Across the entire South, North Carolina's Research Triangle region remains one of the boldest, most unique areas worth exploring. Between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill lies a community that thrives on contradictions, meets tradition with innovation, and altogether challenges countless assumptions about Southern culture. It only makes sense then that the dining scene, and in particular, a booming food truck scene, reflects all the same values.
Trucks here mash up old and new South til they're one in the same, with traditional recipes punched up by risk-taking new forms and twists, redefining staples and creating new obsessions, all at the same time. It's a scene that values soulful innovation; trends born from the pulse of the people instead of a pitch meeting. Ironically of course, a slew of dishes cooked up here have gone on to become massively popular elsewhere in the country. Funny how marketable soul can be.
Stuft packs a whole lot of that soul into baked potato form, and not all of it's Southern soul. In fact, the truck mixes flavors and inspiration from all over the globe, delivering a world of taste in deceptively tiny packages. Owner Stephanie Ruggiro may be young, but she inherited all the skills she needs from her parents, who once ran their own baked potato shop in New York.
Stuft raises the stakes on its own creations, with specialties that range from Buffalo chicken/ranch/mozzarella to taco-seasoned beef/jalapeno/salsa and sour cream, along with a wide range of seasonal specials. Most entrees are gluten-free, and can even be made dairy-free. On top of that, hiding on the menu's back-end are bacon maple cheddar bombs worthy of launching a separate truck altogether. All in all, Stuft represents the heart of Raleigh-Durham's food truck scene - big time comfort attached to even bigger imagination.
Of course, when it comes to comfort staples, a sandwich is pretty much the standard. But the sandwiches here are far from standard. Truck after truck here spruces up the American classic in ways that have already been copied (with slightly diminished returns) in Charlotte and Winston-Salem. Perfect as a meal on the go between classes, it should be no surprise Raleigh and Durham have effectively sandwiched the sandwich market, and with so many farm-fresh ingredients available, it should also be no surprise they've perfected it.
Zeke's Meats is a case study on why Raleigh-Durham's sandwiches are, well, generally perfect. Every element is scratch-made and humming with flavor, representing the very best of the region - from low-and-slow brisket touched up by pimiento and pickled onion, to a Mediterranean grilled chicken finished with mint yogurt and pomegranate molasses-marinated peppers. Loaded fries and sweet potatoes round off the options, along with a crispy polenta fritter that's worth seeking out the food truck for alone.
Meanwhile, Porchetta may highlight just one sandwich, but it's a doozy of a sandwich. And it comes in five varieties, perfect to suit whatever mood you're in (and whatever craving's in you). Slow-roasted Italian pork gets served up on a spectrum - from sweet to spicy to smoky, and everywhere in-between. CockADoodleMoo is a husband-and-wife dream truck 20 years in the making, and now that it's arrived, it's delivering more than locally-sourced, organic eats. It's giving back to its own community through charity outreach, supporting local businesses, and making sure every guest leaves with a smile on their face. Which is easy to do with sandwiches like a hickory-smoked duck on naan and a ground chuck/shortrib hybrid burger. It's taste after taste of southern bliss with hospitality to match. And it covers an entire farm's worth of flavor.
Of course, another mainstay on the Raleigh-Durham food truck scene is dessert, the most vital component of the Southern food pyramid. Whether it's students grabbing a late afternoon snack between classes, or locals grabbing a late night sugar kick between bars, the dessert trucks here are in a league of their own, giving you classic treats done locally, organically, and like nowhere else. No matter how many sandwiches you've tackled, there's always room for the stuff these trucks are serving. And if you doubt it, just take a look at 'em.
Hailing from Holly Springs, Mama Bird's Cookies + Cream is actually a tribute to owner/operator Lesley Richmond's two daughters "Mama" and "Bird", and is packed with flavors that'll please everyone's inner child. The storefront serves as a permanent spot to get your fix, but private bookings are where Mama Bird's truly shines. Customize their menu of fresh-baked cookies and brownies, small-batched ice cream (including vegan options) and rotating specialties til it's perfect for what`ever you're planning, and watch the mobile ice cream cart bring your plan to chilly, delicious life.
Elsewhere around town, Not Just Icing is a mobile cupcake shop proving its name, dispensing not only the triangle's tastiest scratch-made cupcakes (with no preservatives and all-natural ingredients - butter instead of oil and real fruit instead of extracts) but also dynamite (egg-free) cookie dough, brownie cakes and seasonal specials. Finally, Dusty Donuts is changing Chapel Hill's donut game, one lovingly seasoned mini-morsel at a time. Inspired by the distinct treats sold at Minneapolis hockey games, the food truck's made donuts a big deal in the triangle again - by making them extra small. Dusty Donuts also features first-rate coffee, both hot and iced, to make sure your tongue's balanced. And really, REALLY happy.
Baguettaboutit crafts home-wrapped North Carolina sausages, then hoses them down with delicious sauces before stuffing them inside fresh-baked baguettes. The result is an entire feast that fits comfortably in one hand, perfect for on-the-go dining. Of course, it also carries a taste that demands you sit down and savor it. So it's a conundrum, really. Good luck with that. Bo's Kitchen is a bit more straightforward - just seriously rich, filling Korean specialties that demand your full attention. Not to mention your full stomach. From bulgogi to mandu, it's a menu of colossal classics with authenticity to spare.
Finally, Arepa Culture imports an entirely different kind of foreign specialty - Venezuelan mobile comfort, to be specific, and already has the rewards to show for it. Voted Best Food Truck in North Carolina during the 2016 Fans' Choice Awards, it's a food truck giving locals a completely different accent while they visit - one that sounds like a mouth full of food, to be specific. Arepas range from BBQ pork tenderloin to Norwegian smoked salmon, giving you a world tour hidden beneath a Latin American vacation. A vacation within a vacation, if you will, all without using a single air mile.
As always, check out the live Raleigh-Durham food truck map above or on the Roaming Hunger app to find the most accurate, up-to-the-minute location info for all trucks listed, alongside countless more options.
The Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo is always the most dependable collection of trucks found in one place, and pops up Sundays throughout the year. Downtown Raleigh has also become a hotspot in general, with four big locations almost always open for mobile business: 100 E. Polk St., 300 S. Harrington St., 300 South Bloodworth St. and South State Street at the NCDMV Headquarters and N.C. State Employees Credit Union.
Needless to say, the areas directly adjacent to both UNC and Duke's campuses are also big business, with trucks always roaming around lunch time to feed the student bodies - and anyone else bold enough to jump into the fray. Chapel Hill specifically has tighter restrictions than the rest of the county, but night time trucks can usually be found in the lot of Chapel Hill Tire. Meanwhile, neighboring Carrboro (which, as in most of their endeavors, has significantly looser rules) is positively thriving with them.
Finally, to book any of the trucks listed (and any that aren't) for your own function, public or private, click HERE to have Roaming Hunger do all the work for you. It's the new way to do corporate catering and private catering alike, delivering old-school tastes done better than anyone else in town. Melting old and new to create something else entirely - it's a trick the triangle knows well, but it's one that never gets old. At least not when it tastes this good.