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The dearth of food carts and trucks in Boston

After eating burritos from the cart in Back bay station (pretty decent, I should add), my co-workers and I were discussing Boston's lack of food carts and trucks from which to lunch.

Around here, there are 3 in Back bay station (no more arepas though) and a hot dog guy and an ice guy in Copley. That's it.

Not that Boston has to compare itself to NYC, but you could eat lunch a different cart every day for 20 years there. And be quite happy.

Why no carts here?

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  1. I think there are a bunch of carts around MIT and of course, Speed's, Franks, Moe's and one other hot dog cart I'm blanking on.

    What I want is a taco truck, like this ....

    10 Replies
    1. re: yumyum

      My picture wont post. So instead just imagine an old-school camper van painted with a goat's head and signage that says "el cabrito reyes" selling tacos for $1.50

      And then imagine me running behind waving my three bucks.

      1. re: yumyum

        there is one like that in the nashua area. Parks on a side street near a playground. Homemade tortillas, tacos, etc..

        1. re: hargau

          There is a great feature in the New York times magazine from Sunday with the platonic ideal of a taco truck, as well as some recipes for making carne asada (hint: use really cheap meat) salsa and horchata.

          However it is in California where, no doubt, it operates year-round.

      2. re: yumyum

        The food carts around MIT range from passable to awful. I would not recommend any. I would kill for some good food truck food in Boston.

        1. re: stephaniet

          I find the Mexican food truck passable for a quick filling bite to eat, and it's the most consistent of the bunch. I know Gooseberry's often gets long lines, but of the handful of things I've tried, 2 were edible and most were downright disgusting (threw most of it out). If it weren't for the dearth of good, quick ethnic food in that area, I can't imagine they would get any business. Oh how I wish a decent cart/truck would offer bahn mi in the Kendall area. Simple, easy and delicious.

            1. re: jajjguy

              Hey, don't knock it. I lived on that stuff for 9 years, that was all I could afford! Even nowadays, when back in the hood, I will stop by for some of their Banh Mi sandwich.

          1. re: stephaniet

            Don't forget the new(ish) Clover food truck! It's way beyond passable if you ask me.

            1. re: Jesseve

              Clover is pretty good, but like many veg places, too much of the menu is artificial meat substitute instead of good ol' tasty vegetables.

              1. re: the modern serf

                The last two times I visited Clover, of the 4-5 menu items at lunch, only one was seitan. I chose the falafel and then the eggplant, both tasty and yummy. Why would this be "too much meat substitute"? And even seitan of course is natural - it's not exactly chemically made or processed.

                I think Clover is a fabulous addition to the MIT cart scene. They have veggie dishes, as well as heartier options for those who want more protein in their meal.

        2. There's a burrito cart and a middle eastery-y looking cart I've been meaning to try, both in Downtown Crossing.

          2 Replies
          1. re: SaraASR

            I've tried the burrito cart (Hererra's) and wasn't impressed at all. I got a carnitas burrito w/rice, beans, salsa, guac and hot sauce and paid $7.80. I will say that the guac was better than Anna's, but the meat lacked flavor and the rice was on the oily side. It was worth $4.50 tops. I haven't been back.

            1. re: Chrispy75

              Herrera's started out as a cart..10-15 years ago. I think they've gone downhill since opening the store on Temple St.

              I keep meaning to retry them; but always decide on something else. Burrito Express on Bedford..around the corner from Kingston Station is very good.

              If the Middle Eastery cart you're referring to is Karo's, it's very good

          2. I don't have any hard facts, but I bet the area makes it way too expensive (w/licensing, etc.)

            Was nearly a year ago when I went on the JP Crawl, and we discovered Madego's cart. At that time, he had some really good meat patties (empanadas?) for only $1 each. Fredid said that he's in front of Mozart's Park (I'm not familiar w/JP).

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/432652

            Does anyone know if he's still there? (mmm - now I'm craving empanadas!)

            1. There's a little pastelito cart that sets up in JP, on Centre St by Hyde Square. Along with various empanadas, I think they also sell flavored ices, and best of all, fresh mangos, carved in hedgehog fashion with chili powder!

              1. There's also often a hot dog cart by the Porter Square T.

                1. Good info on where some carts hide ....

                  But I still wish I could walk out my office door and have 20 to choose from for lunch.

                  Copley would be a great location for this, IMO.

                  I imagine it does have something to do with licensing.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    Maybe we should start a petition to City Hall. I wish Meditteraneo would come back as a food truck/cart.

                    1. re: avial

                      A Meditteraneo cart would make me sooooo happy. They did a nice veggie or chix pita sandwich that was perfect after the gym. Sigh.

                      1. re: bostonbroad

                        I agree. The veggie pita w/the yogurt sauce and warm flatbread. YUM.

                        1. re: conbon

                          I took a peek at the site of the new Zo and it seems to be claiming to be a reincarnation of Meditteraneo... anyone want to confirm?

                          http://zoboston.com/

                          1. re: content

                            Tough assignment; but I'll try to confirm next week..:)

                            I know the previous owner of Meditteraneo had reopened somewhere on the South Shore but it would be nice if he was back.

                    2. re: C. Hamster

                      Staff at some local restaurants in the Back Bay used to tell me that the local neighborhood association was quite strict with granting permits for vendors/restaurants to even offer take-out. They didn't think it "fit the neighborhood" and was concerned with pile up of trash. I don't know if they've loosened up a bit in the last 3-4 years.

                      As for Boston, there were a few carts in downtown decades ago, but I find the space and the streets to be so narrow here that carts would probably not fit well (plus the crowds they might gather). Some successful carts like Chacarero and the burrito joint whose name I can't remember all grew to have storefronts so there have been some success stories.

