Upscale Street Food
If your image of a snack on the street is a simple hot dog or a pretzel, think again: Street food has gone upscale. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find highly trained chefs using seasonal, organic ingredients to create gourmet dishes ranging from grilled sweetbreads to Wiener schnitzel. In this economic climate, mobile food trucks are a great way to enjoy a quick, inexpensive lunch (prices average about $6–10). Plus the food is satisfying and—let’s face it—kind of fun. Grab something quickly before dashing off to an office meeting, or bring clients along if you’re not in the mood for a formal sit-down lunch. (Not to worry: Like restaurants, food trucks and carts are subject to regulations and inspections by municipal and county health departments.)
Many of these trucks have their own websites and Twitter pages, so you can stay up-to-date on hours and locations. Here are some of the most popular gourmet street vendors in cities across the country.
Schnitzel & Things
During the week, this tan-colored truck makes its way to locations around midtown and downtown Manhattan (and even DUMBO, in Brooklyn, on Fridays) selling delicious Austrian food. It was the Rookie of the Year winner at this year’s Vendy Awards, given out to NYC street food vendors. The main seller is, yes, the schnitzel: a pounded, breaded and fried cutlet of chicken, pork or cod accompanied by a lemon wedge and Austrian potato salad ($10). There’s also bratwurst and a schnitz burger, along with sides like braised sauerkraut, roasted beets and feta salad. Be sure to ask for some of the delicious sauces, like pesto mayo and a relish made of ginger, garlic and scallions.
Spencer on the Go
This truck sells gourmet French food by chef Laurent Katgely (of Chez Spencer restaurant) at the corner of Folsom and Seventh Streets in the hip SoMa district. Katgely, who has always loved street tacos, came up with the idea for this “mobile bistro,” a converted taco truck that dishes out tasty Gallic fare to an appreciative crowd Wednesday through Saturday evenings. You can expect eight different choices on the rotating menu, including four to five entrées, such as grilled sweetbreads with sherry, frog legs with curry and sautéed skate cheeks with a caper emulsion ($8–9). There’s also a soup and salad du jour—and, perhaps the best deal in town, a delicious escargot puff for $2.
On the Fly
On the Fly was formed in 2007 by three locals who wanted to provide fresh, high-quality food on the streets of our nation’s capital. It started with one SmartKart—an eco-friendly, battery-powered truck painted a distinctive green and white—and now the mobile food-vending company has numerous carts throughout the city, including at the National Mall and Capitol Hill, plus brick-and-mortar cafés in and around Metro stations. On the Fly has partnered with local purveyors, like Julia’s Empanadas, Teaism and Rocklands BBQ, and some of the bestsellers on its 40-item menu include tacos made with locally sourced chicken, beef empanadas, turkey chili, salads with organic greens and vegetables, sandwiches and comfort foods like mac ’n’ cheese (around $5).
Joshua Henderson, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, sells his bistro-inspired food out of a converted 1962 silver Airstream trailer at various locations around Seattle (check the weekly schedule online). You’ll find just a handful of dishes ($7–12) listed on the small chalkboard menu—perhaps coconut and curry soup, gnocchi with fennel, rosemary-roasted pork sandwiches, maple-braised pork belly with waffles, and Skillet’s signature item: the Kobe beef burger topped with cambozola cheese, arugula and bacon jam (just as delicious as it sounds—you can purchase an eight-ounce jar of the jam from the trailer or on its website) with a side order of poutine, a French Canadian fries-cheese-gravy combination that will have you coming back for seconds.
Kogi Korean BBQ
Kogi has a cult following that often translates into long lines, but the faithful swear by the spicy food offered at this roving food cart, started by 30-year-old Mark Manguera. His idea to put Korean barbecue on Mexican tacos took off—tweeting and blogging helped, too (check online for the schedule for his four trucks.) The most popular item by far is the Korean short-rib tacos: diced short ribs marinated in a special tangy sauce and topped with shredded cabbage that’s been tossed with chili-soy vinaigrette. You’ll also find spicy barbecued chicken, the Kogi hotdog with kimchi sauerkraut, and a pork quesadilla with caramelized onions and jack cheese, served with a salsa verde sauce.