In gas station lots, at midtown curbs, and by parks blocks from your office, idling food trucks serve tacos, lobster rolls, burgers, burritos, grilled cheese, pizza, sous-vide dishes, and high-end French food you'll pay $10 or less for. Food trucks leverage lower overhead, brave (mostly) outdated municipal restrictions, random (and targeted) police ticketing, and misdirected ire of insecure brick-and-mortar restaurants who often stir up trouble. Food trucks are far from the latest food trend, but when it comes to great food made quickly (and by the "little guy"), they're one of the best things. That's right, food trucks are cool (still, though they face a backlash) and whether food is the point of your travel, or what you're grabbing to take back to your desk, there are food trucks in American cities that you should seek out: the best food trucks in America now (Credit: Easy Slider).
Last year, The Daily Meal launched its first list of America's best food trucks -- examining some 300 vendors across this great country. The list was done because as much as food trucks have entered the cultural lexicon, as much as they've been written about, celebrated, and awarded by websites, newspapers, magazines, and local organizations, nobody reliably ranked all food trucks nationally.
There have been best-of lists, roundups highlighting trucks in individual cities, and a few nationally. These were launch points. They featured innovative cuisines and showmanship, but didn't tell the whole story, included carts, weren't geographically aware, and didn't indicate much methodology. Last year, The Daily Meal changed that with a definitive ranking system nobody else has.
The inaugural list of The Daily Meal's best food trucks canvassed more than 30 cities. Added to those were staff favorites, trucks praised by organizations, and national and local publications, both in print and online. Editors consulted popular review sites and critical appraisal. They analyzed trucks' number of Twitter followers and Facebook "likes." For originality, it examined menu innovation, concept, concept relative to inception -- to wit, Asian tacos are as original as truffle oil fries (i.e. not innovative) -- and how that all plays into geography.
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That methodology applied in 2013, save some differences. When it comes to food trucks, the social factor is vital. So whereas in 2012, when Facebook was considered only where a Twitter presence didn't exist, in 2013, both Twitter and Facebook followings were factored into a carefully constructed mathematical equation. Secondly, this list benefited from comments and suggestions resulting from The Daily Meal's best food trucks in America for 2012. More food trucks, about 450, were considered in more than 40 cities.
A few notes. Only trucks were considered. Complain if you will, but if it was a trailer or a cart, if it needed something to pull, drag, push, or carry it, if it wasn't on four wheels and couldn't move on its own power from parking ticket to parking spot? Gone. Some cities (especially much-beloved Portland, Ore.) pained editors, but many of their food "trucks" didn't make the cut because they weren't well, trucks. Also, this is a list of food trucks. Food trucks that make just cupcakes or coffee are cupcake or coffee trucks, not food trucks. With the rare exception, it didn't seem fair to include trucks serving shaved ice or ice cream with those doing full menus. (America's best food cart and ice cream truck lists will follow.)
One last thing: The Daily Meal's list reads now a bit like a defense of food trucks. This isn't a business model that should need defending. Many problems food trucks face (including in D.C., Chicago, and even New York), aren't fair and should (at least) be cared about enough by office workers that they should be making noise on behalf of the hard-working folks who make them lunch. Running a food truck is a tough job, one where just being "cool" doesn't pay the bills. As The New York Times' magazine recently noted, some would say "The Food-Truck Business Stinks."
To restaurant owners who have had their ire raised by trucks: yes, there are offenders. But brick-and-mortar establishments who claim trucks feed off them should consider this:
1. Competition breeds better restaurants. Worried about trucks making better food than you? Cook better food! Provide better service. You have a roof, walk-in, and staff. You should be able to.
2. Make customers feel more valued or feel that they're getting more value.
3. Do you pay rent? Respect. That doesn't entitle you to business.
But enough with the rules! What were the results? How did they rank? You'll have to peruse the list, or watch the slideshow for specifics, but this year's list, while including some seven different cuisines or types of fare, was still dominated by Asian fusion, burgers, sandwiches, grilled cheese, and tacos. Pizza and lobster rolls were other predictable leaders, but there were some impressive chef-y menus, too.
