New York City's best mobile eats
TONY picks the city's top food trucks and carts.
Tue Jul 7 2009
The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
Photographs by Lizz Kuehl and Roxana Marroquin
The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
The story: Doug Quint is a bassoonist who recently completed coursework for a musical-arts doctorate at CUNY. He's also a gay man with a healthy sense of humor and a penchant for inspired ice cream toppings like Nilla wafers, Nutella, Maine blueberries and bacon. He opened his truck, which serves Mister Softee--style cones, sundaes and ice cream sandwiches, in early June.
What sets it apart: Though the ice cream itself is more or less what you'll find at any Mister Softee truck, the aforementioned toppings add inventive—and incredibly tasty—twists. And if that's not enough to prevent Softee confusion, the rainbow-cone logo should erase any lingering doubt.
What to order: Chocolate waffle cone with chocolate sauce and crushed pretzels ($5); vanilla ice cream sandwich with Nutella ($4)
Various locations; twitter.com/biggayicecream
The story: When aptly named brothers Dave, Jesse and Brian Vendley opened a Mexican-food cart in June 2006, their so-called gourmet Cal-Mex street food developed a fast and loyal following. A 2008 Vendy Award cemented their place in the pantheon of next-generation street-food vendors. The California brothers have become so successful, in fact, they've just opened a brick-and-mortar version of the cart in Red Hook.
What sets it apart: The devil's in the details: thoughtful seasoning (courtesy of a rub Jesse developed with a Queens-based spice company), flavorful meat cooked to order, and portions that combine both quantity and quality.
What to order: Calexico carne asada burrito ($8); chipotle pork taco ($3)
Full menu served at the corner of Prince and Wooster Sts (Mon--Fri 11:30am--3:30pm); burrito menu served at the corner of Broadway and Broome St (Mon--Fri 11:30am--3:30pm); calexicocart.com, twitter.com/calexicocart
The Greene Ice Cream
The story: Nicholas Morgenstern, the General Greene's chef and co-owner, built his ice cream cart using materials he scouted throughout Brooklyn. He officially debuted the cart, which is stationed outside of the restaurant, during Memorial Day weekend. Morgenstern makes his Philadelphia-style ice cream—which uses no eggs—in the Greene's basement, and offers a rotating menu of five flavors.
What sets it apart: This, simply put, is damn good ice cream. It's thick, silky, true to its flavors and won't send you into a sugar coma.
What to order: Pretzel salted caramel and bitter chocolate mint ($3 for two scoops)
229 DeKalb Ave at Clermont Ave, Fort Greene, Brooklyn (718-222-1510); Mon--Fri 8am--11pm; Sat 9am--11pm; Sun 9am--10pm
The story: While he was studying for a law degree, Lev Ekster's thoughts often turned to cupcakes—and how tired he was of running all over town to eat them. Inspiration struck, and soon he was swapping his textbooks for a 2007 Ford Utility Master and a rotating menu of regular-size and mini cupcakes made by baker Manal Mady. The truck debuted in early June.
What sets it apart: The cupcakes have an excellent crumb and satisfying frosting-to-cake ratio. They're sweet, but not jaw-achingly so, and incredibly moist.
What to order: The Chocolate Peanut Butter, Red Velvet and Oreo ($2.25 each)
Fifth Ave between 13th and 14th Sts (daily 9:30am--5pm); 23rd St between Seventh and Eighth Aves (nightly 6--10pm); cupcakestop.com, twitter.com/cupcakestop
The story: Since opening his cart in 2001, Thiru Kumar has seduced legions of NYU students, tourists, health nuts and meat-eating skeptics with his vegan dosas, delicate lentil-and-rice-flour crpes filled with vegetables and potatoes. His prowess has earned the Sri Lankan immigrant multiple Vendy Award nominations and mentions in NYC guidebooks from 48 (by his count) countries.
