2/22/2012 09:30:00 AM

Which U.S. City Has the Hottest Food-Truck Scene?

Portland; Image via Flickr/star5112
It’s become a phenomenon - food served from roving street vendors whose every stop and turn are tracked by websites and promoted through Twitter. Their lines can run city blocks and turn an average gourmand into an obsessed bite-searcher. The food-truck scene is different in every city. In Chicago, trucks are illegal, and prospective vendors have to find loopholes to run the town. However, in Boston, they’re welcomed with open arms. New York City’s cops spend taxpayers' bucks chasing around illegally parked outposts.

With low overhead and higher margins than traditional restaurants, it seems these mobiles are here to stay. Whether it’s Chicago’s rogue meatloaf truck or Cali’s fish tacos, there’s a little sumthin’ sumthin’ for everyone. Which is the best food truck city, however? That’s for y’all to decide. Leave ‘em in the comments.

52 comments :

  1. I would say Portland and Austin would be tops for food trucks as it is a part of their culture. Seems like everywhere else got on their bandwagon.

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    1. Not sure why Portland gets all the hype. Food trucks have been a "thing" here in Austin for almost a decade. The latest numbers I found say we're about to top 1400 in operation, and that was an article from late 2012. The only number I've found for Portland is 600, article un-dated.

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  2. Durham NC is at least as good as Boston MA when it comes to food trucks!

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  3. Hey, Hawaii has an abundance of food trucks too! As I remember, we are still part of the United States and shouldn't be forgotten!

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    1. I agree!! Hawaii had shrimp and plate lunch trucks serving amazing food long before it became popular on the mainland! Please keep up the great work!

      A friend from the mainland.

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    2. I think Manapua trucks were some of the first. I remember .25 manapua in the mid 70s

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  4. Is anyone going to differentiate between a food truck (mobile) and and a food trailer (stationary)? Anyone want to think about it? Portland and Austin are chock-a-block full of trailers. Some, but so much mobile. Portland has trailer food courts, and Austin either has solo trailers on lots or trailers attached to backs of bars with backyard. These are not trucks. They provide some of the most amazing food options in many cities, but these are NOT trucks. One of the latest Beard nominees for a brick and mortar chef from Austin (Barley Swine) started in a trailer, not a mobile truck. So, I am not trying to say anything negative about trailers, but there is a difference. Frequently it has something to do with local code. Both trucks and trailers are providing new & innovative cuisine & opportunities for 'hungry chefs', and that should be lauded. But, if we are going to be honest, the latest incarnation of the 'food truck phenomena' started in Los Angeles, which still has one of the widest array of mobile food trucks. Kogi BBQ (Korean/Mexican fusion) truck was the initiator of the 'new wave' of food trucks. It was in in a major media capitol and had a great press agent, so it caught heat. If you are looking a 'trailer culture'. Portland's is a lot older than Austin's. Either way, it is all good for local food scenes, because it causes the old guard to keep on their toes. However, there is still a difference between a 'truck' and a 'trailer.

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  5. San Francisco has quite the variety and at least 4 major congregation sites ("Off the Grid"): the Haight, downtown, SOMA and Fort Mason.

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  6. Ahh you've totally overlooked San Jose CA! We have a really awesome Food Truck community going on here check out Moveable Feast http://www.mvbl.org/

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  7. Sorry to see Zagat so out of touch with where things are really happening. Your own descriptions are a testimony to the lameness of some of your choices. The food truck scene in Columbus, OH is where it's at!

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    1. Absolutely, Rod. Fresh, innovative and always there. Columbus is a hot food scene.

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    2. Columbus? Really? I went in February and couldn't find a single truck because its too frigging cold!

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  8. Um... where's the SF Bay Area?!! San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, and their neighbors have a huge ecosystem of food trucks, including both legal and covert gatherings... not to mention amazing food! Regardless, thanks for the great article. It's awesome to see this trend spreading!

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  9. It's Vegas all the way. We lead the way, and we're showing the rest of the country how it's done. Austin and Portland got weird nailed down, but we're keeping it real in LV. Our food trucks are second to none. We rule! Cheers!

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  10. Check out Houston. The 4th largest city in the US has embraced trucks. Our climate supports them 12 months a year

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  11. Houston is where I live. This is an amazing food town, but the trucks (there's lots of them, mostly Mexican food) are spread out just like most everything in Houston. Would like to see more variety and have them clustered in a few main locations like they are in Austin.

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  12. Seriously, where is SF? The several Off the Grid locations with numerous trucks at each, Truck Stop SF, numerous farmer's markets? Not to mention combined with the tech industry and high adoption of Twitter and Square (thanks Jack Dorsey) there is no way the Bay Area food truck can be overlooked. Only NYC and Portland can hold a candle to the variety and quantity. Pork buns (Chairman Bao), Indian burritos (Curry Up Now, Kasa), a bacon truck (Bacon Bacon), even the eponymous creme brulee cart.

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  13. How can you talk about DC food trucks without mentioning CapMac? Heavenly . . . .

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  14. Chicago is a great food city in oh so many ways, but food trucks is not one of them. Would love to see trucks bloom on the streets here. Not yet. The laws are against it No prep allowed on trucks. Prep it in a kitchen, put it on a truck, & move it to a permitted location. Such restrictions aren't conducive to food trucks spreading and growing. See for yourself -

    http://chicagofoodtrucks.com/Chicago_Food_Trucks/The_Movement.html

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  15. www.columbusfoodtruckfest.com check it!!

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  16. San Francisco has the best and most diverse offerings, especially when you include the entire SF Bay Area (SF, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose). Portland is a close second.

