I have always had a love for trucks.
Not like the Hess truck. I always that was kind of gay. Especially compared to Megazords and shit.
No, I had a love for food trucks.
Growing up in New York, you are given agency at an early age. From 13, I was given a limited but free weekly MetroCard by my school and spending money from my parents. Unlike my dork-a-tron cousins in the suburbs, this meant I could go and do whatever I wanted.
I mean as long as I didn’t stay out past 6. And if my parents could reach me at all times. And if I had enough money since I got about 5-10 dollars a day.
Given the abysmal quality of cafeteria food, I would sometimes sneakily sojourn from my school’s Bay Ridge campus in search of eats and also to get away from the people I didn’t really talk to, pretty much ever.
Such searching, especially on the subway rides home, would bring me to interesting places that gave me a hearty meal for the money involved.
It was in these early days that I discovered the midtown Pizza truck on the east side near Grand Central, a result of the abysmal quality and high price of food among the towering office buildings. The Pizza truck served me my then favorite food, Chicken Parmesan, on a homemade garlic-bread roll with a side of sauce for 5 bucks flat. They even somehow had found a way to fit the big Baker’s Pride pizza-ovens into their truck giving the food that right degree of pizza-toastiness.
From my nerdy friends at another high-school-era sanctuary of mine, the game store, I also heard about a place that is no big secret: The 53rd St Cart. People at the store would talk about it in mythical terms. Disparaging the other, lesser carts around it, they would simply ask whether anyone wanted “Cart” and thus the quest would begin to the F train and up, up to the Cart, a halal chicken/lamb operation which was only open from 8pm-4am at night and at any point would have a line of no less than 10.
Towards the end of high school, following successive visits to the Red Iguana in Salt Lake City, Utah, I developed a serious addiction for Mexican food that went mostly unsated in New York. The cheap Mexican places in New York are for the most part and inexplicably run by ambiguous Asians, while Mexicans and South Americans are visible at nearly every other restaurant in New York. The closest I found for a while was the Calexico Cart over on Wooster and Prince, which back then was out of the way in snobby SoHo, which now, ironically, is where I live.
There you could get a cal-mex (as the name implies) Burrito for 7 bucks, 8 with guacamole and if you were especially lucky, they would have a special meat like Chicken Mole, which, while in no way rivaling the 12 mole varieties of the Red Iguana, provided some comfort that someone in New York City though Mole was not just a burrowing animal. They now no longer have it though and have expanded their operation as their popularity has grown to become more generic.
Finally, now that I near the end of college and the economy has gone to all hell, suddenly trucks are back in fashion. There was the Dessert Truck, which provided delicious haute-restaurant-quality desserts before going MIA from its perch in front of Weinstein dormitory. There are the Mexican trucks round the Village subway stops which provide terrible burritos but excellent $1.50 tamales with chicken, fried sweet peppers and cheese wrapped inside greasy corn masa. Even lackluster Rickshaw dumplings (which I admit still has an occasional place in my heart) has hit the street seeking customers.
These trucks, which an ex-not-girlfriend told me are called “roach coaches” in LA, do not provide low-quality food, but rather exemplify the thrill of New York. When I worked in Vermont, I had to fight to get a ride 15 miles to the next town with a non-American restaurant. When I went out to dinner with a client of my father’s and recommended and Indian restaurant, he told me that he’d never tried Indian food but he had eaten some Chinese “which is close, isn’t it?”. New York is a place where you can have a Breakfast Burrito in the morning, Thai for lunch and an Israeli falafel with all the trimmings for dinner and send 15 dollars or less on it all.
So why not get it on the street, where you can appreciate the wonder of where you are and feel cock-sure in the potential of your belly to be full of deliciousness momentarily.
THE PIZZA TRUCK
47th St bet Madison and Park. Hours 12pm-3pm approx. weekdays
4567S to 42st-Grand Central
SW Corner of 53rd and 6th. Hours 8pm-4am daily.
BDFV to 47th-50th
THE CALEXICO CART
NE Corner of Wooster and Prince. Hours 12pm-4pm approx weekdays. NB: They do not come out in inclement weather.
R to Prince St
THE DESSERT TRUCK
MIA. Formerly on University Pl bet. 8th and Waverly.
TACOS EL IDOLO (MEXICAN TRUCKS)
Best: NE Corner of 14th and 8th, 8pm-4am weekends. NE Corner of West 3rd and 6th, 7pm-3am approx daily.
OK: Sheridan Square near the Christopher St 1 Train. 8pm-8am approx daily.
RICKSHAW DUMPLING TRUCK
Corner of West 4th and 7th in front of Chase Bank. 6pm-12am approx daily.
1 to Christopher St. ACEBDFV to West 4.