Remember when curbside dining consisted of run-of-the-mill hot dogs and tacos? These days, you're more likely to find street food vendors rolling out local, organic ingredients and upscale meals as delectable as anything you'd order in a restaurant. The new generation of mobile eateries—a growing number of them exclusively vegetarian—uses Facebook and Twitter to let you know where they roam, making it easy to track down their super-cheap eats. But before you hit the road, read on for our favorite meat-free trucks, trailers, carts, vans, and stands. At least one of them is bound to be parked in your neck of the woods.
Off the Griddle
OPENED September 2010
WORD ON THE STREET It's hard to imagine a more sustainable veggie burger venture: Ashley Arthur and Dan Harding found this cart half-dilapidated in an Idaho pasture and refurbished it using only eco-friendly materials, including upcycled cabinet doors for their signs, and rooftop solar panels. (They're working on a human-powered bike generator too.) The couple serves vegan and vegetarian twists on such American classics as bacon cheeseburgers and BLTs, with homemade pickles and sauces, and they recycle and compost everything possible. Instead of selling bottled water, they offer a free tap water bottle refilling station. The cart is parked in a food cart "pod" that's covered and heated in winter, and has a stage where bands play twice a month.
BEST BITE Smokey Bleu Burger: leek-mushroom-rice burger piled with caramelized barbecue tempeh bacon, vegan blue cheese, fresh spinach, and sliced red onion, served on a whole-grain bun
OPENED July 2009
WORD ON THE STREET The Counter Culture trailer looks a bit like an old-timey diner—complete with shiny wraparound counter and bar stool—but you won't find typical greasy spoon food here. An experienced chef who worked at top vegetarian restaurants in Los Angeles before moving to Austin, Sue Davis makes salads and sandwiches from scratch (including time-intensive seitan in her cheesesteaks), adding soups in winter and raw foods in summer. Nearby, you can chow down at picnic tables set up under the shade of a giant tree. In true diner style, Davis encourages you to get comfortable, occasionally screening documentary films, hosting vegan meet-up groups, and inviting bands to play during block parties and special events.
BEST BITE Philly Seitan: made-from-scratch seitan topped with cashew cheese, grilled onions, and green peppers, served on a whole-wheat bun
The Cinnamon Snail
Hoboken and Red Bank, N.J.; New York
OPENED February 2010
WORD ON THE STREET Not only does chef/owner Adam Sobel change the menu at his bright-red truck every few months, he waits until the wee hours of the morning to decide what kinds of doughnuts, cookies, and cinnamon-y pastries to bake fresh every day. (He named Cinnamon Snail after the literal translation of kanelsnegle, the Danish word for "cinnamon buns.") Sobel also serves vegan breakfast and lunch options made from local, organic, heirloom produce, and offers catering for special events and weddings—vegan wedding cake included. A sponsor of Farm Sanctuary, his truck has raised more than $3,000 for the farm animal protection organization.
BEST BITE Ginger Island Grilled Tofu: tofu served over coconut-mashed yams and greens, with grilled mango salsa, fried ginger, and spiced, candied pecans
Irvine, Calif.; other parts of Orange County
OPENED June 2010
WORD ON THE STREET Named after chef/owner Stephanie Morgan's childhood nickname—a nod to her lifelong love of the beach—Seabirds aims to re-create Southern California street food staples, such as tacos, nachos, and burgers, with a healthier veg edge. Morgan developed a passion for cooking after going vegan four years ago; she uses seasonal, organic produce whenever possible and builds relationships with nearby farms, spotlighting regulars on her Web site. In addition to her own creations, she sells vegan cupcakes and raw, gluten-free desserts from local purveyors.
BEST BITE Jerk Jackfruit Taco: grilled and seasoned jackfruit topped with cilantro, onion, and green salsa on corn tortillas
Follow the Fleet
10 more food trucks to put on your radar
Long before the street food craze hit Los Angeles, Franken Stand's Ray Groves was hawking tofu-based brats, franks, and sausages outside clubs and bars all over the city. His cart offers creative hot dog toppings like cilantro and vegan mayo.
Sri Lankan chef/owner Thiru "Dosa Man" Kumar won top honors at the 2007 Vendy Awards—a competition featuring New York's street food vendors—so you can bet his lentil-and-rice crêpes packed with potatoes and veggies are worth the wait.
Inspired by falafel she tasted in the Netherlands, Gail Lillian began selling her own back home in San Francisco. But ordinary stuffed pita pockets these are not: Lillian makes gourmet toppings like Olive-Orange Relish with Thyme from scratch.
Green Pirate Juice Truck
Brooklyn musician Deborah C. Smith's juice bar runs on biodiesel fuel and sources produce from local farmers, making her fresh-squeezed fruit and veggie juices and blended smoothies even sweeter. Short on cash? She'll trade juices for fresh produce and mix CDs.
Jeff Ridabock smokes all kinds of protein-packed goodies—tofu, tempeh, vegan meatloaf—but his homemade rubs and sauces are what make this barbecue cart shine. Ridabock lures nearby Portland State University students using Oregon white oak and apple wood smoking chips.
Clover Fast Food
Boston; Cambridge, Mass.
An MIT grad who left his consulting job to take healthy veg fast food to the streets, Ayr Muir posts nutritionals and ingredients on his truck's Web site, so you can find out what's in favorites such as the Egg and Eggplant sandwich.
Washington; Arlington, Va.
Big Cheese's Patrick Rathbone uses breads from a local bakery and organic artisan cheeses, but he'll sub in Daiya vegan cheese if you ask. And because no grilled cheese is complete without tomato soup, Rathbone sells small and large bowls.
The Vegan Food Truck
Chicago; Milwaukee, Wis.
Vegan-cheese makers Laviyah and Nahum St. Martin cook veg versions of pub classics like ribs and wings to deliver throughout Chicago. Because the city prohibits onboard food prep, they make everything in advance and take orders on the road.
Growing up, Rishi Dhir had trouble finding cheap, nutritious veg food, so when he opened this truck, he made sure to include meal-worthy salads and smoothies alongside his signature hot wraps. Plus, nothing on the menu tops $5.
Like No Udder
Providence, R.I., area
sCraving vegan soft-serve ice cream? Like No Udder's Karen Krinsky sells this hard-to-find delicacy in chocolate and vanilla, plus assorted frozen lemonades and shakes, from a purple, polka-dotted van.