Iconic Rockwood food cart moves to new digs down the street

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK Best Burger owner John Cartisser infused a rustic decor for his first brick and mortar table-service restaurant.

Best Burger addicts — rejoice.

Bracing against the East Wind to get a fix from the iconic cart is a thing of the past.

Best Burger has moved, to not only offer folks a place to sit indoors, but beginning Saturday, Dec. 1, a new menu as well.

“We are going to have killer breakfasts,” said John Cartisser, owner of Best Burger. “We hired a new head chef and I don’t think Gresham has seen anything like our breakfast. We’re going to crank it up a few notches.”

The trademark orange food cart has been closed the last two weeks while Cartisser and his crew have been remodeling their first real-deal restaurant.

The building at 17527 S.E. Stark St. has been home to several eateries, most recently Tios Tacos, and notable for sharing the location with Wok’s Up bar and volleyball courts.

But the opportunity to move from cart to table service came up suddenly, Cartisser said, proving that sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for.

Cartisser, a lifelong Gresham resident, actually got into the food cart business by accident. After his contracting business took a hard hit as the economy sputtered, he began looking for a way to combine his passion for food and some form of income.

“I scraped together $800 and bought a flat-bed,” Cartisser said. “I framed the cart from scratch and was just going to put it on Craigslist to sell. But I got orders for four other carts and I built them side-by-side for other people. Because of that, my cart was paid for from day one.”

Cartisser opened Best Burger on the corner of Southeast 82nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard in the summer of 2011. But when you do everything yourself, a food cart isn’t the most streamlined cooking arena.

“We do our own barbecuing and smoking,” Cartisser said. “It took two hours to pull everything out of the cart and get it going. And at first, I was sitting there for 10 hours waiting for a customer. It wasn’t easy.”

In October 2011, Cartisser anchored his Best Burger cart in a parking lot on Southeast Stark Street and 185th Avenue.

Peddling his trademark handmade burgers and ribs, the cart attracted a cult-like following. In June, Best Burger went head-to-head with some of Portland’s better known food cart vendors in Gresham’s first cook-off.

Best Burger was named as the People’s Choice Award winner, besting the likes of VooDoo Donuts, Saucy’s BBQ and Taco Pedaler.

Surprised and pleased by the overwhelming public response to his menu, Cartisser began considering a more permanent facility.

“To serve the customer properly, they need to have a place to sit,” he said. “Once the cart took off, we had to start looking to find brick and mortar.”

Cartisser admits he was in the beginning stages of scouting a new location for Best Burger when the owner of Wok’s Up approached him about moving into the former Mexican restaurant.

A fully-equipped kitchen, an on-site bar and a remodeling job that could be completed on a shoestring budget, all satisfied Cartisser’s requirements for a permanent home.

“This has been crazy!” Cartisser said, laughing. “We had less than fours weeks to get the restaurant up and running. The whole thing is a miracle that gives me goosebumps every time I think about it.”

The new Best Burger boasts a rustic décor, with picnic tables for casual dining and walls covered in burnt orange, yellow and chocolate brown.

Breakfast will include French Toast, Eggs Benedict, Biscuits and Gravy and Chicken Fried Steak, all adhering to Cartisser’s high standard of homemade preparation.

Best Burger quietly opened their doors Thursday, Nov. 15 with their traditional menu, and plan an official grand opening for Saturday, Dec. 1 to unveil the breakfast menu.

“What a ride this has been,” Cartisser said. “We’re not going to do anything special for the grand opening. We’re just going to open the doors, turn the music on and cook up some serious food. That’s what people want.”

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