Nong’s Khao Man Gai
SW Alder between 10th and 11th Avenues
Portland’s thriving food-cart scene had to be covered in the New York Times and the glossy pages of GQ and Details magazine to earn the respect of Portland’s food fashionistas. Nong’s Khao Man Gai needed only to dish up chicken and rice—the best you’ve ever had. Portland is now home to around 400 food carts serving dishes from the everyday (see Andrea Spella’s excellent espresso) to the outrageous (see smoked-salmon ice cream at Junior Ambassador’s). But while many boast menus as expansive as their brick-and-mortar counterparts’, Nong’s tops our roster of food carts for proving that God, plus a sexy brand of confidence, can exist in one dish.
Close contenders: Koi Fusion, Tábor
Nong Poonsukwattana began her foray into cooking at age 5, in her hometown of Bangkok. There, she helped her mother pound ingredients into curry pastes with a mortar and pestle and learned to make fresh coconut milk. She took her first restaurant job at age 14, and has worked in Portland restaurants (most recently at Pok Pok) since arriving here in 2003.
Nong’s is a one-pot wonder. It serves only khao man gai: slices of juicy chicken poached in a secret blend of herbs and placed atop a pile of white rice simmered in both the chicken’s juices and a garlic- and ginger-spiked soybean chile sauce so unforgettable that Nong could take early retirement if she started selling it by the jar. The combo is artfully packaged in white butcher paper, bound by a colored rubber band, and topped with a paper cup of refreshing winter squash soup. Add a dollar to the $6 Poonsukwattana charges, and she’ll throw in some chicken livers. If she can make such magic with a single dish, one wonders what she could do with a full menu. —MT