                      1. re: kobuta

                        Yes, downtown sidewalks are far narrower than in most of Manhattan and the spillover onto the street by pedestrians would be a hazard. Also, many of the property lines extend well into the sidewalks. Boston's downtown has been adapted to modernity, but it's rather different than other places it may resemble.

                        1. re: kobuta

                          The Back Bay info is exactly right. Recently there were articles in the Globe about the hot dog vendor in Copley Square. Back Bay limited the number of carts allowed and a large operator had snapped up all of the permits, preventing any independent carts from entering.

                          Carts in front of any building need permission from the building's owner to stay there. The Downtown Crossing carts are currently operating on Macy's goodwill (and some elbowing from the Mayor). Many of them wind up on public land.

                          Inspections and licensing are also factors, but they're not worse than places like New York.

                      2. We also have a shorter outdoor eating season than most of the rest of the country, while NYC might be able to do March to November, our season could be consistent only from late April/May to October, at least to justify a higher number than what we've already got, IMHO.

                        Ditto on the neighborhood and narrow sidewalk comments. Now imagine standing in a barely melted slush puddle on our narrow, sloppily shoveled sidewalks, a burrito and not even a newspaper box on which to rest your coffee. Burrito juice all over your scarf as you clumsily peel the wrapper with your heavy gloves. . .

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sailormouth

                          ... as Menino pulls up in his SUV splashing the gutter puddle onto you and your burrito, gets out, skips the line, gets back into his vehicle, and peels away kicking up road sand. :)

                        2. I noticed this a while after arriving from Portland. I was expecting a bevy of options as Boston is more ethnically diverse, or at least ethnically pronounced. It wouldn't be fair for me to be disappointed, but my wallet sure is. By comparison, we have about 50 carts in the 3 square miles of downtown, although many creep over the sidewalk into parking areas.. I miss my chow :(

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: twitchology

                            Take comfort. Some of those NYC wagons feature AWFUL food. About half of the ones I sampled for a good decade at Sixth Ave. and 52nd were horrible . Go have a nice, fragrant burger at Audubon and count your blessings.

                            1. re: SSqwerty

                              I ate at the carts for years in NYC and thought they were wonderful. Daisy Mae's BBQ for their Texas chili and brisket, Hallo Berlin for wursts and sauerkraut, Dragonas for terrific charcoal grilled chicken/steak salads, Jamaican Dutchy for jerk & platains, Kwik Meal for Lamb over rice, the pizza truck, Miriam's falafel, Indian, even dessert trucks.

                              Boston could easily handle an area for food cart vendors on existing public space in both the Back Bay (across from the library) and Financial District (the wasteland that is City Hall Plaza, downtown crossing, the greenway, etc. This town is too set in its ways though, so I'm not holding my breath...

                              1. re: JoeM

                                Back Bay would be a great spot, but the snootiness factor in that area won't allow for food carts in the heavily trafficked areas, which is where a cart would thrive. 'd love to see City Hall make use of that space with food carts, but the space is also used a lot for rallies, and other types of events, so it would mean clearing out all vendors on those days or giving up that space. Considering that space is premium in downtown, I don't think they'd go that route. Plus you have Faneuil Hall steps away that has food carts. I don't think this has anything to do with Bostonians not wanting food carts though.

                          2. Quick note, just because they're not mentioned often but might be useful: Harvard square T-stop has a dog/sausage cart (inside) as well as a very popular fresh fruit smoothie cart (all the way inside).

                            1. Basically, there are a *hitload more people per square mile in Manhattan at lunch time. You don't see a lot of carts in Prtland, Nashua, Albany, Providence, etc. It's all about your potential market.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: AHan

                                Comparing Boston to Nashua in the context of this discussion seems odd, sorry.

                                I'm sure we have a cart or two more than they do in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, too.

                                That doesn't mean that the eatership here couldn't support a boatload more. We could.

                              2. I would put another shout-out to "Karo's BBQ" - the cart on Washington Street Plaza (the area where Washington Street ends at State St. on one side and Government Center Plaza on the other side). They do grilled chicken kabobs - can get them solo, in a sub roll, or over three different size Greek-ish salads (ish because they do not contain olives, but you get crumbled feta and Greek-style creamy dressing.) Iceburg lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, green peppers, red onions, hot peppers are the options - the produce is always very fresh and they do a pretty brisk business. When the construction crews were going at the nearby hotel renovation, there were days they closed up early because they ran out of chicken. The chicken is always very decent, nice flavor to the marinade and grilled right there. A medium salad with chicken (and a side of ok pita bread) is $5.75 - Buck a can for sodas. Give it a shot.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                  I just gave Karo's a try for the first time and was quite impressed. The chicken and sauce were quite tasty, and $5.50 for a sandwich that size is good for downtown.

                                  Might be adding it in to my lunch rotation

                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                    I like Karo's too. They also have a cart in Downtown Xing..between Macy's and the old Filene's building

                                  2. There is now Jack and the Bean Bowl near Copley. Despite the hideous (and I mean HIDEOUS) name, I gather the food is good.

                                    Heathermb went today --> http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/620113

                                    After watching Greg sweat inside the speed's wagon a few weeks ago, I'm not so sure about my whole fish taco truck idea. That seems like real hard work! I'm still following the Clover Foods folks .. I think they are on to something with their wagon. (Note to Slim: they have popovers in the mornings. Add em to your database.)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: yumyum

                                      Funny, I had imminent plans to hit the Clover truck (by which I mean visit it).

                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/