That’s the label given to the numerous food carts and trucks that are ever-present on the streets of Manhattan….
Which is unfortunate, as we were to soon find out.
On my first visit to Manhattan in February, I stayed clear of the food carts and trucks, due to this hugely unappetizing label…and yet…I couldn’t help but notice the delicious smells wafting from their locations, but also the tempting sights of their offerings…as well as the long lines of patrons waiting impatiently for their food.
Perhaps they deserved a closer look.
With this in mind, I began doing research…and found a hugely popular tour called “Midtown Food Truck & Cart Walking Tour.” This was offered by Sidewalks of NY Tours, and it was ranked an impressive #10 out of 413 activities in NYC on TripAdvisor…also earning a 2013 Certificate of Excellence. For a three-hour tour, our cost was $144 (plus a $9 ticket fee).
We met up with our tour guide, Josh, at a midtown location…he handed us each a cool bottle of water, and we waited a few short minutes for others to join our group. Eventually, our group was formed – approximately ten or so of us – and we were off.
Yup...doesn't Daughter look excited while waiting for the tour to start??!!
While walking to our first destination, Josh explained some of the history and legal requirements behind the Food Truck & Cart Industry. Contrary to popular belief, the industry is HUGELY regulated – by several agencies, including departments of Health, Sanitation, Transportation, and Consumer Affairs. There’s a long list of laws, such as, they can’t sell food if they’re parked in a metered space…or if they’re within 20 feet of a business’s front door…or within 500 feet of a public market…etc.
Food Truck & Cart Class on the streets of Manhattan....
The city has capped the number of licenses given out to 3,000 (plus an additional 1,000 more from April to October), and these licenses are costly. As far as cleanliness, I need not have worried – we learned that by law, EVERY SINGLE food cart and truck must visit a licensed commissary each day, where mandated cleaning and inspection services are done. You’re more likely to find roaches at the brick-and-mortar restaurants than the food carts and trucks.
So...off to our first cart. We walked up to 6th Avenue – and much to our surprise – the entire street was blocked off due to a parade that was JUST getting ready to come marching down. We needed to cross this avenue, and so we were frantically running up the avenue, trying to get ahead of the parade marchers, so that we could safely cross to the other side.
Of course, running down the avenue just made my sore feet THAT much happier.
I never would have envisioned myself trying to outrun a parade on the streets of NYC. Oh, the joy.
Eventually, we were far enough ahead of the marchers that the NYC police allowed us to cross the street…and we soon arrived at our first destination, Biryani Cart:
Biryani Cart has been on the corner of 46th Street and 6th Avenue for many years, and they were the People’s Choice Award winner at both the 2008 and 2009 Vendy Awards (which are like the Academy Awards for food carts and trucks). Josh stepped up to the cart and ordered everyone a chicken Kati roll:
A Kati roll is street food originating from India…it consists of a filling rolled up in any kind of Indian flatbread…sort of an Indian burrito, actually. I was skeptical at this point. I am not a huge fan of Indian food, so I was a bit concerned...but I decided to be a good sport and dig in, no matter what. We stood on the street corner, as in true New York fashion, and dug in:
Daughter has no skepticism...she goes for the gusto.
Oh. My. God.
It was scrumptious and delicious and flavorful and spicy and aromatic and so on and so on and so on.
We could EASILY see why this cart has been a People’s Choice award winner. Especially when you think you can get TWO of those rolls - for a whopping $6.00. What a deal.
We then headed a few short blocks to our second destination, Kwik Meal:
Kwik Meal, located near the corner of 45th Street and 6th Avenue, was the People's Choice Vendy award winner in 2007. The owner, Mohammad Rahman, was a sous chef at the Four Seasons, and knows his stuff.
Kwik Meal is also one of the only carts that serves real lamb. Almost every street cart that serves “lamb” is using the processed gyro meat that comes on a spit and they slice off in thin strips. Kwik Meal serves pieces of real lamb, which obviously costs more, but is worth it.
Here, Josh ordered us the lamb biryani...biryani is a rice-based dish with spices and meat:
This was definitely spicy, as the sauce had a bit of habanero - but very tasty. We were given half-portions, but a full portion of this would cost $9.00:
Still...a heck of a deal in NYC....!
We then began walking towards Times Square...where we had our third stop:
Rickshaw Dumpling Truck is located RIGHT in the heart of Times Square - so I would imagine they do a brisk business. They've been a finalist in the Vendy Awards, and they're a definite crowd favorite.
Seriously...RIGHT in the heart of Times Square...can you imagine their sales??!!
Here, we were treated to the pork and Chinese chive dumpling:
Up close and personal with my dumpling....
Hubby checks his out....
My little trouper...she is always game for anything!
We found these very tasty...I imagine the soy dipping sauce would really enhance the flavor. Three of these will cost $3.75 (prices are a bit inflated due to their location)...and six will cost $6.50.
Josh then walked the group south a few blocks to the subway station - as it was time to head downtown to Soho for our two and final stops. This was our actual first time on the Subway, and my feet were singing "Hallelujah!" while we buzzed a few dozen blocks south.
We popped up in the SoHo district, where we walked to our fourth stop, TriBeCa Taco Truck:
This truck was located near Broadway and Spring Street, in the beautiful - and unique SoHo area - NOT in the TriBeCa district, as is their name. I know. Confused me, too. Anyway, while Josh ordered our food, we took a few minutes to admire the cast-iron buildings around us that SoHo is famous for:
We also had some deep Mother/Daughter talks...I guess...as I am not sure what is going on in this picture:
After a short wait, Josh handed us our tacos:
Huge! And each one will run you about $3.00....
Our verdict on this: good, tasty and filling...and not your usual taco. Two of these would make a perfect, delicious lunch.
By now, we'd had spicy, salty, and seasoned...I was REALLY craving some sweet. Josh delivered. He took us to our final stop, Nuchas, for some dessert empanadas:
Although we were in the SoHo area, note that Nuchas has a permanent kiosk located right next to Rickshaw Dumpling Bar in Times Square...that's good to know if you want a good dessert empanada.
Here, we had an apple, cranberry and Nutella empanada:
You had me at Nutella....
It may have been last, but it was worth the wait. I loved the way the fruit bounced off the nuttiness of the Nutella...and the pastry was the perfect touch. Yum. Yum. Yum.
All in all, we REALLY enjoyed this tour - as did everyone on it, based on the feedback I was hearing. Josh was the perfect host - taking time to individually talk to each of us, to insure that we were enjoying ourselves, as well as giving us all the tidbits and trivia we needed for the NYC Food Cart/Truck scene. He answered our questions and queries, and told little anecdotes that kept our interest...which was tough, I'm sure, when it was SUCH a hot and humid day.
I'm sure that Josh mixes up this tour a bit, so don't be surprised if your stops & food offerings differ... if it's one thing we learned, it's that the trucks and carts change - and move - constantly. Flexibility is the key here, for sure.
We walked away from this tour confident in our knowledge that the food carts are completely safe...and actually have some pretty darned good, delicious food - and affordable, as well.
It was soon time to say goodbye to Josh, and walk a few blocks over to where our third tour of the day would be soon starting.
What a sweetheart...LOVED him!
My tummy was certainly happy...my feet? Not so much. And we now had a three-hour graffiti and street art tour to look forward to.