101 Best Food Trucks in America 2013 Slideshow
Chicago’s Brown Bag Lunch Truck, soon to be called Smalls Chicago, offers a unique fusion of American BBQ and Asian comfort food. The mobile smoke shack serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. American classics such as hickory-smoked brisket and Texas Toast are served alongside fusion items like BBQ Brisket Bibimbop. Diners also enjoy the "Kim Jong MMM...," which consists of "Korean chile paste-rubbed cherrywood-smoked barbecue pork over seasoned rice. Served with kimchi and house-picked daikon." Brown Bag Truck is currently undergoing a rebranding to transition to the "Smalls" name, which represents the small size of the smoke shack. The truck’s still in operation, however, so be sure to check it out next time that you’re in town and stay tuned for more developments.
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Started by two East Coast deli fanatics, Coast 2 Coast Deli brings Las Vegas an "outside-the-box modern twist" to deli sandwiches. With geographic sandwich names like The Greenwich (turkey, Swiss, caramelized onions, spinach, and avocado ranch), The Bloody Bay (jerk chicken, pepper jack, mango-bean salsa, and lettuce), and The Montana (New York strip steak and rib-eye, Cheddar, blue cheese crumbles, onion rings, and BBQ ranch), the menu meshes East Coast tradition with a splash of the West. And who doesn’t appreciate waffle fries? Coast 2 Coast offers seasonings such as chile and lime, barbecue, cayenne and coco, lavender and sea salt, and rosemary and salt and pepper for the waffle fries, as well as cheese sauces like Calico brown ale beer cheese. Whether you identify with the East Coast or West Coast, these guys have a sandwich for anyone craving a taste of home.
Coast 2 Coast
It’s a bright blue food truck called "Manna From Heaven" with a mascot rabbit named Easter, and it serves Vietnamese-inspired cuisine. That could, to the cynical sound like a disaster. But pot stickers, egg rolls, spring rolls, Vietnamese tacos, noodle and jasmine rice boats keep locals coming back again and again, and their banh mi was enough to win them Best Food Truck status last year.
Manna From Heaven
Is it "jy-ro" or "ear-o"? However you prefer to say it, you’ll call the rendition served by Go! Gyro! Go! "tasty." Owners Nick and Laura Cowlen bought their truck in 2011, outfitted it themselves, and set out into the streets of St. Louis with food based on growing up eating the family recipes of his yia-yia and papou (both from the island Zakynthos off the southwest coast of Greece) and his own culinary experiences visiting the motherland. The menu is pretty simple: gyros. There’s the classic beef and lamb, chicken souvlaki, chicken tahini, and veggie gyro. Go with the classic. Spiced beef and lamb wrapped in a freshly grilled pita with sliced tomato, red onion, feta, parsley, and homemade tzatziki? You can’t go wrong.
As one of the first food trucks in Nashville, Tenn., Pizza Buds is creating a stir with their mobile pizza stand. Catering to a late-night crowd, founders and owners Jonny Kingsbury, Kenny Gay, and Ben Jones are a trio of twenty-something pals serving up slices to eager fans ready for an end-of-the-night pizza fix. The trio saw a need for a late-night food truck around the Nashville bar scene, and they were right! A favorite of locals, the truck serves the traditional pizza options, like cheese and pepperoni, but also occasionally has a specialty slice available. There is a reason this truck keeps the toppings simple, though — the crust, made by Gay’s mom, is the real star of the pizza. The menu may be limited, but this unique and flavorful pizza does not disappoint.
They may have gotten the idea for The Flying Stove while living in food-truck-filled Venice, Calif., but Wichita-raised brothers Jeff and Rob Schauf (a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Austin, Texas) decided that their "Bad Mutha Food Trucka" would better serve their hometown in Kansas. The Flying Stove launched in late 2011, serving a changing menu of sandwiches, tacos, and other handheld foods. Recent menu options that have gotten locals lining up include Jamaican braised beef with provolone and red onion marmalade on sourdough; tilapia tacos with avocado mango salsa, cabbage, mint, and cilantro; and jerk chicken or vegetarian tostones.
The Flying Stove
"The nation's only truck with an onboard smoker" — or at least that is what owner and St. Louis native Ryan Gessel claimed in an SF Weekly article of his Midwest-style barbecue food truck just before its launch. Gessel was referring to the small Southern Pride smoker with digital controls he installed, which allows him to drop the temperature to 150 degrees and slice tender falling apart pieces of brisket to order. In addition to the 13-hour smoked Texas beef brisket (sliced or chopped), Gessel serves four-hour smoked St. Louis style barbecue ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, smoked turkey breast and drumsticks, "skinny legs" dry-rubbed drumsticks, and "St. Louis salsa," black beans, white corn, red bell pepper, cilantro, purple onion, jalapeño, and lime juice. Don’t forget to try the Buttermilk Pie, the winner of SF Weekly’s Best Dessert off a Truck 2013 Award.
Rachel Billow and her business partner Venezuelan chef Benoit Angulo started their food truck in the Big Easy, where running a food truck actually doesn’t always jive with the city’s nickname (among other restrictions in NOLA, you have to change locations after 45 minutes in one spot). But Billow and Angulo have been making it work, not just making it work, but making it work really well. The Latin-American menu is a four-step process at La Cocinita. The first choice is about the vessel: arepas, tacos, a quesadilla, or a bowl of rice, beans, and cheese. Then there’s the filling: pollo estofado (braised chicken), carne asada (grilled steak), lechon (braised pork), squash and beans, roasted beets and black beans, and black beans and queso fresco. There are more than 10 sauces to choose from ranging from creamy avocado vinaigrette to "stupid hot" sauce, and extras like avocado, fried egg, tostones, and maduros. "The Bowl" (pictured left) includes rice, beans, cheese, choice of meat and choice of homade sauce. Roasted zucchini and summer squash can be subsituted for meat for vegetarians.
In 2011, Bucktown bar owner Jim Lasky and executive chef Cary Taylor jumped into the Chicago food truck scene. While the bar doesn’t do lunch, the truck reportedly sold out the first day in 25 minutes. Since then, The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck has earned titles such as Time Out Chicago’s Best New Food Truck 2012, and one of Chicago Mag’s 18 Awesome Food Trucks. The truck features a menu with 12 options: six vegetarian and six decidedly non-vegetarian. Varieties include an asparagus, ramp, and goat cheese mac and cheese; a New Mexican green chile, habanero, and cotija rendition; and truffle, sun-dried tomato, roasted artichoke, and goat cheese. Chef Taylor’s meatier mac and cheeses include riffs on pizza and Buffalo wings. There’s one with pepperoni, tomato, and basil and another with pulled chicken, Buffalo sauce, and blue cheese.
It’s just the kind of embarrassment of riches that food trucks have brought that New Yorkers can fight over who has the better lobster roll truck. (It also says a lot about the migration of lobster rolls as a sandwich that besides finance guy Luke Holden’s lobster roll truck Nauti, he also now has five New York locations, and four in the Beltway.) Born and raised in Cape Elizabeth, a small town on the coast of Maine, Holden "grew up lobstering, built his own skiff, and launched a lobster company while still in high school." These days, the lobsters are taken from the dock to Luke’s family seafood business Portland Shellfish. According to the Luke’s Lobster site, "In just hours, the frisky pinchers are steamed, picked, and individually wrapped before they’re sent south." At Luke’s Lobster, chilled lobster is served in a buttered and toasted split-top bun "with a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter, and a dash of our secret spices." You can order it without mayo, butter, and spices, too if you’d like, or opt for either the crab or shrimp roll, but this menu's move is the lobster roll.
Like the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, and the Atlanta Braves, there’s probably also something vaguely wrong with Coreanos’ caricature of a short Asian man standing under a sombrero, but as with food truck innuendo and sport, you just have to go with it when it comes to Coreanos' truck design. In another homage to LA’s Kogi, Houston’s Coreanos truck serves "Mexican cuisine with Korean in-between."
Of course, that means Korean barbecue tacos, quesadillas, and burritos with your choice of marinated beef short rib, spicy twice-cooked pork belly, spicy marinated chicken, or marinated tofu. Don't forget the fries either. Three Wise Fries (pictured left) are french fries with marinated beef short rib, spicy marinated chicken, spicy twice-cooked pork belly and topped with grilled oinions, cheese and "El Scorcho" sauce. That LA homage is driven home by two great menu items: the hot dogs. There’s the L.A. Hot Dog (bacon-wrapped hot dog with grilled onions, grilled jalapeños, and mayo), and the Coreanos dog, also bacon-wrapped with grilled onions but also topped with caramelized kimchi and "El Scorcho" sauce.
Formerly known as Truck Norris, Fist of Fusion provides an exotic hybrid of Hawaiian and Filipino fare, inspired by chef Ronnie Lucido's mother’s recipes. Truck Norris was named Food Truck of the Week by Zagat back in 2011, and Fist of Fusion maintains the same menu and lively customer service. Favorite items include the "Notorious R.I.B," bone-in marinated short ribs. Other menu staples include the beef short rib “Volcano Bowl” and the Kalua Pork Sisig. If the truck's name change is confusing, just look out for the signature Truck Norris punch icon, which will still grace the side of the vehicle.
Fist of Fusion
Austin's food truck scene is undergoing major change. The popular South Congress spot is going into development and the carts, trailers, and trucks have to find new homes. One of, if not the best, chef Eric's red truck is covered with yellow-lettered claims: "Solidifying our reputation as Austin's rudest business," "Stop being a princess. Use your freakin' hands," "Gluten allergy? Cowboy up, you wussy," and the best, "Insultingly great food." You may have read about Hey!... You Gonna Eat or What? before on The Daily Meal, when its Lonestar BLT was featured along with chef Eric’s bravado: "This is going to be the best BLT you've ever had." It ain't braggin if it's true. Soft crusty bread with good give, a thick layer of bacon that fills the lot with a sense of justice, and fried green tomatoes that you wish you'd find at restaurants who serve them on their own. Why? There's a decently thick coating on the fry. A juicy, wet sandwich with great textural diversity, with a side of crispy just-right potato chips made to order right there in front of you along with pleasurable banter. And that’s just one of this menu’s great sandwiches. Behold the Shiner Bock-batter Monte Cristo with pit-smoked ham and mesquite-smoked turkey, Cheddar, and provolone. Check out the smoked ham and Brie sandwich with dried cranberries, cherries, and homemade honey mustard. Indulge in the Texas mesquite turkey with pepperjack. Hey, you gonna eat, or what?!
Hey! You Gonna Eat or What?
