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High Dining at Ruthie’s

Kissed by smoke and aglow with a buttery sheen.

Grandma Ruthie’s recipes live on in a tucked-away corner of Southeast Portland. On busy SE Division, in between hip bars and spendy restaurants, is an alleyway food cart that’s serving up some of the best wood-fired fares in town. You can’t miss it – the little red cart on the left cranking out good music and even better food – all cooked in the singular wood-fired oven the previous owners installed to cook pizza. 

But don’t show up expecting anything that might resemble pizza. Owners Collin Mohr and Aaron Case dig the occasional slice of course, but the food they’re making hits on a more personal level. As childhood friends growing up in Utah, the guys connected with the passed-down family cookbooks and the lightly competitive atmosphere of the food served at Mormon gatherings. Think less green Jello and more seasonal eating, food preservation and hearty meals. There’s a reason the farm-to-table crowd has gravitated toward Ruthies. 

The offerings at the cart change with the seasons and the whims of the owners. When asked about their creative musings with the menu, Collin said, “We honestly get stoned, pull out our phones and spitball ideas. One of us will text the other something like ‘crispy shrimp’ and the response is ‘yo, let’s do it.’ The next day it’s on the menu.” 

There’s just one permanent fixture on the menu: Ruth’s Rolls. The guys are cooking them just as she would have, with the tried-and-true same flour and honey sourced from Utah. They’re a little larger than Collin’s grandma used to make and the boys take advantage of the format to stack goodies like house-made pork roll and pimento cheese, or fresh rockfish and veggies to make an elevated sandwich. 

Speaking of elevated, we brought along High Noon Cultivator’s Platinum Garlic Butter as an aperitif. Beyond increasing appetites, their PGB has the sort of profile that can stand up against aggressive spice and smoke, while also offering complimentary savory, allium and clarified butter flavors. High Noon’s soil-grown “low till” methodology and their penchant for pheno-hunting allows them to select cultivars that excel in their dialed-in beds. Instead of adjusting their regimen to fit whatever hype flavor is trending this season, they gravitate towards the plants that shine in their garden. 

Potent herb and fire-cooked food, it’s the perfect pairing. The sandwich has that balance of crisp lettuce and enough heat from the spice blend that I’m immediately drawn to take another bite to stave off the burn. Fresh from the oven, the roll is as good as you can imagine … kissed by smoke and aglow with a buttery sheen. 

Aaron and Collin are cooking the seasonal stoner food we didn’t know we needed – honoring Grandma Ruth and blazing their trail by highlighting the bounty of the PNW. They’re doing their own thing and we’re all better off for it. Just follow the smoke on SE Division to find the best feel-good food any ganja-loving gourmand could ask for. 

Address: 3634 SE Division St, Portland, OR 97202
Phone:  (801) 648-3307
Hours: 4PM-9PM Thurs-Mon | Closed Tues & Wed

Photos by @fwold_photography

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of Oregon Leaf.

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