New York City is one of a kind. That's hardly a revelation, but it bears repeating. There's nowhere else on Earth with such a concentrated, accessible amount of diverse culture, or more to the point, diverse food, vying for your attention. It should then be natural to assume that with food trucks NYC's found a whole new way to dominate, but nationally, it doesn't even make the top ten cities for food trucks. In fact, thanks to strict ordinances and cutthroat competition(in the form of long-established carts, stalls, and casual eateries), it's possibly the hardest city in the world to launch a successful food truck. Just like it's the hardest city in the world to do most anything, really.
To make it here, an NYC food truck's gotta have more than luck - it's gotta have a superhuman drive to match otherworldly skills. Oh and having a massively unique idea doesn't hurt either. Combining all of these hardly guarantees success in this city, and success hardly guarantees sustainability(in case you haven't heard, New York trends tend to move quickly), but the rewards for rising to the top are massive. As you may have heard, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. Though really, if you can make it here, why would you wanna go anywhere else?
When it comes to success stories, it's tough to top Wafels & Dinges, which has grown from humble roots to become one of the top franchises in New York, spawning multiple shops and becoming a signature corner of the city's food culture. Founder Thomas DeGeest quit his job at IBM to follow his passion and launch a Belgian waffle truck that's slowly but surely re-made how New Yorkers do snacktime.
A collection of classically prepared waffles launched at the truck's start, with sweet toppings (or dinges, naturally) galore, from fruit to powdered sugar to drizzled Nutella and beyond. As time went on, more savory options filled out the menu, with specials like pulled pork waffles with cherry-Kool-Aid-marinated pickles becoming mainstays, and doubling the flavor palette Dinges & Wafles played with. What started as the talk of the streets soon became a movement, and then a bonafide institution, with multiple trucks, carts and brick-and-mortar stands popping up all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. More than a simple dessert, Dinges & Waffles has become the go-to way for New York to do meals between meals. Or simply the way to do meals. Look, it's not for us to judge what time of day you eat your pulled-pork waffle.
DeGeest is hardly the only foreign tastemaker with a dream to find success in NY. In fact, stories like his are the foundation of what makes the city run. Food trucks are no different, with at least half of NYC food trucks run by first and second generation Americans. They offer up authentic dishes rooted in family tradition but refined for brand new tastebuds.
In general, New York might not be known for world-class Mexican, but the best of its taco trucks, if you can find them, rank amongst the best anywhere. One such truck is Sunset Park's Tacos El Rancho, winner of the 2016 Vendy Cup for best NYC food truck, and purveyor of Brooklyn's finest Oaxacan street food by a mile (no matter where it's parked). Run by a father & his two sons, it's got classic tacos, burritos, quesadillas and more all on deck, giving you the kind of NYC taco truck experience you always knew was possible, but never had evidence for til now.
Cachapas on Wheels was originally launched by an ex-cabbie turned restauranteur(who now holds down multiple brick-and-mortars), and now it's run by his two kids, who continue to give New York their recipes for Venezuelan comfort day after day and bite after bite. The menu's chock full of sweet corn arepas (the titular cachapas), stuffed with the meats and flavors of your choosing, alongside house specialties like the yoyo(a sandwich on a bun of sweet plantains) to give you a meal unlike any other on the streets. Which in this town, is actually saying something. Finally, what Traditional Chinese Cuisine lacks in a snazzy name, it more than makes up for in taste, not to mention size. A massive menu has room for pork burgers, lamb pancakes and a mega-dose of hand-pulled noodle dishes, leaving all the fancy nicknames for your tastebuds to decide. The food truck's run by a Henan chef and his daughters, and every dish brings the flavors of central China to starling life, right next to Washington Square Park.
While NYC food trucks themselves have a difficult time navigating through the streets here, there are alternate routes to reaching masses of tastemakers. These operations can be caught setting up shop at fairs and markets throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, not to mention available for private events. Exclusively found away four wheels, they're nonetheless made for all to enjoy.