Los Angeles (16 food trucks), San Francisco (11 food trucks), and New York City (10 food trucks) still lead all cities. But last year's biggest winners lost ground. Boston, Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle lost 11 total spots. Food trucks in cities like Cleveland, Dallas, Durham, Fresno, Oakland, Reno, San Antonio, San Diego, Santa Monica, and Wichita ranked, while Houston, Vegas, Miami, Nashville, Portland, and St. Louis gained spots. Why? Factoring in Facebook altered trucks' social factor (if you don't like the ranking, encourage your favorite food trucks to seek out more likes and followers!). But the biggest reason is that food trucks in more cities are just making better food. And that's a trend you can bet on continuing to see going forward.
So, from tacos considered "the best thing in Nashville since country music" to kimchi kraut and bulgolgi-covered hot dogs in Portland, here's the list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America for 2013, any of which we'd be thrilled to wait in line at for a meal worthy of eating standing up.
- Arthur Bovino, The Daily Meal
Life partners and chefs Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer each have more than 20 years of experience, and also one of the most lauded trucks in the country, scoring 10th place on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list and earning a spot on U.S. News’ list of America’s most creative food trucks in January 2013. Carlson reportedly cooked for Gray Kunz, Christian Delouvier, and Daniel Humm, while Summer is credited for opening Morimoto’s pastry department and working at Jean-Georges’ JoJo. Ingredients are organic when possible, and from family farms and co-ops within Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the food is served in 100 percent biodegradable packaging. Speaking of which, the menu (seasonal), ranges from signature Indian-spiced mini-donuts, tempura soft-shell crab sandwich, and grass-fed beef tongue tacos to bison burgers, bacon beer brats, and Thai and Indian vegetable curries. There’s literally something for everyone — something Wisconsinites have recently been made aware of at the truck’s Bay City brick-and-mortar location. TWITTER: @chefshack1 FOLLOWERS: 8,527 FACEBOOK LIKES: 4,224 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Site Click here to see ALL 101 Best Food Trucks in America Credit: Chef Shack
Matt? Who Dat? Seattleites know. Why? Ever had a muffuletta in New Orleans? Then you know how hard it is to get a really good one anywhere outside the city. The bread, the flavor, and the ratio of it to cheese, meat, and chopped olive salad — it just seldom comes together. Lucky for Seattle, they have native New Orleanian chef Matthew Lewis, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who counts among his experience tours with Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Alabama, and Seattle’s own Restaurant Zoe and Canlis (ranked number 88 among The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America). Besides the New Orleans-style French bread made for him by a local baker, Lewis claims to make "everything handmade right down to the mayonnaise." Besides that mean muffuletta on his Creole food truck Where Ya At Matt?, which came in at number 17 in last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list, you’ll find his riffs on all the N'awlins classics: jambalaya (rice, chicken, and house-cured Andouille sausage), chicken and Andouille gumbo thickened with okra, red beans and rice, shrimp and grits, and of course, beignets. Of course, no New Orleans menu would be complete without a po’boy and Lewis serves nine different options, which Eater has referred to as one of Seattle’s 18 iconic sandwiches. And while the oyster, shrimp, roast beef, "big bold Creole pork," smoked portabella, smothered chicken, Andouille, and catfish are all reputable, it’s hard to go with anything other than the Peacemaker — fried oysters, house-cured bacon, and Cheddar piled high with lettuce, tomato, pickles, Mama Lil’s Pickled Peppers, and aioli- a dish so delicious that it, along with Matt’s beignets and po'boys, are in the lineup for Eater’s 21 Must-Have Food and Drink Dishes. Really, Seattle? With Lewis’ new Fremont brick-and-mortar spot Restaurant Roux coming soon, you’re just being greedy. TWITTER: @WhereYaAtMatt FOLLOWERS: 4,245 FACEBOOK LIKES: 5,340 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Site Credit: Ashley Rodriguez
