Do the Food Truck Hop

Caitlin Thornton

by Caitlin Thornton on September 29, 2011

In today’s post, contributor Caitlin Thornton puts on her walking shoes for a tour of New York’s ubiquitous (though often elusive) food trucks. Buckle up….

I realize everyone’s freaking out about boots and tights and cute cable-knit sweaters, but I’m in love with summer. I love sweat and swimsuits and swimming and short-shorts and I’ve only been surfing twice, but I feel comfortable saying I like that, too.

So with impending Autumn, the quicker-than-you-think arrival of Official Autumn, and eventually, Dreadful Cold Awful Winter Weather coming to New York, I’ve been desperate to sap the last bits of summer out of the city. And what better way to do that than to gorge at this fine place’s most treasured seasonal offerings—the beloved and always completely popular food truck?



After only being in NYC for little more than a year, I have to admit I take food trucks for granted. They are delicious. They are mobile. They are everywhere. And when you’re in Manhattan after doing some shopping or eating way too much pizza with your girlfriends and you turn the corner and spot one of the good ones), it’s just customary to make some room for organic Earl Grey ice cream because what if you don’t stumble upon it again sometime soon? (Note: you probably will.)

Although I and others here are no stranger to the restos-on-wheels, one of my fabulous colleagues at ReadyMade, Kitty Morgan, told me about an innovative approach to dining out that I knew the end-of-season called for: a food truck hop. Part scavenger hunt, part massive Thanksgiving-size meal, and just an amazing excuse to explore the city, on a food truck hop you start at one spot for your appetizer, head to another for your main course, and top it off with a dessert at a final truck. For maximum results, it’s imperative to implement a bar hop and get some drinks along the way.

Kitty told me she was taking her husband on one for his birthday earlier this summer, and, since I’m a die-hard Brooklyn babe, she asked me for some top-notch recommendations from my favorite borough. I thought it was genius—and definitely a great way to celebrate the sort of-end of summer. (I’m not letting go.) Here was my hop:

rickshaw dumplings
Appetizer: Rickshaw Dumpling Truck

Though this truck has a permanently placed restaurant counterpart, I’ve been on the hunt for this moving slice of heaven since earlier this summer. Dumplings seem simple, but they can easily be too sticky or doughy or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, crunchy around the edges (the worst). These are rumored to be the best, with the restaurant always having a line out the door and the truck nearly impossible to pin down.

By tracking the truck on Twitter, we found it in Manhattan after work. We split six pork dumplings for $6, stationed ourselves on the curb, and mowed ‘em down. They lived up to their high reputation, and even incited one wee 7-year-old girl passing by to scream in ecstatic jealousy, “Look! Dumplings!” Yeah, they’re Justin Bieber good, for real.

Main Course: Big D’s Grub Truck

Spotted in Midtown, this big yellow mobile boasts Asian-inspired tacos. Mix and match three tacos—they have Bulgogi, Spicy Pork, Spicy Chicken, and Ginger Chicken—for $7. I’m a total taco fiend and have kind of a sad addiction to the El Diablo taco truck stationed year-round behind Union Pool in Brooklyn.

That being said, I was sorely disappointed in these puppies. The meat in my ginger chicken tacos was dry and the overall flavor was just not as tangy as I had anticipated. My friend got the bulgogi and didn’t even finish them. The two other friends who met us at this point, however (another perk of doing a hop is meeting up with more people along the way!) totally dug them. Again, I will blame the ultimate deliciousness of El Diablo, even though they make your breath smell.

Dessert: Kelvin Natural Slush

At this Vendy Award-winning truck, you pick the slush flavor, such as Spicy Ginger or Tangy Citrus, and a fresh ingredient mix-in like guava or blueberry. I went with Black Tea with pineapple mix-in (Small, $3.50). It was incredibly sweet and induced more than one killer brain freeze. It was so worth it. My friend got Citrus with guava mixed in (pictured), but he kept asking for sips of mine. Sorry 7-11, your syrupy machines ain’t got nothin’ on these drinks.

kelvin slush
Tips for doing your own hop:

We discovered doing a hop takes some time and energy. But it’s super fun and the sticker shock is nothing compared to other eateries in Manhattan. Here’s some pointers for future hops:

  • Let Twitter be your guiding light. This sort of thing is what Twitter was invented for (that is not a fact, but a true, die-hard belief). These trucks may be everywhere in NYC. Yet they still can be tricky to track down, and tend to go into immediate hiding when it rains.
  • Bring a water bottle. Or else you will stumble across a slush truck when you meant to save room for whoopie pies, drink your slush way too quickly and get many a brain freeze.
  • Make sure your planned hop doesn’t coincide with some big event where all the food trucks will be. This past weekend, there was nary a food truck in sight because they were all hanging out at the Vendy Awards, the Oscars of Food Trucks.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Living Large September 29, 2011 at 9:22 am

There are many, many advantages to living in the country, but one of the disadvantages – the lack of food trucks! :) I should have tracked one down when I was in NYC this spring. You bet if I go next year, I will look up your list!

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wino September 30, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Interesting. I have always been leary of food trucks – sanitation. The food look great, but always a little concerned.

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Casey Barber Casey Barber October 2, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Wino, good question on the sanitation issue. Things used to be pretty dicey and self-regulating with food carts (I mean, I STILL wouldn’t eat a hot dog from a street vendor and I eat a lot of things), but regulations and legislation have become much more strict in the big cities as gourmet food trucks proliferate.

In LA, for example, food trucks are held to the same letter grade standards as restaurants, and that system may soon be coming to NYC too.

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