I Love Thai Food cart

Updated 4/29/2009:
The original proprietors of the I Love Thai Food cart have opened up their new cart on SW 3rd and Stark have opened up their new cart – Just Thai.  They have a vegan/vegetarian menu and tons of $5 dishes.  Check it out!  Review coming soon.  Here’s a link to the new vegan menu specials.

I Love Thai Food Cart Brief Review
Overall Service Food Quality Atmosphere Vegan Options
6 8 4 5 7
Location: SW 10th and SW Alder Street Portland, OR
Hours: Lunch time Times Visited: 2

UPDATED 1/16/2009 – The cart is under new ownership and is now called I Like Thai Food.  One comment below says it is less vegan friendly – dishes are now $6 instead of $5.  Inquire when ordered!  We will soon.

UPDATED 10/27/2008 – THANKS FOR THE TIP! SEE BELOW.

Many vegans love Thai food, but Thai food doesn’t traditionally love vegans. This mantra is sad to accept, but true.

The Stumptown Vegans have elaborated on our Thai-dining woes, and have celebrated the vegan-friendly, ala Pad Thai Kitchen. When the I Love Thai Food cart opened, the downtown vegan lunchers had a dash of hope that it would be run by the former Vege Thai food cart owner, but alas, it’s not. This bright yellow carton SW 10th did have a menu clearly marked “vegetarian with tofu” and my pleas for “no fish sauce, no oyster sauce, no shrimp paste, yes tofu, yes vegetables!” were relayed back and forth with smiles and comprehension by the young woman taking my order both times. Could vegan-friendly luck on my side?

The Tofu and Vegetable Pad Thai was the default mix of mildly tangy rice noodles, fried and sliced tofu, broccoli, onions, a handful of bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, and shredded carrots. The “Vegetable” title really owes it’s credit to the carrots, as I counted maybe three small pieces of broccoli. There was a side of lime provided and condiments available on the food cart’s window. While I can’t rave about it, it was thoroughly devoid of any fishy taste and so my paranoia and appetite were satisfied. For $5 it was a ton of food made within 10 minutes that gave this reviewer another meal of noodling. If only there was more tofu to spread out into the leftovers, because it’s hard to resist eating most of it when it’s warm from the wok!

The official Stumptown Vegan visit #2 happened the following week with curiosity building and a stir fry in mind. This visit brought even faster, friendlier service but far more disappointing food. It’s sad that this reviewer was camera-less on the occasion, but take my word for it – visit #2 was suspicously fishy. This time I ordered the Cashew Stir Fry with Tofu and Vegetables ($5), medium spicy, and made my same vegan specifications. It was even called out as “vegetarian cashew tofu” for pick up. The full sized plastic take-a-way container was over half full with the actual stir fry and the rest was white rice. Upon opening my meal up, I realized that the stir fry sauce was everywhere and anywhere. It had seeped out of the plastic container into the bag and thoroughly soaked the rice. I like to be in charge of my own portioned rice-saucing, thank you.

The chili-studded vegetable and tofu filled container looked appetizing. The vegetables included mushrooms, carrots, bamboo shoots, and broccoli with a good deal of fried tofu pieces. Ignoring the sauce-soaked rice, I dug in, and after a few bites quickly realized there was a flavor I could not immediately place to this sauce….and that it was seriously suspicious. I was convinced the taste was fishy, and having taken the food away I couldn’t continue with further questioning. The meal felt tragic, and it was enough food for 2-3 meals. It was given away to a non-vegan and frustration hit.

Updated:

This Stumptown Vegans regrets that she didn’t immediately return to I Love Thai Food before posting about it. She was simply so burned out, having been tricked before and was mostly impressed by the price, not the food. Thank you to the quick commenters who encouraged her to return!

I don’t like to think of my lunch purchases as a risk, and after returning from my third visit, I don’t feel as risky. I am familiar with vegetarian mushroom oyster sauces and lite soy sauce, and felt as though I could have placed them – and upon further friendly questioning, learned that the mystery vegan sauce used in vegetarian and vegan preparation is housemade. It is a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, mushroom sauce and spices that they utilize to accommodate the multitude of vegetarian and vegan visitors downtown. This was officially in the Pad See Ew $5 (vegan with tofu, minus the egg) that I dined on and it did not taste fishy at all. I still don’t know for sure what was up with stir fry #2, but I did feel comfortable dining on the savory, sweet & vegetable packed noodles that were undeniably more inviting in flavor than the Pad Thai. The medium spice request was on the mild side, so keep that in mind if you like heat. The dish was happily loaded with fried tofu pieces this time around and a mess of fresh bean sprouts that eventually forked themselves into the full meal. And as you can see below, is guaranteeing me at least two well rounded meals of Pad See Ew mania for one low price.

