Even though summer might be almost over, that doesn’t mean that our sweet tooth has been satisfied. And even though dessert trucks might be synonymous with ice cream trucks for some, there’s a whole world of trucks out there selling everything from sweet waffles to cupcakes to cookies. And even if it’s chilly out, who’s to say that we’re not allowed to eat ice cream? There’s no better way to make the summer last just a little bit longer.
Long before kimchi tacos, years before anybody thought to make burgers and banh mi curbside, or wear costumes and serve Indian food, in 1956, brothers Jim and Bill Conway rigged an old truck with an ice cream machine, mixed in green food coloring, and set out in West Philly to sell soft-serve and celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. It was late winter, and the story goes, they sold out. So it was Mister Softee was born.
Whichever modern pioneer you attribute the current food truck craze to, and whether your allegiance is to Mister Softee or the Good Humor man, it’s hard to argue that the dessert truck hasn’t long been ahead of the curve. And that passion for ice cream and dessert on-the-go is even more ardent today. As trucks’ ice cream has gone artisanal, and soft-serve has been joined by an incredible and advanced array of desserts including cupcakes, donuts, waffles, crepes, and the like, these trucks represent a movement of their own. So it is that when considering a list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America the past two years, with a few iconic exceptions, it didn’t seem right to do anything but separate dessert trucks out on their own. And so for the first time, The Daily Meal presents the 50 Best Dessert Trucks in America.
The same methodology used and refined in 2012 and 2013 to determine the 101 best food trucks in America from a wide net cast over 450 savory food trucks in 40 cities across America was used to narrow a list of more than 240 dessert trucks across the same geography. Remember, only trucks were considered for this list. No carts, trailers, or stands were up for consideration (sorry Capital City Bakery in Austin! You’re still doing great things!).
First, we consulted a list of dessert trucks that were discovered while researching the best savory food trucks the past two years. To those were added staff favorites and trucks praised by organizations and national and local publications, both print and online. Editors consulted review sites and critical appraisal, and analyzed trucks’ number of Twitter followers and Facebook "likes." To determine originality, editors examined menu innovation, concept, concept relative to inception, and how that all plays into geography.
As with The Daily Meal’s ranking of savory food trucks, social media presence remained a factor. It’s hard to sell out of cupcakes on a truck if your customers don’t follow you on social media and know where you’re going to be. Between Facebook likes and Twitter followers, you get a fair idea of how large a following a truck has.
So, what were the results? Many of the front-running cities from our list of the 101 Best Food Trucks also featured some of the country’s top dessert trucks. Los Angeles led the list with nine trucks. New York City followed with six, Chicago with five, and San Francisco with four. Washington, D.C.’s dessert trucks, however, did not compete as competitively as the city’s savory food trucks did in the previous study; where seven made the cut for 101 best savory trucks, only two made this list of 50. This may be because, as previously noted, the bar for food trucks across the country continues to rise as increasingly more talented people get into the food truck business. This list also features dessert trucks from Nashville, Tenn., Portland, Ore., Phoenix, Denver, Charlotte, Charleston, S.C., Durham, N.C., Providence, R.I., and Oklahoma City.
Given how much they have ruled the dessert kingdom during the past ten years, it is perhaps not a huge surprise that cupcakes were the most common dessert truck, with 13 trucks on our list. A close second? A classic: ice cream. But not just any ice cream; the list features 12 ice cream trucks that focus on making small batches of artisan ice cream. Ice cream sandwiches were also common fare across the country. No surprise there, given their place in the pantheon of traditional ice cream truck desserts. Perhaps a bit more surprising? Shaved ice takes third with four trucks on our list.
While there were all the donut, crème brûlée, cookies, and waffle trucks you’d expect, this list of America’s best dessert trucks also includes less predictable fare. Consider the all-vegan soft-serve made by Like No Udder in Providence, R.I., honeysuckle gelato in Atlanta, alcohol-infused gelato, and Fluff Ice in Los Angeles. What’s next? Given this year’s Dominique Ansel-driven Cronut craze, dessert fusion hybrids are too perfect for food trucks to miss out on for too long, so be on the lookout for that and many crazy other trends to roll down the street your way soon.