In the last 20 years, food carts have become an increasingly important part of the food landscape in the Pacific Northwest. Portland has historically been a hub, but the movement has grown in many other communities outside of the city. Food carts are a great way to start a food business without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, try something new (for established restaurant brands), or reach a more mobile audience.

Salem Food carts
A view of the food cart area at Checkpoint 221 with a plethora of yummy options. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

Salem has gotten into the food cart game in a big way. Food carts are all over the city, often just a single cart in a parking lot. No matter where you live, however, there is probably a group of food carts near you with larger groups of trucks in locations serving neighborhoods in the Northeast, South, Northwest, and East.

In Northeast Salem, there is a group at 3260 Portland Road in the La Leyenda Nightclub parking lot. The legendary ice cream and churro cart Don Bigote anchors that group of carts, most of which feature various versions of Mexican food. The trucks serve fantastic food, but be aware that the seating is only picnic tables under a tent and can be frigid during adverse weather.

Beehive Station Food Carts

1510 Fabry Road S, Salem

Like the group of carts on Portland Road, Beehive Station Food Carts is another strong collection of cuisines. Visitors can purchase boba at Bobablastic, a cart that pops up in almost any food cart pod, or from the local Italian favorite Geppetto’s, or choose Indian, Thai, or Japanese.

There are also carts featuring hot dogs, Philly steaks, burgers, and gyros—excellent choices for anyone searching for a meat sandwich in various formats. Jamaican food, wings, and kettle corn are some of the other possibilities—there really is something for everyone.

Beehive Station is also a great stop for live music. Although there isn’t a formal building, musicians perform in a tent or outdoors for the patrons. Beehive Station would be a great choice if you’re in South Salem and looking for a place with many options or with a group that just can’t decide.

The last few years have seen the opening of some larger food cart pods, anchored by a building in the center with seating and drinks, allowing the food carts to be a feasible option for diners even when the weather is terrible. These setups have a dining area that can seat potentially hundreds of people and often a full bar. We are fortunate to have two of these in Salem.

Salem Food carts
The exterior of Checkpoint 221 Food Carts with the pub inside. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

Checkpoint 221

1233 Riverbend Road NW, Salem

Checkpoint 221 is the most recent addition to the Salem food cart scene. For anyone driving in West Salem recently, it’s an easily visible large white building along Wallace Road, the main artery on that side of town. It shares some of the same food trucks as Beehive Station and the Yard, notably boba, pasta, and gyros. Visitors should go to Checkpoint 221 to eat food from Argentina and Turkey – two countries whose food is hard to find around Marion County.

In addition, the pod features classics like tacos and quesadillas, fried seafood, and Thai and Korean food. The main building is lovely and large enough to seat many groups – a recent night saw a birthday party and multiple large groups eating together. Checkpoint 221 shows how a food cart pod can be a great way to get large groups together and have everyone eat food of their choice.

Salem Food carts
One of the two rows of food carts at The Yard Food Park features an array of food. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

The Yard Food Park

4106 State Street, Salem

The Yard Food Park is the largest and most established food cart pod in Salem, located just east of Lancaster on State. Its main building is large and inviting, attracting groups of all ages. On a recent evening early in the week, the parking lot was mostly full, and all of the carts were open. The indoor area was lively, and some people were eating outdoors.

The Yard’s food carts offer everything from fish and chips to Indian food, soul food to Hawaiian food. There are classics like pizza and burgers and multiple choices for Mexican food. With all the cart spots filled, The Yard has the most options of any food cart pod in Salem, and its popularity is undeniable.

Salem Food carts
The interior of The Yard Food Park dining area offers indoor seating. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

Anyone wanting to try out food trucks has a myriad of great options in Salem, in all parts of town. For groups with a variety of tastes or families with potential picky eaters, heading to a food cart pod can be a better option than a restaurant because everyone chooses what they like to eat best. Based on the popularity of the food carts around Salem, this phenomenon is not going anywhere, so explore the delicious food found at these wonderful establishments.  

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