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  17. I realize you had to fit in 10, but don't forget Columbus, Ohio, which not only has tours to check out some great food trucks via Columbus Food Adventures - http://columbusfoodadventures.com/ - but they also had their first Columbus Food Truck and Cart Festival last year - http://ohiofestivals.net/48-columbus-food-truck-and-cart-fest-august-26-2011/

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  18. Have to agree, they missed the boat on Columbus Ohio. And we have festivals just for the food truck! We do have some trailers, as a pp called it. One of the best is Ray Ray's BBQ in North Columbus, the best bbq you'll ever have!

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  19. I would agree about Portland. However, it looks as if the rest of this list was just to pick any major city, and describe a few food trucks in that city that are unique. Lazy journalism. I also agree that smaller towns have better options as it is a part of the culture. Having been to Columbus, Portlan, and Austin and living just outside of New York, I have to say the smaller cities have better and more creative food truck options than NYC. Chicago's is simply horrible, but apparently Ms. Bloomberg is enamoured with the meatloaf truck so Chicago was #2. I would rank Portland #1 followed by Columbus, then Austin. SF is great as well. Miami, L.A., and Chicago would not make my list.

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    1. Thanks for the Columbus shout out.

      http://streeteatscolumbus.com/

      http://tacotruckscolumbus

      Having traveled a lot to research I would say Portland, LA, Austin, Minneapolis, Houston, Hawaii, and Oakland are doing really progressive things. Columbus really has amazing mobile food going on with Korean, Gourmet Sliders, Artisan/ Slow Food Style trucks and more due out for spring.

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  20. The food truck scene in Boston is only about a year old, and while there is a lot of buzz and acceptance, there are growing pains also. A lot of trucks have stayed open through the winter months and we've been lucky to have had a very mild winter. Access to prime locations has not always been fairly distributed. We're getting there, more work to do!

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    1. Hi Steven, Would love to talk more about a feature story on food trucks!
      Jean editor@northeastflavor.com

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  21. Wow, how about Philadelphia? University food trucks are a go-to for the tens of thousands of students there, especially Drexel and UPenn. There needs to more, granted, however the quality is top notch!

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  22. Hi Lauren, how can we communicate away from this comment post?

    I would like to tell you about one of the more interesting mobile food businesses arround.

    Interested?

    Hope to hear from you.

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  23. I guess I will have to check out our food trucks here in Sacramento. I hear rave reviews about them here.

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  24. I know its not in the USA but Christchurch in NZ is full of pop up things. As the CBD is out of bounds due to the quakes there are so many truck food and bar places, not saying they're the best, but they're now more common than normal buildings.

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    1. Thanks for the info! Maybe an International version of this should be next?!

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  25. Has to be Austin - a city known for valueing and supporting creativity in many areas, food trucks flourish. It it a self reinforcing circle. Creative chefs like Bryce Gilmore can start mobile, and get the cash to go bricks and mortar. Top Chef finalist Paul Qui can have his own style in his three East Side King locations. And barbeque family heir John Mueller can re-enter the business via a trailer - to instant cover of Texas Monthly.

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  26. Boston is rocking the food trucks, plus it's Boston, America's Championship City!

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  27. The first picture is the cheaters of the Great Food Truck Race, Korilla BBQ

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  28. Hopefully Philly's on the next one. This city's been exploding with food trucks.

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  29. Whoa! Who knew there was such an explosion of food trucks! Love this. Wish it could include more cities.

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  30. Portland, Portland, Portland. Worth a trip JUST for the carts!

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  31. Seriously, no one mentioned LA? I was dead sure it was food truck ground zero! You know, with more room to roam than any other city, & all.

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  32. Hola!! DON'T leave Miami behind!!!! The food trucks go from Miami/Ft Lauderdale and beyond!! The food is amazing as they have created an amazing mix of delicious culinary delights which showcase the true Melton pot which South Florida is known for. An legs not forget, the parties!! If you've gotta wait in a long line, there's always a party going on to keep you entertained too!!! MIAMI FOOD TRUCKS ROCK!!

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    1. Apologies for the spelling errors!

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  33. Sorry but hands down it is Southern California... where @Kogibbq, the granddaddy of the Gourmet Food Trucks started. Hmm, come to think of it, the past 2 winners of the Great Food Truck Race were from So Cal.

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  34. hmmm...not sure why Durham, NC wasn't on the list, but maybe i'm biased.

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  35. Disappointed that no one took notice of St Louis. We have had an explosion of food trucks over the recent years and even have an event at a city park called Food Truck Fridays where you can sample all their offerings. Hopefully next time someone will notice.

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  36. Welll, you missed lots of greatness to be sure! Especially Columbus, O. What up with dat? What up with dat! Ooooooooh weeeeee.
    I think that rhymes with the Cleve. What up wit dat?






    Damn good food.

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  37. Glad Cleveland was included but what's with the totally dumb setting? There's tons of places all round the city that are way better than a scrubby, unidentifable curbside with a couple of trash cans. That's NOT Cleveland.

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  38. You guys totally missed Baltimore, MD... we have some of the craziest food Trucks out there... especially my Favorites Gyps Queen Cafe, which boasts a Gypsy Cone of a waffle cone full of french fries topped with a crab cake glazed with Gyps sauce. Or Cruisin Cafe, where they tope their fries and Sandwiches with a Home Made Crab Dip.

    They just had an event called The Gathering where Baltimore food Trucks faced off against Washington Food trucks to see who had the better food... Baltimore won.

    So before you have DC on the list, Baltimore should be right up there.

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  39. its a weak and uninformative article it doesn't tell you which is the most difficult city in the u.s is the easiest places to run of food vending truck and which is the worst. If this is reporting then its fairly and very poor even as a cartoon script. I guess i'll have to search elsewhere.

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