In gas station parking lots, at midtown curbs and city-front plazas, by leafy parks steps away from busy office buildings, food trucks serve lobster rolls, artisan tacos, burgers, burritos, grilled cheese, Indian curry, high-end French food and souse-vide vegetarian dishes. Mobilized chefs jockey for top spots in designated food truck zones. The more adventurous cooks, however, prefer the idea of a “moveable feast” and take to Twittering the hungry masses coordinates of upcoming locations –corner of Grand St. and Canal; Emerald Necklace, Boston. These covert dispatches help build clientele; they add to the allure and feed the food truck trend. Lunch or late-night customizers feel like they’re in the know, and that sense of exclusivity is a powerful marketing tool. While the evolution of street cuisine is part of the reason for the food truck renaissance, and many offerings are carefully sourced (small batch-hot sauces, homemade soft drinks), the overnight success of food trucks has as much to do with social media as it does delicious Korean barbecue.
Good food made quickly. Endless variety. Supporting the “little” guy. These are some of the factors that have bolstered the popularity of food trucks. And what about the trucks themselves? From wandering wood-fired pizza carriers to ice cream trucks adorned with Redoute-inspired botanical illustrations, these four-wheeled restaurants are a far cry from the upscale Willydog carts the street vendors operate in Times Square. In 2013, The Daily Meal introduced its first ever list of America’s best food rucks. After examining over 300 vendors coast to coast, big cities dominated: Los Angeles had 16 trucks on the list, followed by San Francisco and New York with 11 and 10. Here’s our list of the best food trucks in the U.S.
10. East Side King: Austin, Texas
Tagged with vibrant colors like a graffiti art mural, East Side King’s four food trucks serve up Japanese street fare like kimchi stew, mapo tofu chile, fried potato noodles, fried chicken and rice, and pork melt and pork chop sandwiches.
The chef behind East Side King is the season nine winner of Top Chef, Paul Qui. The four food trucks are Qui’s international ambassadors, serving his distinct spin on traditional Japanese street food.
9. Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese: Boston, Massachusetts
Roxy’s currently has two food trucks roaming the streets of Boston. Both mobile kitchens feature a rotation of artisan grilled cheese sandwiches, or what founders James and Mike DiSabatini like to call “grilled cheese without borders.”
Roxy’s staples include the Green Muenster, which features guacamole and applewood bacon, and the Mighty Rib Melt –a masterpiece of braised short ribs slathered with fontina cheese and caramelized onions. Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese gained national visibility on season two of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.”
8. Fresh Local: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Located an hour’s drive from Boston, Portsmouth is a quaint, historic, cobblestoned and white-steepled seaport town. It’s also home to the Fresh Local, a popular food truck operated by Josh Lanahan, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef. In fact, the Fresh Local is so popular, especially amongst summer tourists and University of New Hampshire students, that Portsmouth parking police have labeled it a public nuisance.
However, that doesn’t seem to phase the operation a bit as Lanahan, his fiancée, and a butcher turned grillman named Popper serve up some of the tastiest burgers in New England. The pulled pork sandwich, however, is Fresh Local’s specialty; it’s made using porchetta, a slow-roasted pork from Italy. Lanahan also whips up a unique version of banj mi, as well as a blueberry soda from locally sourced fruit.
7. The Peached Tortilla: Austin, Texas
Austin is well known for being home to a vibrant and creative food truck culture. There are nearly 2,000 vendors in the city. Chalk it up to all those recent Austin Culinary Arts School students. In fact, the city’s official website lists food trucks as one of its crowning attractions. Food Network is even casting a reality show titled “Food Truck Face Off,” where two-person teams battle for a one-year lease and a fully-customized food truck of their own.
The Peached Tortilla has an extensive menu of tacos and burritos. Other options include Chinese barbecue, banj mi, and Pad Thai. However, the truck is famous for landing a spot on Food & Wine’s list of the Best Sliders in America in 2012. As Matthew McConaughey said in the classic Austin film Dazed and Confused: “alright, alright, alright.”