"Has a 1991 Grumman / Chevy P30 become a Buddha?" asks The Cinnamon Snail’s website. No, you don’t have to prepare to get into chaturanga, but this is a full on vegan and organic food truck — right down to the grill, which when the truck was gutted was replaced with "a brand-new commercial grill which had never touched animal flesh." So what food inspires food and bliss? What kind of menu serves "food to help you transform into a being of pure light who can serve all living creatures simultaneously and eternally"? Well, a seasonal one to start. But the truck, a longtime dream of Adam Sobel (who before the truck ran a vegan catering service in New Jersey), has a menu that features breakfast, raw food, sandwiches, and pastries. There are burritos with scrambled tofu and refried beans, blue corn or fresh plum pancakes with pine nut butter and chamomile blood orange syrup, and sandwiches featuring seitan burgers, tempeh, and grilled tofu. Despite being vegan, this truck clearly caters to a pretty universal crowd, which explains it winning the 2012 Vendy Award and Mobile Cuisine magazine’s "America’s Favorite Vegetarian Food Truck," making New York Post’s top trends of 2012, earning first place on the Best of Yelp NYC Restaurant list of 2012, in addition to coming in 20th place on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list. TWITTER: @VeganLunchTruck FOLLOWERS: 10,398 FACEBOOK LIKES: 16,030 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Facebook Credit: The Cinnamon Snail
Billed as "San Antonio’s only Pakistani food truck," Rickshaw Stop is a family-owned and operated affair run by Sameer and Meagan Siddiqui with the help of Sameer’s mother Gety, Aunt Bina, and Uncle Shabbir. "Each recipe we use has been created and approved by the entire Siddiqui/Khan family," their site proudly notes. Rickshaw Stop’s two main items are kebabs and samosas. Sounds simple, but the simplest things sometimes require the most attention, and the Siddiqui/Khan quality assurance team has made sure of that. Rickshaw Stop marinates both their beef and chicken for at least 48 hours "to ensure all of the Pakistani flavors are distributed throughout the meat — no exceptions." If they don’t, they’ve explained, "the flavor is completely different." And that’s simply not acceptable. Not when they hold themselves to the standard of serving food you’ll likely only have had if you’re "friends with a Pakistani family or you’ve spent extensive time in Pakistan." The move here is obvious. Get The Tony and ask for one of each kebab (one beef, one chicken), plus two samosas. For $6 you can get a chicken or beef kebab, marinated in a Pakistani spice mix, char-grilled over an open flame, and served taco-style in thin, flaky Pakistani paratha bread with onions, cilantro, and three sauces: Spicy (cilantro/mint), Sweet & Sour (tamarind), and Mild (yogurt/cilantro). TWITTER: @RickshawStopSA FOLLOWERS: 1,355 FACEBOOK LIKES: 1,377 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Site Credit: Rickshaw Stop
If you’re a Top Chef fan, you likely know the man behind East Side King even if you haven’t eaten its fare. The four East Side King trucks are the asphalt ambassadors from the likeable and disarming Top Chef season nine winner and former executive chef at Austin’s Uchiko Paul Qui. Chef Qui’s truck menus represent his spin on Japanese street food, the results of what Southern Living reported as two research-and-development trips to Japan after winning Top Chef. The results? Fried potato noodles with pork and kimchi stew, mapo tofu chili, a pork melt and pork chop sandwich, and fried chicken fried rice. Qui-ha! TWITTER: @EastSideKingATX FOLLOWERS: 4,632 FACEBOOK LIKES: 3,333 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Twitter Credit: East Side King
Brash and cocky, the trio behind the Orange County, Calif.-based Lime Truck (owner Daniel Shemtob, with Jason Quinn and Jesse Brockman) wore lime-green headbands in the fast lane through much of season two of Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Road Race, winning the show. Appearing on last year’s 101 Best Food Trucks list at number seven, the trio, who launched the truck in June 2010, prides themselves on "local, organic, and sustainably sourced fresh ingredients, paired with hip, inventive recipes." The truck offers a variety of Mexican-inspired items with a fun twist, from their ahi tuna poke nachos to carnitas fries. To keep up with their growing fan base, the truck now has merchandise available online. TWITTER: @thelimetruck FOLLOWERS: 10,645 FACEBOOK LIKES: 16,579 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check site Credit: The Lime Truck
