People called them a fad, but as a new truck or trailer seems to pop up every day, it's hard to argue with the popular food delivery system. Many of these new street food purveyors are serving food just as good and sometimes better than stand-alone restaurants. We'll admit it; we are smitten with the street food scene. Seeking them out requires the cunning and flexibility of a great treasure hunt. Not everyone has the appetite for passing through mediocre spots to discover the good ones, so we've taken the guesswork out by listing the top 10 consistently outstanding street food sellers. To track them down, check out our food truck map.
10. Fork in the Road
Unlike most trucks, which park for the cold months and enjoy a little break, Kari Offerdahl and Amy Freschette continue to pilot their bright orange truck through the soggy streets all year round. It's a special kind of crazy that drives their homey comfort food straight to our stomachs by way of our hearts. Their brand of homemade food, such as their luscious pulled pork tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches, are the lunch equivalent of a warm hug. Their bacony take on a BLT, slathered in their avocado aioli, is straight-up comfort food with a little sideways kick of the unexpected.
This sleek black beauty hit the streets last summer, and the lines quickly followed. Vellee Deli also gets around; it can be found in downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul and, soon in Dinkytown, summoning the hungry with the mingling scents of Asian and Mexican cuisines. It brings the world together with its burritos. The Korean burrito combines braised, soy-and-sesame-seasoned short ribs with zesty kimchi, comingled with gently seasoned white rice, fresh romaine lettuce, and smoky-hot salsa. Or the Chicken Currito, red-curry-seasoned chicken and potatoes with just a whisper of sweetness and a nice bit of heat. Everything is tucked into a mammoth flour tortilla and served with a cheerful, "Have a Vellee good day!" It also has solid bahn mi, crisp, devourable eggrolls, tacos, and even a couple of quesadillas. The layers of hot, tart, charred flavors will send you away on a taste-sensation high.
Nathan Beck is a hot dog aficionado. Each year the father of five young girls would embark on a State Fair sojourn in search of his most beloved fair food item, the foot-long hot dog. He proudly declares that one year he ate eight. That's a lot of meat. An idea began to percolate: Why not open a hot dog cart? Rather than the usual "dirty water" dog, his would be stocked with the best hot dogs around and topped with condiments he would make himself. Soon that dream became reality, and now he's even peddling his own brand of mustard. The honey mustard is so wonderfully balanced that it's easily savored by everyone from toddlers to oldsters. He often also spikes his mustards with local microbrews, adding extra punchy flavor. From his homemade kraut to caramelized onions to even a begrudgingly shared ketchup (another item occasionally spiked with Minnesota wine), it's all divine, and there is no wrong way to top your dog, although the dapper Beck might tease you a little about a ketchup request. What it all comes down to is the dog. Made with Pastures a' Plenty pork, it has a snappy casing filled with richly flavored meat. Nathan Beck is living every dog lover's dream.
There are many things to appreciate about the food from the 128 Cafe truck, but let's just skip the formality and get down to the bare bones of the matter: You have to get the ribs. Yes, the sesame beef skewers are incredible, served over that ginger-flavored slaw and dreamy pickled carrots. Yes, the truck does serve many of the seasonal, perfectly balanced dishes available at its neighborhood gem of a restaurant. But no one can say they know the Twin Cities food scene without tasting these ribs. Mahogany colored, enveloped in just a whisper of sauce, perfectly charred, the meat easily separates from the bone. The flavor is smoky, salty, rich, and crispy. Jill Wilson, owner of the restaurant and truck, was also the leader in organizing the initial food truck court last summer, gathering a crew along the streets of downtown St. Paul, giving workers a destination for their Wednesday lunch break from May through September.
Natalie Coleman and Alex Brand believe the world can be a better place. After meeting at Wesleyan College, they discovered a shared passion for travel and food. Soon after graduation, they struck out on an ambitious bike expedition from Prague to Bangkok, collecting experiences and flavors along the way. They soon opened a stand at the Mill City Farmer's Market selling their locally sourced, heavenly tasting foods. As soon as the City Council voted to allow food trucks, they poured everything they had into constructing their sunny little yellow trailer. They opened three years ago and work morning, noon, and night in the warm months, and then pack it all in and go back to traveling the world while the rest of us suckers dig out from our snowbanks. The flavor results of these experiences are homey, sophisticated and exotic all at once. A recent visit included a Mexican-style braised beef, rubbed with coffee and mellow spices. Tender, fall-apart, grass-fed beef was then tucked into a Salty Tart hoagie and topped with a crisp slaw. Menu perennials like the BLT and ham-and-cheese are served on crispy baguettes, laced with adorable little greens. No visit to their cart is complete without a taste of their homemade sodas: always balanced, refreshing, and never overly sweet. Find them at the Mill City Farmers Market and on weekdays on Nicollet outside the IDS building.
