Competition | February 2011 | By Daniel P. Smith

America’s Top 20 Food Trucks

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Spencer on the Go!

Hometown: San Francisco
Serving: Alternative French cuisine
www.spenceronthego.com

Spencer on the Go! results from the intersection of high-end culinary expertise and an honest entrepreneurial moment. Chef Laurent Katgely, the force behind San Francisco’s distinguished Chez Spencer, was eating at a taco truck when inspiration struck. Within months, Katgely had a truck and a parking spot in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood and was serving French take-away, a rare street-fare find given French cuisine’s formal nature.

Katgely’s specialties, which have been featured on The Food Network, TLC, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, include escargot lollipops, frog legs, lobster salads, and lamb cheeks sandwiches.

Next: “Who knows,” Katgely says.

Mmmpanadas

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Serving: Empanadas
www.mmmpanadas.com

Since early 2008, Mmmpanadas has dazzled Austin diners with more than a dozen pocket-size, handmade empanadas, including favorites such as green chile chicken, spinach mushroom (with goat cheese and pine nuts), and pumpkin.

Seeking an effective marketing tool for their empanadas, husband and wife cofounders Cody and Kristen Fields landed upon a mobile unit as the perfect option. They saw it as a dramatic, moving red billboard that would drive attention to the truck and prompt a trial of the ultraportable empanada, which Kristine describes as “the perfect street food.”

Next: Whole Foods’ Southwest Region will soon be carrying Mmmpanadas. “Our ultimate goal,” Kristen says, “is wholesale domination.”

Fojol Bros. of Merlindia

Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Serving: Indian with flair
www.fojol.com

Few operations embrace street fare’s fun-loving ways more than Fojol Bros. of Merlindia, where workers don flashy turbans and fake mustaches while serving Indian food from the fictional location of Merlindia. (Actually, the food comes from a local, though closely guarded, Indian restaurant.)

Described as a traveling culinary carnival, Fojol Bros. made its reputation at lunchtime. Since the truck’s debut on President Obama’s inauguration day in January 2009, Fojol Bros. has sparked a following for its buttered chicken (white meat with a butter cream sauce), spicy chicken curry, and pumpkin with fresh coconut and red chiles.

Next: A second truck, the Fojol Bros. of Benethiopia, seeks to make inroads with Ethiopian fare.

Streetza

Hometown: Milwaukee
Serving: Pizza
www.streetza.com

A never-stop-innovating mindset sparked a devoted following for Streetza’s specialty pies, including seasonal favorites such as the savory pumpkin pizza, crab leg pizza, and s’mores pizza. Streetza, launched in May 2009 out of a converted postal truck, can serve hundreds of slices in minutes—a definitive operational advantage.

Just as innovative as its menu, however, is Streetza’s customer relations. Involving customers in choosing the truck’s location (an iPhone app functions as a polling mechanism), exterior design, and pizza toppings, Streetza fashions a story that’s “not only about us, but about them,” says cofounder Scott Baitinger.

“If enough people ask us to come to their neighborhood, we do,” he says.

Next: Plans for 20 trucks to be operating by spring.

Dim and Den Sum

Hometown: Cleveland
Serving: American comfort food with Asian flair
www.dimanddensum.com

Few think of Cleveland as a culinary hotbed, but Dim and Den Sum is working to change that. While truck cofounder Chris Hodgson initially planned to roam Boston’s streets, partner Jeremy Esterly suggested they take their act to Cleveland, where food trucks are rare.

With the exception of its signature PBLT (pulled pork, house-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and sirachi mayo), Dim and Den Sum changes its budget-conscious menu weekly, an exhaustive task that keeps service fun, flavorful, and seasonal.

“We passionately love food and people and love being out on the streets … serving our crazy ideas,” Hodgson says of the truck, which frequents markets and high-traffic areas around Cleveland and Akron.

Next: A Dim and Den Sum restaurant in May along with another truck.

Maximus/Minimus

Hometown: Seattle
Serving: American favorites
www.maximus-minimus.com

Trolling around the streets of Seattle in a pig-shaped food truck—arguably the nation’s coolest-looking truck—Maximus/Minimus captures visual attention. Yet it’s the truck’s savory food that reels in customers.

The signature dish, a pulled pork sandwich, comes in Maximus, slightly spicy with hints of chipotle, or Minimus, a sweet-tinged offering with hints of tamarind and molasses. The locally sourced menu also features slaws, a grilled chicken sandwich, mac and cheese, and a seasonal dessert.

While the iron-colored truck roams local farmers’ markets, little league games, and pro sporting events, it’s the truck’s catering duties that take precedence.

Next: Potential menu changes to add variety.

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