These mouthwatering, mobile meal purveyors make eating on the go an upscale dining experience
While the garden-fresh produce at the City Farmers Market (open Wednesdays and Sundays) is hard to resist, tear yourself away and follow the sweet aroma to the pristine white bus parked at 1182 Market St. On Wednesdays between 8am and 2pm, you'll find hot, Belgian-style, powdered-sugar-sprinkled waffles. Crunchy on the outside and gooey-soft on the inside (the secret, apparently, is in the mix of imported Belgian flour and beet sugar), they are cooked in a waffle maker that Mania's owner brought from Brussels almost 30 years ago. Arrive early: The truck is such a local favorite, it's been known to run out of waffles before closing time.
THE CHEF SHACK
Cardamom-spiced donuts might not sound like quintessential Midwestern cuisine, but if Chef Carrie Summer has anything to do with it, these treats will be downright de rigueur in Minneapolis. Summer and her partner, Lisa Carlson, plant their four-wheeled, white truck at the Mill City Farmers Market at Second Street and Chicago Avenue from 8am to 1pm (May through October), serving an enticing array of upscale fast-food treats. If you can resist the donuts, work your way through the rest of the farm-fresh menu. Highlights include locally sourced spicy bison burgers and tender pulled-pork sandwiches served with homemade condiments; watermelon and tomato gazpacho soup with bits of diced avocado; and torch-crisped crème brûlée topped with carmelized bananas. And stay tuned for more: The duo spent the winter traveling through Southeast Asia for culinary inspiration, and their menu will make its debut on Sundays starting May 31 at the Kingfield Farmers Market on Nicollet Avenue South. www.chefshack.org
The bold, fresh, locally sourced flavors more than make up for the small menu that chef/co-owners Josh Henderson and Danny Sizemore offer out of their snazzy, silver 1962 Airstream trailer. Serving bistro-inspired fare for lunch, the weekly-changing menu scrawled on a chalkboard beckons with such heady offerings as waffles topped with braised pork belly; Kobe beef burgers with arugula and homemade bacon jam; wild salmon with shallot bread pudding; and hazelnut-crusted chicken sandwich with fennel slaw. Skillet roams various Seattle neighborhoods serving hungry gourmand-minded office workers their daily bread. You can get the schedule (and the weekly menu) from the website. www.skilletstreetfood.com
THE TREATS TRUCK
Even the most jaded New Yorkers can't help but get excited when Kim Ima's Treats Truck (aka Sugar) rolls into their 'hood. Dispensing home-baked sweets from noon until about 4pm daily, Ima bakes her goodies in her Red Hook, Brooklyn, kitchen, and then rolls out to a trio of locations - 38th and Fifth Avenue; 45th and Avenue of the Americas; and on the Upper West Side in the 80s on Broadway (check the schedule on the website for daily updates). The menu often features daily-changing sugary surprises, but you can count on choosing from around eight different cookies (the caramel creme and peanut butter sandwich cookies are both must-tries), around a half-dozen brownies and even a couple of marshmallow Rice Krispies-like treats for good measure. www.treatstruck.com
KOGI KOREAN BBQ-TO-GO
It's not surprising that a car-culture city like Los Angeles would be just about the most food-truck friendly town in all the land, with authentic taco vendors aplenty - but Kogi is a truck of a whole other stripe. The food is the vision of Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Roy Choi, who, along with partners Mark and Caroline Manguero, came up with the concept of serving sticky, saucy Korean barbecue wrapped up in to-go friendly tortillas. It was such a success that in 2008, the trio added a second truck and a brick-and-mortar locale on Washington Boulevard in Culver City. Still, the trucks roll around their ever-changing routes in the Valley (they update their locations regularly on Twitter, or check the website), serving sweet and spicy marinated pork with a cilantro, green onion and lime relish; vegetarian-friendly seared tofu with sesame seeds, bracing radishes and chili-soy vinaigrette; and the signature taco of marinated sticky-sweet, tender short ribs. www.kogibbq.com
THE QUE CRAWL
Nathanial Zimet's purple van is hard to miss - good thing, because you wouldn't want to lose out on an opportunity for a sticky-fingered meal from this Cordon Bleu-trained, Southern-born chef. Zimet, who has donned a chef 's hat in such venerable NOLA spots as Commander's Palace and Peristyle, yearned for a place of his own. It wasn't until after Hurricane Katrina that he decided to open this restaurant on wheels. Since August 2006, he's been rolling through the Crescent City slinging hand-cut fries spiked with barbecue rub; crawfish boudin balls; all-day smoked pork po' boys; and bacon-studded brownies. Look for Zimet at his regular post outside Tipitina's on Napolean Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street from 10pm until nearly the break of dawn on weekends. (Also check out Boucherie, Zimet's daytime location sans wheels, which opened last December.) www.quecrawl.com
More cart than truck, this Oaxaca-style taco vendor is painted in the colors of the Mexican flag. Located in Coral Gables, just a short drive from Miami, Orale! sets up shop east of 37th Avenue on SW 28th Street on weekends until 7pm (they start serving late-morning on Sundays as opposed to 8:30am on Saturday). The menu of soft corn tacos includes crazy-tender cachete de res (low-and-slow cooked beef cheek) and the popular suadero (meat from the breast of the cow) topped with fresh, house-made salsas ranging from mild to ouch-there's-a-hole-in-my-tongue hot.
Whether your taste buds lean toward spicy or Belgian-waffle sweet, take to the street for your next upscale meal.
RECIPE: SPICE-BRAISED PORK BELLY WITH WAFFLE AND FRIED EGG (SERVES 8)
Chef Josh Henderson ponies up the recipe for this Skillet breakfast hit - no truck required.
4 lbs pork belly cut into
6 oz sections (about 1 inch sized cubes)
2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups coarse salt
12 juniper berries
6 cinnamon sticks
12 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
4 quarts water
Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring the liquid to a simmer. Let steep for 1 hour. When cool, fully submerge the pork belly in the liquid, refrigerate and let sit for a day. Remove pork belly and reserve for braising. Discard the brining liquid.
2 quarts beef stock
6 cinnamon sticks
1 quart apple juice
2 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp all spice
1 quart of sliced onions
3 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
In a small roasting pan, sweat onions in oil until translucent. Add cinnamon, cloves, all spice and thyme, briefly warming until they look like a paste. Add remaining ingredients as well as pork belly. The liquid should not cover more than half of pork belly. Remove or add stock for desired height. Braise for about 2 hours at 350 degrees, or until fork-tender. Remove pork belly and strain liquid into a sauce pot. Skim foam and fat while sauce is reducing. When it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, set it aside.
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Preheat waffle maker. Put all ingredients into blender and process at medium-high speed until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not over blend. Pour 1/4 cup batter into waffle maker and bake until golden.
To assemble, fry one sunnyside-up egg per serving. Place one waffle on a plate, top with 4 oz. of pork belly, place egg on top and drizzle a spoonful of sauce over it.