How often do we do lunch at the desk or the Laptop without thinking twice that we do it near enough every day. Of course we’re all busy, it’s the way it is when you are fueled up on entrepreneurship. But it’s our choice of food that we should think about changing. If you are anything like me you’ll go to the nearest café and grab a bite to chow down in a hurry and get back to working, this happens about three to four times a week. When I notice I don’t actually taste my food, is it because I’m in a hurry or does the food just lack flavoring? I’ve now made it a priority to venture further in need of some good food. I’ve tasted my way through many street vendors and noted down all the ones that truly tickled my taste buds.
Firstly if mention of street food conjures up images of soggy hot dogs and greasy tacos, let Chicago’s gourmet food trucks reboot that mentality. Spurred by the American fast food revolution, (but of course not taking on that title themselves) Chicago’s fresh breed of street-wise chefs have been inspired to create healthy and inexpensive hand-held meals with a winning taste factor. Here are my top truck eats and to eating as well as we work.
How Chicago do street smart lunches
Inspired by their native India, Falguni and Nik are two aspiring cooks who introduced Chicagoans to the delights dining on their delicious slow cooked fillings served wrapped in a flaky partha or whole wheat roti. Although they now have a permanent location on the Loop at 122 N. Wells Street, on good weathered days you’ll still find their van around town serving vegetarian items like their samosa wrap, chickpea chana and potato tava and meat lovers appreciate their succulent braised pulled-lamb curry with mint chutney and steak boti with cilantro chutney. Follow their menu changes at @Bomaby wraps.
Inspired by Luchadore culture, Manny and the gang take their mission to bring authentic homemade tamales to the streets of Chicago seriously! Featuring authentic regional dishes from all over Mexico, their silver catering truck is easy to spot because of the long lines of dedicated customers “jonesing” for their tamale fix. Spicy Oaxacan green mole tops the Complicate Tamalli stuffed with flank steak and the Picturesque Tamalli consists of Yucatan-style roasted pork with a tomato habanero sauce that you can wash down with a real-sugar Mexican soda. Follow their locations at @tamalespace101.
Inspired by a delicious pasty stand encountered when looking for a quick meal bicycling around Cornwall, this Chicago couple instantly realized that pasties were a food sensation their hometown would embrace. Determined to maintain their eco-friendly attitude, Carrie and Jay select recipes that could be made from locally-sourced items and bought a fleet of electric vehicles to deliver their flaky concoctions to the public. Turns out their instincts were right; Chicagoans have embraced their English version of the American pot pie with relish! Ratatouille pasties with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes and onions delight the vegetarians while the Ginger Chicken with cilantro and chilies, Roast Turkey with sage stuffing and BBQ Beef with caramelized onion pasties satisfies the carnivores. Follow their locations at @BridgeportPasty.
Inspired by their culinary globe-trotting, Sam and Sarah took the best of what they learned from restaurants around the world and developed a line of specialty made-to-order sandwiches. Their renown Gourmet BLT quickly became a local favorite (especially at the Chicago Tribune) because it perfected the process by frying the slab bacon just right so it didn’t slide off the fresh arugula, juicy tomato slices, ripe avocado wedges and creamy truffle aioli when built between two pieces of buttered Texas toast. Other customer favorites include their New Orleans Po’ Boy full of juicy pulled pork slathered with creole mustard remoulade and topped with pickled jalapeños or their Fried Salami sandwich on a pretzel bun with a fried egg, pickled red onions and zingy BBQ sauce. Yum. Follow more at @thefatshallot.
Inspired by desire to fight a case of sniffles with an old-fashioned bowl of soup like Mom used to make it, Chugger and Jaki set out to find the perfect homemade soup on Chicago’s loop and soon realized they had a new mission in life — to provide hearty one-dish meals for their fellow workers! Their signature Chicken Wild Rice and Lobster Bisque was enough to start the stampede and now their selection of dozens of meaty, veggie and vegan soups have warmed the tummies of many satisfied customers. Served with fresh hot bread, choose from daily soup selections like sweet Smashing Pumpkin soup for kids and Wild Card Chili for the adult crowd. Follow them at @SoupsInTheLoop
Spurred by a dare to make the best damned grilled cheese sandwich ever, this mobile eatery was the inevitable consequence of the delicious results. Undoubtedly, the Great Dane with duck bacon and the spicy Nasty Naz are the most frequently requested and mentioned by customers, but the bright yellow van serves more than sandwiches. If you are looking for something a little healthier, try The Vinny Veggie packed with vegetables and fresh goat’s cheese. And if you just want something for those chilly days, go for their ever-changing soup of the day or their Rosemary and Greek fries, too! Get more news at @MyToastyCheese.