No prizes for guessing what the signature meat is at this popular sandwich truck, People's Pig Wood-Fired Grill (previously, The People's Pig), which has its own mesquite grill, in downtown Portland. The meat is hormone- and antibiotic- (though happily not fat-) free, and while there is a changing daily menu — flank steak and even chicken have been known to appear — you can always count on porchetta, boneless roast pork roast seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and fennel.
The People's Pig
Chris Hodgson opened his first food truck, Dim and Den Some, in May 2010, but it was his second food truck Hodge Podge that gained national recognition. The truck has been featured on Cooking Channel's Unique Eats and Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, where it finished second. The truck is ironic, seeing as Hodgson started the food truck trend in Cleveland, and the truck is beaming with Cleveland pride. The menu features traditional comfort foods, such as steak, mac and cheese, and the Hodge Podge dog— an all-beef hot dog with seasoned tater tots, BBQ sauce, bacon, and purple cabbage slaw. Hodgson has now teamed up with Scott Kuhn and owns Hodge's, the upscale restaurant version of the original truck, and Hodgson himself is currently competing in season nine of Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star.
So it is these days that some trucks work toward becoming respectable restaurants and some respectable restaurants try their hand at taking it to the streets. In the case of Bruno’s Gastrotruck, it’s the latter, and the man behind both is Bruno Silva, who has been pleasing visitors to The Landing Restaurant at Smith Mountain Lake and Bruno’s Gastropub with what he calls a classic cooking style "with Andean Nouveau influence." The self-described "Man’s Best Friend on Wheels," (which can be found in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, and Smith Mountain Lake) features a menu that changes, sometimes weekly, sometimes more frequently, with some fun dishes. A recent lineup included "Curry on My Tater Son” (spicy chicken curry, crispy tater tots, cilantro, crushed peanuts, and lime); Le Bacon Royale burger with cheese; a PBLT (braised Berkshire pork belly with house-made tomato jam on Challah bread); the Kobe Burger with duck fries (pictured left); a Bavarian-style soft pretzel bigger than your face; the MK naan anticuchio-seared tilapia tacos with huancaina sauce, which makes a welcome appearance on the truck’s "Angry Tots" as well. As the menu notes: "Better than Kibble."
Do you ever get cravings for Asian, Indian, Caribbean, Latin, and Southern flavors all wrapped into one convenient flatbread? At Roti Rolls, chef Cory Burke prides himself on his implementation of "farm-to-truck" ingredients, which manifest themselves in completely unique. The truck has won the title of Charleston City Paper’s "Best Rolling Food Machine" in Charleston three times already. With appearances at Bonnaroo and other big-time festivals, Roti Rolls finds ways to get its food out to non-Charlestonian eaters. In December 2012, Burke opened the doors of his own brick-and-mortar restaurant, The Green Door.
If you love the flavors of Asia and Mexico, crave fresh ingredients, and want a memorable meal, check out Vellee Deli. The menu: the Mojo, a jumbo lemongrass and ginger sausage topped with pico de gallo and fresh papaya; fish tacos; and Chicken Currito, a spicy Thai curry with chicken, potatoes, romaine lettuce, rice, and creamy sauce. The Vellee Deli burrito was awarded City Page’s Best of Minneapolis burrito award, and has racked up several other awards around the Twin Cities as well.
Igor and Beckie Panasewicz had a proven track record before opening their gluten-free Quiero Arepas food truck. They began by hosting Venezuelan dinner parties in 2009 (Igor was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela where, according to their website, "his memories of enjoying arepas late night after music gigs finally encouraged him to learn to make them for himself"), opened their arepera El Caribe, and their vendor booth was a familiar sight at both the Cherry Creek and City Park Esplanade farmers’ markets. They make their own arepas, use produce from local farmers, local and all-natural meats, and cheese from local cheesemakers in the some 16 different arepas they serve on their rotating menu. Shredded chicken or beef, smoked salmon, sautéed mushrooms, hummus, slow-roasted pork, sliced sausages, eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onions, vegan burger patties — these are just some of the fillings nestled inside the sliced-open cornbread with cheese and other combinations of raved-over accompaniments.
Ah, souvlaki, the "hamburger of Greece." You may be able to find a great souvlaki on every street corner in Athens, but in New York it’s not quite as easy. (New Yorkers, don’t you feel as though the city needs a quality gyro resurgence? Where did this once proud sandwich go?) Promising "a little bit of Mykonos in the heart of New York City," Souvlaki GR has been working to solve that problem the past few years. The owner of the young truck, Kostas Plagos quickly rang up Vendy awards in 2010 as Best Rookie and in 2011 as the People's Choice winner, and opened up a brick-and-mortar version on the Lower East Side.
What’s the fuss? Warm pita wrapped around charcoal-grilled chicken, pork, or sausage with tzatziki, tomato, and onions. There’s also a great Greek burger, the fries are sprinkled with feta (which you can order baked, too), and all your favorite mezedes, from skordalia and hummus to melitzanosalata and taramosalata (eggplant and salmon roe, if you always have trouble remembering which is which).
Philadelphia jazz impresario Matt "Feldie" Feldman’s truck started out as a jazz radio show, and then a monthly concert series. Now, Feldie sources grass-fed beef from Lancaster County, and tops his L.O.S. burger with smoked Cheddar, pickled tomatoes, bacon cured by the truck, and sautéed onions, all whilst jazz plays from the Lucky Old Souls truck’s speakers.
Lucky Old Souls
Showing up in various parts of The Lou, Cha Cha Chow offers non-traditional tacos (short rib, "Baja style" roasted chicken, curried sweet potato — the latter two on flour tortillas) along with a pretty good burger and a "Cuban Crime of Passion" — pulled pork, pickles, cheese, and mustard on a double-toasted roll. Seasoned fries served with spicy ketchup are a noteworthy side dish.
Cha Cha Chow
Miley Holmes and Caroline Perini (yes that Perini, the famed Buffalo Gap Perini Ranch Perinis) launched their food truck in 2011 after having met at the House of Blues in Dallas, and have quickly become a favorite of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Inspired by their search for "The Perfect Bite," Holmes (the face) and Perini (the "slider slinger") serve sliders on freshly made, sweet, sourdough rolls made locally just for them. The Easy Slider burgers are served with some interesting flavor combinations. Consider the Sweet & Lowdown, a burger that combines strawberry jam, bacon, and goat cheese, or the Nutty Pig, with bacon, creamy peanut butter, lettuce, tomato, and onion. And specials like The Sugar Derby, a burger with sea salt caramel and onions, take that experimentation with sweet and savory flavors to the next level.
Yes it’s a burritoria, but if you haven’t been, don’t hit up Rito Loco expecting old-school rice and bean wrapped fare. Washington, D.C.’s best food truck (as voted by the Washington City Paper) is more adventurous, with fillings that co-owners Daniel Diaz and Louie Hankins call Cuban, Spanish, and Soul Food flavors. What does that translate to on the menu? Well, the inspiration for the truck came out of the late-night celebrations of a summer barbecue in 2011 wherein at the end of the night, the party-goers found themselves around a massive bowl of Velveeta shells and cheese mixed with Daniel’s from-scratch rib sauce. "How good would this be tomorrow morning with our breakfast burritos?" Hankins asked. The next morning, Diaz's go-to "hangover cure" breakfast burritos got the cheesy shells and rib sauce makeover, and the idea for the Rito Loco truck was born. That "rito," called the AM Rito, is on the menu, so too the Rib Rito (twice-seasoned, pulled baby back ribs), and there’s even a Fruit Rito (fresh fruit with granola, cinnamon, and condensed milk). But the Mojito Rito is probably the signature dish the truck has become known for: citrus-infused pulled chicken topped with fresh mint.
Geechee, for those unfamiliar, refers to the "Gullah," descendants of slaves who live in the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry. The Geechee Island Food Truck accordingly specializes in what it calls "authentic Lowcountry cuisine," using local seafood and produce in dishes to create traditional stew pots and boils. So what does that mean in terms of a daily food truck menu? Items like shark steak stew over rice and shrimp, oyster and blue crabmeat with brown gravy over grits with a collard and cabbage medley, fried shark steak, fried oyster, or smoked meat sandwiches. "Getcha Geechee!"
Bloomberg Businessweek, Smithsonian, U.S. News & World Report, TIME, GQ, and QSR have all named Streetza to their lists of the best, funkiest, coolest, and most creative food trucks in America. What’s behind all the love? Scott Baitinger and Steve Mai co-founded a truck that serves hand-stretched dough baked in a 650-degree oven, and crowdsources everything from pizza toppings to the art on the side of the truck. There are conventional slices, special slices, Milwaukee neighborhood slices using "the best stuff from Milwaukee’s neighborhoods," and slices sourced from Twitter. Things can get crazy — no joke. Look out for vegetable curry and rice, pickled herring, caviar, and potato chips. Other notable slices include S’Mores Pizza, Crab Legs Pizza, and Corn Dog Pizza. And that’s just some of what you’ll find in the "Milwaukee neighborhood slice" category. It doesn’t even touch what’s come across the wire on Twitter.
Some say that the American Dream is dead; others try their hand at pursuing it. So it was with Mutsuo "Jay" Hamada, a Silicon Valley IT guy who according to SF Weekly, after being laid off in 2008, sold his house, and moved to Japan for six months to apprentice "in Kanagawa Prefecture with a young ramen chef called Roku to learn the intricacies of tonkotsu." Believing ramen to be impractical for a food truck, Hamada settled on something else he’d learned a little about, Japanese curry.
"The recipe for JapaCurry is based on Jay's special style and the curry is made from scratch and takes several days of cooking with secret spices and superior ingredients," his site notes. Lucky for you, all you need to do is order katsu (deep-fried pork or chicken) curry over rice, sausage, pumpkin, or kara-age curry, settle in, and enjoy. With a consistent food truck following, and a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Izakaya Roku, Hamada's gamble on selling his house seems to be paying off.
San Diego’s Devilicious food truck serves (according to its tagline) "Food So Good It’s Bad." For the most part, when it comes to owner Dyann Manning’s menu, that means cheese. For many, it’s hard to get beyond one of Devilicious’ first menu items: the butter-poached lobster grilled cheese with melted Jack and Cheddar, caramelized onion, and Roma tomatoes on sourdough. Other melt options include duck confit with Gruyère and mozzarella; asparagus with goat cheese and Brie (adding bacon is highly recommended); the Buffalo chicken melt with caramelized onion, lettuce, habanero Jack, blue cheese, and Buffalo mayo; and the Cubano with hickory smoked ham, smoked pork shoulder, Swiss, garlic pickles, and Dijon mustard, which let’s face it, is a melt, too. But there are stellar options beyond the melts. A Cheddar cheeseburger with the fixings, a cheesesteak, and a crabcake sandwich on a sourdough English muffin taken up a notch "Benedict-style" with a sunny-side up fried egg. But the dish that practically dares you to order it is the BBBLT. "Bacon, bacon, bacon, and more bacon with Cheddar, Jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, fried egg, and spicy mayo." How can you go wrong?