The depth and breadth of what a sandwich can contribute to a day cannot be overstated. A great sandwich is a sum of lovingly compiled ingredients that leaves a diner with a Gene Kelly spring in his step. Imagine, then, what a lobster roll from the Smack Shack -- somewhere in the stratosphere above "great" -- can do for you. A roll of split, butter-redolent bread is crammed with chunks of tender lobster that has been mixed with crunchy cucumber in a lemon-tarragon aioli. Each bite is decadent and rich and as bright as a seaside morning. As if that isn't wonderful enough, another dish served off this truck is the lobster mac and cheese: more lobster tossed with little elbows of pasta and pulled together by pungent taleggio cheese. These are two dishes worth dreaming of, and that's just a tiny dose of the menu. Thankfully, we can find the Smack Shack food from the back of their truck, inside the 1029 Bar, and soon we can begin lining up outside the Loop neighborhood restaurant quickly taking shape. We are very rich, indeed.
All through the cold months, we dream of spring for many reasons, and one of the main ones is the Chef Shack. When Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer pull their trucks out of their wintry slumber and hit the streets, it's time for a hand-pattied bison burger, a tongue taco, or a pulled pork sandwich made with meats from the best local vendors. Carlson and Summer put a gourmet/sustainable spin on street food favorites like the Indian-spiced mini donuts. These two blazed the trails for many of the other up-and-coming trucks by using sustainable purveyors and taking seemingly humble dishes, giving them a fine-dining twist, and delivering some of the most crave-worthy treats ever to arrive in a paper boat.
Not many trucks extend the courtesy of bringing a table for two to set up in front of their location, with a killer playlist lending the impression of dining curbside at a fine restaurant. Chef Stephen Trojahn changes the menu on the Gastrotruck often and is firing on all his chef-honed cylinders. He balances his menu with the sorts of things that get the gastronomes swooning without forgetting that great food doesn't have to be all about the pork belly. (Although, damn, is his pork belly tasty.) His menu always includes a little vegetarian love, like the super-savory black bean burgers, or the triumphant smoked trout sliders. At this truck, the delight is in the details: the house-made condiments like pickled cucumbers and onions, or the stout-enhanced stone-ground mustard. Chef Trojahn and partner Catherine Eckert partner with local producers and are proud to serve local, sustainably sourced ingredients in biodegradable containers. Gastrotruck can be found in both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Life begins in the Yum Yum bowl. Chef Sameh Wadi's take on a Korean rice bowl is a comforting bowl of luscious flavors, mixed with Chinese broccoli, shitake mushrooms, herbs, secret sauce, and a choice of meat with a soft-cooked egg, all nestled in the heart of this dish, giving it a powerful, creamy soul. This alone would be enough to make the trip to this truck -- soon to be restaurant in Uptown. Every dish this truck serves is a flavor assault on the senses, like the aggressively spicy jerk seasoning on the tender beef that's then cooled with the creamy, crunchy, fresh slaw. Look for World Street Kitchen to be parked just off Nicollet Mall and Fifth Street in downtown Minneapolis.
It's hard to remember the days before the food trucks, before we took our lunches from paper boats, hunched over, ineffective napkins crumpled in our fists. We'd prefer to never return to a life without them. A summer isn't complete without several collective hours spent waiting outside the bright turquoise Hola Arepa truck for quick-griddled corn cakes stuffed with savory ingredients, washed down by one of Arepa's refreshing and creatively flavored drinks. The dishes aren't anything likely to be attempted at home on a weeknight: succulent, slow-roasted Fischer Farms pork or Kadejan Farms chicken, married with ever-so-tender stewed beans and crumbling white queso fresco, all packed into the delicate crumb interior of the arepas. Everything is expertly and lovingly executed (using sustainable resources) by Christina Ngyuen and Birk Stefan Grudem. With her background at the Style Laboratory and his from Bradstreet Craftshouse, each item put forth, from the hot sauces to cuy cones to rhubarb ginger lemonade, is carefully designed to make our world a little more enjoyable.