whiffies food cart-flickr-roboppyThis weekend, I’ll be heading to Portland—and no trip to my old stomping grounds is complete without a stop at my favorite food cart pod. (BBQ jackfruit fried pie? Yes, please!)

But soon, my food cart cravings may not require a three-hour trek across state lines. By the end of the month, the Seattle City Council could enact legislation to get more food carts rolling in the Emerald City.

Seattle has seen its share of street-food start-ups in the last couple of years. But the culture has yet to truly set in. So far most of Seattle’s trucks move around, somewhat unpredictably; have prices rivaling their brick-and-mortar counterparts; and rarely frequent the downtown core.

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  • I’ve covered the reasons for the city’s lack of flourishing food carts before, but it boils down to some passé regulations that keep most vendors off the sidewalk and out of public spaces, while imposing over-rigorous health and safety codes that often aren’t feasible for a small, mobile kitchen.

    The proposed legislation would take a big step forward. For the full rundown, and an excellent read, you should check out Sonia Krishnan’s piece in today’s Seattle Times, but to summarize:

    • Sidewalk push carts would no longer be limited to coffee, popcorn, and hot dogs; instead they could prepare anything except raw protein on site.
    • Following Vancouver, BC’s example, the city would create street food zones in public spaces that could bring carts into dense areas like the downtown core, where finding a property owner willing to rent you space can otherwise be prohibitively tricky.
    • Vendors would still undergo tough safety inspections, be required to have equipment to keep things adequately cold and hot, and have a sink for scrubbing up.

    My read of the proposed rules doesn’t give the sense that Seattle will be entering Portland’s world-class league any time soon. Public space for carts will still be limited, and it’d be really tough to create a semi-permanent space for a cart or pod.

    Plus, anyone wanting to sell something meaty would still need to team up with an existing restaurant or commissary kitchen (a shared space for street vendors or caterers to rent out in lieu of operating their own kitchen) to cook raw items ahead of time. (Portland goes a step beyond this by allowing carts with sufficient equipment to operate as a licensed kitchen—where they can cook up anything they’d like.)

    But it’s a move in the right direction. Passing the legislation would be a clear indication from Seattle officials that food carts can really open for business—and if Portland is any example, attitude is as important as regulations when it comes to promoting carts.

    To that, I say, “Bon appétit!”

    Photo of Whiffies food cart courtesy of flickr user roboppy under a Creative Commons license.