There has been a a lot of talk in Chicago lately about food trucks. Correction: there has been a lot of talk in cities such as New York and Los Angeles and Portland about the amazing food trucks that keep sprouting up in their fair cities and a lot of talk in Chicago about WHY WE DON’T HAVE ANY.
So, here’s the lowdown in Chicago: Food trucks are allowed but only if there is no actual food being cooked on the truck. Everything that is sold needs to be pre-packaged in a licensed kitchen – which kind of misses the point. Nevertheless, Gaztro-Wagon, Happy Bodega, and Phillip Foss’ Meatyballs Mobile are pretty popular additions to the burgeoning scene in Chicago.
But, if you’ve known me an hour, you already know that I like to do things right. So, when 48 hours in New York City showed up on my travel itinerary, I decided to dig a little further into street meat culture. I sought out the best of the best, the masters of their trade, and tried to squeeze them all in to the allotted time (fail).
1. Bistro Truck
My first stop was the Bistro Truck, a Moroccan-meets-Mediterranean truck in Union Square. I went for one of their best-selling sandwiches, the Chicken Brochette, and it was truly unreal. Tender pieces of grilled chicken with a roasted tomato-caramelized onion charmoula (below), a sandwich made all the more delicious by my discovery next door.
2. VanLeeuwen Ice Cream
Might I say that truck-hopping in Union Square makes for quite the meal? On that note, I’d like to thank whoever decided to park the VanLeeuwen Ice Cream truck next door to the Bistro Truck. You can read more about VanLeeuwen’s process (and salivate over their flavors, each with its own extensive description) on their site; I had the hazelnut, which had the perfect buttery flavor and complemented my first course superbly.
3. Halal Express Grill
You really can’t go outside in New York without seeing one of the falafel filled trucks like the Halal Express Grill (photo). These guys pretty much own the city (but I’m definitely not complaining). One look at this line and one taste of the falafel, lamb, or whatever you choose–and you’ll begin to understand.
4. Schnitzel & Things
And now, a word to the wise: when it comes to a truck like Schnitzel and Things, 2:00 p.m. means 2:00 p.m. Who would have thought the closing of a schnitzel truck would be so traumatic? The truck serves three different types of schnitzel each day, along with sides, and garnered a good heap of praise (and multiple “Vendy Awards”) in the process.
5. Moshe’s Falafel
The window was all but shut in my face at 2:01 p.m., but I am nothing if not a determined eater. The perfect remedy for my disappointment was Moshe’s Falafel, located on 46th Street between 5th and 6th. I had the falafel with spicy sauce and (pardon the caps) IT WAS OUTSTANDING.
You know how you’re always better off heading to the restaurant crawling with locals in a new place (rather than the one swarmed with tourists)? Well, it was the same story here in the Diamond District:
6. El Rey Del Sabor
So, by this time I’ve hit Mediterranean/Moroccan, ice cream, plenty of falafel, and a failed schnitzel stop, leaving a huge sector of the street food business untouched: Mexican. Unfortunately, my first stop didn’t go as well as planned. Despite the buzz behind El Rey Del Sabor and their status as a 2010 finalist for the Vendys, I was pretty disappointed by my selections at the not-so-flavorful “flavor king” on 49th and Park. The cheese-filled pastelitos weren’t anything to write home about, and the meat in my steak burrito was pretty tough. It’s hard to maintain a coordinated walk-and-chew when you’re struggling to get a bite.
7. El Carrito Rojo
The winner when it came to Mexican was hands down El Carrito Rojo, a truck that doesn’t seem to have hit too much notoriety as of yet. I found the sleeper on the corner of 19th Street and 6th Avenue and tried the roasted pork tacos–amazing. Everything was made fresh (and beyond flavorful) on the truck.