Portland Food Carts: Savor Soup House

Once every six weeks or so, I enter “La Salon” and I emerge…drum roll, please…The Breck Shampoo girl. Silky, smooth, flip through the air hair. Fan anyone? All the days in between, I prefer the air-dry method for my crazy, curly hair that can only be tamed with a hair band – in other words, I, yikes, tend to leave the house with wet hair. Every mother’s nightmare which I can attest to seeing as when on the very rare occasion that my own daughter leaves with wet hair I cringe and yet, here I am, a grown woman doing it more often than she. (And, in case you were wondering if this is a genetically passed down defect…no. My own mother never looks anything but beautifully put together at all moments of every day and she has never…I repeat NEVER…left the house with wet hair or without her lipstick on. My sister can back me up on this one.)

To my good fortune, once I emerge from “La Salon”, I am but a few, hair-flipping steps away from the Portland Food Carts at Southwest 10th and Alder. Those food carts that have created quite the buzz around town. What Karen Brooks of The Oregonian calls, “[Those] block-long shantytowns that are the food courts of the future.” And she goes on to further report that there are 450 of them around town with 32 more under review. My, my! I find them intriguing. I’ll eat almost anything…but my family won’t…so I look at those food carts as a chance for me to enlighten my taste buds without the accompanied whining from the boys and without having to pay a babysitter. And, what’s more, I have wanted to set a goal for myself to try each one but in years past, my trip to “La Salon” never coincided with enough time but now, new school year, new schedule…new goal.

In all my sassiness, I practically skipped the half block to my destination. And, what could only make a good hair day better, was the gentle breeze about, swirling up the crispy, yellow maple leaves. The air was warm – 65 degrees warm – and the sun was set in the sky at just the right angle to render a glistening effect on everything it touched. A perfect fall day in Portland. I didn’t make it far into the “shantytown” as first on my list to try was “Savor Soup House” which managed to snag a perfect bit of real estate right on the corner. I love soup. I’m drawn to places serving soup and so…soup it was.

While I waited…and waited….and waited…for my turn (good things come to those who wait, right?)…I struggled with whether to try the Potato Leek Soup topped with fried leeks or the Red Lentil Stew with butternut squash and saffron topped with peanuts and cilantro and served over brown rice. And not to mention, the menu for the “Grilled Cheese Bar – Create Your Masterpiece!” looked particularly tantalizing as well. I also wondered where I would sit once I had my soup. I noticed that some tables had signs with proprietorship designated on them and some did not. A Portlander at the single table for “Savor Soup House” graciously offered to share hers with a young couple with a delightful drawl to their speech and their 3-year old son with his new “Artoo Potatoo” in hand. Still waiting, I watched as an older gentleman in rolled up army fatigue pants pushed his bike along the sidewalk. A dog carrier attached to the back and a shih tzu curled up in a basket attached to the front. From the west of me drifted the sounds of the Clan Macleay Pipe Band and from the east, a solo, electric guitar sending out hits from the 70s – Stairway to Heaven, Into the Mystic, Old Man. And, occasionally, a car alarm would go off and take center stage.

My turn, at last. I chose the Lentil Stew since it was the special of the day. I figured I could have the Potato Leek anytime. I gratefully took my bundle of soup and bread from the one-woman show and set off to find a place to sit and enjoy my meal. Passing the tables clearly marked with ownership, I sat down at what appeared to be a free table. No sooner had I planted my bahookie than a woman waving a dishrag came flying out of the Snow White Crepe Cart shooing me away from my location like a mouse in the kitchen. Note to self: Table proprietorship is very strict here in the Portland Food Carts. I finally saddled up to a “street lighting” box, used it as a table and set out my meal. And, although, my soup was less than piping hot at this point, I still enjoyed every mouthful of butternut squash mingled with the lentils, chopped peanuts, cilantro and rice. I breathed deeply. I looked up and marveled at the way the light, the buildings and the trees created such a dazzling spectacle. I noticed that the man with the shih tzu was sitting at the table from where I had been shooed, eating a crepe. A couple high on something more than life added their color to the picture and the battle of the bands continued in the background as I devoured every scrumptious mouthful.

Without glancing at a watch (since I don’t actually wear one seeing as that they are all in my watch graveyard with dead batteries,) I could tell that my carriage was just about to turn into a pumpkin. School would be out soon and some little ones would be waiting for me. I tossed my empty bowl in the can and began making my way out of the food cart village. I read through the signs of establishments that may become future dining experiences. And then, me and my “sassy hair blowing in the wind” headed back up the street, past the Macleay Pipe Band, to the car and back home.

All original text and photos copyright: Carrie Minns 2009


  1. mmmmm… savor soup house… I will have to try it! Yum, and your pictures are amazing as well as your fabulous writing!