After competing in the first LA Vendy Awards, chef Sumant Pardal took the title in 2012. But Pardal is no culinary newcomer; he's been in business in the greater Los Angeles area for more than 25 years, owning (by his count) at least 12 restaurants, and feeding hungry Angelenos with his India Jones Chow Truck for the past four. The fare? Frankies. For the uninitiated, frankies are a Mumbai street food, an egg-washed Indian wrap, filled here with lamb, chicken, beef, shrimp, paneer, or mushroom and cheese. There are also curries (butter chicken, tikka masala, or one of the other vegetable or meat curries of the day), and paratha (spicy stuffed roti) served with raita, aloo (potato), gobhi (cauliflower), or keema (minced beef).
India Jones Chow Truck
Oh, D.C. pizza truck scene, do you want to be Jumbo slices or not? Do you know? It’s hard to tell with people lined up during lunch down the block for DC Slices. As much as Washingtonians may hate to hear it, DC Slices is much closer to Adams Morgan’s Jumbo Slice than it is to either Pizzeria Orso or Two Amy’s. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not at all. It just has that same mottled cheese and sauce look and texture, and that same non-crispy bottom. It’s a style of pizza that those not from Washington but who are adopting it as their next big city, and sensitive about their own small-town sensibilities, should just stop equating to New York and enjoy it for what it is, another regional style, and hey, a pretty good one at that, especially when you’ve had a few drinks (but not necessarily because of it). There are all the familiar toppings to be expected (including Buffalo chicken), no surprise there, but a strong side move is to order the tater tots either loaded, with pizza, bacon, and Cheddar, or chili and cheese style.
The Hotel Bel-Air's former grill chef Erwin Tjahyadi made a splash in 2010 for serving Asian-Mexican fusion that didn’t involve tacos, but burritos, when he launched Komodo. Since then, Tjahyadi’s legend has grown, and his black-and-white Komodo dragon truck has gone brick-and-mortar. But the truck still rages on, serving menu classics like seared top sirloin, grilled marinated chicken, fish n’ grapes, spicy Singaporean-style shrimp, and Indonesian shredded pork rendang with sides like truffle or garlic fries (or tater tots) and meatballs with romesco sauce.
What’s sisig? It’s a Filipino dish made from pig’s head and liver, often seasoned with calamansi and chile peppers, and at San Francisco’s Señor Sisig, it’s obviously the star of the show, except that as SF Weekly noted, chef Gil Payumo makes the trucks version with pork shoulder instead of offal, "for a cleaner and meatier sisig." Payumo launched the truck in 2010 with high-school friend Evan Kidera and the two have been slinging sisig on tacos, fries, nachos, and in burritos ever since. You have basically five options at Señor Sisig, with your choice of protein being pork, chicken, or tofu. There are tacos with onions, lettuce, and cilantro cream sauce. A Señor Sisig burrito takes those toppings minus the onions and adds adobo rice, pinto beans, and salsa, but their signature is probably the California Sisig Burrito featuring fries, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. If that’s not out there enough, "Silog it" for $1 more and add an egg to your sisig.
The Le Truc "bustarant" is redefining street food in the Bay Area. The full-size school bus is a kitchen on wheels serving hot sandwiches, burgers, tacos, and salads, but nothing is average about their menu. Forget about run-of-the-mill tacos sprinkled with lettuce and cheese; offerings like the Butt King are tacos better than their names may suggest. Served two per order on gluten free corn tortillas, the Butt King taco is full of Thai curry pulled pork, sweet bell pepper slaw, pepperoncini aioli, picked cilantro, and lime. As for burgers, if you’re feeling up to a challenge, ask for the Four Hand, a 2/3-pound burger infused with bacon and onion and topped with sweet bell pepper slaw, mustard aioli, and Tillamook Cheddar.
If you’re looking for a big menu, you’ve sought out the wrong truck. Miami’s Latin Burger & Taco Truck isn’t about tons of options. Former Food Network host Ingrid Hoffman’s truck does just a few things, but does them well. There are burgers. There are fries. And there are tacos. A few options to dress things up, but that’s about it. And you don’t need much more. When it comes to the tacos ("the 3 amigos"), the sampling includes shredded chicken cooked in tomatillo, pulled pork, and chicken mole. But you’re more likely here for the signature dish: the Latin Macho, a chorizo, chuck, and sirloin burger topped with Oaxaca cheese, caramelized onion, jalapeños, and Ingrid Hoffman’s "special avocadolicious sauce" or red pepper mayonnaise.
When founder Matt Kornmeyer was fired from his job in May 2010, he described how "a strange smile came over [his] face." He saw what most would consider a step back as an opportunity — he could now open the food truck he had been inspired to start since a trip to Portland, Ore. Kornmeyer always knew he wanted to open a restaurant, and from this dream Scratch Truck was born. The menu changes regularly, but continuously serves indulgent comfort foods with interesting flavors. The namesake feature is the Scratch burger, a 1/3-pound custom ground burger with bacon marmalade, gorgonzola cheese, and arugula served on roll with fries. The menu also features a polenta and black bean burger and a Tuscan chicken sandwich. His signature Bacon Marm is so delicious it is now for sale at select retailers in Indianapolis.
Scratch Food Truck
The offerings at Red Hook Lobster Pound are so delicious, they made our list twice. Originating in Brooklyn, N.Y., Red Hook Lobster Pound has since expanded to Washington, D.C. and Montauk, N.Y., with plans to open in more cities in the future. The owners, so the story goes, "were tearing into the fresh live lobsters that they’d brought home from a trip to Maine, wishing that someone would start a business bringing live lobsters to Brooklyn," until it dawned on them, "why not us!" Six months later, The Red Hook Lobster Pound opened. Ralph Gorham haggles with lobstermen in Maine each week, and wife Susan Povich devised the menu. There are shrimp rolls, a lobster BLT, bisque, and New England and shrimp and corn chowder, but let’s face it, it’s really about the lobster roll here.
Sadly, this commendation comes at a sad time for the Slap Yo Mama family. Joseph "Big Joe" Johnson, the much beloved owner of the truck with his wife Valerie, recently passed away. Alligator, greens, mac and cheese, gumbo, po’boys, fried chicken, banana pudding, peach cobbler — these dishes have all been enough to draw crowds wherever the truck idles. But if they’re not, take their signature dish as a personal quest. Something you just have to search out. The "Snoop Dogg" is a crazy Monte Cristo sandwich made with waffles, fried chicken, and mac and cheese that’s deep-fried, and topped with syrup and powdered sugar. And to think, it all started just with some tasty self-confidence in the home kitchen. Noted Johnson in an interview, "My wife was cooking meals at home for the holidays, we were doing deep-fried turkeys, and we were doing so good, we decided, 'Hey, let's try to get a restaurant.'" It’s just that kind of hope and trust that makes up part of what goes into starting a food truck. You’ll be missed, Joe. Bless.
flickr/Atomic Hot Links
In 2005, chef Einat Admony and her husband Stefan Nafziger, homesick for their favorite Tel Aviv street food, opened their own falafel shop on Waverly Place. Five years later, and with much anticipation, they launched the food truck version of Taïm. And while some of New York City’s chicken and lamb carts might not be too happy about their presence (don’t worry Moroccan mystic on 21st and Fifth, you and your secret eggplant and onion stash have nothing to be insecure about), most of Gotham’s street lunch seekers are, especially those who don’t eat meat (though it’s a welcome break for even the most ardent carnivore). The menu features the standard falafel sandwich with hummus, Israeli salad, pickled cabbage, and tahini, as well as platters and salads and sides made from just about the same ingredients. But you shouldn’t miss the special red pepper falafel they frequently offer, and make sure to ask for everything (and extra of it) and they’ll add s’rug (Yemeni hot sauce), amba (pickled mango chutney), Israeli pickles, and spicy peppers for a spicy, crunchy, wet, delicious mess.
OK, here’s the deal: Baby’s Badass Burgers did make The Daily Meal’s tongue-in-cheek list of Food Truck Names That Should Be Banned. It wasn’t that the name was actually that outlandish, but something about the presentation was just a bit, well, much. It takes a page out of the Fojol Bros. of Merlindia’s book: outlandish getup. In the case of Baby's Badass Burgers, Eater LA noted that means tiny booty shorts, tight tank tops, and high heels worn by the "burger babes," who you can view here.
The truck, the creation of ex-New York restaurateur Erica Cohen and event planner Lori Barbera, has a mysterious section named, "View the Goods," and the logo features a scantily clad girl holding up two burgers near where, well, where the strap of her bra is falling off. All of this, of course, makes it pretty wildly popular on LA’s streets and also on TV — the truck has had cameos on both Entourage and CBS’ The Defenders.
There are seven ½-pound "maneater-sized" burger options on the menu made with ground Angus and served on Kings Hawaiian Rolls, as well as a turkey and vegetable option, all with names drenched with the innuendo you’d expect (Cougar, Mamacita, She’s Smokin!, The Other Woman, and The "Perfect 10"), but The Bombshell is the move: "A ½-pound Maneater sandwiched between two bacon grilled cheese melts, topped with grilled onions and a side of baby’s special sauce." As the menu says: "Baby-Liscious."
Baby's Badass Burgers
After finding inspiration in the falafel shops of Amsterdam, Gail Lillian "pondered how to deliver the same ingenuity, accessibility, and flavor intensity to the streets of the Bay Area." She decided to deliver it "via the cutest truck on Earth." All the falafel, salads, and sweets on the Liba Falafel Truck are made from scratch, the falafel sandwich is served on locally baked pita, and the falafel salad on organic greens (you can top them or stuff them with braised eggplant, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts with red apple and mustard vinaigrette, spiced carrot ribbons, rosemary peanuts, feta, hummus, harissa, fried pickled onions, and more). All the take-away products are compostable ("every little thing" claims Liba’s website under the tab titled, "Falasophy"), and at day’s end, you guessed it, Liba’s oil "gets turned into biofuel." Does it get any more green, cuddly, and cute? Guess what? The food’s good, too.
Liba Falafel Truck
Be they Korean, Asian, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, or Malaysian, Asian-Mexican fusion tacos are old news. But burritos? Undeterred by chef David Chang’s stab at the Asian burrito, the chef behind this Los Angeles food truck, Yo Pratioto, took the burrito concept and applied a perhaps even more daring spin on it: sushi. You get your choice of traditional tortilla or near transparent sesame-studded soy paper wrapped around a healthy portion of vinegary-sweet sticky rice rolled around spicy tuna and cucumber with your choice of fillings like barbecue eel, crabmeat, or shrimp tempura. And if that’s not enough fusion for you, there are always the spicy tuna nachos.
