There are eight million stories in the Naked City, and almost as many food trucks.
When I first started working in downtown Manhattan in the late 1990s, there wasn’t really such a thing as a gourmet food truck. Street food consisted mainly of “dirty water dogs” and grilled mystery meat. I remember there was only one street vendor I ever visited, a hot dog vendor on a corner by the WTC (who made the best grilled hot dogs I’ve had to this day).
Around 2009 I worked on 23rd Street, so I got to observe the nascence of the food truck craze. While for most lunches I still went to regular eateries, trucks like the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck, Rafiqis, and the NYC Cravings (now Bian Dang) truck started opening my eyes.
In 2011 I started working at my current company on Madison. The restaurants within a 5 block radius seem to fall into a few categories: expensive sushi restaurants, expensive steak restaurants, and a whole bunch of cookie-cutter franchises selling boring salads, sandwiches, and soups at about $15 a pop.
Then after my umpteenth Pret sandwich and Just Salad bowl I found them. Pockets of glorious trucks lining the streets. Every kind of gourmet street food in the world lined up on after another. I felt like the anti-Yakoff Smirnoff. “In America you don’t go to restaurant–restaurant go to you!”
I soon found that there was a bit of an art to street food, from finding your favorite truck to mastering the ordering process to minimizing your wait. And so I thought I’d share my experiences with fellow hungry New Yorkers.
Okay, first of all, we all know every newspaper site in the world has done a “top 10 food trucks” list. And we all know there are plenty of specialty sites like Midtown Lunch and Yelp that already have tons of reviews. But here’s where this site will be different.
1) The reviews will be written by ME. Okay, I’m no Pete Wells, but then again this site ain’t reviewing Le Bernadin either. Who am I? I’m you. I work in midtown, I’d like to find good eats within a 10 minute walk of my office, I don’t want to wait, I don’t want to pay through the nose, and I want a meal that I can eat at my desk in peace without spilling all over the place or causing my office mate to wretch in horror.
2) We’re going to travel the world. When I first worked downtown it was my first job in “the big city” and I promised myself that each day I would try out a different country’s cuisine. That worked for about three weeks, but after that more often than not I’d just have a hot dog. But not this time. This time we are going to feast on fare from every corner of the earth.
3) I’m going to try to include some practical advice. Sure, any food critic can tell you how the delectable bill of fare is both decadent and meltingly tender. But who else is going to tell you how to order without getting nasty glares from the people around you, or whether your food is going to stink up the office, or how to navigate a food truck ordering process that requires a rocket science degree? I’ll do my best to share my insights, and hopefully you and your fellow gastronomes will too.
4) I’ll be fair. Like you, I get a little tired of the overly entitled Yelp reviewer giving a one-star rating whining about a place because they didn’t give her enough packets of hot sauce, or the fifty glowing five-star Google reviews of a place that were clearly written by the owner and his extended family. No, I’ll tells it as I sees it (and tastes it).
Ready to go? Let’s start eating!