6.24.2009

Moveable Feasts in the City: New York Food Trucks and Carts

My lunch yesterday consisted of one pollo asada taco, small but tasty, and for dessert, a mini-wafelini. The taco consisted of chopped grilled chicken with a dash of pico de gallo and a creamy avocado sauce served on a couple of soft corn tortillas. The mini- wafelini was essentially a little piece of waffle on a stick tucked between slices of banana and strawberries. Both were delicious, and each came from a different food cart or truck parked on separate streets south of Houston Street.

The latest craze in gourmet street food may be found in other cities throughout the country, but the phenomenon has garnered lots of attention of late in New York. While eating at food carts is nothing new in the big city, the availability of gourmet quality food and adorable desserts has added an extra amount of fun to New York street life. In the past, I've frequently bought coffee off the Mud Truck, a movable coffee bar with a particularly nice brew, and near to home, I often pick up a cup of coffee and a pastry from a friendly guy with a cart on W. 4th Street. Buying food on the go is especially nice when I'm headed to the park with dogs.

This summer, the Cupcake Stop arrived on the streets, parking often on Fifth Avenue and loaded with mini and normal size cupcakes, and now the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck has made its dramatic entrance. Because so many of us are acting like screaming teeny-boppers at their very sight, I'm sure more entrepreneurs are thinking of new additions for our burgeoning culinary street life. The new brand of food trucks and carts are especially welcome in New York, a place where too often the only portable fare comes in the form of lukewarm and disappointing hot dogs. I often feel bad for poor tourists who are forced to sustain themselves in Central Park on hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches alone. But in addition to these new dessert trucks that serve up red velvet cupcakes and cha-cha ice cream, mobile culinary units like the Calexico Carne Asada Cart and the Rickshaw Dumplings Truck feature substantial and delicious food. By pairing their offerings with seasonal fare from fresh fruit stands it's possible to eat very well on the streets of the city.

The Calexico Carne Asada Cart, winner of the 2008 Vendy Award for street food, has achieved such a success that they've opened a sit-down place in Brooklyn this week. I mostly visit their cart when it's parked near the intersection of Wooster and Prince in SoHo, though the wait can be 15 to 20 minutes. The California Mexican food they offer reminds me of some of the places I liked in Austin (Guero's comes to mind), and between Calexico and Pinche Taqueria, an unmovable but small place at 277 Mott St., I feel I have met my Mexican comfort food cravings close to home.

For sweets, I recently tried out the new Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. The beauty of this operation is with its operator, a charming man named Doug, and the variety of toppings for soft serve ice cream. Doug recommended that I try vanilla with a blueberries and saba reduction, and this combo hit the spot. I look forward to going back and trying other flavors. I'm also fond of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, especially their pistachio and ginger flavors.

Many of the new food cart and truck operations take advantage of social media, namely Twitter, to alert potential customers of special locations and giveaways. Here's a partial list:

Calexico Truck: Twitter: @CalexicoCart
Wafels & Dinges: Twitter: @waffletruck
Cupcake Stop: Twitter: @CupcakeStop
The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck: Twitter: @biggayicecream
Cravings Truck: Twitter: @nyccravings
Dessert Truck: Twitter: @desserttruck
Le Gamin Truck: Twitter: @legamintruck
Rickshaw Dumplings: Twitter: @RickshawTruck
Treats Truck: Twitter: @TheTreatsTruck
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream: Twitter: @benwvl
LCB Burger Truck: @LCBBurger Truck

For further reading about New York food carts and trucks:

"Foodies Flock to Twitter-Friendly Carts" from NBC New York

• See other carts and trucks throughout the country with Twitter accounts on List of Street Vendors Using Twitter from Serious Eats

• New York Magazine. Grub Street: Street Fights: Food Carts and Trucks vs. the Brick-and-Mortars

Images: Calexico Cart, Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, Cupcake Stop, Wafels & Dinges.

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