Food Trailer Culture: Mobile Dining Offers Diversity at Lower Cost

Food trailers, like this one in Austin, caters to foodies with diverse menu offerings. Ed Combs

By Tori Brock | The Huntsville Item

Food trailers, like this one in Austin, caters to foodies with diverse menu offerings. Ed Combs

HUNTSVILLE — The words “trailer” and “culture” don’t usually go together, but when you’re talking about food trailers, all bets are off.

Diners in Walker County already have the walk-up options of tacos, barbecue and snow cones and, with the recent addition of Emmie’s Eatery, crepes in both savory and sweet varieties. So what’s next for Huntsville foodies and fast-foodies?

To learn more about the culture and diversity among food trailers, it’s important to start at the beginning, the mecca of food trailer culture in Texas, the Alpha, Omega and everything in between — Austin.

Tiffany Harelick, a self-proclaimed trailer food guru, has been documenting the growth and change in the food trailer industry in her blog, http://trailerfooddiaries.blogspot.com/. According to Harelick’s research, the best trucks in Austin are Torchy’s Tacos, Gordough’s, East Side King and Odd Duck Farm to Trailer.

These represent the myriad of options available in the great Austin outdoors, including old favorites like tacos and doughnuts, as well as ethnic favorites from countries that haven’t quite hit the Huntsville culinary scene, such as Thailand.

There are several spots in Austin to sample a variety of food trailer fare, including the areas of Barton Springs, South First and South Congress. With 500 to 1,000 trailers to choose from, however, you’re likely to find a trailer on any corner.

Amanda Morrison and Katie Bowman stopped by The Mighty Cone on South Congress last week to sit and chat while enjoying some chicken and shrimp cones. Both had the eatery’s deluxe combo cone, which is chicken or shrimp and avocado, both breaded in almonds, sesame seeds, chili flakes, corn flakes and seasonings all rolled into a flour tortilla cone. The combo is advertised as the Conehead’s favorite, and Morrison said she would have to agree.

“That’s the draw for me — the food is really good,” Morrison said of her chicken and avocado deluxe cone. “It’s also just fun to come down to Congress and walk around the shops. It’s fun to be outside — even in 100-degree heat.”

At $5.95 for the chicken and $6.45 for the shrimp, the cone offers a a lot of food for a price comparable to that of a sit-down establishment.

Bowman said the price is right, but that’s not the main reason she travels down South Congress to sit in the sweltering heat to enjoy a meal.

“It’s a good atmosphere,” she said. “When it’s not so hot, it’s good to be down here. There’s usually live music. It definitely catching on.”

A few trailers down from The Mighty Cone, a vintage, silver Airstream shines like a beacon, complete with a spinning cupcake on top. The pink icing-topped wonder houses one of the food trailer scene’s guilty pleasures — Hey Cupcake. Offering nothing but small decadent cakes topped with a generous portion of icing, Hey Cupcake has the art of food trailer fare down to a science.

Having worked at Hey Cupcake for a few years, Victoria Tyler said visitors will stop by for the nostalgia — then stay for the cupcakes.

“You can get food trailers, but Airstreams are harder to come by,” Tyler said. “People see them and identify with a different period in time altogether. They’ll see it and they’ll say, ‘My grandma had one!’ It’s the fusion of that with something that’s genuinely a good product makes for a good experience. Then, they want to share that with everyone else.”

Hey Cupcake offers vegan options, which is a nod to a healthier way of living even when their diners are noshing on cake.

“You can ask anybody. Everybody’s looking for gluten-free, they’re looking for vegan and vegetarian options,” Tyler said. “Specifically here in Austin — it’s a different mindset. We’re ahead of the curve in looking out for our bodies. That’s why I love it.”

Settled into the South First neighborhood of the food truck district, Shelly Schaefer of SoCo ToGo not only works in the area, she bikes to work every day from her home nearby. While she said the fried pickles her family makes at SoCo ToGo are her favorite, she also frequents other nearby trucks.

“Who doesn’t want to go to Hey Cupcake?,” she said, laughing. “A Little Thai Food has the best Thai food I ever had and it’s next door. We’re in the business and I appreciate what we do. I definitely want to try and see what’s out there as well.”

Besides offering food that people want to eat, Schaefer said customer service is next as the most important thing in the food truck nation.

“It sets such a bad-settling feeling when you go somewhere and you don’t get that,” she said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the product they’re serving, but it makes you almost not want to go back. I know I appreciate that aspect so I want to give that back. To see people walk over in 104-degree heat to get some food – you’ve got to be doing something right.”

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