Street Food: Clover Food Lab in Boston


[Photographs: Citizen Taco]

Six months ago Clover Food Lab was still something of a secret. The food cart, which opened quietly in 2008, still served a small selection of breakfast and lunch items to a crowd of mostly MIT students and professors, continuing a longstanding tradition of lunchtime food trucks at the university. The chef-owners were ambitious, conceiving a seasonal vegetarian menu that could be served within minutes after ordering, where no item topped the five dollar mark.

That meant granola, oatmeal and popover's in the morning; sandwiches and salads in the afternoon. As their audience grew, they hired more cooks and found ways to maximize efficiency and minimize wait times, including taking advance orders via email.


Sounds pretty simple, until you taste the chickpea-fritter pita sandwich, raw summer squash salad, or just-cut rosemary French fries that make you believe in the idea of fast food again. Drinks are stellar too: cucumber-lime-aleppo agua fresca, blueberry lemonade, hibiscus tea and made-to-order drip coffee. From the first time I ordered a chickpea fritter "boat"—fresh chickpea-flour falafel balls over hummus, shredded carrots, red onions, purple cabbage, tomato, cucumber, and crunchy lettuce—Clover became one of my favorite food carts anywhere.

This summer, the Lab took the next step in their plan to create an empire, expanding the fleet (a second cart now parks across from South Station) and the hours (both carts stay open til 7 p.m.). A recent visit to the downtown cart confirmed that this is nothing but good news—even at its peak, with the line topping 20 people, it was fewer than 15 minutes before I devoured a marinated mushroom salad and some gluten-free chickpea fritters.

The best lunch at MIT has become the best lunch in downtown Boston, and this Fall Clover plans to open their first restaurant as well. Get excited.