PDX: Khao Man Gai Food Truck

Nong's Khao Man Gai

Standing on the street, we balanced the paper container of Nong’s khao man gai (the Thai version of Hainanese chicken and rice) in our hands, wind whipping at my hair and our plastic take-out bag, perched precariously on a ledge with only a not-quite-heavy-enough container of soup inside.

We called this, “intermediate level street-eating”. Maybe Portlandians with all their food cart pods all over the city would be better able to balance an open paper envelope of chicken and rice – and SAUCE! – on a windy day and not spill it all over themselves but we Vancouverites are still relatively new to the food truck scene barely managed. Probably there is a PDX version of “the stance” that only locals know about because Nong’s is a Portland food truck institution! My notes said, “on Alder between 10th and 11th” but before we saw the sign, I pointed at the line at said, “it’s that one.”

Khao man gai is poached chicken breast served cold with rice cooked in chicken stock and accompanied by a soy / cilantro / garlic / ginger / chili sauce. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and it’s all they sell at the food truck, although you can get extra chicken, rice or sauce or an add-on of chicken livers. The day we were there I got the crispy chicken skin add-on for $1 and I’d definitely recommend it if you see it available. It gives another textural dimension to the dish in terms of a bit of crunch as well as some pockets for the sauce to hide in. I have never been a fan of chicken breast because I prefer the flavour of dark meat and because it’s s often dried out in Western preparation but this is a dish I have always loved. The subtly of the chicken matches the mildly chicken-tasting rice but then the whole thing is exploded by the sauce and even the fresh burst from the cucumber garnish. I probably would have drank the rest of the sauce from Nong’s if I could have found somewhere to put my chicken package without spilling it.

The soup was bland and warm but meant more as a palate cleanser to finish instead as part of the meal. There was a piece of white cabbage bobbing in it but had shared most of its flavour with the soup at that point.

The guy running the stand was also completely awesome and I would go back to him just for the entertainment. Rather than Nong or even someone Thai, the guy running the stand was a very Oregonian young man with a black 1920’s officer’s cap, but that didn’t stop him from bowing and thanking us in Thai. He even drew a Thai smiley on my lunch to differentiate it from Matt’s and kept us laughing for the very short time we waited for our food. I sure do love for this town.

Khao Man Gai has a couple of locations but this one is on Alder between 10th and 11th. 




  1. KimHo

    When I went down to Portland 2 years ago, I made a mission to visit this cart. Unlike some of our peers, where they failed in their mission, I was successful! As for the cart itself, I wrote two years ago this food card is what food carts ought to be: specialize in two or three well made dishes and not go with the hype. As it seems you have written, it is still a good place for good eats.

    1. Degan Walters

      yeah, it’s good! but now they have another location that has whiskey-sriracha chicken wings so I’m going to have to try that one ASAP.

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