Although founder David Choi freely admits he didn’t invent the Korean BBQ taco concept, he believes Seoul Taco has taken it to the next level. Fascinated by the way food defines every culture, he found that locals in many cities kept singing the praises of Korean BBQ tacos. So he tried them. And had his mind blown. The rest is history. Fare from Seoul Taco includes the Gogi Bowl, with rice, fresh veggies, fried egg, sesame oil, and spicy gochujang pepper sauce; burritos with kimchi fried rice, lettuce, cheese, carrots, sour cream, and Seoul Sauce; and tacos with Korean salad mix, green onion, Seoul Sauce, crushed sesame seeds, and a wedge of lime.
Chef and owner Richard Hales has been fighting the good food truck fight for a while now in Miami since launching his food truck in 2010. Having dealt with more permit and event issues than he’s likely interested to recall, it’s no surprise that his affordable some 30-item menu is also available at two brick-and-mortar locations. But you can still get your "Popcorn" Shrimp SsÃ¤m with spicy sticky rice and banchan in the truck, provided the cops aren’t harassing him. Also try the Kurobuta Pork Belly "Bao" Sweet Chili Bun (pictured left).
flickr/Bob B Brown
"Dinner tonight will begin with an escargot puff lollipop amuse, just a little something to say 'Hello,' from the chef. He'll follow that with cauliflower bisque — don't you think cauliflower is an unappreciated vegetable? Chef does. For something decadent, the next course is a foie gras torchon and toast. And then, chef would like to know, do you like truffles? Yes? Parfait. D’accord, he weel be sending out pour vous, ze far west fungi truffle emulsion 'vol au vent.' That’s the small hollow case of puff pastry. You’re sure to enjoy."
Sounds like a fancy restaurant, huh? Nope. Just a rundown of some of the menu items that have been available from the converted taco truck self-branded as "San Francisco's one and only mobile bistro," Spencer on the Go!. Sweetbreads, ratatouille, boeuf bourguignon, and dishes that include truffles are some of the fare to expect from this truck founded in 2009 by chef Laurent Katgely, a native of the French Alps with culinary cred including Lespinasse (New York City), and Pastis in LA.
FACEBOOK LIKES: 188
LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check listings
Neither co-owner of Riffs Fine Street Food truck, B.J. Lofback (Detroit) or Carlos Davis (Barbados), is actually from Nashville, but at this point, their truck is probably beloved enough in the city for it to adopt them as native sons. Lofback (a self-described "culinary school dropout" who credits Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown for teaching him "a ton") and Davis (a culinary school grad and hotel chef) were inspired to launch Riffs in 2011 after reading about the Kogi truck in a post on Serious Eats. They’ve gone onto win Nashville’s Battle of the Food Trucks two years running with a menu that leans heavily toward Asian and Caribbean flavors and the motto "Eat. Good. Food." Notes Jim Ridley of the Nashville Scene, "Whether the selection is a spicy Asian beef salad dusted with crunchy noodles, a terrific jerk chicken on skewers or a citrusy fish tacoâ€¦ They embody the energy and variety the mobile-food movement has brought to Nashville's restaurant scene — a tropical breeze currently enjoying the momentum of a hurricane." Most recently, Riffs teamed up with GAC TV for the Country Music Awards.
Riffs Fine Street Food
Does the lobster roll at the Lobsta Truck (whose inspiration comes from what has to be considered one of the best, if not the best lobster roll in the country) serve as much lobster as its muse Red's Eats in Wiscasset, Maine? No. But the Lobsta Truck is also serving $12 rolls on the road, all the way across the country in Los Angeles, where Maine lobster doesn’t come quite as easily as out of the traps from the water nearby Red's, and they certainly have the right idea in mind that it doesn’t get much better than Red's.
Former seafood distributor and truck owner Justin Mi was inspired by the idea to start an LA lobster roll truck after doing a lobster roll tour through Maine (something that can practically inspire you to just move there). He flies in fresh lobsters from Maine and Canada several times a week (and those famous top-loading buns), and offers a simple menu that has been a hit in LA. There's little more than the lobster roll (clam chowder, lobster bisque, chips, whoopie pie, and an ice cream sandwich), but they've added one West Coast item that's likely to make many East Coast seafood lovers jealous enough to start thinking how they can get their own version: a fresh Dungeness crab roll.
It’s one thing for a truck to draw lines at events. It’s another for their brick-and-mortar spot that isn’t open for lunch to draw lines during it outside while they’re prepping to the point that they need to start a new service. That’s what’s happened with Fresno’s Dusty Buns Bistro and Bus, a truck launched by likeable Le Cordon Bleu graduates Dustin and Kristin Stewart with the idea of showcasing the best of California’s Central Valley small-farm and organic foods. Dusty Buns serves local organic sandwiches on buns that the Stewarts make by hand daily. You heard right. And they work with at least 15 local farmers, driving to or receiving deliveries of farm produce during the week. Don’t expect an extensive menu. This isn’t that kind of truck. But the sandwiches... well, consider some of the options yourself: The Dusty Bun (organic chipotle roast Mary’s chicken and sesame cabbage slaw), Le Grilled Cheese (aged white Cheddar, Applewood smoked bacon, and Bloomsdale spinach), and the Veg Out (roast butternut squash, sage brown butter, Sonoma chévre, and arugula).
KoJa Kitchen, a portmanteau of "Korean" and "Japanese," serves a menu combining flavors from both cuisines between toasted rice cake patties. It’s a clever and different idea that’s refreshing in a field that’s filled with corn tortillas, flour tortilla wraps, bao, and burger and hot dog buns. Look for Korean barbecue beef, chicken with pineapple, and teriyaki "vegetarian chicken," and the signature Kamikaze criss-cut fries topped with Korean barbecue beef, sautéed onions, kimchi, green onions, and Japanese mayo. There’s a clever play on the tiramisu, too, the "Mochimisu," a short tower of lady fingers and mascarpone layered with chocolate mochi.
It’s no mystery that most Americans don’t have as much exposure to Filipino cuisine as they do with the food from other Southeast Asian countries. Chef and owner William Pilz is working to change that in San Francisco with his truck Hapa SF (Hapa being the term for mixed-race Asian or Pacific Islanders). It didn’t take long after launching his truck in 2010 for Pilz (formerly of chef Elizabeth Falkner’s acclaimed Citizen Cake) to rake in the accolades. His modern, organic cuisine has been praised by SF Weekly for "making some of the cleanest, most technically sophisticated food on wheels." On the menu you’ll find Filipino classics often highlighted by Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese touches. And whether you order chicken adobo banh mi, pork sisig tacos (face meat), or kilawin (raw vinegar-marinated fish) you can be pretty sure you’re eating local and humane — Pilz lists as partners Soul Food Farm, La Victoria Bakery, Monterey Fish Market, and Dirty Girl Produce.
It made sense in 2010 when French chef Ludo Lefebvre launched a mobile kitchen with no permanent location other than the road. After all, this beloved chef with 13 years of training at three-Michelin-starred restaurants has made his reputation in the American market with LudoBites, seasons one and two of Top Chef Masters, Sundance Channel’s Ludo Bites America, and now most recently as one of the four celebrity judges on The Taste.
The LudoTruck serves Lefebvre’s famous fried chicken. It’s so good that Pulitzer Prize winner food critic Jonathan Gold listed it as one of the 99 Things to Eat in LA Before You Die. Buttermilk chicken, honey garlic-glazed wings, crispy breast strips, and the crispy chicken sandwich can be dressed with honey mustard, béarnaise, and spicy mayo, and eaten with slaw, fries, or a honey lavender biscuit. Don’t forget the aguas frescas — basil blood orange and strawberry watermelon.
Yes, more Asian tacos, but this (originally) Los Angeles truck that takes its cute name from the onomatopoeia at least focuses a bit more on Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches made on wheat/rice flour baguettes. Founders Jennifer Green and Misa Chien met as undergrads at UCLA and did some brisk business, but really rose in national exposure due to their stint on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. They dress their banh mi with house mayo, cucumber, jalapeño, pickled carrots, daikon, and cilantro, and your choice of grilled pork shoulder (infused with honey, garlic, and soy), grilled chicken (infused with lemongrass, chile, and sesame oil), steamed tofu, or Vietnamese cold cuts (uncured ham, steamed pork loaf, head cheese, and pork liver pâté). And while they eventually lost out to Grill ‘Em All, the Nom Nom girls were able to expand their business to the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re currently on a brief hiatus, but we’re looking forward to their return.
Sometimes it’s better to let people speak for themselves. That’s the case with the Clover Food Lab's founder Ayr Muir: "We’re here to make food you love, the kind you talk about and look forward to eating. The Clover Food Lab is serving up a new type of fast food. This food is local, it’s just-cut, when we can it is organic." And he means it. There is no back-of-house, no freezer, the menu changes daily with available seasonal ingredients. Even the beverages are "a part of [their] culinary conversation." Cinnamon lemonade, blackberry switchel, hibiscus iced tea — ask any chef in the truck and they can tell you where the ingredients for the drinks come from just as confidently as they can with the ingredients of a sauce. Offering both breakfast and lunch, Clover Food Lab only offers the freshest ingredients in everything it makes, in what Muir describes as, "clean flavors."
"Some say, 'Southwest meets Louisiana,' other say, 'Mexican food with a splash of Soul.'" That’s the trademarked motto Sky’s Gourmet Tacos heralds, an approach creator (and former corporate executive) Barbara Burrell (call her, "Sky") has been taking since launching her restaurant on West Pico Boulevard near Hauser in 1992. Eighteen years later, Sky’s MCV (Mobile Cuisine Vehicle) fuchsia food truck followed, along with the popularity and following. The menu is tailored from the restaurant’s, one that most purists will note doesn’t adhere to traditional taco fare. Still, shrimp tacos are the signature move, and really, you can’t go wrong with a truck that benefits from more than 20 years of recipe refinement. Provecho!
Sky's Gourmet Tacos
The art for the Ms. Cheezious truck? A scantily clad blond beach babe who practically looks like she’s pulling off her red and white polka dot bathing suit with one hand while holding a melting gooey cheese sandwich in the other. The promise? That the "hottest sandwich lady in Miami" serves "full-bodied flavors" that will "arouse your palate" and promises "to keep you coming back for more." Looking for more good-natured innuendo? "Steamy," "turned on," and "hot" get thrown into the mix, too. The menu includes grilled cheese sandwiches, six standards, and a build-your-own option, with eight cheeses, about five breads to choose from, and six fixings to throw into the mix. Grilled blue and bacon, goat cheese and prosciutto, and crab salad with Cheddar are just a few of the standouts that can be ordered with sides of turkey three-bean chili or tomato soup for dipping, and conventional sweet potato fries. Husband-and-wife team Brian and Fatima Mullins are the force behind the trucks (MC1 and MC2) voted Miami New Times’ best in 2012. The truck most recently made it to the top 10 finalists in LIVE with Kelly and Michael’s 2013 Truckin’ Amazing Cook-Off. The next step in the competition is to fly to New York City to cook for the hosts, the date for which has yet to be announced.
