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Street Food is Great Food

October 12th, 2011

by Jourdan Janssen, Big City Chefs writer

I don’t know why, but in my opinion, the best food when I am traveling generally happens to be the cheapest, and often comes from hole-in-the-wall mom and pop operations.  If you are traveling with someone from the area who can point you in the right direction, usually where a lot of locals are crowded together, you can all but guarantee your taste buds will be satisfied by delicious regional specialties.  While some people prefer sit down more expensive sit down restaurants from websites like Trip Advisor, the adventurer in me often takes more of a Rick Steves approach to seeking out clean restaurants and stands that are off the beaten path and generally but not always a bit farther from central tourist spots.

After three hours of driving, cramped in middle of the back seat of a pickup truck, my friends and I stopped for almuerzo at a roadside stand. I stumbled out of the back seat, exhausted from the drive and a 6 a.m. wake up and a tad cranky from the lack of coffee when suddenly a strong aroma of mole wafted in my direction. I closed my eyes to take in the smell and my friend who had been driving told me that these were the smallest tamales in all of Mexico… I certainly hope not. The tamales were the size of not one but TWO of my heads.

I ordered a green tamal (whatever that meant I didn’t really know but the color green sounded appealing at the time) and a cup of coffee. When I slowly peeled open the hot banana leaves that held the tamal steam poured out and into my face… a free mini facial. The green turned out to be green chile salsa and chicken and the corn masa was mad out of a local variety of yellow corn. I have had a lot of tamales in my life but this very possibly was one of the best things I have ever eaten. It was moist, the perfect ratio of corn to goopy insides of corn and green salsa. The salsa burned but in the way that real Laoatian food can make you cry and beg for mercy but just enough so your lips turned a brighter shade of red and you could still taste the subtleness flavor of the different ingredients.

Ever since I got home I have begun a hunt for truly amazing, mouth-watering, dream worthy street food. Right now street food seems to be a pretty big trend in the USA, the only problem is it looks like I am going to have to go on a culinary adventure around the country to get a sampling of the best street food has to offer. After extensive browsing I compiled a list entitled…”If this truck were in my town I’d be first in line..”

1. Saucá in Washington DC

I wish they would drive to California sometime…the global cuisine sounds incredible!!

Customers have “10 different sâuçá wraps that alternate on the menu daily, two from each of five geographical-gastronomical regions; (N. America, Latin America, Europe, Mediterranean and Asia. Each day the menu will change to include one of the two globally inspired sâuçás, as well as the Mumbai Butter Chicken, the signature wrap that is offered every day, to make 11 total wraps. Add any one of the 22 different sauces to the wrap for a truly unique – and personalized meal!”- Sauca website

My problem is that looking at the menu I have no clue how I would ever decide what to order. Buffalo chicken, pork Bahn Mi, Mexicali fish taco…The solution? Eat a lot, eat often.

Pork Banh Mi on saffron rice

2. Calexico Cart in New York City

Unfortunately, no tamales but I would definitely be willing to settle for one of the gorgeous carne asada tacos or a baja style fish torta. Calexico gets RAVE reviews on every food site, foodie blog and newspaper clippings.

Irresistable tacos from Calexico Cart

3. Tyson Bees in Philadelphia

Korean food with a twist! Try classic curry over rice or sample innovative combinations like Korean BBQ short rib tacos or a hot dog topped with Kimchi.

4. LIBA Falafel in the Bay Area

This is one of the most well-known food trucks in the Bay…well I should say on the UC Berkeley campus at least (next to Cupkates) which means it must be good! My next mission…hunt down the truck and sample the assortment of falafels that LIBA has to offer. I can’t wait!

5. Nom Nom Truck Los Angeles, CA

Vietnamese-inspired food. They have an array of Bahn Mi sandwiches and Vietnamese tacos. The best part though…the fresh, sweet, spicy flavor 🙂

6. The Frying Scotsman Portland, OR

My favorite pub food classic…fish and chips of course! Im not talking about the frozen fish sticks that come in the shape of sea animals at the grocery store. Gross! That is wrong for so many reasons. If you have only ever tried frozen fillets think again! The traditional street food usually comes served up in newspaper and is best when lightly covered in vinegar and served with an icy cold beer.  You can’t go wrong with the classics. At the Frying Scotsman the owner and chef is from Scotland knows what he’s doing. The fish is fresh, lightly fried and salted to perfection!

Plus SeriousEats.com ranks Portland the number 1 food truck city in America for its fresh ingredients and innovative menus. SO if fish and chips for some reason ain’t your thing you’ll have plenty of other options. Check out http://www.foodcartsportland.com/ for more ideas!!

7.Baby’s Badass Burgers, Los Angeles, CA

The burgers sound juicy and scrumptious! Plus, you cant go wrong with a street food classic…friend of the hot dog, the burger is an American classic that always “hits the spot.” The truck’s powder puff/barbie pink gives it an old diner/ Hollywood feel (how appropriate 😉 ) and makes it hard to miss. Baby’s will be featured in Travel Channel’s Food Wars episode airing on March 16, tune in to see who is crowned with the title of best burger truck in LA county.

8. Sweet Misgivings in Chicago, IL

Sweet treats are amazing but this truck sounds particularly cool because if is a social enterprise bakery and jobs program. “100% of all profits go to help the formerly homeless and HIV/AIDS-affected men, women, and children of Chicago House.” So not only can you satisfy your sweet tooth/afternoon craving with a delicious muffin, cookie but you are also giving back to the Chicago AIDS community. So really that cookie is guilt-free…They also ship for those of us not fortunate to live close enough to the beloved truck/store front.

9. mmmpanadas Austin, TX

Order savory or sweet empanadas…or both.Why not?!

BBQ empanada

10. The Grilled Cheese Truck in Los Angeles, CA

Maybe I just have grilled cheese on the mind after watching the first two episodes of America’s Next Great Restaurant but this place sounds incredible….Like grilled cheese heaven really.

If you were inspired by the article just a heads up… Travel channel is doing a special on food truck street vendors in March. So EXCITED!

I’m ready to eat my way around the US. Road trip anyone? Or next best choice hire Big City Chefs for your next street food inspired party. Classy and elegant but fun and hip and oh so delicious. The best part? You don’t have to choose which type of food you want…a Bahn mi, a grilled cheese, burger, fish and chips, sweets or a falafel…you can try it all! I’ll have 3 of each please. Yum.

If you have any thoughts on the food trucks mentioned above or any recommendations of great street food you’ve tried we’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions! We’re always looking for great new places to try.

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