Road Food: The Best Restaurants on Wheels

By Kiri Tannenbaum

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck


Truck Stop: Union Square area, New York City

Signature Item: Choinkwich: chocolate soft-serve and caramelized bacon sandwiched between two chocolate cartwheel cookies

Concept: Innovative toppings. In the spring of 2009, classically trained bassoonist Doug Quint was contemplating what to do for his summer. It was a friend’s Facebook post that planted the seed for Doug to start a soft-serve truck with ever-changing toppings. Wasabi? Yes. Sea salt and olive oil. Oh, yeah. Trix cereal? Bring it on. Our favorite creation: The Salty Pimp (pictured) — creamy vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, and sea salt, covered with a chocolate magic shell.

Clover Food Lab


Truck Stop: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Best-Sellers: Chickpea Fritters and Lavender Lemonade

Concept: Energy efficient, high-tech food. Parked outside one of the country’s top research universities, MIT, Clover Food Lab plays to a techy audience. Customers order from-scratch menu items (fresh popovers, homemade soups, just-cut fries), all processed via an iPhone order system. The environmentally friendly truck features energy efficient LED lights, gravity-fed water, and a passive cooling system, and is fueled by fry oil.



Truck Stop: Boulder, CO

Best-Seller: “Short Rib Situation” Taco (sweet-potato mash topped with slow-braised spicy short ribs and caramelized onions)

Concept: Mobile Mexican feast. Three years ago, native New Yorker Rayme Rossello was considering her next brick-and-mortar restaurant venture in her current Colorado hometown. A trip back east brought to light the burgeoning food truck culture and she scrapped the stationary eatery in favor of the street. Her goal? To offer affordable Latin fare — $3 tacos and gorditas — prepared from start to finish in her hot pink kitchen on wheels, named Tina.

Curbside Cupcakes


Truck Stop: Washington, DC

Best-Seller: Red Velvet cupcake with tangy cream-cheese frosting

Concept: Cupcakes to your curb. What do you do if you’re an attorney craving cupcakes but don’t have time to run to your favorite baker between court appearances? Rather than suffer cupcakeless, former attorney Sam Whitfield started Curbside and is now delivering the mini treats to other suffering sweet tooths around DC. And there are a lot of them: On a busy day, the solar-paneled truck dispenses up to 1,000 cupcakes. According to Sam, “People aren’t always happy to see a lawyer, but people are consistently happy to see a pink truck filled with cupcakes.” Amen to that.

The Fox Pizza Bus

Website: thefoxpizzabus

Truck Stop: Los Angeles, CA

Concept: Wood-fired pizza oven on wheels. Chef-owner Mike Fox grew up eating from the food trucks in his native Los Angeles. So when dreaming up his own concept, he wanted to bring something new to the (roadside) table. The Fox Pizza Bus (launching this summer) will be the first souped-up double-decker pizza joint to hit the street-food scene, equipped with a custom-made wood-fired oven. Pizzas will be hot, seasonal, and perfectly charred.

Great Balls on Tires


Truck Stop: Greater Los Angeles, CA

Concept: Mobile meatballs. Food trucks are a hot trend. So are meatballs. Why not combine the two, thought owners Clint Perlata, Michael Brombart, and Sharron Barshishat (a Cordon Bleu graduate). According to the team, there are meatballs in nearly each ethnic cuisine, and they’ve traveled overseas to sample “the balls of the world.” Their menu runs the gamut from Bollywood — garam masala chicken, coconut Madras curry, crispy fried onions, and chutney — to the Balligator. (You guessed it: an alligator meatball.)

The Green Truck


Truck Stop: Culver City, CA

Best-Seller: “Mother Trucker,” a homemade vegan veggie burger slathered in “Trucker” sauce

Concept: Eco-friendly eating. Kam Miceli and Mitchell Collier set out to bring the organic food movement to the people, without damaging the planet. According to the team, theirs was the first environmentally sustainable organic food truck. All of their foodware is made from compostable products, and they are a zero-waste operation.

The Grilled Cheese Truck


Truck Stop: Greater Los Angeles, CA

Best-Seller: The Cheesy Mac and Rib (a.k.a. The Fully Loaded)

Concept: Grilled cheese on the go! After competing in the 2009 Grilled Cheese Invitational, Dave Danhi realized that what the world really needed was a way to get grilled cheese on the fly (according to Dave, “a much better way to spread the cheesy goodness all over the city”). This visionary goes beyond the basics with dishes like his signature Cheesy Mac and Rib, a homemade southern mac ‘n cheese flecked with succulent pulled BBQ pork (smoked for over seven hours), a from-scratch BBQ sauce, caramelized onions, and a sharp Cheddar.

