Opened just last month, Happy Valley Station, a food cart pod located in a permanent structure surrounded by food carts, has already become a dining destination for locals in Happy Valley and around Clackamas. If you’re in Portland, “food cart pod” isn’t really a big deal. But for those in the burbs, with a limited selection of good beer and plenty of fast food, Happy Valley Station really is a food and beer Mecca.
The pod has an interesting backstory. Developer and owner Valerie Hunter bought the land way back in 2010 with the very intention of making a food cart pod. She was fed up with the local food options and wanted to offer residents good food they didn’t have to drive in to Portland to get. (Happy Valley is about 30 minutes from Portland, give or take.)
The land was zoned as “Village Office,” so Hunter had it changed into a “Village Commercial” zone and then went in under a specialty restaurant. “Prior to that they said no food carts in the Valley so I figured out how it could be a restaurant,” said Hunter.
The pod features 26 carts surrounding the main building and can seat 130 people on any given night. There are six large-screens TVs and three carts inside (including the Portland favorite Olé Latte Coffee), and a kid’s play area. The deal is you purchase your food and then come indoors to enjoy it. (The night I was there was raw and rainy, so hanging out to enjoy my food inside was genius, and warm and dry.) The place is squeaky clean. Staff wear uniforms. Two maintenance people ensure that grounds and bathrooms are kept clean.
Food options range from Mexican, including Choles SoCal Mexican grill, inspired by San Diego-style Mexican food, traditional Vietnamese, vegan, Cambodian, and desserts. Some of the carts might be familiar (a couple of the carts made the trip from downtown Portland locations and others have sister carts in places like the Mercado) while others are new (like Chicken Adobo, the sister and brother Filipino food truck).
The beer list includes 30 beers and 15 ciders. Locals are definitely represented, including Coin Toss and Bent Shovel from Oregon City and more familiar names like Gigantic, Crux, and Laurelwood. Beer is sold in 16 ounce
glasses plastic cups for six bucks, while taps are housed in a custom “cart” that can hold up to 45 taps and is “honestly bigger than most tap rooms,” said Hunter. Future plans call for tap takeovers and guest brewers, among other events.
Side view of the custom-made beer trailer.
Happy Valley Station is a case study on how to develop land on a small-scale. Where many food cart pods around Portland happened organically and sprouted in unused parking lots (remember those days?), this was intentionally built for the same purpose, just a different path. It will be interesting to see how it moves forward–it’s been packed since opening. Other suburban communities in metro Portland are looking at different ways to draw pedestrian traffic. For instance, downtown Milwaukie has set aside land for a potential food cart pod, while Bethany Village in unincorporated Washington County offers “micro restaurants” in the hopes to build community through food and beer. Building permanent structures to house this type of dining might be the ticket for both entrepreneurs and cities in need of economic development.
Happy Valley Station is located at 13551 SE 145th Ave., Happy Valley, off of Sunnyside.