So here’s how the story goes (at least according to the Jefe’s Original Fish Taco & Burgers truck’s website) in 100 words or less: "Mid-19th century, a young surfer called 'Jefe' ('boss' in Spanish) dominated the waves of Ensenada, Baja, Calif. When not surfing, Jefe helped his father run the family fishing business and his mother with her beach taqueria. People asked Jefe what made him a good surfer. He swore it was mom's fish tacos. Time passed. One year, his father's boat was lost at sea while Jefe competed in a surfing contest, and his mother passed away. Years later, he reopened his mother's taqueria. It became very popular. Jefe died in 1976, but his recipes were rediscovered by a distant relative."
Whatever you believe about that story (keeping in mind that this truck is Miami, not Baja), if you’re among the uninitiated, you need to try two things on the menu. One is the Ensenada-style fish taco with beer-battered crispy fish, shaved fresh green cabbage, pico de gallo, crema, and lime. The other is the Double Cheezer Miami-Style (two patties, two slices of American cheese, and extra everything (for free), which means tomato, lettuce, pickle, onion, and Jefes’ "boss sauce"). Smacks of In-N-Out? Tacos aren’t the only thing worth emulating from California.
Jefe's Original Fish Taco & Burgers
Ever waited on a Paris "rue" and seen one of those street vendors with a line of people behind you hungrily expecting that their crepe with ham and cheese will be the next one to be folded over into paper and handed over for a few euros? Then you remember that warm, salty cheesiness, the reaffirming enjoyment of life that comes with biting down into well-made freshly cooked crepe. It’s thin. It’s crispy. It’s salty, gooey, satisfying, and soul-affirming in a way that almost shouldn’t be possible. And yet it is. The partners behind Crepes Bonaparte know that love, too.
The truck was an offshoot of founder Christian Murcia’s graduate project at USC’s School of Entrepreneurship. As Food Network notes about one of its past The Great Food Truck Race contestants, "Emulating the experience of ordering a crepe off the streets of Paris, Christian, [his wife] Danielle Law , and his childhood friend Matthew Meyer, take crepes out of the fine dining realm." Every month features a new crepe of the month — this June features a bananas Foster crepe with mascarpone cheese, bananas, caramel, cinnamon sugar, and whipped cream. All of the crepes are served from the truck by folks wearing berets, black vests, and ties to the sound of French pop. Own it, baby. Own it.
Launched in 2012, Pepe Food Truck might still be the best example on the planet of how far food trucks have come. It’s chef José Andrés for crying out loud. This is the kind of move toward food trucks by a major chef that starts to build up in you that bravado to ask, "Hey, Thomas Keller, that’s right, you bum, Grant Achatz, where’s your food truck! Are you just being lazy?" There are typically six to eight sandwiches available on the menu at Andrés’ D.C. sandwich truck. Recently, the menu featured seared asparagus with romesco, breaded shrimp with caper mayo, chicken confit with bacon, a fried chicken sandwich, Spanish grilled cheese, patatas bravas (pictured left), and a cured ham and cheese sandwich.
Marfa’s Food Shark may be one of the most out-of-the-way trucks worth a pilgrimage. It’s a "Mediterranean-by-way-of-West-Texas" food truck that has been holding it down in a tiny desert town since 2006.
Co-owner Adam Bork is an artist-musician who advertises around town with his collection of old cars, including a Barcelona matador that was actually made to fly in one Bond movie. His newest and biggest project has been the opening of Future Shark, a cafeteria and day lounge.
The Food Shark's lead menu item, on which most of the rest of the menu is based, is the Marfalafel: a large flour tortilla filled with falafel balls, fresh romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, tahini, yogurt, harissa sauce, and hummus. Desert falafel that does you right — don’t mess.
FACEBOOK LIKES: 94
LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Thursday through Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. under the pavilion between the railroad tracks and Marfa Book Co.
What started out as a small storefront became the Maximus/Minimus catering truck (named after Kurt Beecher Dammeier’s son Max), which with some help from local designer Colin Reedy, morphed into a giant, distressed metal gray pig complete with snout and perked-up ears. (The design was enough to rank Maximus/Minimus among The Daily Meal’s Most Outrageous Food Trucks.)
This truck has a very basic menu — just about four or so options including vegetarian and grilled chicken sandwiches, slaw, "Max & Cheese," as well as beverages like ginger lemonade and hibiscus nectar. But the flagship is the truck’s inspiration pulled pork, which started as braised pork with a barbecue sauce developed at Dammeier’s restaurant Bennett’s. There are two versions of the sandwich, the MAXImus (made with hot and spicy peppers, onions, and fruit juices) and the miniMUS (sweet and tangy with tamarind, honey, and molasses). They also offer Beecher’s Flagship cheese for an additional cost.
A season two contestant on Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, founder Stephanie Morgan’s Seabirds vegan food truck isn’t just about 15 seconds of fame. Launched in 2010, Seabirds is all about using local organic ingredients, as many recyclable food service materials as possible, and reducing their carbon footprint. Buying local helps, and the Seabirds website gives those local growers one of the biggest shout-outs you’ll see from any truck on this list. While philosophy and ideology are great, the food has to be good. And Seabirds gets the sign-off on that count for a rotating menu that includes among them many gluten-free options like their yellow cashew curry bowl, BBQ jack tacos with shredded green tacos, and bonzo bean and kale salad. But it’s dishes like the beer-battered avocado tacos (fried avocado with creamy jalapeno-cilantro sauce, red onion, cabbage, and lime) that bring even non-vegans to seek out the truck, something that will be even easier very soon. The Seabirds are scheduled to open a spot at The LAB Antimall in Costa Mesa, Calif., in July.
The 5411 Empanadas truck (that’s fifty-four eleven, not five-four-one-one) "started in 2009 when three friends from Argentina wanted to bring a piece of their country to Chicago." It may have started small, but despite the restrictions it has faced in Chicago (which have recently loosened up somewhat), 5411 has done very well. In addition to having one of the city’s most iconic food trucks, they also run the 5411 Store featuring desserts and homemade alfajores, as well as fresh empanadas (of course).
The truck’s menu features 10 savory empanadas, with beef being the best-seller, and one dessert empanada (banana and Nutella). The move? The chef’s pick is the Malbec beef — slow-braised beef and sautéed carrots and onions in a malbec reduction with a side of chimichurri sauce.
Want to know what passion, word-of-mouth, and crazy good Korean BBQ create? Seoul Sausage, a venture started by two families — the Kims and the Ohs. The business was launched in 2010, and these guys kicked things off with their Kalbi, marinated short ribs, and their spicy pork sausages. The food was so good it gave birth to a legion of fans eager wait in line at street fairs. Movie studios and Fortune 500 companies have catered events with this outstanding fare, and both wineries and chefs have made requests for private orders. They also basically managed to figure out a way to time the launch of their brick-and-mortar restaurant to them winning Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. Even though the season’s over, seems like the Food Network’s celebrity chefs like Alton Brown and Bobby Flay still keep coming back for more. We’ve got our eye on Da KFC: Korean Fried Chicken with a sweet and spicy glaze, served with pickled daikon radishes and a kimchi Cheddar cornbread.
As food trucks have become more mainstream, more high-visibility chefs have gotten in on the act. So it is with Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, two Top Chef Masters contestants, long known as Food Network’s "Too Hot Tamales," and as successful West Coast chef-restaurateurs who took the upscale modern Mexican cuisine of their successful Border Grill restaurants to the streets with the Border Grill Truck. Border Grill recipes were adapted to be on-the-go, and if the truck menu isn’t quite as extensive as the restaurant’s, it doesn’t miss by much. There are five or six different taco options (including Yucatan pork, carne asada, and Baja fish); three quesadilla options; corn tortilla cones filled with Peruvian ceviche made with sustainable fish, pickled onion, and aji amarillo; sides like cumin fries, and of course, guac and chips.
Border Grill Truck
Launched in early 2010,Vizzi Truck's menu was said to have been "inspired and crafted by taking French cooking techniques… mixing it with coastal flavors from around the globe, and finishing each bite with subtle Pacific flair." Those "coastal flavors" from around the globe show up on chef David Fuñe’s truck menu in the form of garlic-poached lobster tail, tarragon remoulade, arugula, and crème fraîche on sweet Hawaiian bread. Confused? Relax. Apparently, it doesn’t all have to make sense. Food also isn’t the truck’s only raison d’être — their other goal is to introduce customers to "the sights and sounds of undiscovered talent."
For anyone who knows Spanish, the name of this one makes perfect sense. For those who don’t, "El Camión" means "the truck," and this one in particular has been known to be "full of goodness," according to The Seattle Times. El Camión serves quite a few different carnes, including carne asada, pollo asado, carnitas, cochinita pibil, adobada, chorizo, lengua, tripas, cabeza, and fish. There are tacos, burritos, quesadillas, gorditas, mulitas, tortas, tamales, and breakfast burritos. It’s a big menu, and that doesn’t even include the platos, which are worth a spin through of their own. Whatever you get, take comfort that founder McGinnis makes all six of his salsas from scratch.
"Gogi" in Korean means "meat." Owner Eric Nguyen hopes you’ll be reciting his truck’s name, "Oh My Gogi!" after sampling his food: Korean BBQ tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and OMG! Fries, in addition to tofu marinades combined with some of the most popular Mexican street foods. Choices of filling include beef short rib, chicken, and spicy pork, and of course, you’ll want to liberally add on the homemade Oh My Gogi! BBQ salsa, a Mexican salsa roja mixed with Korean spices. They’re temporarily closed for renovations, but will be back on the streets soon.
Oh My Gogi! BBQ
Chef Matt Marcus is a CIA-trained chef with time put in at Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Fat Duck in Britain and at Sonoma, Calif.’s acclaimed but now-defunct Cyrus. But the menu served on the "Intergalactic Food Truck" he runs with founders and friends Ryan Soroka and Alex Vassilakidis, includes dishes with names like "Pork Snuggies" (pork belly bao), "Sabotage" (a five-hour roasted pork sandwich), and "Frank the Pretzel" (a homemade chicken poblano sausage with sautéed onions and whole-grain chardonnay mustard on a pretzel bun). He may not take himself too seriously, but Houston’s food lovers have, appreciating the Eatsie Boys enough to have enabled them to launch Mmmontrose Café last fall. While the Eatsie Boys brand has changed with the café and brewery, they haven’t forsaken their truck, and neither have their patrons. While you’re more likely to see the truck catering private events, it’s out, it’s moving, and you can find it at the brewery at least once a week. "We’re a food truck until the day we die," said Soroka. "Our truck is our identity and it is how our business was built. We’ll never abandon the truck."