6. The Buttermilk Truck: Los Angeles, California
Founder and FCI Pastry Arts graduate Gigi Pascual opened The Buttermilk Truck with one idea in mind: to serve customers pancakes, waffles, eggs, sausage and bacon, all day, everyday. From cake donuts and Hawaiian bread cinnamon French toast to breakfast brioche and red velvet chocolate chip pancakes, as the truck’s name suggests, buttermilk is the key ingredient on most menu items.
The Buttermilk Truck is so popular that it’s now selling it’s own pancake mix. It was also a finalist for the 2012 Vendy Awards and came in third place on Zagat’s 2013 Los Angeles Restaurant Survey.
5. Fojol Brothers: Washington, D.C.
While not quite happenings or performance art, some food truck chefs look to the arts to give them an edge over their competitors. The Fojol Brothers launched their Washington, D.C. food truck in 2009, timing it to Obama’s presidential inauguration. Like Emeril Lagasse kicking it up a notch, the four partners wear colorful turbans and Ringling Brothers handlebar mustaches.
The truck has blankets for customers to sit on, further enhancing the traveling caravan-type feel. Fojol Brothers has two menus: one features cuisine from Merlindia and the other Benethiopi. All food is meant to be eaten with the hands, and the napkins are made from 100% recycled materials.
4. Spencer on The Go!, San Francisco, California
What happens when a renowned chef has a bad day and leaves the kitchen to cool off by taking a stroll to the local taco truck? Simply put: he has a culinary epiphany. At least that was the case with Laurent Katgely, a noted chef with restaurants on both coasts. Somewhere along his epicurean stations-of-the-cross, Katgely decided that high-end French street food was a good idea. Voila. Katgely opened Spencer on the Go! a few blocks from his acclaimed bistro, Chez Spencer, in front of an oil and lube shop.
The satellite restaurant serves lobster salad, sautéed skate cheeks with caper emulsion, and sweetbreads with smoked bacon and truffle sauce. Francophiles can enjoy various dishes for under $10, as well as three-course meals for $25.
3. The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck: New York City
Founders Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff launched the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck as an experiment in June 2009. Since then, thanks largely to an army of sweet-toothed Twitter followers, it’s become one of the most iconic food trucks in New York.
The truck’s sleepy-eyed unicorn and rainbow artwork make it stand out –capturing a childlike, My Little Pony-meets-Ben and Jerry’s type vibe -but it’s the flavor combinations (apple butter and bourbon butterscotch) and creative toppings (Nilla Wafers, Trix) that cause the line to be wrapped around the block. While the creative and wildly juxtaposing flavor combinations are incredible, the soft custard is the star of the show.
2. Kogi BBQ: Los Angeles, California
Often dubbed the little-Korean-taco-truck-that-could, this iconic LA street food truck got its start in 2008 peddling $2 Korean barbecue tacos. Along with the Austin food truck scene, the Kogi BBQ truck was at the forefront of the national street food revolution.
Chef Roy Choi dropped an Asian flavor bomb that rattled the foundation of the food industry; today, he’s not only credited with being a major influence in the food truck trend, but his company now operates four food trucks and has opened two restaurants (Alibi Room and Chego). Chef Roy Choi has been featured on NPR, and Jonathan Gold rated Kogi the fifth-best restaurant in Los Angeles in 2013.
1. The Red Hook Lobster Pound: New York City
Anyone who lives in the Northeast knows the only way to enjoy a tender, succulent and perfectly prepared lobster roll (toasted bun, a dollop of mayo) is to drive up Interstate 95 to Maine. Ralph Gorham and Susan Povich (daughter of daytime TV star Maury Povich) know this too, and that’s why “Big Red,” a multi-city but based in New York lobster roll truck, is a runaway culinary success.
The Red Hook Lobster Pound specializes in Maine-style lobster rolls. The lobster is served cold with celery, spices, homemade mayonnaise and a J.J. Nissen split top bun, a seaside combination found in Boothbay to Bar Harbor, Maine, but a rarity in the Big Apple. The Red Hook Lobster Pound has a variety of New England-style seafood on its menu including shrimp rolls, clam and corn chowder, lobster bisque, and lobster BLT. However, Time Out New York and Zagat agree that Red Hook’s lobster roll is one of the best in New York City.
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