Food Truck Free for All!

Meals on wheels have never been more available or tasted better.

In late 2008, Kogi BBQ of Los Angeles became the first mobile food truck to use the social-media tool Twitter to help customers track down its inventive roving cuisine. By May 2009, the foodie website Serious Eats counted more than four-dozen tweeting mobile food trucks around the country. Today even the most conservative estimates—based on data from sites like TruxMap—put the number of food trucks using social media at well over 600.

In Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels, Chicago food writer Heather Shouse profiles more than 100 food trucks, carts, and stands around the country, highlights their diverse cuisine, and describes their operators’ often-distinguished culinary backgrounds. Shouse, co-author of three food guidebooks and an upcoming cookbook with friend and Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, brings to market in Food Trucks the first book to survey America’s mobile-eating scene in the wake of the social-media craze.

Shouse’s research required her to spend a year crisscrossing the country while sampling food-truck fare of all sorts. Food Trucks, which is divided by region, fittingly begins in Los Angeles. But instead of starting her story with Kogi, Shouse opens Food Trucks with loving descriptions of several of the city’s longstanding and outstanding taco trucks.

This reference point matters. Food Trucks is a winning effort not because Shouse is the first to depict the tweeting gastromobiles that best represent today’s food-truck craze but because she gives nearly equal time to their low-tech forbearers and peers. These are not the hot dog carts and trucks that dot the National Mall but are, rather, the tens of thousands of truck operators around the country—often immigrants—who eschew Twitter, tricked-out truck paint jobs, and heat-and-serve foods. These no-frills operators will often park a barebones truck in the same location each day and cook and serve inexpensive, freshly-made meals based on recipes from their (or their families') respective homelands.

(Article continues below video.)

Whether Kogi, with its 85,000 Twitter followers, or a mom-and-pop taco truck like Mariscos 4 Vientos #3 (both in Los Angeles)—each of the book’s profiles is unique. Yet common themes do emerge. Those long lines of people you see waiting to be served by food trucks? Shouse writes that queues snake not just because trucks serve tasty food but also because they sometimes churn out that food about as fast as a DMV processes drivers’ licenses. New York City’s Trini Paki Boys Cart works at “molasses-slow” speed, writes Shouse, while the lines at Philadelphia’s La Dominique pervade not because owner Ziggy “makes a crepe unlike any other” but because he “makes a crepe slower than any other.”

Predictably along the way Shouse encounters many fascinating characters helming food trucks. These are people of the sort commonly found “back of house” at brick-and-mortar restaurants—cantankerous, quirky, or enigmatic chefs. Take Rick Baker of Seattle’s Halláva Falafel food truck. His insistence on serving red beets with all of his sandwiches—he has a four-letter word reserved for customers who demand otherwise—has earned him the nickname of “Beet Nazi.”

Though Shouse often couches observations like these in humor, she is comfortable letting food and those who sell it occupy the center of Food Trucks. As a result, the book serves as a highly enjoyable and timely illustration of the amazing quality and variety found today in street food across the country. And for those inspired to bring the street into their own kitchens, Food Trucks also contains nearly four-dozen food-truck recipes–from Kogi’s kimchi quesadilla to the Odd Duck’s coffee-braised pork shoulder with chiles and sweet potato to Potato Champion’s poutine.

Shouse’s road epiphany will sound familiar to anyone who would shun a three-star restaurant for a favorite hole-in-the-wall spot. “[G]leaming mobile kitchens run by trained chefs who have mastered Twitter can turn out disastrous food,” she writes. “Rickety carts with questionable permits might just turn out some of the best.”

Ultimately, as Food Trucks demonstrates, America’s obsession with gastromobiles is thanks not just to Twitter. It’s also a testament to these trucks’ entrepreneurs and chefs and to the increasingly excellent and diverse foods they serve.

Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of culinary freedom.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Nancy Pelosi||

    Cheap food served out of the back of a truck to poor people?...That is SO tacky! Let's regulate it so that the trucks don't make there way into my posh neighborhood.

  • Nancy Pelosi||

    And yes, I know I misspelled "their."

  • Sudden||

    If you were the real Nancy Pelosi, I sincerely doubt you would have known that you improperly used there instead of their.

  • The Real Nancy Pelosi||

    You're all dead to me.

  • Rob||

    Yes, but we are all actually able to blink our eyes....

  • DADIODADDY||

    as well as our other orifices....

  • StewdaBak3r||

    If I wasn't scared of Pelosi before, I am now.

  • Juice||

    If you saw the prices of the food trucks in DC you wouldn't say that.

    The lobster roll from the lobster truck is $15. The typical price for anything from these trucks, even mac and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich, is going to be $7-9.

    I like the NYC food carts where a gigantic falafel is going to be $3 and a huge gyro is $5.

  • ||

    If you saw the prices of the food trucks in DC you wouldn't say that.

    Who do you think created that Foodtopia, fucking ingrate!

  • ||

    One of the reasons food trucks proliferate in Los Angeles is that the combination of rent, City regulations, expensive & challenging parking situations, high cost of employees due to State regulations, etc., make it so much more costly to operate a restaurant here, as compared to operating out of a truck.

  • Juice||

    Those are precisely the reasons that food trucks were effectively banned in DC for so long.