Since its opening three years ago, The Peached Tortilla has landed a spot on Food & Wine’s list of the best sliders in America 2012, as well as the number 72 spot on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list. There’s a fairly long menu of tacos and burritos among other options including riffs on banh mi, Chinese barbecue, and pad thai. Want the truck to come to you? Check out their new lunch box option; choose your protein and rice and they’ll deliver.
The Peached Tortilla
Owners, operators, chefs, servers and cleaners Jessie Watnes and Haley Wood opened GourMelt in 2011. Their goal was to bring customers everything they love about grilled cheese and more with their special gourmet-style sandwiches. The menu features classics like The Grade Schooler — American cheese grilled on white bread — as well as more adult options like The UltiMelt made with Cheddar, fontina, and cream cheese on sourdough with a garlic-Parmesan crust. And for those looking for something sweet, GourMelt offers three sweet melts including the Simply Sinful melt with Nutella, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and banana on white bread. It's so delicious they promise "you'll never forget your first time."
In June 2011, former IT professional Brian Farrell introduced the District of Columbia to homemade and gourmet lasagnas made with from-scratch pasta and served on the go. The "scratched" metal finish on this food truck is just where the hard work began for Basil Thyme.
People also seem to really enjoy the food Farrell serves with the help of chef Alberto Vega. There are five different kinds of artisan lasagnas, among them the Linda ("traditional" lasagna with seasoned beef), the Cantena (wine and shallot sautéed chicken with spinach), the Guiseppe (black truffle lasagna with gorgonzola and portobello truffle cream sauce), and the newer lobster or crab lasagnas. It was the Washington City Paper’s readers' pick for second-best food truck in the city in 2012 and made it to number 25 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list.
"Basil Thyme's Two," a second truck, is temporarily closed, but is scheduled to make a comeback after a menu makeover. We can’t wait to see what’s up Farrell’s sleeve.
You might not remember this, but San Francisco’s Chairman Bao Bun Truck really stuck in the craw of New York City restaurateur turned food and pop culture commentator Eddie Huang. Apparently, it was a bit much that another business serving Asian food took the word "bao" and deigned use it in the name of their food truck. "I'm 28 years old, I opened the restaurant last year, I did it all with my own money," Huang told SF Weekly’s BuzzMachine. "Street trucks are like independent businesses, many times ethnic. To co-opt something like this reeks of corporations." Then he started talking about suing them, too. If that’s the case, Roy Choi should basically have sued every food truck across the country.
Regardless, the Chairman Bao Bun Truck did change its name to "The Chairman,” and still draws lines for its simple menu of steamed and baked buns, which are known for having featured pork belly with pickled daikon, crispy garlic tofu with miso greens, and red sesame chicken with pickled carrots and cucumber. It’s a San Francisco favorite and has been honored as one of San Francisco’s best food trucks by San Francisco Magazine, as well as placing at number 29 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list.
The Chairman Truck
You’d better be able to back it up when you bill yourself as the "best thing in Nashville since country music." Mas Tacos Por Favor’s fervent following would seem to do just that. Besides, Teresa Mason, who started Mas Tacos in 2008 in a 1970s Winnebago, swears that tagline is a direct quote. With fried tilapia tacos and carnitas (and a tortilla soup shout-out from The New York Times’ Kim Severson) this good, it’s not difficult to believe.
Mas Tacos Por Favor
Sam’s ChowderMobile is the offshoot of Sam’s Chowder House, a 225-seat seafood restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay, Calif., that opened in 2006. Of course, the 24-foot-long truck headed by owner Paul Shenkman serves New England clam chowder (made with clam broth, cream, clams, potatoes, smoked bacon, onion, and thyme), but the mobile menu also features fried seafood favorites like calamari, fish and chips (Old Bay fries), a piled-high shrimp or Andouille po’boy, and a lobster roll.
They’ve also received significant attention including a spot on the Cooking Channel’s Eat Street, recognition as one of the top 12 food trucks in San Francisco by Zagat, and an appearance at number 13 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list.
OnlyBurger states that its "truck is the poster child for the exploding Durham mobile food scene." This isn’t just a claim, though — this simple burgers and fries truck has been at the forefront of the vibrant Durham food truck community since it hit the streets in 2008. Given their success over the past five years, the have opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in addition to being featured as one of the South’s best food trucks in The New York Times, The New York Times Style Magazine, and Southern Living. Don’t be fooled by their only "burger and fry" menu; it includes imaginative and delicious offerings like a fried green tomato and pimento cheese slider (a hit with vegetarians) and a lamb slider, made with 2-ounces of ground lamb mixed with chopped sweet onions and feta cheese topped with house-made tzatziki.
You’d have thought it would have hurt team Korilla BBQ for being called cheaters for adding more than $2,000 of their own money into their cash drawer on what has basically been the representative show for food trucks on cable TV (Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race). But chef Tyler Florence sending this truck packing didn’t relegate its owners Edward Song, Paul Lee, and Stephan Park to obscurity — it has quite the following in New York City.
Taking a cue from Kogi like so many others before it, Korilla BBQ does the whole Korean-Mexican fusion thing, but in orange tiger-striped fashion. Offering three ways to KBBQ: tacos, burrito, or the chosun bowl, the menu features several playfully named options including the "Ribeye of the Tiger," "Porkinator," "Wonder Bird," and "Kimchi Time."
#26 Fukuburger Truck (Las Vegas)
"Be Careful How You Pronounce It," noted one headline announcing the arrival of Robert "Mags" Magsalin and Colin Fukunaga’s exotic burger and fry truck back in 2010. Just keep in mind that it’s a last name when you say the truck’s name out loud (who’s kidding who here, you know what you’re going to call it), and get ready to choose from a menu of just five burgers (plus a chicken katsu sandwich).
Fukuburger’s "All-American" burgers with a Japanese twist feature toppings like wasabi mayo, pickled red ginger, avocado cream, Japanese barbecue sauce, and furikake (dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, and salt). They’re a consistent favorite of CheapoVegas and appeared on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list at number 19.
Fivetenburger’s chef-owner Roland Robles hasn’t suffered for lack of acclaim. His Eel River Ranch 100 percent grass-fed organic 6-ounce burgers have been named one of Grub Street's Top 50 in San Francisco, and his mobile kitchen was named one of SF Weekly’s Best Burgers in 2013. Not to mention that they were at number 45 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list... you get the point.
There are now two trucks, and a brick-and-mortar on the way, and the burgers are just as popular as ever. They come with lettuce and tomato, house-made pickles, onions, mayo, ketchup, and mustard with your choice of American, Cheddar, and Swiss, you know, like most burgers do. But these aren’t "most burgers." Often, extra toppings substitute as innovation and execution. At Fivetenburger, sure you can add applewood bacon, a cage-free egg, and garlic oil fries, but these burgers shine in their simplicity. Everything’s cooked, toasted, and served in its appropriate ratio. Not feeling like a burger? That same execution is applied to the hot slaw- and hot mustard-topped handmade beef and pork sausage from Taylor’s in Oakland, the New York steak sandwich, and the chicken sandwich with pickled onions, all served in rolls from Bui Phong Bakery.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it’s nice when there’s a tip of the cap to those who came first. So you have to like KOi Fusion’s chef Bo Kwon, who makes no bones about crediting the granddaddy of all things Korean food truck fusion, Roy Choi, for inspiring Kwon’s own West Coast empire. Even so, first-generation Korean-American and Tigard-raised Kwon has food fusion in his blood (he’s copped to making kimchi and ketchup grilled cheese sandwiches when he was 12), and it’s Kwon’s spin on the concept (namely, his mother’s secret family marinades) that has made him so successful since launching his first truck in 2009 (there are now three trucks, kiosks, brick-and-mortar spots, and a catering division). The menu? Bulgogi beef, chicken, pork, Kalbi short ribs, or spicy tofu that’s incorporated into tacos, burritos, kimchi quesadillas, rice bowls, K-dogs with kimchi kraut and barbecued meat, and Seoul Sliders (meat with shredded Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, spicy mayo, and Tillamook Cheddar). And as K’headz will tell you, there are specials, too: fried chicken and spicy Korean fries.
This 2009 Vendy’s winner and number 39 truck on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list doesn’t need introduction to New York’s taco lovers (especially the desperate ones from Texas or those who are either from California or spent time there gaining the taco cred and need to lord the "there’s no good Mexican food here" mantra over Manhattanites). It’s one of the city’s best Mexican food trucks. It’s just a pain to get to for most everyone besides people who live near the Red Hook Ball Fields, where Fernando Martinez and his wife Yolanda (originally from Puebla, Mexico) have set up since 1993 when they "started off with one grill and two tables" near the intersection of Clinton and Bay.
Yes, there are tacos, quesadillas, sopes, and chalupas, but the reason to wait on the at times more than hourlong line at Country Boys/Martinez Taco, are the huaraches: pressed to-order masa filled with a layer of soft beans, which is then cooked and topped with your choice of meat, shredded lettuce, guacamole, crema, and salsa.
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LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Saturday and Sunday, corner of Clinton and Bay Streets, starting about 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
What started for Michele Grant and chef Dave Danhi as a weekend activity entering their Cheesy Mac and Rib melt into LA’s seventh annual Grilled Cheese Invitational became the inspiration for The Grilled Cheese Truck. Their calling? "Not just the classic bread, butter, and cheese," notes their site, "but amazing creations that are constructed with the best ingredients, local produce, and made with nothing but love."
The menu features no fewer than six savory melts (the Plain and Simple melt, the Cheesy Mac and Rib, the Brie melt, the Buffalo Chicken melt, the Three Cheese melt, the Goat Cheese melt) most with a variety of complementing ingredients. But the menu goes beyond classic and clever combinations; there are also additions â€” 15 savory (among them, BBQ smoked pork, mac and cheese, bacon, avocado, and smoked turkey) and six sweet, including Nutella, toasted marshmallows, roasted banana purée, candied pecans, peanut butter, and graham crackers.
They made it to last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks in America list at number nine.
