When I first got acquainted with what are today called food trucks, it was the early 1980s, when only a small handful of these rickety, off-white with rust “accents” buckets of bolts used to rumble up to certain office buildings mid-morning, filling the air with the heavy aromas of bacon grease, grill smoke and motor oil.
In those days, we used to call a food truck “The Roach Coach,” and God only knows what kind of sanitary conditions were really going on behind the big sliding glass windows reminiscent of our childhood ice cream truck days. A plate of pancakes and sausage, egg sandwiches, toast and bagels—that was pretty much the menu. And it was as lousy as it was cheap, but hey, it was hot, convenient and would hold us over until lunch. Looking back, I think most of us are lucky we lived to tell about it.
But this was way before proper food sanitation practices existed for rolling restaurants (and I use the term “restaurant” very lightly) on wheels, gained in popularity—and safety.
Fast-forward to about five years ago when the food truck scene really started heating up, and today they are the hottest thing going. In fact, an ABC News online feature recently reported that these “mobile restaurants are the fastest-growing segment in the dining industry.” And if you’ve checked out the Travel Channel lately, you’ve seen not only episodes of food-related shows dedicated to food truck fare, but also some of your favorite epicurean hosts taste-testing from coast to coast.
The chefs of these food trucks are not only chefs by profession, but a wide variety of folks who got into the business for many reasons: The economy changed and necessity became the mother of personal reinvention; they were tired of corporate America and wanted to follow their passion; or a relative or friend asked them to help out on weekends and they ended up becoming a partner. The stories are almost as diverse as the array of culinary specialties you’ll find everywhere, from corporate business parks to public fairs, private parties, food truck festivals and permanent truck locations.
Each one has their own special, delicious focus and specialty, and the crowds flock from all over, braving lines sometimes almost an hour long for their favorites. Fans enjoy everything from seasonal menus created from locally grown ingredients to upscale burgers, schnitzel, barbecue, gourmet grilled cheese, burritos, empanadas, pizza (of course) and even lobster—yes, lobster!.
Wanna know where to find some of the best for your own gastronomic exploration? Well, you’re in luck because the Daily Meal just-released their annual report, “101 Best Food Trucks in America 2013.”
These folks are people after my own heart, lending their bodies to the culinary sciences just to bring readers the best personal information. To compile a comprehensive list, they canvassed more than 40 cities to check out close to 450 street vendors. “To those we added staff favorites, and any trucks not already included that have been singled out for praise by organizations, and national and local publications, both in print and online,” they said. And they were very specific that they had to be food trucks—no carts or trailers—and included only a few dessert trucks that went beyond serving coffee, cupcakes, ice cream, shaved ice and the like. That still left a hefty list of 270 that they judged on three criteria: critical review, social score and originality.
But don’t blow this off as just a bunch of foodies eating themselves into silly food comas and getting paid for it. They did their homework, employing a whole list of other factors, and the results are phenomenal.
OH FOOD TRUCK, WHERE ART THOU!
So if you are salivating as much as I am at this point, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Here are a few appetizers (sorry, I had to!) to get your food truck sampling on the move.
In San Francisco, the Rib Whip has its own onboard smoker in which they cook smoked Texas beef brisket for 13 hours, in addition to St. Louis-style barbecue ribs, smoked turkey drumsticks and pulled pork sandwiches.
Chicago diners love the Southern Mac & Cheese Truck, which offers six meat—including pulled chicken and pepperoni—and six vegetarian options with the likes of roasted artichoke, asparagus, goat cheese, habanera and other veggies.
Roti Rolls in Charleston is a flavor cornucopia of delicious rolls highlighting Southern, Asian, Latin and other flavors with what the owners call “farm-to-truck” ingredients.
Indianapolis is the home of Scratch Truck, no doubt making everything from scratch. The Daily Meal noted them for their “Scratch burger, a third-pound custom ground burger with bacon marmalade, gorgonzola cheese and arugula served on a roll with fries.”
I wish I knew about the Red Hook Lobster Pound when I was in D.C. last summer, because I would have ordered one of everything: the New England and shrimp and corn chowder, lobster BLT, shrimp rolls and the lobster bisque!
Where Ya at Matt is a Seattle fave, serving Po Boys, jambalaya, shrimp ’n grits, smoked portabella, catfish and, of course, corn bread and Beignets.
All told, Los Angeles had the most trucks on the list with 16, followed by San Francisco with 11 and New York with 10. Some of the more unexpected cities, perhaps? Reno, Nevada, with GourMelt, Marfa, Texas, with Food Shark and Bruno’s GastroTruck in Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
Quite frankly, I don’t care where they are, just as long as I try as many as possible. After all, it’s part of my job as your esteemed travel writer to bring you the best and the tastiest, no matter the calorie cost—and I take my job very seriously!
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at email@example.com.
The Daily Meal “101 Best Food Trucks in America 2013”