When Eddie Garcia decided to site his food cart, Los Plebes, at Southeast 10th and Stark, he had no idea a small village of food inclusivity would grow around it.
Now, Garcia’s cart sits next to the entrance of the newly opened Lil America, a cluster of seven carts all operated by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ owners.
The pod was founded by new restaurant resource group Win Win, a brainchild of Jasper Shen and Linh Tran, who co-own the restaurant XLB, and artist Catie Hannigan. The group prioritizes members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities in its mission to bolster a more inclusive food industry in Portland. While Win Win currently offers consultation services and a roster of free resources, Lil’ America is easily its crown jewel.
“Business has increased for everybody around here since there’s more diversity of food, Korean food, Mexican, Guyanese,” Garcia said. “For us there’s a better flow, and a lot more people here on Saturdays.”
The group tiled the lot and installed a raised, covered patio. If the weather is still too unmanageable for customers, Fracture Brewing – which opens up onto the lot – provides air conditioning and a decent wifi signal, and welcomes all ages to bring their Lil’ America plates.
Heading into the summer months, Garcia estimates their business is up by around 15%.
“It’s definitely amazing we were able to do something like this, and to do it with our family as well,” he told The Skanner. “You want to bring your family and help everybody, come to a better place.”
Two months in under the Lil’ America banner, Garcia is finding that their Saturday specials, featuring fare that is popular in various regions of Mexico but less known to American diners, have been a huge hit.
Michael Singh agreed with Garcia that the camaraderie is strong in Lil’ America.
“It’s such a safe space for everyone,” he said, noting that every food cart has at least one “phenomenal” offering on their menu.
Singh’s cart, Bake on the Run, is to his knowledge the only Guyanese food cart on the West Coast. Although Singh himself was raised in Arizona, he first came to Portland on a road trip in 2017, and a year later, opened his food cart with the help of his mother, “Chef Bibi,” to showcase a culture and a place he finds too few know about.
“It’s one of the most beautiful countries on planet earth,” Singh said of the South American nation where both his parents were born. “It’s one of the most biodiverse countries, per yardage. It has everything from savannahs, deserts, tropical rainforest, mountain regions. You have the longest single dropping waterfall on earth, you have some of the best gold mining on planet earth. There’s 60-plus rivers that run through it.” He lists the diversity of ethnic backgrounds represented in Guyana: “40% Indian, 30% African, 20% mixed ethnicities.”
“Aside from election years,” he added, “they get along great.”
It is also a member of the Commonwealth Caribbean. The nation is now independent, but due to British colonization, recognizes English as its official language.
“It’s got far more in common with Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, all the other countries along the sugar route,” Singh said.
In formulating his menu, Singh wanted dishes representative of the major ethnic groups of Guyana. The menu includes dahl, semisweet puff pastries, Portuguese salted cod, chow mein and curry.
This is the fourth pod where Bake on the Run has operated.
“It was impossible for us to resist,” Singh said. “It was the only pod that we’re aware of that was curated, so there were hundreds of applications that were submitted.
"They considered how representative of a culture (an applicant) was, and how good the food is.
"A lot of the places I’ve been, the owners don’t care if the food is good or not, they just want rent money. They don’t care about the success of the pod, oftentimes they don’t care about duplicating cuisines at the pod.”
Alongside Los Plebes is Hawker Station, specializing in chicken prepared in the style of Hainan, China; Makulit, offering up Filipino-American fusion dishes; Frybaby Korean’s fried chicken; Speed-O Cappuccino, featuring vegan bar food and street food, and the newest addition, The Drip'N Crab.
“(Lil’ America) was unique in the respect that in order to be here you had to be BIPOC or queer,” Singh said, “and being curated was a huge thing for me.”
For more information visit www.lilamericapdx.com.