  • Otto||

    ...and the reason that they cost 50% more than NYC. Wow - you live someplace that has more regulation than NYC.

  • ||

    It is pretty retarded that anyone ever thought NYC was the Regulatory-Overreach Capitol instead of DC. Just another case of New Yorkers being full of themselves I suppose.

  • ||

    http://www.asianwalkway.com/fo.....ruck-hunt/

    One word Misa. Only a heartless bureaucrat could tell her she needs a license.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I might be willing to tell he she needs a license... but that I have an idea for how to make that requirement go away.

  • ||

    Yeah. I normally don't go in for Eurasian chicks but something about her works really well for me. My wife finally stopped watching the Great Food Truck Race because she knew I was only watching it to lust after Misa and Nom Nom kept winning and thus kept Misa on the show.

  • OO=======================D||

    Ouch!

  • ||

    Golly, she sure is purty.

  • Paul||

    Apropos of the down-blog post, is it now "The Wild West"? Because I hear tell regulators, politicians and concerned citizens don't like "The Wild West".

  • ||

    THEY USE ROADS!11!1!!11 Also: If we just allow any foodtruck to park ANYWHERE... SOMALIA!!!

  • Nancy Pelosi||

    Finally, someone else sees the intellectually hypocrisy of libertarianism.

  • ||

    Food trucks are in their infancy here in Miami, but they have some very, very good ones. I'll give my favorite one some completely unpaid, unsolicited advertising: Dim Ssam a Gogo. Don't ask about the name, it's just awesome food. Twitter @sakayakitchen

    I just wish they came around my neck of downtown more than once a week. I think they have the licensing thing down, at least until the city or county decide they've become too successful.

  • rather ||

    I associate food trucks/stands with crappy food but they are fantastic in London-plenty of ethnic variety

  • ||

    That's super interesting, rectal. You know what? We associate you with crappy everything.

  • The Real Nancy Pelosi||

    Rather & Episiarch. Crap squared.

  • ||

    Another anonymous pussy. Crap to the infinite power.

  • rather ||

    Nancy Pelosi, I love you! Take it back or I'll vote libertarian

  • Aribiter of all that is right||

    I agree. Save the sniping for posts that deserve a snipe.

  • rather||

    People please forgive me if I make pointless comments, I am not very bright and still trying to learn, perhaps this next one will be an improvements on my first comment:

    Did you know that food trucks require wheels and truck drivers ! Also somewhere in Albania they serve fantastic goats cheese !

  • ||

    Lol, wait I don't get it.

  • ||

    For once, I'm going to come down on the govt's side. What happens when the local Team Jaguar News does an exposé on dirty food trucks that nobody ever bothered to inspect? Who are the people going to blame? The health department is supposed to just announce that your restaurant needs to meet health and safety standards....unless you have wheels on it?

  • dysentery||

    Health and safety standards? It's a truck. Not only is the kitchen right in front of your face, but you can see everyone cooking your food. If Jorge has his fingers jammed half way up his ass, while he is cooking your food, probably not good.

    Like some health inspector, who drops by once every six months, really makes that much of a difference. I've eaten in some really shitty looking places, that have been certified by the health department, and read too many stories of places, where employees have deposited some sort of bodily fluid, to have any faith that the health dept seal of approval guarantees me, that Jorge didn't put his little, shit covered finger, in my borrito.

  • ||

    If they do an expose and find shit in your taco, don't eat there again. Food trucks who want your business will avoid pulling Klingons out of their asshole while they are cooking your food cause they know if you get sick or find something unsavory, you will raise hell and nobody will eat there.

    The government wouldn't notice a pile of bear shit in a bowl of chowder if they bit into it themselves... Oh look they gave me extra clams.

  • Robert||

    Darn, I thought it was going to be about someone in a truck giving out food free. Today's my day for misconstruing headlines, it seems.

  • ||

    Can I smoke in my truck if I give people food?

  • The Real Nancy Pelosi||

    Give? Yes. Sell? No.

    Next.

  • ||

    Slow down Nancy, did you verify his Permit To Give Away food?

  • B.P.||

    In my neighborhood we have one satisfying two major yuppie fetishes: the Cupcake Truck! It's a food truck! It serves cupcakes!

    What will terminal followers resort to when the food truck fad dies out and returns to its roots of serving construction workers and late-night drunks?

  • ||

    Legalize pot and I guarantee you the cupcake mobile will be around forever.

  • The Real Mo Brooks||

    Why can't we see Bibles out of the back of truck?

  • The Real Mo Brooks||

    "sell"

    Damn my syphilitic brain!

  • ||

    Syphallis aside, it's because you only sell from your truck in order to avoid federal taxes, you scallawag. Pay for a storefront, and pay your taxes, you Somalian Cutthroat.

  • dysentery||

    Or hookers.

  • ||

    Taxes are for suckers, aka good citizens aka suckers.

  • عراق الرومانسية||

    thanksssssssss

  • صبايا العراق||

    thanks

  • Louis Vuitton 1904 Monogram Be||

    http://www.louisvuitton.be/lou.....-p-39.html
    Great information, thanks to share.

  • منتديات عرب||

    Thank you

  • العراق||

    thnx you man

  • nike shox||

    is good

  • دردشة العراق||

    thank you

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