Portland: The Street Food Mecca
Alright, Portland, you win. No other city (in the world—there I said it) has anything on your street-vendin' people. Set up in parking lots, sidewalks, and even parks, the cuisines cover just about everything your tum could crave: Thai (from Nong's Khao Man Gai), snitzelwiches (from Tabor Czech Food), jambalaya (from The Swamp Shack), Fatty Melts (from Brunch Box). Oh and pizza from a retro camper? Where all the dough is made by hand inside? (They have that, too.) Adam chatted with the people behind Wy'east Pizza when he was in town.
While other cities seem to have laws hindering street food expansion, it's like Portland has a BRING IT ON law. Since 2007, Food Carts Portland has been documenting the city's proliferation of sidewalk noshing— it is indeed the street food mecca to end all street food meccas.
The Use of Twitter
One of the more interesting and useful trends sparked by Twitter is the way street food vendors have used it to relay info to customers (changing locations, menu specials, customer feedback, or just silly fodder). What better way for a roving kitchen to publish crucial intel from the field? Shoot, it's almost like Twitter was made for the good of the street foodisphere.
In May we compiled a list of street vendors on Twitter (sTweet vendors?), but as more commenters have chimed in, the directory has become a crazy web of regional vendors, hence our inspiration to launch the Street Food Profiles series. (So far only one vendor interviewed was sans Twitter account.)
Kogi's Cult Following
When my mom started asking me about Kogi, the Korean-Mexican fusion truck concept hatched in Los Angeles, I knew they were bigtime. It all started in late 2008 when 30-year-old Mark Manguera and his 25-year-old sister-in-law Alice Shin were sitting around and thinking, hm, Korean barbecue multiplied by tortillas would be pretty good, huh. So after bringing on chef Roy Choi as a partner, they enlisted friends and family to blog, brand, and Tweet on behalf of Kogi (@kogibbq now has over 51,000 followers).
Back in February we chatted with them about the menu: tacos (short rib, spicy pork, and spicy citrus chicken), Kogi dogs (meat on meat!), the pictured kimchi quesadillas, and more. We followed them around for a day, learned about their sometimes-drunk vagabond customers, and queued up ourselves (with 200 others) when they briefly visited New York.
The Vendy Awards
For the fifth year, the Street Vendor Project organized the Vendys, the Academy Awards of New York street food. This year over 1,000 people—the most attendees ever—showed up to the Queens Museum of Art to graze on the signature foods from 11 of the city's most popular vendors (they were chosen via online votes). The organizers had to create an additional category this year for rookie vendors given the 2009 street foodplosion—it wouldn't really make sense for the then three-month old Schnitzel & Things to compete in the same category as Astoria's King of Falafel, who's been the chickpea-fritter-majesty for over six years.
The winner of the Vendy Cup (announced by emcee, and our very own, Ed Levine) was Brooklyn's Country Boys taco truck from the Red Hook ballfields, run by husband-and-wife team Fernando and Yolanda Martinez. They totally deserved it too. It doesn't get much better than their tasty Mexican goodness: huaraches (oblong wads of masa tortillas filled with beans, meat, shredded lettuce, fresh guacamole, and joy), tacos, and quesadillas.
Old Schools vs. Hipster Newcomers
While I'm all for crème brûlée from a kitchen on wheels, it's hard not to wonder how this new-agey mobile food culture hurts the old guard. Sure, it’s easy to say “hey, the more carts the better!” But the truth is, it's a little trickier than that. As Zach Brooks noted on Midtown Lunch, the shift got a little ugly in New York. "Before the latest wave of “hipster” vendors showed up, vendors couldn’t just park their carts wherever they wanted—they had to ask permission, or broker a deal with the other carts in the area. It’s the reason why there aren’t 20 carts parked in front of MoMa."
But now you have the hipster vendors (code for fancypants and tech-savvy) rolling in, feeling all entitled to a certain nook on a block. And surprise surprise, the hot dog vendors don't likey. (As was the case when the Street Sweets truck showed up in front of the MoMa.) The new breed has so many more resources: Twitter, food blog chatter, Facebook, and PR firms, plus their customers are more willing to trek for them.
Perhaps new vendors need to be a bit more patient and pay their dues first? Think of the
children veteran Sno-Cone dude with the bright blue syrup. [Original photo: Zach Brooks]