A summer experiment in June 2009 by founders Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff soon turned into one of New York City’s most iconic food trucks, and even went brick-and-mortar. Big Gay Ice Cream Truck’s creative toppings (olive oil, wasabi pea dust, Sriracha, Nilla Wafers, and Trix), clever dessert names (Salty Pimp, Mexican Affo’gay’to), flavor combinations (apple butter and bourbon butterscotch), and army of Twitter followers all helped put them at number three on our 101 Best Food Trucks list last year. Since then, the truck has added a second permanent location in the West Village. But everyone’s favorite unicorn- and rainbow-chasing mobile ice cream vendor is still on the move, and the custard is still the star of the show. It’s one of the softest, most wonderful soft ice creams you’ve ever tried, and that’s not hyperbole — this is the stuff that takes you back to your very first time of… eating ice cream. Hopefully some of their delicious secrets will be revealed soon — they have a cookbook to be released in 2014. TWITTER: @biggayicecream FOLLOWERS: 49,512 FACEBOOK LIKES: 21,163 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check site Credit: Donny Tsang
Fojol Brothers timed the launch of their food truck with the Obama inauguration in 2009, or as they put it on their website, "the day the world changed." The four partners, three from D.C., one from Seattle, dress colorfully, wearing turbans and Ringling Brothers throwback moustaches. Their iconic costume and design paired with delicious cuisine basically resulted in the creation of D.C.’s food truck scene, and for this was awarded the number two spot on our 101 Best Food Trucks list last year. There are blankets for customers to sit on while eating, and the crew prides itself on being environmentally friendly, using napkins made from 100 percent recycled materials. A portion of the proceeds from these products funds at-risk youth programs. But the truck’s main purpose is to serve delicious meals from Merlindia and Benethiopia, and features one menu for each cuisine. Items include butter chicken, eggplant, lentils and beef, and split peas. The best part? Everything is meant to be consumed with your hands! TWITTER: @fojolbros FOLLOWERS: 12,224 FACEBOOK LIKES: 2,633 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Twitter Credit: Fojol Bros
"Thanksgiving of 2008, Kogi BBQ had first rolled out as the little Korean-taco-truck-that-could, peddling $2 Korean barbecue tacos on the streets of LA. Little did they know that within… months, they would become an icon of LA street food. Kogi set off a flavor bomb that would shake up the foundations of the industry so that street food would never be looked at the same way." That’s from Kogi’s site. What’s the saying? It ain’t bragging if it’s true? So it goes with chef Roy Choi’s truck, which you can credit (or at this point, blame) for the proliferation of Asian tacos across the U.S. Korilla, TaKorean, Jogasaki, these guys, among many others, should be paying Choi royalties. After appearing at number one on our 101 Best Food Trucks list last year, the truck continues to be an icon in the food truck world. Serving delicious Asian tacos at an incredibly reasonable price, this truck has made headlines and was named the fifth-best restaurant by Jonathan Gold in 2013. The company now has four trucks (one specifically for catering events). The group has also opened two restaurants, Alibi Room and Chego. With more than 100,000 Twitter followers, it is clear that this truck as reached celebrity status. TWITTER: @kogibbq FOLLOWERS: 107,370 FACEBOOK LIKES: 2,829 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Site Credit: Eric Shin
What started at Ralph Gorham's and Susan Povich's kitchen table (yes that Povich — she's the daughter of former A Current Affair host and daytime TV star Maury Povich), has turned into a hugely successful multi-city lobster roll truck. The truck, "Big Red," opened in 2010 in New York City, bringing "Maine-style" lobster rolls to the masses. The Red Hook Lobster Truck has a variety of seafood indulgences to offer. There are shrimp rolls, a lobster BLT, lobster bisque, and New England and shrimp and corn chowder, but let’s face it, it’s about the lobster roll: lobster, served cold with celery, spices, a touch of homemade mayonnaise and on a J.J. Nissen split-top bun (or Connecticut-style, warm and buttered). Save for Pearl Oyster Bar's version, many folks (including Time Out New York, Zagat, and us) agree that it's one of the best lobster rolls in New York; it appeared at number 11 on our 101 Best Food Trucks last year before this year's jump to number on. The team recently opened a shop in Montauk, N.Y., with partner Sweet’tauk Lemonade. In addition to their new ventures, the truck is still driving around New York. The lunch move? The Hookup: a lobster roll with Cape Cod chips and a choice of Maine Root Sodas (root beer, ginger brew, mandarin orange, blueberry, sarsaparilla, or lemon-lime). TWITTER: @lobstertruckny FOLLOWERS: 8,239 FACEBOOK LIKES: 5,643 LOCATION/SCHEDULE: Check Site Credit: Jane Bruce
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