In the old days, eating from a food truck in New York City was considered risky and adventurous. Now, office workers line up in midtown at lunchtime to grab a Korean taco or a lobster roll from gourmet restaurants on wheels, and moms dragging two kids are seen furiously typing on their iPhones as they try to pinpoint the location of a waffle mobile on Twitter.
Street food has officially gone gourmet. New York is a little behind other places, especially the West Coast, on this trend, but it's catching up fast. "It all started in 2007, and in 2009 it started to go mainstream," says David Weber, president of the New York Food Truck Association and co-founder of the tasty Rickshaw Dumplings and its eponymous truck (@rickshawtruck on Twitter, rickshawdumplings.com). He adds that the constraints of a tiny kitchen are actually what make the best trucks so successful: "The small spaces force us to specialize, so you get people who are passionate about a particular item."
Many of the top-tier trucks aren't big moneymakers says Weber, who is also author of "The Food Truck Handbook" (Wiley). They're generally attached to businesses with standard retail locations, and the owners see the trucks as "ways to build their brands" -- billboards on wheels that sell food. Twitter and the increased popularity of Facebook has been crucial for them as well. "The trucks move, and social media has become crucial for people to find them," he says. If you don't have a Twitter account, this is a good excuse to get one.
Trucks to hunt down
THE MORRIS TRUCK Amazing grilled cheese is the game here. Try the Delicate Cheese ($10), with shallot and truffle butter. INFO: @morristruck on Twitter, morrisgrilledcheese.com
MEXICUE Great BBQ-Mexican hybrid. Sample the soft tacos with BBQ brisket ($10), add cotija cheese and pickled onions and one of the many sauce choices. INFO: @mexicue on Twitter, mexicueny.com
TAIM MOBILE Fantastic, gluten-free falafel sandwich for $6. Ask for "the works," and it comes extra spicy and pickle-y. INFO: @taimmobile on Twitter, taimmobile.com
SCHNITZEL & THINGS Their $10 platters may be the best value lunch in town, a heavenly light schnitzel (veal, pork, chicken) along with sides like potato salad and sauerkraut. INFO: @schnitznthings on Twitter, schnitzelandthings.com
NUCHAS EMPANADAS Very tasty empanadas, and the nontraditional curry vegetable version is a surprise standout. INFO: @nuchasNYC on Twitter, nuchas.com
THE BIG GAY ICE CREAM TRUCK Exciting combinations rule here, such as the Godzilla (vanilla topped by wasabi peas). For the less adventurous, there's the Salty Pimp (dulce de leche and sea salt dipped in chocolate). INFO: @biggayicecream on Twitter, biggayicecream.com
RED HOOK LOBSTER TRUCK The main roll here costs $16, but it's summer epitomized: A toasted buttery bun, fresh lobster in a light lemony dressing, topped with chopped scallions. INFO: @lobstertruckny on Twitter, redhooklobster.com
And look for food trucks congregating at these hubs:
World Financial Center (Vesey Street at North End Avenue), worldfinancialcenter.com/foodtrucks
Lent Space Food Truck Court (Sixth Avenue and Varick Street)
Prospect Park Food Truck Rally (Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, third Sunday of the month, through October)
50th Street (between Sixth and Seventh avenues)