middle of the pod; nothing on the ROW.
    (I asked PBOT about some staples awhile back, and was told they had pursued it, but needed cooperation from the business owner that they hadn’t gotten. )

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    Mark H Linehan August 28, 2019 at 6:55 am

    Doesn’t the city require bike parking outside all businesses? Don’t food cart pods qualify as businesses?

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    Resopmok August 28, 2019 at 8:25 am

    I like food carts for a number of the reasons listed in the article too, but one thing I do not like is plastic and styrofoam to-go containers, which are the default for nearly any cart. Some use paper, yes, but I mostly don’t patronize carts because of the trash I generate when doing so. Even the “for here” options are typically either nonexistent or use a lot of packaging. I know some locations have reusable container services, but they are the exception more than the rule (as are the people that pay to use those services), they make your meal yet more expensive, require planning ahead (which can be antithetical to the often spontaneous decision to visit a pod), and are far from offered universally. In the end, it’s just easier and cheaper for me to pack my own lunch or dinner than deal with reusables or generate more landfill-destined waste.

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      Gary B August 28, 2019 at 10:05 am

      Have you (or anyone) ever tried bringing your own container? I know they’re not supposed to allow it, but it strikes me as something that some carts would look the other way on. There are definitely carts that have legitimate for-here options, but I agree it’s unfortunately a big challenge.

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    • Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) August 28, 2019 at 11:01 am

      I hear ya! I’m getting better at remembering to bring utensils along and as I get familiar with the carts I stick to ones with returnable or compostable containers that I bring home with me. I see a food waste bin at Hawthorne Asylum, but that’s a rarity.

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