The Grilled Cheese Truck
Small burgers, big plans. Twenty-five-year-old Ric Guerrero launched Slidin’ Thru three years ago after being dumped and ended up with a truck so popular that it has been credited for helping to spawn the Vegas food truck movement, as well as a brick and mortar location. The cartoon-themed truck’s ridiculously delicious-looking sliders with names like Pep Pep (lettuce, tomato, pickle, Cheddar, special sauce, sautéed onion), Chicky Boom (lemon garlic chicken salad with Sriracha), Buffalo Soldier (grilled chicken with lettuce, tomato, crispy onions, Swiss, hot sauce, and ranch dressing), and Captain’s Order (tomato, arugula, feta, and balsamic reduction) keep drawing lines. For good reason. Check out the glisten on that meat, and the melt on that cheese.
Chef Thomas Odermatt calls himself "more of a caterer nowadays," but this son of a Swiss 'Metzgermeister' (master butcher) who still pulls his Roli Roti Gourmet Rotisserie truck into farmers’ markets, would deserve to rank among America’s best food trucks just for his prescience alone (it as at number 26 in last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list). Odermatt went into the food truck business over 10 years ago, a good five or six years before the trend took off, a time before Twitter, when, as Inside Scoop SF reported, getting a break publicity wise was tough, and the truck’s big media break came when news of the truck being stolen made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle ("It's the first truck with a giant chicken ever stolen in the city, a police dispatcher said.").
After earning his master’s in organic farming in Zürich and attending UC Berkeley, Odermatt became more interested in the "wood fired ovens of Chez Panisse and the lively farmers’ markets," and took the popular rotisserie dinners he’d been making for friends on the road in a food truck. If you’re lucky enough to find Roli Roti at a market, you’re probably just going to want to order each of the three signature items: the RoliRoti Combo (a quarter chicken and a side of rosemary roasted potatoes), the porchetta sandwich, and the roasted pork knuckle. Be sure to check out their seasonal menus, too.
You know those people who scoff at grilled cheese being made at restaurants, right? It may or may not be simplistic, but given the love that people have for grilled cheese sandwiches, and the success of so many across the country, one could argue that a restaurant serving the dish isn’t that bad of an idea.
The truth is that there are some monster grilled cheese trucks doing some much beloved things across the country, and The Grilled Cheeserie in Nashville, Tenn., is one of them. Run by Los Angeles transplants Crystal De Luna-Bogan (a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef) and her husband Joseph, The Grilled Cheeserie has been mopping up in Nashville with more than 16,000 Twitter followers and five specialty melts, among them a grilled pimento mac and cheese, a Buffalo chicken melt, and a "Melt of the Moment" (this month’s is the Southern Ham & Jam, or buttermilk Cheddar with cracked peppercorn goat cheese, shaved country ham, orange flower honey, and peach jam).
The Grilled Cheeserie
Sometimes you just have to fully embrace a theme and go with it. That’s what chef and owner Justin Turner has done with his Houston burger bus, an old-school short bus that takes the school shtick all the way from labeling press as "report cards" and truck swag as "school supplies," right down to the name of every burger. But it’s all done with a good-natured wink and elbow to the ribs to bring you in on the fun.
Turner, the former personal chef for Miami Heat forward Shane Battier, is said to have gotten his start flipping burgers at Wendy’s at age 16, but the burgers from Bernie's Burger Bus are a blend of three cuts of natural Black Angus beef, served with homemade toppings including the ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles.
The burgers? There’s The Principal, of course (classic burger), The Substitute (blue cheese, bacon, and caramelized onions), the seasonal Study Hall (Cheddar, barbecue sauce, and pork belly) and Fire Drill (roasted tomatoes, pepper jack, chipotle aioli, spicy guac, and crispy tortilla strips). But let’s face it, if you’re going back to school, you’re going to either want to take down The Bully (two patties, Cheddar, fixings, and roasted tomatoes), or go to Detention (two applewood-smoked bacon grilled cheeses sandwiches used as the bun, two patties, Cheddar, "tipsy onions," and fixings). And if you finish detention, you get on the Bernie’s wall of fame.
They run three buses throughout the Houston area, so unless you confuse them for an actual school bus, Bernie’s Burgers shouldn’t be too hard to find.
St. Louis has something you probably don’t: a badass food truck serving Filipino-inspired cuisine with the motto: "Fresh. Local. Filipino." The founder and chef Joel Crespo and Brian Hardesty have been open for a couple of years and already they’ve taken over the Gateway to the West, their Guerrilla Street Food truck being named the 2012 "Best Food Truck in St. Louis" by the Riverfront Times, as well as earning a spot at number 31 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list.
The rotating menu of dishes might require a little explanation to those who are less than familiar with Filipino cuisine, but you don’t need a passport to order Guerrilla’s signature dish, the "Flying Pig:" slow-roasted pork set on jasmine rice, topped with egg, and accented by calamansi tartness and Sriracha heat. Or try the "Cold Shrimp Noodles" (pictured left).
Guerrilla Street Food
"Big Blue" launched in 2009, touting Hawaiian-Korean curb cuisine ("Two cultures, one food truck"), the brainchild of Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison. The pair came up with the idea for Marination Mobile while eating their own marinated spicy pork tacos and commiserating over some unfortunate investments in Wall Street.
Look for tacos filled with sweet and savory kalbi, pork, miso ginger chicken, or "sexy" tofu. They also do a kimchi quesadilla and rice bowl, and serve sliders stuffed with shredded Kalua pork or SPAM. Speaking of SPAM, if you’re looking for something you don’t see too often on a menu outside Hawaii, try the SPAM musubi, grilled SPAM on a block of rice all wrapped up with nori, an occasional menu guest star. Be sure and check out their brick-and-mortar location, as well as Ma Kai: a full bar with breakfast every day except Monday.
Roxy’s gained national visibility via season two of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. While the season was ultimately won by the brash trio behind The Lime Truck, Roxy definitely held their own.
Brothers and bandmates James and Mike DiSabatino teamed up with trained chef Marc Melanson to sling some pretty sick cheesy sandwiches (griddled with mayonnaise instead of butter). The truck features a rotation of sandwiches perhaps best described by James as "grilled cheese without borders." The menu rotates, but staples include the Green Muenster (Muenster, guacamole, and applewood bacon), Mighty Rib Melt (fontina, braised short ribs, and caramelized onions), and, of course The Rookie Melt (Vermont Cheddar and vine-ripe tomatoes). Sandwiches and sides are cooked to order, and take comfort: you can add bacon to anything.
In case you’re wondering about tracking them down, they’ve now got two trucks roaming the streets of Boston to make it a little easier.
Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese
"Steadfast in the belief that the heavy metal and culinary worlds were bound to collide one day in a victorious marriage of massive meat and riffage," buddies and bandmates chef Ryan Harkins and Matthew Chernus won it all in 2010 with their over-the-top burgers when they beat fellow Los Angeles food truck Nom Nom during Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.
You’ll be tempted to order the Molly Hatchet (fennel sausage gravy, bacon, and maple syrup), the Dee Snider (peanut butter, jelly, bacon, and Sriracha), and the Witte (pronounced "Wit-e," a burger topped with cream cheese, deep-fried bacon, beer and Sriracha onions, and malt vinegar aioli), but you haven’t "grilled ‘em all" until you’ve tackled the Behemoth: two grilled cheese "buns" with Cheddar, bacon, beer-soaked onions, pickles, and "Grandma’s Mosh Pit BBQ Sauce" and a side of hand-rolled tater tots.
Earlier this year, Grill ‘Em All also opened a stationary location on Alhambra, Calif.’s Main Street. If not entirely unique in its menu (they have some truck favorites including "Napalm Death"), then it certainly is for its mural depicting a wizard "cavorting" with medieval burger trolls. They seem to be moving a lot of their operation to the stationary location, but still bring the truck to the streets. Be sure to check their schedule ahead of time.
Grill 'Em All
In 2007, Thomas DeGeest quit his job at IBM, bought a yellow 1968 Chevy box truck, and parked on a corner of Broadway in SoHo to sell his first Liege waffle. He made $84 that first shift and never looked back. Some six years and several trucks and carts later, DeGeest helms one of the most iconic, lauded (they were at number 14 in last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list, and beloved trucks (now three!) and carts in the city.
Wafels, whether Brussels (rectangular, doughier, and saltier) or Liege (usually more ovoid, chewy, and sweet), come with your choice of dinges (sides) that include dulce de leche, Belgian chocolate fudge, maple syrup, whipped cream, walnuts, bananas, butter, Nutella, strawberries, and perhaps one of the most underrated toppings of our time, speculoos. Imagine Golden Grahams cereal in dessert sauce form. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it actually originates from a thin, crunchy cookie typically made using butter, sugar, and a combination of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, and sometimes ginger), and if it’s your first topping, it’s free (for $2 you can load your wafels with every topping in the truck).
While a dessert truck, there are definitely some elusive savory options worth investigating (they’re not available at the carts), including the seasonal "pulled pork wafel”: BBQ pulled pork, coleslaw with a coolickle (yes, the Kool Aid pickle), and sweet BBQ sauce.
Wafels & Dinges
When you think about it, it makes lots of sense that this would be one of the country’s best food trucks. Americans love their breakfast after all — pancakes, waffles, eggs, sausage, and bacon — and they don’t like to be told when and where they can eat it. So why not all day and on the side of the road? Founder and FCI Pastry Arts grad Gigi Pascual makes that happen for Angelenos with The Buttermilk Truck, taking its name from the fact that it uses buttermilk as a key ingredient in most menu items, and its philosophy from Pascual, who claims to "eat breakfast morning, noon, and night."
In the morning they serve Hawaiian bread cinnamon French toast sticks, red velvet chocolate chip pancakes, cake donuts, Hawaiian bread breakfast sliders (with sausage, sautéed onions, and scrambled eggs), and breakfast brioche sandwiches with cheese, fried eggs, and either bacon, tocino, or chicken apple sausage (opt in for the rosemary garlic hash browns). The pancake, waffle, and donut batters are made from scratch and cooked to order. Late night, you can still swing the pancakes and sliders, but there are a few other savory options — things helpful for soaking up fun: fried chicken with cinnamon waffles, and a classic must-have called the "Buttermilk Brick." That’s hash browns with two eggs over-easy, a buttermilk biscuit, and house-made chorizo gravy. Besides landing at number 16 on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list, The Buttermilk Truck was also a finalist at the 2012 Vendy Awards and took third place on the Zagat 2013 Los Angeles Restaurants Survey. Fans seriously can’t enough, which might explain why they sell their own pancake mixes.
Tacos, banh mi, gyros, bistro food, Spanish sandwiches, meatballs — a few years ago, it kind of felt like you’d seen it all. Then in 2009, Schnitzel & Things showed up on the New York City food truck scene and won the Rookie of the Year at the Vendy’s. They also appeared as number 28 in last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list. Clever, huh? Not something you would have thought you’d find on a food truck, right?