What sets it apart: The crackly, deceptively ethereal dosas are freshly grilled and served alongside an addictive coconut chutney and a cup of spicy vegetable soup—it's possibly the healthiest (not to mention tastiest) meal you can get on the street.
What to order: Masala dosa ($6)
South side of Washington Square Park, W 4th St at Sullivan St (917-710-2092); Mon--Sat 11am--4pm
The story: Owner Mohammed Rahman's path from the Russian Tea Room to his beloved midtown food cart is the stuff of street-food legend. After unveiling his first cart in 2000 (he's since opened three more), the Bangladeshi immigrant became a celebrity among midtown workers for his superlative lamb over rice. Though he took over the kitchen at a Harlem pizzeria last year, he can still be found at his cart, dispensing both friendly banter and an endless number of orders.
What sets it apart: It's all about the lamb, which is succulent and expertly seasoned. But Rahman also shows some love for the vegetarians, with a pita that's filled with a garden's worth of freshly cooked produce, like baby corn, carrots and edamame.
What to order: Lamb pita ($6.50), vegetable pita ($4.50)
W 45th St at Sixth Ave (646-729-8702); Daily 11am--midnight
Kim's Aunt Kitchen
The story: The identities of Kim and his or her aunt remain a mystery to the numerous midtown workers who cluster around this cart, which is inscribed with the words food is love. But the cart's appeal is anything but enigmatic. For more than two years now, it's been drawing crowds that have fallen for its fried whiting and flounder sandwiches, served on three types of bread: Wonder, whole wheat or pita.
What sets it apart: Perfectly deep-fried fish that's golden brown and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, anointed with just the right amount of tartar sauce. The beef bulgogi—tender and plentiful—is also a cut above most street meat.
What to order: Fried whiting sandwich ($3.50), beef bulgogi ($6)
W 46th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (917-805-3519); Mon--Fri 11am--4pm
The story: In summer 2007, rockers Curtis Brown (Bad Wizard) and Jeffrey Jensen (the Jewish) decided to open a taco truck. A few months later, they parked it on a Williamsburg corner and quickly won a devoted fan base among the hungry hipsters streaming up and down Bedford Avenue.
What sets it apart: Incredibly fresh, flavorful and filling tacos and burritos that cater to meat eaters and vegetarians alike; this may well be the only truck in town to offer a seitan taco—and one that's pretty tasty to boot. Plus, they've got some of the best fish tacos in the city.
What to order: Fish taco ($2.50), beef burrito ($5)
Bedford Ave at North 6th St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (347-400-8128); daily noon--midnight
The story: Cofounder Samira Mahboubian spent ten years as a marketing director at Polo before she got into the food business; she and her husband were inspired to launch their truck by a visit to Italy, where they fell in love with the idea of croissants sliced in half and filled with jams and Nutella. The truck debuted at the beginning of June and—despite some turf wars—they have carved out spaces for themselves in midtown and beyond.
What sets it apart: The aforementioned croissants come with fillings ranging from dulce de leche to marshmallow crme, along with treats supplied by Brooklyn's One Girl Cookies.
What to order: Flourless chocolate walnut cookies ($2.25 each), and the croissants (plain $2.75; fillings 75--$2 each)
Various locations; streetsweetsny.com and twitter.com/streetsweets
El Gallo Giro
The story: One of the legion of taco trucks parked beneath the 7 tracks, El Gallo Giro is a destination well-loved by the many locals who crowd around its window late into the night. The operation's tacos and tortas, which are made and assembled at lightning speed, are among the best in the borough.
What sets it apart: The spicy, cinnamon-inflected aroma wafting from the chorizo on the grill; the tender, marinated beef; the rich avocado crema and combustible salsa that's spooned onto each taco; the gratis roasted pepper, slices of radish and lime wedges that accompany each order.
What to order: Chorizo taco; carne asada taco ($2 each)
Roosevelt Ave near 78th St, Jackson Heights, Queens (no phone); late nights and on weekends