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What's the appeal of food trucks?

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It's hard not to notice the popularity -- or more precisely, the frenzy -- over food trucks.

These are just some of the stories ...

http://www.gq.com/food-travel/restaur...

http://www.gq.com/food-travel/restaur...

My question is what exactly is the appeal of food trucks?

Wouldn't one presume that food made out of a full-scale kitchen (i.e. a restaurant) would be better than one made from the back of a truck?

And food trucks aren't really about convenience, at least not these. You actually have to follow these guys around on twitter and then when you locate them, the lines are usually at least 30 to an hour long in wait time.

Back in the day, we used to affectionely call food trucks "roach coaches" ...

But I guess times are different nowadays.

So how did food trucks go from gauche to haute?

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  1. This certainly didn't hurt:

    http://streetvendor.org/vendys/

    1. If you have ever tasted a Frank Dog from "Lets Be Frank" or a Carne asada taco or Churro tots from Border Grill's truck, you would not ask this question

      1. I really don't seek out food truck vendors because I think it will be an incredible experience for me, but rather I do because it's convenient, I'm hungry and I like to support the little guys.

        I'm in suburbia, so the food truck vendors mostly carry breakfast items, hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches.....no tacos, schnitzel, roast chickens, fried chicken or seafood like the city streets.

        1. I think a lot of your basic questions are wrong. Let's see ...

          "Wouldn't one presume that food made out of a full-scale kitchen (i.e. a restaurant) would be better than one made from the back of a truck?" -- No. Using the same logic, the food that comes out of a big hotel kitchen would be better than that at your neighborhood bistro. There are lots of really good restaurants that have tiny, limited, kitchens. What makes food good is not where it's prepared or the equipment that's used, it's the quality of the ingredients and the degree of attention that's given to conceiving and executing the dish.

          "Back in the day, we used to affectionely call food trucks "roach coaches" ..." My recollection is that the traditional "roach coach" wasn't preparing food to order. It had premade sandwiches, breakfast pastries and snacks, and maybe some hot dogs in a water bath, but again, the only similarity between a "roach coach" and one of these modern mobile food vendors is that they're mobile.

          "My question is what exactly is the appeal of food trucks?"

          One thing that's made these upscale food trucks popular with both the owners and the patrons is the fact that there's a much more personal connection between the person preparing the food and the patron. Often the person who hands you the food is the person who made it, who is probably the chef/owner, and you can give him feedback on the spot. The appeal to chef/owners is being independent and creative and innovative without the hassle (and financial risk) of running a full-scale restaurant. I'm guessing the profit margins are pretty high: they're charging similar prices to what they'd charge in a bricks-and-mortar place, but with much less overhead and fewer hours. I don't know why people wait for long periods of time -- I don't wait that long for anything. But there's certainly an appeal to getting high-quality food without having to go into a restaurant, sit down, order, leave a tip, etc. Furthermore, while most people wouldn't go into a restaurant and just order a $2 dessert, you don't feel silly/uncomfortable/wasting time making a small purchase from a mobile vendor.

          Those are just a few reasons.

          1. I'm not exactly an ardent follower of food trucks, but there is a taco truck that I pass several times a week that has very well made tacos at a good price, and that is why I buy a quick merienda from that truck from time to time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MMRuth

              We have taco trucks around here, and most of them serve a great taco, burrito, etc...., better in their unique way than many restaurant varieties (though I do love a good restaurant taco, they just aren't quite the same dish) They serve meat on two small, soft masa tortillas, and topped with chopped cilantro and onions, sometimes a little cooked salsa, with a lemon or lime to squeeze over top. So far I cannot find any taco at a sit-down restaurant that hits the spot (^__^)

            2. IOW, "What's wrong with things I don't like?"

              1. Does food from a full-scale restaurant kitchen just taste better than the same food from a truck? Maybe theoretically it can, but if we accept that ‘taste’ is a matter of intangible perceptions, and not objective quality, then to me food just tastes better from a truck. I love eating standing outside or leaning on a counter, watching people go by. To me, eating a greasy sandwich or carrying a pizza while walking down a crowded street, is what urban living is all about. Also there is the way a humble truck or stand can bring different demographics together in a way no other food venue can. You are not gonna meet councilmen, street sweepers, construction workers, lawyers, computer engineers, poor students, cops and robbers, waiting in line at Alinea. But you might see all of these in the same line at Jim’s Original.

                1. I don't really get the whole food truck thing either. Generally the better places have long lines and you've got to follow them. If I wanted to eat something standing outside, I would just pick something up at a brick and mortar place and get it to go.

                  1. 10 years ago I was a poor college student with morning labs, afternoon internships and evening jobs so food trucks helped to feed me in those 30 minutes I had to get from Point A to Point B at a price I could afford. And often the trucks served great food, so even when my income started creeping up, I still stopped by the trucks when I needed something on the run. So for me, trucks are a practical love affair. There are, of course, those who are looking to eat trendy food in a trendy way. In another economy, that might have been the multi-course molecular gastronomy of Alinea. Right now, however, a delicious $4 taco served by a soul-patched hipster is a little easier to digest.

                    1. Food trucks are just starting where I live, there's really only one. They serve food I can't get anywhere else, extremely quickly, and very affordably. If I want similar "foodie" type food, I typically have to invest at least my entire lunch hour, usually plus time for getting there and back, waiting to be served, waiting for the check, waiting to pay, etc., and pay for a tip on top of it. 1.5 hours and 3x as much money as just go to the cart, grab a sandwich and leave. Eat in the sun, or take it back to my desk. The culture where I work is a "grab lunch, bring back to your desk" not "take a 1.5 hour leisurely lunch at a sit-down place" so it's nice to have a quick option that isn't grody, gelatinous sandwiches from the nearby hotel cafeteria's "to go" place or Jimmy John's or something.

                      1. I can see a lot of the appeal of food trucks, but I think the one that jumps out at me most is the fact that you can have a successful truck with a very, very limited menu, a menu that wouldn't sustain a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the long term.

                        1. I just returned from a trip to Austin where I got to experience some of the BEST cuisine I have had in ages (and I live in San Francisco!) out of trailers. I was seriously blown away by the quality and diversity of the cuisine being prepared and served.

                          Living in this food mecca of San Francisco, I had some significantly better food out of trailers in Austin than I have had in upscale restaurants. That alone blew me away.

                          1. The food is not necessarily better. The way to look at it is to put a restaurant and a food truck that both serve, to your taste, the same level of food, side by side. Let's say they are both excellent foods to me. Then the appeal of the food truck to me is the strip down of everything surrounding the cook, the ingredients, the stove, and my mouth. There's the building, the serving staff, the bar, the bathrooms, a kitchen that's stocked to prepare many dishes and not just the one item I want to eat, etc. These I don't need, when I just want someone who really knows what they are doing with a particular item, to make me that item and hand it to me in exchange for a small sum.

                            I don't see the current trend as making food trucks haute at all. It's a different way of eating entirely. The trend is simply that people are aware of the existence of this alternative.

                            1. They've always been around. The good ones will be around forever, but in a few (maybe less)years when the fad passes, there will be a bunch of them for sale at rock bottom prices. Maybe then it will be time for me to come out of retirement.