Food trucks have populated New York City streets since long before the bustling international city we love today was even known as New York. Way back in 1691, the city then known as “New Amsterdam” started regulating food carts, paving the way for the mobile-food movement we know now. Everyone from high class execs to inebriated college students clamor to get their next meal from a restaurant on wheels.
The New York City food truck scene in particular is so wide-spread and expansive, pinning down one particular trend or point of excellence is impossible. New York has food trucks catering to every niche and vendors bringing food from all ends of the globe. Each one of the boroughs contains a multitude of new discoveries and culinary options, and each neighborhood and block within that brings even more.
The New York City food truck scene has grown so expansive that there are no limitations. What makes it stand out is its sheer variety — different types of food, all from different regions or ranges of expertise, and at different price points. In New York, there is no niche too small.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it’s a start. Visiting one food truck means discovering more, means gaining a greater understanding of the neighborhood and cultural context from which it was born.
The 136th street taco truck is famous within its neighborhood and beyond. Anybody who has found themselves near this intersection late at night (with the kinds of cravings that only come from a bit of a buzz or extra hours at work) knows this taco truck. They operate mainly under the cover of darkness, but their customers stand at the intersection and wait, faithfully anticipating the generous portions of authentic and delicious Mexican street food the cooks smilingly serve.
Each order of tacos comes with your choice of additional toppings and you can (and should) order a homemade juice with your food. Get the green sauce and then get some more. If you’re not scrambling for napkins, then you missed the point of the entire outing.
WHAT TO TRY:
Tacos al pastor. The juice from the tacos al pastor drip out of the double-layered tortillas, coalescing with lime juice and salsa for an ideal combination.
(Harlem – 125th and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard)
Tami – a Harlem native dedicated to the food she was raised with – started Harlem Seafood Soul. She taps into her grandmother’s signature recipes to create truck favorites such as the fried mac & cheese bites and shrimp & grits. When people order from Tami, they’re not just satisfied — they’re astounded.
The food is so flavorful and cooked with such care that more than feeling full, her guests fall in love (specifically with Tami, her food, and her truck). And they come back. Every single time. More than a food truck, Harlem Seafood Soul is a community entity. On top of everything else, it’s Harlem’s first eco-friendly food truck, and she caters to an organization dedicated to young women’s empowerment, as well as to local church groups.
WHAT TO TRY:
Mac & Cheese bites or the fish & chips. Everyone raves about the mac and cheese balls, and they should. They’re a must-have. But it would be a shame to go the Harlem Seafood Soul and not try the fried fish. It’s her specialty and we owe it to her, and ourselves, to get an order.
3. DF Nigerian
(Midtown, outside of the Nigerian embassy on 2nd ave and 44th street)
Owners Godshelter and Bisola Oluwalogobon serve authentic and satisfying Nigerian dishes. The distinct aroma of favorites such as jollof rice with goat meat or elegusi stewed fish captures the attention of hungry passers-by for blocks around. While West African restaurants aren’t hard to find in New York, DF Nigerian just might be the only Nigerian food truck. More importantly, it might just be the most famous Nigerian food in the city.
The lines during lunch rush are long, and while the crew is generally quick, they do run out of certain items. Sometimes fan favorites are gone as early as 1pm. So get there early to ensure you’ve got the complete spread (PS – if you’re into spice, tell them. The hot sauce they put on top is tasty, but pulls its punches)
WHAT TO TRY
One item that needs no extra flames is the Eqa Aganyu (beans in a spicy – very spicy – sauce) and fried plantains. It inspires the kind of heat that makes eating feel more like an adrenaline rush than a meal.
(Greenwich village, W. 4th and 6th Ave)
Dumplings in New York are plentiful and varied. But Pelmeni (or Russian dumplings), have yet to really catch on. In Russia, these delicious pockets are a solid comfort food staple, and with Anton’s rising popularity and recognition, they might just become an every-other-corner entity in NYC.
While traditionally served as a mixture of beef, mutton, and pork, Anton serves em’ up in more creative ways. The dumplings with beets and horseradish are delightful, and the gouda fondue is particularly indulgent. You can then top them with sriracha, soy sauce, or sour cream. Don’t waste any of the extras – while the dumplings are good on their own, they’re really special after soaking up the sauce.
WHAT TO TRY
The Chicken Smoked Gouda Fondue Pelmeni. The smoked gouda fondue is such an incredible accompaniment to the already flavorful dumplings. Also, say yes to the free pickle.