New York City’s Gourmet Creators
Inspired by the streets of Tel Aviv, this truck’s Vegetarian only menu consists of perfectly constructed Green Falafels that can be labeled, ‘as authentic as you can get in the US’. With a crunchy shell stuffed with nutty chickpeas, fresh cilantro and mint, this tiny West Village shop has to hit the streets to meet the demand! Besides creating the “Holy Grail” of falafels, Chef Einat and Stephan make the most amazing fruit Smoothies, Israeli salads and Babaganouch. Catch up with their menu at @TaimMobile
Suzanne and Shari vow to fulfill your wildest Dagwood fantasy with the “Latin Lover of Sandwiches,” a revolutionary Cuban Sandwich on a crusty Acme roll with slow-roasted pulled pork, artisan ham, gruyere, jalapeño relish and chipotle aioli. The veggie crowd finds great satisfaction with the Asian Tofu Sandwich with red and green cabbage, carrot, mint and cilantro slaw in ginger-lime vinaigrette slathered with wasabi aioli on an Acme roll. Follow their lunch locations at @ebbettsgoodtogo
San Francisco’s Unique Menus
The Son of a Swiss ‘Metzgermeister’, Thomas, was inspired to create Roli Roti by the roots of his family farm and is now responsible for the smells emanating from this rotisserie food truck. Although their gourmet Rotisserie Chicken is no doubt excellent, their Porchetta Sandwich (crispy pork skin and sweet caramelized onions on a ciabatta roll) so popular it should warrant its own line. Best with a side of fresh potatoes roasted with the fat dripping from the pork and sprinkled with sea salt, throw in a locally sourced salad and you’re set. This one should be saved for those special Friday lunches that require an extra 10 minutes just to savour the flavors you’ve encountered. Follow them at @RoliRoti
For those of us who crave ribs so tender they fall off the bone, this food truck is a moving piece of heaven. Inspired by wanting to fill a “dining void”, owner Ryan serves up southern gourmet on a budget. What you will find (vegetarians look away now) – A rack of Giant Beef Ribs is served with spicy drizzling sauce, tangy baked beans, classic Mac & Cheese and Texas toast. Their tender BBQ Brisket Sandwich earns mouth-watering bragging rights.
Los Angeles Lunch Time Food Fare
Inspired by true Neapolitan taste and style, Joel and Naomi adopted a mission to bring to the streets the simplicity of a Naples pizza. Buy a slice or take home a ready-to-bake thin crust Artisan Pepperoni or a traditional Margherita pizza at this regular vendor to the LA Farmer’s Markets they concoct a special Market Pizza that showcases the best produce of the season. You can find them at the Ferry Plaza every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am-2pm. On weekends they’ll be San Rafael Civic center from 8am-1pm, if you fancy doing brunch. Follow their full locations on Twitter @PizzaPolitana.
This is the Korean BBQ food truck that started the Food Truck Revolution! In Chef Roy’s own words Kogi BBQ “set of a flavor bomb”. Roy’s Short Rib Burrito with extra Kimchee has become an iconic Orange County dish and the Calamari Tacos, Bulgolgi Burrito and Galbi Tacos topped with that famous kimchee slaw have spawned fan clubs, young and old – yes, they’re that good! Follow their location at @kogibbq
Though a smidge pricey for street food, owner Justin’s Lobsta truck is worth every penny so do check this off your lunch bucket list. Here you will find grilled toast Lobsta Roll with butter or mayo, topped off with a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade. The Crab Roll with butter is also to die for and even some New Englanders I met admit their Lobsta Bisque may well be more sumptuous than the genuine article, after tasting these, I can say it’s pretty even. Follow their news and locations at @lobstatruck
Lela Lake is a seasoned traveler who shares her love of food discovery with her readers. Originally from Texas, she has lived in Montana, Vermont, Colorado and New Mexico. She writes for Hostelbookers.com as a freelance travel and food writer.