The I Love Thai Food cart is back on my downtown, cheap lunch radar.

Pad See Ew with Tofu
Going into Late October 2008 002

Pad See Ew with Tofu, minus one portion!
Going into Late October 2008 003

Tofu and Vegetable Pad Thai:
september 2008 - early 001

The cart
Going into Late October 2008 001

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25 responses to “I Love Thai Food cart

  1. I stumbled upon this cart during a recent downtown excursion. I asked for the standard vegan modifications, and the girl at the window replied with something to the effect of “Ok, so you want it vegan?”. This was a great reassurance, and when my pad thai (maybe pad see ew, I can’t remember) arrived a few minutes later, I had none of my usual suspicions that there might be fish sauce or shrimp paste in the food.

    That was nice, but other than that, the dish was very underwhelming. This was maybe a month or two ago, so I can’t remember the details, I just remember it being very “blah”.

    So yeah, won’t be back. There are too many other options in the area to bother with it.

  2. I’ve been to this cart many times and yes I am vegan as well. I am very familiar with Thai food because one of my best friends in Thai so I understand how hard it is to make Thai food without fist sauce. I actually did try out the cashew nuts with tofu (vegan) and it did tasted fishy so I went and asked the lady in front what sauce they used and yes, it wasn’t fish sauce. From what I can remember, was a kind of sauce made from mushrooms. (I asked to see the bottle)

    I thought I knew Thai food but I had no idea that there was such a sauce as this. I understand that for many people who are not so familiar with Thai food, will think that anything that smelled “weird or fishy” may immediately assume that it was fish sauce.

    Therefore, I think that you should try asking the lady what kind of sauce it was, because I’ve been here many times and I thought their food was delicious! This cart is definitely vegan friendly for me and will be one of my top choices.

  3. Leanne – Was it oyster mushroom sauce? That’s often used in Thai food in place of fish sauce and it does smell a bit funny. It’s great to know what you have a good relationship with woman at the cart and she seems to understand what a vegan eats.

  4. There is a kind of “lite” soy sauce that can be used as a substitute for fish sauce, as well. Although many might disagree, in my experience there is not much of a difference between dishes made with actual fish sauce, and those made with substitutes.

  5. Leanne – I will definitely inquire with the staff at the cart in regards to the sauce. I am familiar with two varieties of vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce and lite soy sauce and the taste I experienced really DID taste fishy, and we’ve been burned before, hence the doubt!
    Thanks for the vote of confidence! I’ll be stoked if the sauce is vegan and will return and update the review.

    jess

  6. Thanks again for the clarification jess, I was getting freaked out a couple of days ago after I read the post so I went and asked to see the sauce that Leanne was talking about, and *sigh* I was relief to see that it didn’t have any meat related. Jess, I was wondering, did you get a chance to see the mushroom sauce that they were using? I saw the bottle but I couldn’t remember the brand (all I remember is that it has a picture of a little girl on it) lol I want to buy some at the Asian market. Thanks in advance!

  7. I didn’t see the bottle but I’ll ask next time. I’ve used two different types myself from Fubonn, primarily when making curry and dumplings.
    Easy to overdo the flavor, just a forewarning!

  8. Based on this post, I visited this cart today and got the Pad Kee Mao. They happily made it vegan, it was a large portion, and it was pretty good. I don’t normally eat at carts but I think I’ll head back to this one at least a couple of more times. Thanks everyone!

