On a frigid day in February, just hours before the streets of Portland were coated with thick snow, I enjoyed a taste of the tropics at a food cart on the campus of Portland State University, on SW Montgomery St. between Park and 10 Avenue. It’s called The Local Grind. I’ve stopped there several times in the past to enjoy their Hawaiian plate lunch. It’s just like in Hawaii but with a twist. For example, both brown and white rice are offered, and if you’d rather not have mac salad, there’s a healthy alternative of fresh cooked vegetables.
You get a choice of grilled teriyaki chicken, shredded chicken simmered with fresh ginger and garlic, and chunks of garlic honey chicken. Check the specials board too. You’ll often find BBQ chicken and kalua pork. Small boxes of rice and meat, seasoned with special sauce, are $5.50; a large box is $6.50. It’s another dollar to add veggies or a large scoop of macaroni salad. Drinks are $1 and credit/debit cards are accepted.
I spoke with the owner of The Local Grind, Larry Abell. He kindly invited me to sit in his heated truck to talk, just as the first snowflakes began to fall. Larry said he started out helping friends who owned a Hawaiian food cart downtown called Local Boyz. From there he went to work at Noho’s Hawaiian Cafe on Southeast Clinton St. About seven years ago he went out on his own with his Local Grind cart at Southwest Fourth and Market.
Two years ago he expanded, adding the PSU cart, just west of the Simon Benson House, because winters were slow in the downtown location. “There’s constant traffic here, with all the kids,” he said. And for sure, even though there’s a fairly large food cart pod just blocks away on Fourth and College, The Local Grind gets a steady stream of customers, no matter what the weather. Larry or his assistant, Cliff Grimes, dish up the tasty food quickly and send the students on their way.
Larry visits Hawaii for inspiration, but admits that his Hawaiian plate lunch is influenced by Portlanders’ demand for high quality and healthy foods. “I go a little bit light,” he says. He uses no MSG and everything is fresh daily. His mac salad is just right, not swimming in mayo, and nicely seasoned.
Larry said he’s still expanding, now offering catering for events and weddings. And in the summer he’ll have a cart in Hood River to cater to all the hungry wind surfers. The water enthusiasts favor fish, so ahi is always on the menu.
I took my lunch of tender and delicious garlic honey chicken, brown rice and mac salad to the comforting warmth of PSU’s Smith Center. I scraped the bottom of my biodegradable box with my biodegradable fork. It was delicious.
I rate the food of The Local Grind Good and CHEAP, or, as they say in Hawaii, Ono and CHEAP.