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The Art of the Cart: Vendors "corner" ethnic lunches in Bend 

A recent surge in gourmet street food vendors has added welcomed diversity to Bend's vibrant casual dining scene. Local food vendors include former chefs who have tired of the restaurant scene, but can't give up their love affair with good food.

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A recent surge in gourmet street food vendors has added welcomed diversity to Bend's vibrant casual dining scene. Local food vendors include former chefs who have tired of the restaurant scene, but can't give up their love affair with good food. For others, a food cart is a means to start a small business and grow a base of regular customers before opening a full-scale restaurant or moving into wholesale markets.

One of those former high-end chefs now plying his trade on a street corner is chef Steve Draheim who opened Soupcon last fall. Draheim, who has held positions at James Beard's award-winning restaurant, Janos, in Tucson, Arizona, and Kokanee Café in Camp Sherman, started selling flavorful from-scratch soups and Austrian knödel dumplings last August and recently added salads and sandwiches to Soupçon's summer menu. Don't be fooled by his unassuming cart; Draheim delivers food that is more than restaurant worthy, leaving those who know his talent to wonder what's next. You could say that I'm partial to this soup guy. As his well-fed and well-loved girlfriend, I can tell you that Draheim plans to continue to pursue wholesale markets (his soup is currently sold at Sage Café) and intends to grow the cart into a small restaurant by next summer. Soupçon serves fresh soups, hearty grain/vegetable salads, and sandwiches using locally baked bread from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday on Greenwood at Harriman next to The Blacksmith. The marinated cauliflower tabouli salad and a bowl of Thai sweet potato curry with chickpeas and fresh basil were both perfectly balanced. The combo was one of several options priced at $5.

Parked next to Soupçon outside the Blacksmith is El Sancho, a unique, homemade cart built by chef/owner Joel Cordes. Cordes supplemented his culinary school education by traveling throughout Mexico, and it shows in his authentic foods. Daily tamale choices range from warming chicken mole with its subtle hint of cocoa, to decadent chipotle-chocolate-bacon. Daily enchiladas and tacos are made to order and come with choice of handmade verde or red chili sauce. Prices are more than reasonable, with $1.50 pork tacos, $2 tamales and $3 enchiladas. El Sancho offers any two items over black beans for $5. El Sancho and Soupçon partner up for special events and daily lunch combos, allowing customers to customize their meal. The daily "Combo-Nation" offers a taste of both carts: soup, salad or half sandwich paired with a tamale, an enchilada or two tacos for $5.

And then there's Spork - our über-cool "how did this end up in Bend instead of Portland?" mobile food Airstream serving globally inspired street food to the masses, one pork belly sandwich at a time. Spork owners Erica Reilly, Chris Lohrey (formerly of The Grove) and chef Jeff Hunt (formerly of Marz) combine their talents, producing food that is socially conscious, creatively cultural and downright delicious. Their weekly rotating menu includes summer salads, Thai curries, spicy Korean fried chicken and more. Spork uses locally grown ingredients as much as possible as evidenced by their seasonal menus. Spork is currently located across from Players on Century Drive, serving food from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Mirror Pond Plaza has also emerged as a food-cart hotspot. Derek and Greg Yarrow, a team of brothers from New York, operate Burly Wurst, bringing brats and dogs to downtown. Homemade specialty condiments like thyme mustard and an old family recipe for sauerkraut make for drool-worthy combinations. The Berlin Brat, a German sausage with sautéed onions and kraut, is one of many options that ranges from $4 to $6. Add chips and a drink for $1. Burly Wurst operates Tuesday through Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and weekend nights from 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.

Right beside the brothers Burly, the Bend-born Greek Chariot offers a handful of wraps ($5-$8) and baklava ($1) for dessert. Rumor has it that the Greek Chariot also serves delicious lamb kebobs on occasion, though I have yet to try them. The Zeus wrap consists of tri-tip, grilled veggies and sauce ($7). Drawing knowledge and technique from growing up Greek, the chef/owner prides himself on authenticity. The Greek Chariot serves lunch when it's sunny and late night on weekends.

Scattered around downtown, Bendites can savor a palate-pleaser from Paris or a dose of Dumptopia. A Crepe Affair serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside of Liberty Bank on Franklin at Bond. From Nutella and fruit crepes to savory chicken and vegetable varieties, breakfast or lunch is available from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Just last week, Dump City Dumplings began serving sweet and savory steamed dumplings outside of US Bank on the corner of Oregon and Bond.


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