  9. Oh, so glad you gave it a second chance. They’ve become a mutiple-times-a-week favorite of mine since they opened. Helps that I live a couple blocks away, but they’ve just been so understanding about the vegan thing (as well as adding my beloved eggplant to basically any dish for free), and then the food is so remarkably fresh, and then so plentiful, and then so cheap! Plus the young ladies who work at the front of the cart and the people who are running the kitchen at the back are just so friendly and kind. I’ve literally gotten three meals out of one $5 curry–the green is fantastic. And their Pad Kee Mao may simply be the freshest, best in town–probably has something to do with the custom-made vegan sauce they make, as opposed to many places simply taking everything out that isn’t vegan. I ate there with my non-vegan sister, and she forgot to ask for no fish sauce (which she hates), and then tasted my vegan Kee Mao and she was able to vouch that the vegan one definitely didn’t have fish sauce and was much tastier. So good–and open till 7:00, even on Saturdays! Fantastic.

  10. Oh my gosh–just tried their Tom Kha Tofu, and holy moly is it a bunch of wonderful flavors in a warm soup perfect for cold days like today. Definitely vegan, too. They get the balance of the sours and savouries just right–the lime, the galangal, the lemon grass, the coriander, the coconut milk, the mushroom sauce they use for vegans. . . Served over rice, pretty much fluffy white cloud heaven.

  11. That sounds delightful, Soundsalike!

    I recently had the Pad Kee Mow and agree with Ian – the vegetables and rice noodles themselves were both impressively fresh. I found it to a bit lacking in flavor but overall quite tasty.

    The most flavorful dish I’ve tried so far is the Sesame rice noodle dish. On one hand, it’s basically just rice noodles, tofu and a sweet sesame sauce and I wish there was some vegetable action – but it was delicious, regardless.

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  13. : (

    Sad to say, Jay and Anne have sold the cart, which is now re-christened “I Like Thai Food,” which unfortunately fairly succinctly captures the difference in the effort they intend to put forth.

    Unfortunately at this time, the easy vegan-friendliness of this cart is gone. The only dishes the two men now running the cart could make vegan are the noodles–and for this you must be very clear about every ingredient you want left out. They otherwise use chicken stock for all soups/curries and I think stir-fry. I let them know the former owners did well for themselves by offering vegetarian cooking sauces and vegetable stock, and the new fellow said he would look into it; but while he was perfectly friendly, I’m not holding my breath.

    As for the quality of the food–took a noticeable hit in several ways. First, the price of everything is now $6, though the previous owners were probably under-charging for what they offered. The freshness of ingredients seemed intact–but the variety/caliber of ingredients was greatly diminished. My Pad Kee Mao had only basil, onions, and bell peppers–gone were the mushrooms, green beans, eggplant, and most of the flavor.

    Sad day for me, as the previous incarnation was probably my favorite Thai food in town–and was $5 for multiple-meals worth, and blocks from my house. The vegetarian thom kha will be especially mourned.

  14. Hi there!
    I went to the newly “renovated” I LOVE THAI FOOD which was changed to I LIKE THAI FOOD, and like its name, I can only mildly like this cart and cannot love it as I did when the previous owners ran the business. Like Soundalike said, the vegan-friendliness is gone. However, I gave the old owners a call and they gave me a great news. They are opening up another cart this March! So the vegan-friendly thai food is coming back soon! I’m actually really happy about this, and thought that I should share.

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  16. Woohoo, they’re back! The Original I Love Thai folks have re-opened at the 3rd & Washington mini-group, and the food is everything I’ve missed the last few months since Love became Like. And–they’re even more vegan friendly, with an entire “vegan recommendations” section (though I believe almost everything can still be made vegan, in the section or not). They expressed some concern that their new location (some six blocks from the old one) was too out-of-the-way, so be sure to go by and give them vegan love! Don’t miss the Tom Kha Vegan, by far the very best such dish I’ve had anywhere, simple but addictive and you’ll get two or three meals out of one large container.

  17. Oh–it’s now called “Just Thai,” though they’ve wisely also put up the original “I love Thai Food” sign–you’ll recognise the stenciled fonts and hearts and the stainless-steel look of the cart.

  18. Soundsalike – I’m stoked! You just beat us! We just started working on a draft for a new post of the new cart.
    I visited them last night for dinner (they’re open till 7pm!) and got a great Pad Kee Mow for $5. The owners were adorable and seemed really happy when I told them I liked their old cart and was happy to see them back. The new ‘vegan/vegetarian’ specials section is really rad and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy for vegan cart love.
    I did notice that the curry containers in the back are the ones I’ve seen at Fubonn that are not vegan – so I want to double check before I order curry.

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  20. This is the worst thai food I’ve ever had. The pad thai was burnt and inedible. 0/5 stars

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