STREET FOOD GOES GOURMET
The food truck craze is a welcome expansion of culinary culture, offering a no-frills approach to cuisine from all corners of the world. The limited space and low overhead needed to operate a food truck, compared with a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, can result in low prices on upscale dishes. In other words, what foodies sacrifice by foregoing table service is made back in savings.
Street food is being accepted more and more into the canon of gourmet fare, as evidenced this year by the issuance of the first Michelin star to a street vendor. Seeking out top food trucks is an affordable way to sample interesting and unique dishes, and may be the only way for many people to try food from a renowned chef. These 10 food carts represent a cheaper and more casual version of their restaurant counterparts.
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LUKE'S LOBSTER NAUTI MOBILES, NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY
Luke's Lobster brings fresh seafood rolls to the streets of New York and New Jersey. The prices are a few dollars off the bricks-and-mortar menu, plus there's the convenience and serendipity of a truck that (hopefully) passes through your neighborhood every once in a while. Although the lobster rolls are most famous, the crab and shrimp rolls are less expensive and equally tasty. Follow Luke's Lobster on Twitter to find the daily locations of the two trucks.
BORDER GRILL TRUCK, LOS ANGELES
A self-proclaimed party on wheels, this modern Mexican food truck dishes out sustainably sourced and authentically inspired Latin fare. The original bricks-and-mortar eatery is an upscale outlet for thoughtful Mexican cuisine, packaged in a contemporary style that is both sophisticated and indulgent. Check the website to find the truck, or to book it, complete with margaritas and mojitos, for private events.
SKILLET FOOD TRUCKS, SEATTLE
Skillet describes its food -- New American fare using classic techniques -- as "evolved cuisine." Its mission is to incorporate locally sourced seasonal produce and meat into a chef-driven menu. While Skillet is now a restaurant chain and one of the city's top-rated caterers, diners on a budget can still enjoy its food at one of four trucks that roam the streets throughout the Seattle area.
KWIK MEAL, NEW YORK CITY
This humble halal food cart posted on 45th Street near Sixth Avenue in Manhattan has an unfair advantage that often earns it the top spot in food cart roundups: chef Muhammed Rahman. Before jumping in on the street meat craze, Rahman worked at the lavish Russian Tea Room, and he brings the same cooking techniques to his mobile food stand. The marinated lamb has outdone all competitors citywide for years, with no sign of fading. For $10, diners can get a full restaurant-quality meal in the heart of midtown.
KUZA BURGER, PORTLAND, OREGON
It's always good news when a chic, upscale Japanese restaurant gets in on the street meat fun, as Yakuza did with its Kuza Burger cart in Portland. Posted at North Richmond Avenue and North Lombard Street, Yakuza's casual food truck offers up premium burgers made with the same care and quality ingredients as the dishes at the mother restaurant. While the presentation and experience is of a different ilk, the more affordable food is just as satisfying. The cart is set to appear at an annual block party on Aug. 29 at Northeast 30th and Killingsworth.
VIJ'S RAILWAY EXPRESS, VANCOUVER, CANADA
Acclaimed chef Vikram Vij stays true to his roots with a food truck promising a culinary journey through India. The menu features regional specialties for about $12, compared with $22 and up for an entree at his namesake Vij's restaurant. The truck was voted Canada's best new restaurant in its own right by Enroute Magazine readers in 2013. Follow Vij's Railway Express on Twitter for a cheap way to indulge in Vancouver's most widely beloved Indian cuisine.
KOMODO TRUCK, LOS ANGELES
A frequent winner of food truck awards, this gourmet mobile restaurant offers fusion-style tacos, burritos, and bowls. It has honed a combination of spicy and umami-rich flavors from both Eastern and Western culinary cultures and packaged it in inexpensive street food style. Komodo's bricks-and-mortar eatery offers a classy setting and full service, but it's famous for the less expensive tacos enjoyed street side. Check the website for weekly truck locations, plus information on booking for private events.
CELEBRITY CAKE STUDIO CAKE MOBILE, TACOMA, WASHINGTON
Celebrity Cake Studio creates edible works of art for all types of special occasions. A combined passion for beauty and cake have made it a top choice for weddings. The Cake Mobile gives those with a sweet tooth an opportunity to try the shop's cookies, cupcakes, and cakes without commissioning a pricey, ornate dessert. Gluten-free options are available.
EAST SIDE KING, AUSTIN, TEXAS
The growing restaurant empire of Paul Qui, a "Top Chef" and James Beard Award winner, started with the East Side King food trucks. The menu of Asian-inspired treats includes beef tongue buns and fried Brussels sprout salad. The Thai-Kun food trailer, a spinoff of East Side King under chef Thai Changthong, beat out bricks-and-mortar competition to be named one of the best new restaurants in America in 2014.
Sitting down to a table at one of Ricardo Sanz's Kabuki restaurants in Madrid would be a splurge even without the flight to Spain. Luckily the Michelin-starred chef has taken his sauces, ingredients, and technique to Miami in a food truck called Kuenko, which just opened in May. It serves Japanese-Spanish donburi, or rice bowls, each with a different protein and a fried egg, for just over $10.