The hand-pounded, lightly breaded, thin cutlets of fried veal, chicken, pork, cod, and (yes there's a vegetarian option) eggplant are really good — so too, the sides, especially the Austrian potato salad (Yukon Gold dressed with white wine shallot vinaigrette and scallions) and the cucumber salad. Count Schnitzel & Things among the other trucks whose asphalt success has led them to a permanent home. Their brick-and-mortar spot on Third Avenue is closing temporarily, but they’re planning on re-opening in Brooklyn soon.
Life partners and chefs Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer each have more than 20 years of experience, and also one of the most lauded trucks in the country, scoring 10th place on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list and earning a spot on U.S. News’ list of America’s most creative food trucks in January 2013. Carlson reportedly cooked for Gray Kunz, Christian Delouvier, and Daniel Humm, while Summer is credited for opening Morimoto’s pastry department and working at Jean-Georges’ JoJo. Ingredients are organic when possible, and from family farms and co-ops within Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the food is served in 100 percent biodegradable packaging. Speaking of which, the menu (seasonal), ranges from signature Indian-spiced mini-donuts, tempura soft-shell crab sandwich, and grass-fed beef tongue tacos to bison burgers, bacon beer brats, and Thai and Indian vegetable curries. There’s literally something for everyone — something Wisconsinites have recently been made aware of at the truck’s Bay City brick-and-mortar location.
Matt? Who Dat? Seattleites know. Why? Ever had a muffuletta in New Orleans? Then you know how hard it is to get a really good one anywhere outside the city. The bread, the flavor, and the ratio of it to cheese, meat, and chopped olive salad — it just seldom comes together. Lucky for Seattle, they have native New Orleanian chef Matthew Lewis, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who counts among his experience tours with Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Alabama, and Seattle’s own Restaurant Zoe and Canlis (ranked number 88 among The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America). Besides the New Orleans-style French bread made for him by a local baker, Lewis claims to make "everything handmade right down to the mayonnaise."
Besides that mean muffuletta on his Creole food truck Where Ya At Matt?, which came in at number 17 in last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list, you’ll find his riffs on all the N'awlins classics: jambalaya (rice, chicken, and house-cured Andouille sausage), chicken and Andouille gumbo thickened with okra, red beans and rice, shrimp and grits, and of course, beignets. Of course, no New Orleans menu would be complete without a po’boy and Lewis serves nine different options, which Eater has referred to as one of Seattle’s 18 iconic sandwiches. And while the oyster, shrimp, roast beef, "big bold Creole pork," smoked portabella, smothered chicken, Andouille, and catfish are all reputable, it’s hard to go with anything other than the Peacemaker — fried oysters, house-cured bacon, and Cheddar piled high with lettuce, tomato, pickles, Mama Lil’s Pickled Peppers, and aioli- a dish so delicious that it, along with Matt’s beignets and po'boys, are in the lineup for Eater’s 21 Must-Have Food and Drink Dishes. Really, Seattle? With Lewis’ new Fremont brick-and-mortar spot Restaurant Roux coming soon, you’re just being greedy.
"Has a 1991 Grumman / Chevy P30 become a Buddha?" asks The Cinnamon Snail’s website. No, you don’t have to prepare to get into chaturanga, but this is a full on vegan and organic food truck — right down to the grill, which when the truck was gutted was replaced with "a brand-new commercial grill which had never touched animal flesh." So what food inspires food and bliss? What kind of menu serves "food to help you transform into a being of pure light who can serve all living creatures simultaneously and eternally"? Well, a seasonal one to start. But the truck, a longtime dream of Adam Sobel (who before the truck ran a vegan catering service in New Jersey), has a menu that features breakfast, raw food, sandwiches, and pastries. There are burritos with scrambled tofu and refried beans, blue corn or fresh plum pancakes with pine nut butter and chamomile blood orange syrup, and sandwiches featuring seitan burgers, tempeh, and grilled tofu. Despite being vegan, this truck clearly caters to a pretty universal crowd, which explains it winning the 2012 Vendy Award and Mobile Cuisine magazine’s "America’s Favorite Vegetarian Food Truck," making New York Post’s top trends of 2012, earning first place on the Best of Yelp NYC Restaurant list of 2012, in addition to coming in 20th place on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list.
The Cinnamon Snail
Billed as "San Antonio’s only Pakistani food truck," Rickshaw Stop is a family-owned and operated affair run by Sameer and Meagan Siddiqui with the help of Sameer’s mother Gety, Aunt Bina, and Uncle Shabbir. "Each recipe we use has been created and approved by the entire Siddiqui/Khan family," their site proudly notes. Rickshaw Stop’s two main items are kebabs and samosas. Sounds simple, but the simplest things sometimes require the most attention, and the Siddiqui/Khan quality assurance team has made sure of that. Rickshaw Stop marinates both their beef and chicken for at least 48 hours "to ensure all of the Pakistani flavors are distributed throughout the meat — no exceptions." If they don’t, they’ve explained, "the flavor is completely different." And that’s simply not acceptable. Not when they hold themselves to the standard of serving food you’ll likely only have had if you’re "friends with a Pakistani family or you’ve spent extensive time in Pakistan." The move here is obvious. Get The Tony and ask for one of each kebab (one beef, one chicken), plus two samosas. For $6 you can get a chicken or beef kebab, marinated in a Pakistani spice mix, char-grilled over an open flame, and served taco-style in thin, flaky Pakistani paratha bread with onions, cilantro, and three sauces: Spicy (cilantro/mint), Sweet & Sour (tamarind), and Mild (yogurt/cilantro).
If you’re a Top Chef fan, you likely know the man behind East Side King even if you haven’t eaten its fare. The four East Side King trucks are the asphalt ambassadors from the likeable and disarming Top Chef season nine winner and former executive chef at Austin’s Uchiko Paul Qui. Chef Qui’s truck menus represent his spin on Japanese street food, the results of what Southern Living reported as two research-and-development trips to Japan after winning Top Chef. The results? Fried potato noodles with pork and kimchi stew, mapo tofu chili, a pork melt and pork chop sandwich, and fried chicken fried rice. Qui-ha!
East Side King
Brash and cocky, the trio behind the Orange County, Calif.-based Lime Truck (owner Daniel Shemtob, with Jason Quinn and Jesse Brockman) wore lime-green headbands in the fast lane through much of season two of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Road Race, winning the show. Appearing on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list at number seven, the trio, who launched the truck in June 2010, prides themselves on "local, organic, and sustainably sourced fresh ingredients, paired with hip, inventive recipes." The truck offers a variety of Mexican-inspired items with a fun twist, from their ahi tuna poke nachos to carnitas fries. To keep up with their growing fan base, the truck now has merchandise available online.
The Lime Truck
A summer experiment in June 2009 by founders Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff soon turned into one of New York City’s most iconic food trucks, and even went brick-and-mortar. Big Gay Ice Cream Truck’s creative toppings (olive oil, wasabi pea dust, Sriracha, Nilla Wafers, and Trix), clever dessert names (Salty Pimp, Mexican Affo’gay’to), flavor combinations (apple butter and bourbon butterscotch), and army of Twitter followers all helped put them at number three on our 101 Best Food Trucks list last year. Since then, the truck has added a second permanent location in the West Village. But everyone’s favorite unicorn- and rainbow-chasing mobile ice cream vendor is still on the move, and the custard is still the star of the show. It’s one of the softest, most wonderful soft ice creams you’ve ever tried, and that’s not hyperbole — this is the stuff that takes you back to your very first time of… eating ice cream. Hopefully some of their delicious secrets will be revealed soon — they have a cookbook to be released in 2014.
Fojol Brothers timed the launch of their food truck with the Obama inauguration in 2009, or as they put it on their website, "the day the world changed." The four partners, three from D.C., one from Seattle, dress colorfully, wearing turbans and Ringling Brothers throwback moustaches. Their iconic costume and design paired with delicious cuisine basically resulted in the creation of D.C.’s food truck scene, and for this was awarded the number two spot on our 101 Best Food Trucks list last year. There are blankets for customers to sit on while eating, and the crew prides itself on being environmentally friendly, using napkins made from 100 percent recycled materials. A portion of the proceeds from these products funds at-risk youth programs. But the truck’s main purpose is to serve delicious meals from Merlindia and Benethiopia, and features one menu for each cuisine. Items include butter chicken, eggplant, lentils and beef, and split peas. The best part? Everything is meant to be consumed with your hands!
"Thanksgiving of 2008, Kogi BBQ had first rolled out as the little Korean-taco-truck-that-could, peddling $2 Korean barbecue tacos on the streets of LA. Little did they know that within… months, they would become an icon of LA street food. Kogi set off a flavor bomb that would shake up the foundations of the industry so that street food would never be looked at the same way." That’s from Kogi’s site. What’s the saying? It ain’t bragging if it’s true? So it goes with chef Roy Choi’s truck, which you can credit (or at this point, blame) for the proliferation of Asian tacos across the U.S. Korilla, TaKorean, Jogasaki, these guys, among many others, should be paying Choi royalties. After appearing at number one on our 101 Best Food Trucks list last year, the truck continues to be an icon in the food truck world. Serving delicious Asian tacos at an incredibly reasonable price, this truck has made headlines and was named the fifth-best restaurant by Jonathan Gold in 2013. The company now has four trucks (one specifically for catering events). The group has also opened two restaurants, Alibi Room and Chego. With more than 100,000 Twitter followers, it is clear that this truck as reached celebrity status.
What started at Ralph Gorham's and Susan Povich's kitchen table (yes that Povich — she's the daughter of former A Current Affair host and daytime TV star Maury Povich), has turned into a hugely successful multi-city lobster roll truck. The truck, "Big Red," opened in 2010 in New York City, bringing "Maine-style" lobster rolls to the masses. The Red Hook Lobster Truck has a variety of seafood indulgences to offer. There are shrimp rolls, a lobster BLT, lobster bisque, and New England and shrimp and corn chowder, but let’s face it, it’s about the lobster roll: lobster, served cold with celery, spices, a touch of homemade mayonnaise and on a J.J. Nissen split-top bun (or Connecticut-style, warm and buttered). Save for Pearl Oyster Bar's version, many folks (including Time Out New York, Zagat, and us) agree that it's one of the best lobster rolls in New York; it appeared at number 11 on our 101 Best Food Trucks last year before this year's jump to number on.
The team recently opened a shop in Montauk, N.Y., with partner Sweet’tauk Lemonade. In addition to their new ventures, the truck is still driving around New York. The lunch move? The Hookup: a lobster roll with Cape Cod chips and a choice of Maine Root Sodas (root beer, ginger brew, mandarin orange, blueberry, sarsaparilla, or lemon-lime).