2016 Vendy winner for best Marketplace attraction, Big Mozz lays claim to mozzarella dominance in NYC, which is not a casual statement. But this is not casual mozzarella. Small-batches get hand-formed into jumbo sticks, before getting fried to perfection and paired with meticulously-crafted red sauce, and that's just their signature dish. Big Mozz is turning their attention to burrata and pizza as well lately, with results that promise to expand Big Mozz' appeal from gourmet snacking to the top authority on cheese (and its endless applications) for all five boroughs. Catch Big Mozz stationed every week at Smorgasbord, and at festivals all around town.
For a sweeter specialty, Glazed & Confused delivers mini-doughnuts that are all decked out in too many flavors to count. Mainly because they invent new ones daily. A next-level "smart" fryer, free of trans-fats and artificial ingredients is the foundation to Glazed & Confused's success, but imagination and endless whimsy are the flourishes that really make them soar. As in - soar into the mouths of an ever-growing roster of fans. Creations include Hangover(maple syrup, bacon pieces & powdered sugar), American Pie(apple pie filling, cinnamon, graham cracker & caramel glaze), and a host of rotating, seasonal picks, along with boozy 21+ varieties that can be ordered for special occasions.
Finally, Tuson Sate is an establishment with ambitions larger than any market it's found at, aiming to make Indonesian food a flagship cuisine of NYC. Launched almost twenty years ago by a mom cooking for her own daughter's birthday party, word of these skewers - and more importantly, demonstrations - spread first to the Queens Indonesian Community Mosque before launching in earnest. Now the secret's out, and spreading through Manhattan block by block and festival by festival. Dynamite chicken and beef skewers pair off against vegan seitan to give every seeker something to find, and more importantly - something to talk about once they've found. No matter where it pops up, Tuson Sate's doing its part to ensure the city's Indonesian culture is in great hands: yours, namely.
Speaking of vegan, The Cinnamon Snail has made a name for itself serving plant and grain-based gourmet cuisine that stands apart from the pack, and not just the veggie pack. Their truck of serious eats (like a breakfast sammie ft scrambled tofu, smoked coconut "bacon", marinated kale, vegan hollandaise, & pickled red onions, w "everything bagel" seasoning on grilled homemade challah) can go toe-to-toe with all food trucks in NYC, meat or no meat, and still wind up sitting pretty. It's food worth slowing your day down for.
In terms of pure imagination, it's tough to beat Harajuku Sushi & Crepe, which makes edible art to order, ranging from sweet to savory to something wholly undefined, like crispy oyster crepes, sushi burritos and ice cream with adzuki bean and matcha custard. Meanwhile, Harlem Seafood Soul spices tradition with the avant-garde in an entirely different way. Owner/operator Tami Treadwell presents a classic soul food menu(think lobster po'boys and shrimp & grits) made onboard New York's #1 eco-conscious food truck, primarily run by solar roof panels. It's food every part of you can feel good about. But mostly your mouth. Which is still what really counts here.
As always, check out the live NYC 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.
As discussed earlier, Smorgasbord still reigns supreme in Williamsburg, giving you endless options for quick gourmet eats that are always rotating, and always busy. But the Brooklyn Flea Market's another sure-fire bet for satisfaction. On the other side of the bridge, tight restrictions remain in place for Manhattan food trucks, but parks are an ever-popular spot to catch some local favorites. From Tompkins to Washington to Madison and of course Central, if there's space to sit and breathe, there's probably also a food truck parked next to it. Aside from those options, keep an eye out for constant night markets and street fairs all throughout town. If the day of the week ends in y, there's one happening somewhere.
To be extra exclusive, grab your pick of NYC food trucks or NYC food stands from above by hitting up Roaming Hunger directly. Get started HERE if you want a food truck to cater any kind of affair you've got in mind. In a town where only the best survive, you can feel pretty confident about the roster you're pulling from. Call it the best of the best of the best. Or better yet - call it all yours. In a city like New York, such a luxury's rare, which makes it so much sweeter.