Top 5 North American Cities for Trailer Food
Forget gourmet dining! Food trucks are where it’s at. Here are some of the best places in North America to dive into the continent’s top street food.
The trailer food craze is sweeping the continent; gone are the days when greasy burgers or basic tacos were the only things to be had from a restaurant on wheels in North America. While street food has long been a staple in many other parts of the world, in recent years it’s become a new revolution in fresh, inventive food here at home. These five cities are leading the street eats trend.
With a similarly independent and artistic vibe, Portland is also home to a food cart explosion, with as many as 475 operating at any given time. The downtown area is most notable: several dozen trailer restaurants have formed a “pod” in the blocks along SW 10th and 11th streets at Alder. Many other such pods exist all over the city. While the scene in the Northwest embraces many creative and diverse food genres, it has an overwhelming variety of Asian cuisine. But you can also find food hailing from locations as distant as Iraq, Kenya, Guam and Bosnia. Portland was pretty early on the food cart movement as part of its urban planning, and it’s changed the way its citizens eat.
Known for its innovative, thriving craft microbrewery industry, it may come as no surprise that Portland also has the first beer trailer in the United States. Called Captured by Porches, they operate on a brewery permit and sell locally crafted beer as well as kombucha. You can even take a lunchtime tour of Portland’s food carts with Brett Burmeister, the city’s unofficial street food ambassador.
Austin is home to a thriving trailer restaurant scene—currently about 300 and counting—and from these culinary magic boxes you can get anything from the expected pizza and barbecue to the more exotic sushi and falafels. From old-time favourites such as Franklin Barbecue, where the wait can often be close to an hour, to relative newcomers like G’Raj Mahal, which serves up authentic Indian cuisine in a lighted courtyard, the live music capital sees new food trailers popping up every week. Even famed chef Paul Qui has his own truck, East Side King, serving up inventive Asian fusion food in four locations that are all just outside bars. Probably excellent strategy—as they say, location is everything.
The top areas to sample Austin’s street food scene are South First Street, South Congress, South Lamar and East Sixth Street. Tiffany Harelik, trailer food guru and cookbook author, says that the movement started around 2006, and really started booming by 2010.
“Austin provides the perfect storm for food trailer entrepreneurs: our community supports local endeavors, appreciates culinary creativity, and has a large population that wants to work for themselves,” Harelik says. “You can taste the difference in the love of one man’s recipes he has cooked for your specific order, versus a corporate food chain. They like people; they like talking to you when you walk up. They live for your smile, to know their food made your day.”
Vancouver, British Columbia
Hot dog and roasted chestnut stands have been a staple of the Vancouver streets for years, but dozens of full-fledged restaurants have sprung up in this cosmopolitan city in recent years. The city council has actively worked to expand the options for food permits, in order to provide more food truck locations as well as more diverse and nutritious choices. Interestingly, the council is looking at Portland as a possible model for expanding the food cart business.
Currently more than 100 mobile food vendors have permits to serve Vancouver’s hungry masses, mostly in the downtown core.
“The public loves them,” says city council member Heather Deal. “They absolutely adore them, and one of the great things is people are now coming downtown to go for lunch.”
New York, New York
The Big Apple certainly has its share of mobile food vendors, and may have one of the longest-running histories of food carts. From vegan to schnitzel, sushi to Lebanese specialties, New York offers plenty of choices. Midtown and Chinatown have thriving businesses, but many of the newest food trailers can now be found in the city’s parks, such as Prospect Park.
Even the World Financial Center is a hub of lunchtime food cart activity. The NYC street food scene has gotten a lot of press lately, including Mayor Bloomberg’s support of the use of food trucks to bring relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy. And in February 2013, a pizza joint called the Neapolitan Express became the first company to launch a food truck fleet that is completely powered by natural gas. Check out New York Street Food or Find NYC Food Trucks to keep up with the latest and greatest street food in Manhattan and the other boroughs.
Being the city that it is, Toronto’s food truck scene is largely gourmet. Lobster rolls, veal and eggplant sandwiches, tempura sweet potato tacos, and kale and arugula salads are some of the favourites; but you can still find old-fashioned comfort food such as dosas, barbecue and Jewish deli meats. At the Royal Bank Plaza (Front and Bay Streets) a large selection of trucks serves daily; another top location is at Queen and Mutual streets.
Winner for most original name? Fidel Gastro’s, offering a Rebel Without a Kitchen menu of extreme sandwiches such as the El Paisano—egg fried spaghetti with wagyu beef and veal meatballs. New food trailers are launching almost every other week in Toronto; the best way to find them is through the Twitter stream @ontfoodtrucks.
For more food truck fun, check out our T+E series, Rebel Without a Kitchen, Tuesdays at 10pm!