The US is having a love affair with street food. There has been an explosion of ever more enterprising mobile food carts from LA to Portland and New Orleans to NY and it’s starting to take off in the UK.
Historically, the popularity of street food in America followed immigration patterns: taco trucks migrated from Mexican construction sites up the coast to LA and then north to San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver. In Portland, food trucks are the most interesting way to eat your way through the city and are stationed in downtown parking lots, on pavements and in parks. Not only are they everywhere but there is a truck for every kind of food – from schnitzel to jambalaya to dumplings. New York has always had a vibrant street food scene with hot dog and Halal carts but now the longest lines are found at Super Taco on 96th and Broadway and Van Leeuwan Artisan ice cream. Last summer the city’s Mayor Bloomberg and Portland’s Mayor Sam Adams had a heated discussion over which city had the best food carts.
Lately, famous chefs have begun to open their own carts – New York chef Tom Colicchio has expanded his Wichcraft sandwich carts from New York to San Francisco and Las Vegas. At Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack in New York’s Madison Square Park even in winter people wait in lines all the way around the park for a Shackburger and frozen custard milkshakes. Meyer is opening a fourth Shake Shack on Miami’s Lincoln Road this spring, two more in New York in 2010 and his first international shake shack outpost in Kuwait City. But the Kogi BBQ-to-go truck in LA has really turned the tide from food cart to food cult. Every day Kogi BBQ Twitters its location and daily specials. Kogi fans jump in their car for the thrill of hunting down the truck to wait in line, sometimes for an hour, to eat its mix of Korean/Mexican food. Many people drive miles out their way for Kogi’s short rib taco and kimchi quesadilla.
The trend for street food is slowly making its way to the UK, where there is not such a culture for street-eating and health regulations make mobile trucks tricky. Joel Henderson, the proprietor of slow food taquillera truck Daddy Donkey on Leather Lane, says, “We are the only guys in London doing burritos and tacos from a truck.” In 2010, the capital plans to host Britain’s first Street food awards. Henderson already is planning to expand his fleet of trucks. “With the street food awards, there is a massive branding opportunity and we’re going to be part of that.”
In the US, big chains such as Taco Bell are trying to get in on the act, and the Mexican fast food brand now has three food trucks on the West Coast. Burgerville, a Pacific Northwest fast food hamburger chain with 39 locations in Oregon and Washington, also launched a bright yellow food cart and Twitters the truck’s location. And now Subway, the fast-food sandwich chain, has decided to make street food even more accessible to its most loyal customer base – the construction worker. At the end of January, workers rebuilding the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero will enjoy a Subway lunch in the sky. A shipping container kitted out as a sandwich shop will be hung from a crane and lifted each week through each of the tower’s 105 floors, saving builders the long lunchtime trip to the ground. But will an elevated Subway ruin business for the lowly street cart? Unlikely. But you can be sure of one thing – there won’t be any lines around the block.