India Jones


Truck Stop: Greater Los Angeles and Coast, CA

Best-Seller: The Frankie, a roti roll-up with cilantro tamarind chutney, chopped onion and egg, and choice of lamb, chicken, beef, shrimp, or veggies

Concept: Indian street food. Though he’d been feeding authentic Indian cuisine to the L.A. community for over 30 years, it was only in August of 2009 that chef Sumant Pardal launched his Indian street-food truck. And like his restaurants, his truck (cleverly named India Jones) has a loyal following. Fans line up for his curries, parathas, samosa spring rolls, and mango lassi.

Lake Street Creamery


Truck Stop: Greater Los Angeles

Signature Item: Floats!

Concept: Mobile soda fountain of yore. Where did the float go? That’s what the owners of Lake Street Creamery wondered when they were dreaming up their menu. Inspired by long, hot summer days, ball games, and Norman Rockwell-type times, the Creamery serves up new versions of the classics. To wit: a donut ice cream paired with Boylan’s Black Cherry soda for a Jelly Donut float. Golly gee!

Mud Truck


Truck Stop: New York City

Signature Drink: Mudtruck blend drip coffee, a strong brew with notes of cocoa and cherry

Concept: Drive-thru brew. If America runs on Dunkin’, New Yorkers run on coffee. But running into a coffee shop, or waiting on a long line at Starbucks, isn’t always convenient. In 2001, the Mud Truck answered East Village dwellers’ need for a drive-by caffeine fix with its indie, bright-orange café on wheels. MUD has since increased its brigade to satisfy more of the city with its well-crafted espresso-based drinks.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai


Truck Stop: SW 10th and Alder Streets, Portland, OR

Signature Dish: Khao Man Gai, of course!

Concept: One dish done right. Nong Poonsukwattana wanted to bring Portland a taste of her homeland. “I wanted to introduce people to real Thai food,” explained Nong, “as authentic or as close as possible.” Her eponymous Khao Man Gai (steaming-hot Thai chicken and rice) is lovingly prepared with the best-quality ingredients. Her insistence on excellence extends to her drink menu, which features Portland’s famous Stumptown coffee.



Truck Stop: Washington, DC

Signature Dish: Mumbai Butter Chicken Sâuçá, a chicken curry with roasted cashews atop flatbread and dolloped with yogurt mint sauce

Concept: Globally inspired mobile menu. “I wanted to start a restaurant based on street food from around the world,” says Farhad Assari. “Then it dawned on me: Street food should be on the street!” His pan-global menu touches cuisines from Latin America, India, Europe, and Vietnam. This tricked-out truck is equipped with free Wi-Fi, satellite TV, and a karaoke machine — just in case you want to belt out some tunes after you eat.

Schnitzel & Things


Truck Stop: Midtown Manhattan

Signature Dish: Schnitzel…natch.

Concept: Hearty Austrian fare. The official “rookie of the year” winner at the 2009 New York City Vendy Awards, Schnitzel & Things has popularized schnitzel on the go. What’s schnitzel? Fresh, pounded thin pork, chicken, or veal, perfectly breaded, then lightly fried to a golden crisp and served with a lemon wedge.

The Taco Truck


Truck Stop: Hoboken, NJ

Best-Seller: Carnitas Michoacan Tacos, slow-braised sweet pork tacos seasoned with cilantro and onions

Concept: Taqueria on wheels. Some trucks have such a large following that the people demand more. That’s what happened with New Jersey’s Taco Truck: It’s gotten so much business that founders Jason Scott and Roberto Santibañez just opened a permanent storefront to feed their fans. And, of course, the mobile unit (which runs on a propane generator to reduce carbon emissions) will keep on truckin’ — serving tacos, ensaladas, tortas, and tamales sourced from locally raised chicken and pork.



Truck Stop: Seattle, WA

Best-Seller: Burger

Concept: Seasonal fare from an Airstream. Skillet feeds fresh cuisine to hungry folks craving good, simple cuisine from a bulletlike retro trailer. The menu changes according to the season, but one selection remains: the grass-fed beef burger, topped with arugula, cambazola (a cow’s milk cheese with French triple cream and tangy Italian Gorgonzola), and bacon jam (yes!), nestled in a soft bun and served with a side of hand-cut French fries.

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream


Truck Stop: Brooklyn and Manhattan, NY

Signature Dish: Classic sundae with oak barrel-aged vanilla ice cream, Michel Cluizel hot fudge, cocoa nibs, walnuts, whipped cream from grass-fed cows, and a Kirsch-soaked Morello cherry

Concept: Old-fashioned ice cream parlor on wheels. Remember hightailing down the street the minute you heard the jingle of the ice cream truck’s bell? Brothers Ben and Pete Van Leeuwen do. The brothers had summer jobs driving Good Humor trucks — good training for running a business on the go — but they knew they could offer a superior product. Their artisanal ice cream begins with the cows, which are hormone-free and feed off grass in Lewis County, New York. Their flavors are pure and natural and never have any preservatives.

By Kiri Tannenbaum