Eating la Vida Global – Portland food experiences

A clever take on humble grilled cheese sandwiches, jalapeno poppers with a delicious twist, barbecue sliders, a one bowl wonder, elephant ears and the world’s best donutsA clever take on humble grilled cheese sandwiches, jalapeno poppers with a delicious twist, barbecue sliders, a one bowl wonder, elephant ears and the world’s best donuts are 6 food experiences that will bring us back to Portland, Oregon.

When the decision was made to include Portland in our trip to the USA and Mexico I was most excited about the chance to experience the city’s world famous food cart culture. I had seen these mobile foodie delight wagons featured on many TV programs and even had a cookbook based on the specialties of a number of carts in Portland, so my main goal was to eat my way around this amazing city.

Grilled cheese food in Portland

The Grilled Cheese Grill

it wasn’t difficult to guess what this incredibly popular cart was offering, and their slogan gives the impression that not only do they have fun doing it, but they want you to have fun enjoying it as well. The sign reads “Come by for a taste of your childhood. Unless your childhood sucked, then we’ll share a taste of ours.” My childhood didn’t suck but I was still more than happy to taste a little of their’s anyway. They feature about a dozen varieties of this childhood staple, plus a “build your own” option. Who knew a grilled cheese could be so exciting?

Bardos Grill food Portland

Bardo’s Grill

at Cartlandia – Bardo’s was the only cart we visited twice during our week in Portland. Everything was excellent including the ridiculous Grilled Cheese Burger. A jaw breaking burger which replaced the standard bun with a grilled cheese sandwich top and bottom. Don’t judge me before you try this, all I can ask is why all burgers are not now made this way! The main reason I came back for a second visit was to get another serve of the most amazing jalapeno poppers ever to grace my taste buds. I can’t believe it had taken me so many years to find out that wrapping these zingy little morsels in bacon would catapult them to the highest level of fast food glory.

BBQ sliders Portland food

The BBQ Cart

while living in Australia means plenty of opportunity to fire up the barbie, we still don’t do it in that low and slow, fall apart, American style BBQ, so every time we make our way back to the USA it is always high on the “must do” list to find somewhere to indulge our needs. There was a cart simply named “BBQ”, which is located in the Alder St Pod, offering sliders, sandwiches, wraps and bowls featuring pulled pork, slow cooked brisket and pulled chicken. We took on the sliders pack, a group of 3 mini bread rolls featuring each of the previously mentioned meats. Each was as mouthwatering as the last and our BBQ intake was satisfied for the day. If not for the lure of so many other tantalising aromas many more slow cooked delights would have been consumed this day.

The Whole Bowl Portland food

The Whole Bowl

Another simple idea executed perfectly, this downtown food cart offers a limited menu, to be precise it offers one choice only. The most surprising thing about The Whole Bowl is that the lines are always long so you know the single menu option must be good. They offer a bowl filled with the perfect mix of black and red beans, salsa, cheddar cheese, tali sauce, brown rice, sour cream, olives, avocado and cilantro. It may sound like a crazy jumble of ingredients but the combination works a treat. I can only imagine how busy the would get if they doubled the menu!

Original Elephant Ears Portland food

Portland Original Elephant Ears

WTF? My first thought as well, but hey, why not give it a try? And we were so glad that we did. These incredibly delicious pastry items get their name from the size and shape of the finished product. What would you eat that was the size and shape of an elephant’s ear? Good question.

Imagine taking your donut batter and instead or punching out the traditional round shape with the hole in the middle, you decided the stretch it long and flat and then deep fry it until golden brown. Next, because it is still a donut after all, you coat it in cinnamon sugar, and the result is an enormous, crispy, sugar coated donut without wasting the bit they usually cut from the centre.

Why eat a little donut or a churro when you can have the whole elephant ear?


Voodoo Doughnuts

I just asked why would you want a donut if you could have the whole elephant ear… well, maybe because it comes with a bit of magic. Voodoo magic!

Arguably the most famous Donut Shop on the planet, Voodoo Doughnut has been featured on almost every food TV show there is, and is even used for weddings by donut obsessed couples.

It is also the place that started Dana on the road to becoming the Wandering Donut after she experienced the Maple Bacon Doughnut Bar and a few others on a school exchange to Portland.

With dozens of options that go way beyond just changing the topping, Voodoo is a Portland institution and lines form 24 hours a day. If you miss out on a visit next time you get to the Pacific Northwest then you are doing yourself no favours. Get there… it’s a weird experience, just like Portland.

No matter which cuisine your mouth or stomach desire, the Portland food carts and stores have the answer. Great quality food at a fraction of restaurant prices. All we can say is… Portland, we will be back for more.


Dean is the main creative force behind Road Trips HQ. A road trip veteran with over 30,000 miles of driving in more than a dozen countries. He has also worked in the Australian travel and tourism industry for the past 6 years.


  1. Dean, you’ve done it again! You write such descript details of foods that I can almost taste them. Those elephant ears, which by the way I’ve never heard of before, sound delicious. I’ve always been rather partial to a donut so have to hunt these down and give them a try. I love the pic of Dana trying to devour that Grilled Cheese Burger. I could just see myself munching my way through that. Mmm mmm mmm

    • It may come as a surprise Lyn but I quite like food. So it makes it easier to be descriptive. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful region and we would love to go back. Maybe add Seattle and even sneak up to Vancouver.

  2. I love this food cart phenomenon they have in the states, wish it as big in Australia, but we still only seem to get poor quality food as if you are still at the fair (bar one or two good food trucks).

    • I was hoping the revitalisation they are doing here in Newcastle would pave the way for a food truck revolution around the beaches but the council still seem to make it too hard with the regulations. Looks like we all have a reason to go back to the States one day Sally-Ann.

  3. The ‘elephant ears’ look the most appealing to me. They resemble a lot the ‘languish’ that I used to eat in Hungary and Transylvania. It’s been a while since I didn’t go to Portland. I kind of miss it now that I read your post…

    • Never heard of the Languish before Anda. I tried some interesting things through Germany and CZ last year and will get to Eastern Europe one day. I will have to remember to look for them.

  4. Portland has been on my list of cities to visit forever. One reason is definitely because of the cool food scene that’s there. I’ll have to keep these places in mind when I go to Portland. Thanks for this.

    • If you are a foodie then you have to get there Alouise. And the surrounding area is pretty spectacular too, if you need something to do between meals.

    • I think it’s a hard place not to like Elaine. I really hope I get back one day to explore the area, and the food trucks, a lot more.

  5. I am super excited about this post. I have wanted to go to Portland forever. I like the idea of sticking to one or few menu items and executing those well (my husband worked on a food cart and the owner learned that the hard way). The grill cheese cart sounds delicious (we have several carts with the same concept in Los Angeles). And, those elephant ears! I want to try them

    • A good food cart pod is like a degustation menu in a restaurant. You can sample small sized meals from a number of different cultures and cuisines for not a lot of money. My daughter visited again recently and noticed the Grilled Cheese Grill had added some more cheesy goodness to their menu. Now I have to go back!

    • For a food traveler like you Erin, it should definitely be highlighted on the map. So much variety and great prices (for the USA)
      Those Elephant Ears are the second best donut type thing I have had. Beaten only by Peru’s churro rollenos, a caramel filled crispy churro. Now i’m very hungry!


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