From coast to coast, the year’s biggest food trend is eatin’ in the streets at America’s tastiest trucks. Pull up and dig in!
Cuisine: Mexican BBQ
Like the salmon of Capistrano, New Yorkers flock to Calexico for the best Mexican eats in town. Chef Jesse Vendley and his brothers, Dave and Brian, modeled the menu on the “Mexican and barbecue” cuisine of their youth. “In the early days, Jesse would test 10 different marinades,” says Brian. “Over the months he dialed in on exactly what he wanted.” (The spice rub on the carne asada took about a year.) At the original SoHo outpost (launched in ’05) and a new truck and two restaurants in Brooklyn, ’cue staples such as pulled pork are invaded by Mexican ingredients. It’s Lou Dobbs’ nightmare!
Cart for a Cause, L.A.-
Truck: 1998 GMC
This truck, which helps raise funds for the St. Vincent Meals on Wheels program, hits the streets on Tuesdays only, its presence as anticipated an L.A. event as a Kim Kardashian sex tape (last spring’s opening—courtesy of Nobu—raised four grand in four hours). Every two weeks a new chef takes over, and every meal sold means another homebound grandma fed. For hungry Angelenos, $10 will get you, say, a grilled truffle cheese sandwich with foie gras butter from Public Kitchen and Bar, or Animal’s crack-like fried chicken sandwich with corn on the cob. Feed your fat ass and help feed the world!
Chairman Bao, San Francisco-
Truck: 2005 AA Cater
Delicious, tender meat topped with condiments and stuffed into a soft white bun—it’s like a Chinese hamburger! Steamed or baked, the “bao” here are filled with unique combinations of high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. “Each recipe,” says chef Hiroo Nagahara, “is designed to pit sweet and savory flavors against each other.” So the duck confit is offset with fresh green papaya, and the signature pork belly bun gets a kick from pickled daikon. Meat + pickles + bun? It’s as if Chairman Mao met Ronald McDonald. That’s diplomacy we can get behind.
East Side King, Austin-
Truck: “Just a ghetto trailer”
Cuisine: Asian comfort food
With its psychedelic paint job, this Tex-mecca sits like a life raft for Austinites drowning in barbecue sauce. For partners Moto Utsunomiya and Paul Qui (executive chef of Uchiko), East Side King was a side project, thought up over beers. A year and a half later, it’s a full-time gig, as “punk rock kids and hipster kids and definitely some preppy, fraternity/sorority people” line up for “Asian street food and a lot of vegetables.” How to get kids to eat their greens? By frying them, salting them to high heaven, and pairing them with ribs, fried chicken, and pork belly. Moms across America: Listen up!
Truck: 1962 Airstream trailer
Cuisine: Gourmet street food
For Chef Jeremiah—trained at such culinary temples as Café Gray in New York and El Bulli in Spain—his hometown of Miami offered a food truck’s ideal habitat: always sunny and commuter-friendly. The town’s “first mobile gourmet dining concept” serves a small menu that’s simultaneously creative and refined, adventurous and familiar. “It’s fine dining dumbed down for the masses,” he explains. “We want to educate the public while still being, you know, successful.” That means hot dogs made with short ribs, banh-mi tacos, and liquid-nitrogen milk shakes. Talk about cold comfort.
Truck: 2004 GMC
Cuisine: Healthy Asian
Founded more than 20 years ago by undergrads at MIT, Momogoose is serious brain food…and one of the oldest food trucks in the country. From three locations in Boston, the bright red grub-mobile dishes out health-conscious fare ranging from Korean beef bulgogi to Japanese teriyaki to Vietnamese grilled lemongrass chicken to Thai curries. It’s an Asian extravaganza! “We have a very special customer base,” says cofounder Tiffany Pham. “There are Nobel Laureates who come here every day!” Imagine the calculations that must go into deciding if they want fries with that.
Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream, Seattle-
Truck: 2001 Chevy Workhorse
Cuisine: Gourmet ice cream
“His name’s Leo the Late Bloomer—it took a while for him to get outfitted for the route,” says Molly Moon Neitzel. “Leo” is her ice cream truck, which the longtime music biz vet rolled out last year. With 10 original, always-on-the-menu flavors such as salted caramel and balsamic strawberry, plus four rotating offerings, this is the go-to spot for any Seattleite with a sweet tooth. “All our ingredients are sourced locally,” she says, “except chocolate, vanilla, and ginger, which don’t exactly, you know, grow in the Pacific Northwest.”
The Pickle, Atlanta -
Truck: 1975 GMC Palm Beach
Call him the king of the stoners: Andy Grimes has catered everything from the 420 Festival to concerts by the Allman Brothers Band. Having cut his teeth in restaurants across the Southeast, Grimes purchased this vintage motor home in 2004. Converted, retrofitted, and painted a fetching pale green, “It’s super user-friendly,” he boasts. The menu sweeps through the South, with Tex-Mex dishes such as chicken and green chili, and Creole treats like crawfish étouffée. “It’s less street cuisine, more restaurant,” Grimes explains. And paradise if you’ve got the munchies.
The Que Crawl, New Orleans -
Truck: 1989 Ford Utilimaster Stepvan
Ever since Katrina laid waste to his hometown, chef Nathanial Zimet has been satisfying late-night cravings with his Wagyu brisket, famous collard greens (in rendered bacon fat), and a shrimp po’boy that was voted the best in town. Sadly, in late May Zimet was shot during an attempted mugging, and at press time he was still hospitalized. Given the resilience of the Big Easy, though, it’s no surprise that the city’s food community has rallied with a series of benefits for Zimet. Check them out at benefit4nathanial.wordpress.com.
Red Hook Lobster Pound, D.C. -
Truck: Freightliner MT45 diesel
Cuisine: New England shore food
If fresh Maine lobster in D.C. sounds as out of place as an honest pol, so is the backstory. “This is not what I planned on doing with my life. I’m a lawyer; my husband has a furniture business,” says Susan Povich, who launched the Lobster Pound in Brooklyn in 2009. Last August her cousin Doug opened the D.C. outpost, peddling two kinds of rolls: a Maine- style roll lightly dressed in homemade mayo and a Connecticut-style roll with warm butter. “It’s all about the lobster,” she declares. “It’s made from the best meat in Maine.” (Apologies to Stephen King’s wang.)
Back to the 2011 Food and Drink Awards
Fine Ladies With Food
Eight Fast Food Combos the World Needs
Food Fight: Battle for the Ultimate Sandwich
Eat to the Beat