Austin: Austin is replete with food truck groupings and parks. Two of the most central (and easiest to find nearby parking) are South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery at 1311 S 1st St, featuring Holy Cacao, Conscious Cravings, and the exquisite deep-fried avocado taco at Torchy’s Taco; and the Barton Springs Road gathering with the super popular Short Bus Subs as well as Lucy’s European and Snow Beach. Other top Austin trailers include The Mighty Cone, Hey! Cupcake, Tapas Bravas, and the intriguingly named Love Balls.
Boston: A stampede of hungry college students and suited business folks keep Boston’s street food trucks humming. Standouts include The Taco Truck, serving organic tacos, tortas, sopas, and ensaladas; The Bon Me Truck’s Vietnamese bánh mì with pickled carrots, daikon, house-made pork pate, and spicy mayo on a toasted baguette; and Grilled Cheese Nation’s indulgent gourmet sandwiches with ingredients like Great Hill blue cheese, organic fig spread, and aged cheddar from Vermont.
Chicago: The Windy City was late to the game with legalizing cooking on carts and trucks, but the gloves are figuratively off and they’ve wasted no time in filling the niche. Among the new arrivals is Chicago’s famed deep-dish slice Giordano’s. Also at the forefront is The Southern Mac Truck and their sun dried tomato with smoked gouda and caramelized onion mac n’ cheese, which is already legend.
Los Angeles: No surprise here. LA’s street food scene goes way back. It’s a big city and many of these trucks are constantly on the move, but take the time to track down Grilled Cheese Truck, Border Grill food truck, The Coolhaus Truck and the famous Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, by LA chef Roy Choi. If you don’t have the energy to chase food trucks, check out Abbot Kinney’s First Fridays in Venice, where LA’s hottest food trucks gather on Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Madison: Madison has an unexpectedly satisfying street food culture centered around the university’s Library Mall and Capitol Square. Among the options are standouts Good Food, specializing in healthy wraps, salads, and soups made from fresh veggies, fruits, oven-roasted chicken, baked tofu, whole-grain tortillas, and fresh mixed greens, and FIB (aka Fine Italian Beef & Sausage), serving pretty much what you’d expect and skillfully so, having won best food cart of 2012 by a panel of freelance tasters.
Minneapolis: Food trucks were only legalized in Minneapolis a few years ago, but the speed at which the industry has expanded is breathtaking. On a typical weekday, at least 20 trucks can be found parked around central downtown alone. Seek out Stanley’s On Wheels, an extension of their Northeast Minneapolis restaurant, with items like a BBQ Beef Brisket, BBQ Pulled Pork sandwiches and Chicken Carnita Seasoned Tacos. Dandelion Kitchen has a seasonal menu featuring a duck confit sandwich and salads with organic microgreens and a selection of farm cheeses. (Note: Many Minneapolis trucks go into hibernation in winter.)
New York: Apart from personal space and, frequently, soap, New York has many good things in abundance, including wildly popular street food. This is one of the few places in the country where there’s a palpable, eclectic and enduring street food culture that could take several dedicated days to thoroughly explore. Check out stalwart Calexico, serving all manner of popular California-Mexican food, the lovingly crafted Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream and the late night, sobering plate of lamb or chicken over rice with white sauce from the legendary Halal Guys on 53rd.
Portland: Portland is uniquely festooned with street food “pods,” little clusters of food trucks and carts, which sometimes include limited seating and even covered areas in the unlikely event that it should ever rain in Portland. [Cough] The fact that the sheer number of street food options in Portland required them to invent pods in the first place is just plain wonderful. Be sure to hit perennial Thai favorite Nong’s Khao Man Gai, who serves only one outstanding dish: poached chicken with rice cooked in chicken broth, served with ethereal pungeon sauce. Newcomer Burrasca, manned by a chef from Florence, serves superb, seasonal Florentine dishes.
San Francisco: Another well-deserving, no-brainer entry, scoring high on street food quality, variety and cleverness. Also, it can be so expensive to eat a sit down meal that these carts are effectively one of the city’s major saving graces. Extra points also go to the street food community’s cumulative green leaning efforts. Nearly everyone boasts some level of environmental friendliness, from compostable utensils to sourcing ingredients from local, sustainable farms. Highlights include Roli Roti’s menu of gourmet rotisserie dishes and Sam’s ChowderMobile, serving lobster rolls, seafood po’ boys and tacos and, of course, New England clam chowder.
Seattle: Rain or shine (usually rain), Seattle’s 150-some food trucks serve everything from tacos to Filipino cuisine. Barking Frog Mobile Kitchen, an extension of their restaurant, serves items like the Barking Frog Lamb Burger, Colombia River Steelhead Sandwich and their wildly popular Grand Marnier Prawns. Where Ya At Matt dishes out southern comfort food like shrimp po’ boy sandwiches, Cajun jambalaya, and authentic pecan pie and beignets for dessert. Truly unique for anywhere in the country is Off the Rez featuring Native American-inspired fare, including sweet vanilla pear butter fry bread and tacos with chicken chili verde.