5. Van Leeuwen
(locations vary, but they’re frequently found at Union Square or in SoHo)
Van Leeuwen is hip. It might be the hippest food truck on this list. Not only do they sell artisan ice cream in pale pastel colors, but they also sell books and t-shirts. Beyond being a truck, they’re a brand. They sell an image, and that image has been a success. But in addition to being business savvy, they’re actually, you know…good. Really, really good. Started by Ben van Leeuwen, his brother Pete and his wife Laura O’Neill, the trio has been serving & producing cold, creamy desserts from trucks since 2008.
Their endeavor has seen outstanding success, and that’s because Van Leeuwen has everything the world wants: a product made from New York using hormone-free milk, ice cream free of those poisons we’re all supposed to stay away from, a true emphasis on flavor, and of course a logo that design-aware consumers can really get behind.
WHAT TO TRY
Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone. The kind of scoop that proves simple needn’t be simplistic – the sweetness here is subtle, with an emphasis on herbal tones.
Warung Roadside brings New Yorkers authentic Bangkok street food. The once small-scale food cart expanded its operations into a full food-truck and catering operation about a year and a half ago, further satisfying the city’s endless hunger for Thai food. Nominated for a Vendy award in 2017, Warung has made its aromatic presence known by cruising around the city and providing sustenance to the corporate lunchtime crew.
While their pad thai is the most popular dish, the other offerings on the menu won’t fail to satisfy. The Bao buns are steamy & soft and the chicken satay vibrant. On top of everything else, Warung makes its Thai iced-tea even more refreshing (and more inclusive for those who stay away from dairy) by using Oat Milk.
WHAT TO TRY
The Holy Basil Pad Thai — Spicy and somewhat sweet, the Thai basil sauce provides this dish with its power. Go mushroom for a vegetarian option (just don’t forget the fried egg!)
7. El Olomega
Salvadoran pupusas, while gaining popularity, still haven’t quite hit the New York culinary scene as hard as other Latin American street food staples. But standing in line for El Olomega at the Red Hook baseball fields, you’d be hard-pressed to deny its allure. The line is long and the hard-working cooks churn out steaming-hot pupusas at a fast pace.
The myriad options of pupusas are enough to satisfy, but they have heavier dishes, too. The “country dinner” consisting of a corn tamal, cheese, beans, and sweet plantain goes way beyond traditional ballpark food. And you can always add a side of fresh, perfectly salted plantain chips.
WHAT TO TRY
Pupusa with Loroco Flower — The Loroco flower is a Salvadoran favorite. Eat your pupusa in the traditional way: covered in tomato sauce and coleslaw, skipping utensils……….that’s right, the full experience calls for slightly burnt fingertips.
(Crown heights at Eastern Parkway and Franklin Ave.)
French pastries and the perfect cup of coffee aren’t generally associated with food trucks. But with Frenchy’s, a Crown Heights hit, they are. Serving perfectly made almond croissants and high-end coffee at a fair price, David (the owner) consistently provides warm, flaky pastries and coffee, tea, or espresso-based beverages to an eager breakfast crowd.
While Crown Heights may not resemble Paris, the Eastern Parkway was apparently designed by the same person who designed the Champs de Elysse, so the aroma of pain au chocolat and café is not just alluring, but fitting.
WHAT TO TRY:
The Ham and Cheese Croissant. Not only is it big enough to satisfy you until lunch, it also tastes fresh and buttery — fulfilling in a way that only a truly good pastry can be.
Falafel carts aren’t exactly sparse in New York, but some are certainly better than others. And as the name suggests, Freddy Zeideia’s King of Falafel and Shawarma is the reigning champ. He started as a humble falafel cart in 2002 and has expanded into a full-fledged, multi-location operation with a food truck and a brick-and-mortar restaurant, both in Astoria. If the long line looks daunting, the promise of a free piece of falafel for those who are waiting should encourage you to stick it out.
Freddy has a loyal following of neighborhood regulars, and his cart is quick to be discovered. The falafel is consistently hot and fresh, straight from the frier. The meat platters and shawarmas are mouthwatering, and like with all falafel carts, come with the option of mind-numbingly delicious white sauce and very spicy hot sauce.
WHAT TO TRY
The Teaser Platter: The perfect initiation for the new or indecisive. Get a little bit of everything, decide what you like, and come back for it again (and again).
(Corona, between 108th and 111th streets on Roosevelt Ave)
Just outside the massive Corona Park in Queens, you’ll find the Los Amigos Chimichurry food truck. The park separates the neighborhoods of Corona and Flushing, both well known for their diverse selection of exotic food. This means that Los Amigos Chimichurry is a standout among standouts. It’s a hybrid combination of Dominican and Colombian food, specializing in Dominican chimis but repping a Colombian flag for the truck’s design.
