Looking for a food cart in Portland, Ore.? There's probably one right in front of you. But maybe there's one up the street that's better. Now you can find out such things with a new mapping layer from Microsoft for its Bing Maps service.
Having grown up in Portland, I can tell you that most locals know where the best carts are, along with the food item to get at those places. But one thing the locals won't always be able to tell you is the location of the traveling food carts--the ones that are not firmly planted in one of the city's food cart/parking lot blocks and do not frequent particular locations on particular days.
To that end, Bing has linked up each cart's Twitter feed (if it has one), so that you can keep an eye on things like special opening and closing times, or more importantly--if they're all out of a particular dish, as can sometimes be the case. Bing has also integrated Foursquare check-ins, so you get an idea of how many people are actively there.
Carts are mapped out in a rather standard Bing interface, meaning you can expand a map marker to see its hours of operation, menu, and some photos. What's different is that each one gets a spork as its icon. Sporks that are red are picks from Portland Monthly Magazine and get links to the magazine's food cart reviews site and finder tool. Users can also filter carts by rating, to anything that's four stars and up, or three stars and up, though these are based on editorial and not user reviews.
What makes the tool genuinely useful are some of the same things that make any modern day mapping tool useful: you can get a very good idea of what a particular cart and its food look like, as well as where it is without leaving the page. Zooming in close enough to the map reveals a satellite view, then drilling down to a cart's info page pulls up a few photos. In that way, it's a lot like digging in to get information on any local business.
Of course this is not the first food cart finder for Portland. There are several pre-existing tools including a Google Maps layer from FoodCartsPortland.com, a user-generated Google Maps collaboration, The Pdxstump food cart finder, and all businesses tagged as "food stands" in Yelp (which will work in any city and give you user reviews).
Along with the Food Cart Finder, Microsoft has also opened up a live performance space in Portland called "The Bing Lounge," which will host a variety of entertainment and speaking events in the future.