Competition | February 2011 | By Daniel P. Smith

America’s Top 20 Food Trucks

The mobile concepts you should be watching.

The day of the roach coach is dead.

With their innovative flair, pop culture allure, and culinary exploits, food trucks have become one of the restaurant industry’s most en vogue, recession-thumping trends.

Arriving as much from consumer interest as practical economic considerations, the street food fervor spurred a rush of inventive food trucks. Some truck leaders boast lofty culinary credentials; others pair an entrepreneurial spirit with homemade sass. Some source local ingredients and share a socially conscious message; others carry dynamic exterior designs and even some shock value. Most maintain an active social media presence, often alerting customers by way of Twitter or Facebook, while all have garnered attention for their unusual and unexpected addition to America’s foodservice landscape.

Blanketing urban environments on the coasts, led by New York City and Washington, D.C., on the right and Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle on the left, food trucks are increasingly roaming the nation’s streets. QSR went in search of America’s top 20 food trucks and found a scene thriving in spirit and surging in momentum.

First Team All-American

Skillet

Hometown: Seattle
Serving: Modern American cuisine
www.skilletstreetfood.com

Operating a full commercial kitchen inside a 1968 Airstream Safari, Skillet serves 200–300 guests daily, concentrating its efforts in high-density office areas.

The revolving menu keeps Skillet’s offerings fresh and patrons enthusiastic. Popular plates include a coriander-braised duck, cous cous, mint, pickled cucumbers, and baby beets dish for $13 and, for a budget-friendly $8, maple-braised pork belly, cornmeal waffle, fried egg, and braising jus.

“I was tired of the brick-and-mortar style of serving and wanted to create an environment where great food was served in an environment you would normally not get it,” Skillet’s executive chef Joshua Henderson says.

Next: Skillet Diner coming in 2011, as well as nationwide distribution of the operation’s famed bacon jam.

Chef Shack

Hometown: Minneapolis
Serving: Seasonal fare from local family farms
www.chefshack.org

Globetrotting, accomplished chefs Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson created Chef Shack in 2006 to bring street food flair to the Twin Cities—at least from May to October. With two trucks and a trailer, Chef Shack operates at farmers’ markets, a setting that plays to the truck’s local, organic menu.

Chef Shack’s “Bold, Memorable Food” slogan is characterized by two customer favorites: tomato/watermelon gazpacho and organic Indian-spiced mini-donuts, which often spur hour-long lines. Other noteworthy dishes include beef tongue tacos and the pulled pork nachos.

Next: Potential opening of a Chef Shack in the Southeast during winters.

Food Shark

Hometown: Marfa, Texas
Serving: Mediterranean
www.foodsharkmarfa.com

Spotted between a bookstore and railroad tracks, Food Shark’s nondescript location doesn’t stop upward of 200 patrons from finding the celebrated lunch truck Tuesday through Friday and the occasional Saturday.

Now in its fifth year, Food Shark began with the purchase of a 1974 Ford truck, Adam Bork’s desire for a new career, and Krista Steinhauer’s catering experience.

“The rest is history,” Bork says.

Although diners flock to try the falafel with romaine lettuce and homemade hummus, Food Shark’s most ingenious marketing step might have been the conversion of an old school bus into a dining car, a one-of-a-kind creation that limits Mother Nature’s wrath.

Next: Food Shark Museum of Electronic Wonders and Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour, which features Bork’s near 20-year collection of televisions and electronic devices alongside homemade grilled cheese sandwiches.

Coolhaus

Hometown: Austin, Texas, & Los Angeles
Serving: Ice cream sandwiches
www.eatcoolhaus.com

Embracing the nostalgia of the Good Humor Man and cofounder Natasha Case’s architecture roots, Coolhaus has been serving its made-to-order ice cream sandwiches in an edible, customizable wrapper since April 2009.

With three trucks in its fleet, Coolhaus announces its location via Twitter and Facebook. Dedicated fans wait up to two hours for the unusual dessert experience that features such flavors as Dirty Mint (fresh mint leaves, brown sugar, and molasses), Brown Butter Candied Bacon, Pistachio Black Truffle, and Red Wine Reduction.

Next: Expanding to New York City/Brooklyn and the Hamptons with an eye on other metro areas; launching a prepackaged line in a box resembling the Coolhaus truck.

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