The lack of signage, mild disorganization, and long lines bothers some patrons, but the food is well worth it. Los Amigos is a bit of a local legend, so while many people already know exactly what to get, it won’t bother the staff if you ask what they offer.
WHAT TO TRY
Get the Chimi de Pollo. It’s a flavorful, juicy chicken sandwich dripping with sauce. Pair it with tostones, or fried plantains, for the perfect late-night meal.
(41st street, downtown Flushing)
There are five Xinjiang barbecue carts in Flushing, and while all are excellent, Traditional Xinjiang Barbecue Cart on 41st is the best. The cooks wear white masks because they’re standing above charcoal all day, which is the best (and naturally the most tedious) way to barbecue the meat.
Because charcoal doesn’t directly touch the meat, it cooks slower – allowing the juices to accumulate & gradually seep from the meat and onto the hot coals. It then creates a smoke specific to the meat being cooked. Each chosen meat is served on a skewer, and it’s wise to choose a few. If the Mandarin-speaking chefs ask you a question, just say yes. It probably involves more spice.
WHAT TO TRY
Order the lamb. It’s seasoned specific to the Xinjiang region of China and spiced in a way that, due to the combination of cultural influences, cannot be found in any other region. They also put a single slice of fat between each piece of meat, giving it a more decadent flavor than can be found on any other kebab you’ve ever been served.
(South Bronx – 152nd St. and Wales Ave.)
Lechon, one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved delicacies, is a slow-roasted suckling pig. And Lechonera La Piraña is perhaps the most authentic and delicious Lechon outside of Puerto Rico. Pirañas is the owner, and he chops the pork with his machete before coating it in a savory garlic sauce and serving it alongside a pile of rice.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Lechonera isn’t your average food truck. People order the pig and sit outside, listening to the salsa and merengue emanating from the trailer. Pirañas treats the trailer like his home, personally greeting each guest and encouraging everyone to linger long after they’ve been served. He’s as dedicated to the community as he is to his craft, making the experience almost as appealing as the dish itself.
WHAT TO TRY
The Lechon. What else?! Lechon is his specialty and its well worth the trek from any of the other boroughs or surrounding states.
(Mon-Fri: 11am-8pm at 570 Zerega Avenue; Sat. 11am-8pm Fordham Road & Valentine Ave)
Way out in Castle Hill, where it almost feels like the suburbs, Chef Smooth serves hefty portions of Jamaican food to the primarily Caribbean workers at FedEx Ground. In addition to the lunch crowd, diners from the surrounding houses filter in to snag a helping of his famous jerk chicken, pork, or oxtail. The menu, which can be found on Instagram, rotates regularly. One of the rarer, but most well-known, menu items is Chef Smooth’s Mac N’ Cheese. He mixes multiple kinds of cheese and herbs to craft this side baked to a crust on top.
While Castle Hill might not be the ideal destination for most New Yorkers, he parks a little bit closer on Saturdays. You can find him close to Grand Concourse serving a long line of eager patrons.
WHAT TO TRY
The rasta pasta. It’s well-seasoned and saucy. Chef Smooth adds an extra helping of jerk sauce over the top, making the dish even more flavorful.
Technically a Staten Island staple since 1989, the truck does make appearances throughout Manhattan. Locations change daily, but no matter where it stops, Valduicci’s will inevitably have a steady following. The pizza has been famous for years, their perfect square slices made with a well-crafted crust. Valducci’s appeal doesn’t come from original toppings or extra cheese — their emphasis is high quality and traditional ingredients.
New York is famous for its dollar slice — a huge, cheesy mess that you can buy near every subway stop. Valducci’s is more expensive at $4 a square, but the extra price is worth the quality.
WHAT TO TRY
The Sicilian Slice. While Valducci’s has other excellent options, you should focus your first trip on purity. Savor the sauce and crispiness of the crust, adding toppings once you’ve experienced the original.
What’s a PastaCini? This original bite is the original creation of husband and wife team Frank and Jamie Milisi. While Italian food is perhaps a little too overabundant on Staten Island, the PastaCini is a completely original take on the island’s specialty. It’s a gourmet pasta and cheese ball served with a side of sauce. Cheech A’ Cini’s also serves excellent sandwiches, with a notable standout being the Cheechsteak — a cheesesteak sandwich served with mushrooms, onions, pepperoncini, and fontina cheese.
Community-based and kind, the service is always spectacular. They source all of their ingredients locally and everything is handmade. Chances are good that the owners will be there when you are.
WHAT TO TRY
The PastaCini. You can find good Italian food throughout Staten Island. While everything the truck serves will be satisfying, go for what you can’t get anywhere else.