Food Trucks: What’s Going on in Other Cities?

Yellow Submarine at one of the earlier food truck gatherings--the Fall for the Arts festival last year.

By Trina Sargalski |

Yellow Submarine at one of the earlier food truck gatherings--the Fall for the Arts festival last year.

We’ve been hearing a lot more about food trucks lately.  But I must ask, where is the cross-cultural perspective, the historical view? Here, for your consideration, are some selected (recent-ish) moments in U.S. food truck history….

Los Angeles is like Miami’s cool, older cousin when it comes to food trucks…the city is well past its awkward phase. Of course, Roy Choi of Kogi is an icon for many food truck owners.  He was the first food truck chef to get a “Best New Chef” title from Food & Wine.

Food trucks in L.A. are so numerous that you can now get daily coupon deals (a la Groupon, Living Social, etc,) at

South of Los Angeles, in Orange County, it was old school loncheras that paved the way at the beginning of the decade, eeking out 5 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 90 minutes, then an unlimited amount of parking time from the city of Santa Ana in 2006. Check out Gustavo Arellano’s chronicle of “Bribery, Threats, Broken-Down Vehicles, Lawsuits, Pioneers, Good Food” for more on loncheras in Orange County.

Of course, Miami’s food truck operators hope changes in ordinances won’t be such a hard won battle here, but these loncheras are an admirable model of persistence and effort.

My favorite quote from this story:

“‘It’s a hard industry,’ Guzmán [owner of Alebrije’s Grill] says. ‘Many think it’s easy, but of 10 that enter, only one stays. But it’s a great one. All the world can stop cutting [their] hair, buying shoes, but eating food is essential. We help people with that. Our industry, it’s noble.'”

Miami food truck entrepreneurs look up to Portland with longing. The mayor, Sam Adams, is all for food trucks:

“Food safety is the most important to us, but otherwise we try to keep start-up costs low for the vendor and the licensing process under ten days. We want to do everything we can to help grow and foster our street food scene.” [Vendr TV ]

The city actually commissioned a Food Cartology study. Some of the findings:

“Food carts have positive impacts on street vitality and neighborhood life in lower density residential neighborhoods as well as in the high density downtown area.”

“When a cluster of carts is located on a private site, the heightened intensity of use can negatively impact the surrounding community, primarily from the lack of trash cans.”

“The presence of food carts on a site does not appear to hinder its development.” [Food Cartology, pg. 4]

Like us, Chicago is a major metropolitan area going through food truck growing pains. Miami and our “trailer parks” are something food truck entrepreneurs like Cary Taylor (Southern Mac & Cheese) aspire to.

“The food-truck scene in Chicago is up and coming. ‘I think it’s got a lot of potential,’ said Taylor, adding that the process is made difficult with the city’s ordinances. For example, trucks can’t park in one place for more than two hours. And space is limited in downtown Chicago. In cities known for their food trucks (Miami and Austin, Texas, for example) the mobile restaurants often camp out in sort of trailer parks, Taylor said.” [Redeye Chicago]

Chicago is just getting into large food truck gatherings. The city will have its first “food truck summit” on April 19.

Time Out Chicago’s Heather Shouse organized the summit partly to help promote her new book, Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels. The book includes recipes from Gastropod and Yellow Submarine, as well as write ups on Latin Burger & Taco Truck and Fat Man’s BBQ.

Food trucks in Chicago are working to change ordinances that are even more stringent the ones in Miami:

“Unlike other cities, where chefs are free to actually cook inside their trucks, Chicago chefs can’t unwrap or alter the food in any way once it’s on a truck. And food trucks aren’t allowed to park within 200 feet of a restaurant. Such roadblocks have kept all but a few chefs from taking to the streets–even as the food trucks fight to change the rules.” [Wall Street Journal]

Stay tuned for more Moments in Contemporary Food Truck History…