Van food: it's come a long way since my university days, when the climax of a night out was universally accepted as a polystyrene box of cheesy chips swimming in cheap mayo. These days, street food is no longer rubbish and lucky Londoners can enjoy hundreds of different meals on wheels. Occasionally, one of these nomadic eateries gets a chance to really make its mark on the city's food scene and set up shop permanently...it's sort of the gastronomic equivalent of a fairy getting its wings. Here are a few of my favourite food vendors who've just stopped giving a truck.
As the granddaddy of food trucks-done-good, foodie favourite MEATliquor came from humble beginnings. It started out as the MEATwagon in a Peckham car park - hardly a cradle of gastronomy, I think you’ll agree - and is now bossing the London meat scene. Famous for its heart-stopping chili cheese fries, boozy milkshakes and secret-recipe 'Dead Hippie' sauce, the MEAT brand has spawned a number of other restaurants and ventures including MEATmission Hoxton, MEATmarket Covent Garden and outlets in Brighton and Manchester, plus a radio station and cookbook.
Pitt Cue Co has been serving its Southern-style BBQ ribs from a teeny location in Soho for a few years now, but once upon time the only way you could wrap your lips around its wares was by visiting its smoke-mobile on the South Bank. You can’t make reservations and the ribs do run out, so for maximum meat and minimum queue, go for a late lunch or early dinner.
Pizza Pilgrims’s permanent pint-sized pizzeria started life as a three-wheeler with a wood fire oven in the boot. They still crack it out every now and again, but it only goes at 20mph so doesn’t go far. Best-known for its sloppy-middled Neapolitan-style pizzas, its bricks and mortar store in Soho draws huge crowds all day long. My only niggle? They don’t yet do a gorgonzola pizza.
Photograph by Vix Young
This new kid on the block has gone from a shed in East London to a small shop in the West End, where it can now be found selling its Taiwanese steamed buns by the boatload. Imagine a large clam that looks like a cloud and tastes like a dream, stuffed with any one of a galaxy of fillings, including (but not limited to), crispy fried chicken and shredded pork confit with crisp shallots and lashings of sticky sauce. Not a single item is more than £6, and you can even get one deep fried with Horlicks-flavoured ice cream for dessert.
Bad-ass bakery Crosstown Doughnuts now has its own permanent residence in between Paul A. Young (try their Aztec hot chocolate ASAP) and Agent Provocateur on Broadwick Street. You can also find them in Wholefoods Piccadilly Circus, High Street Ken and Fulham Broadway. They’re on the pricey side - £2.50-3.50 each - but if you’re eating out in Soho and pick one up for pudding it’s suddenly the cheapie option. Plus they are a) delicious and b) trans fat-free. Swing by before closing time (10pm, 11pm on weekends) to bag some reduced stock for brekkie the next day.
Feeling hungry? See London's best street food.