The Kitchen Think: Meals on Wheels (It’s Not What You Think…)


One of my first jobs as a reporter had me covering the crime beat for a mid-size Texas radio station. I loved it. Not because it taught me important skills I still use today—organization, working on a deadline and how to lift a finger print from a crime scene… which comes in handy when you have teenagers—but because it introduced me to the wonder and magic of food trucks.

old school food truck

Each morning, there was a shiny metal food truck parked in front of the county courts building. Secretly, I yearned to try all of the food on the truck: plastic wrapped white bread sandwiches that glowed orange from pimento spread, spicy tamales wrapped in chile-stained waxed paper, steaming soups served from the largest thermos I’d ever seen. But I didn’t dive in because I had to mimic the same jaded, world-weary attitude of the real crime reporters. They bought only white Styrofoam cups of strong black coffee… so I did, too. They obviously knew more than I did (at least about the food on the truck), yet all these years later I’m still fascinated by food trucks.

And now my time has come.

Food Trucks were the hot topic at this year’s National Restaurant Show in Chicago. These pop-up experiences on wheels are flourishing because start-up costs are lower than a brick and mortar restaurant and because they allow food truck chefs to experiment more with the menu.

It’s interesting that the restaurant industry is finally embracing the concept, because the two entities have had such an acrimonious relationship since the trucks first drove on to the scene ten years ago. Restaurants claim the trucks steal their customers. The restaurants should have launched their own food trucks to compete… but that happened only recently.

Now everyone, it seems, wants to hit the streets with inventive gourmet and comfort food that’s not quite fast food, but faster than a restaurant. In Washington, D.C., “Sidewalk Sweetsation” offers cupcakes and cup-pies, while “Wafels & Dinges” peddles Belgian waffles on the streets of New York City. In Miami, “The Fish Box” sells (you guessed it) freshly caught and wonderfully seasoned lobster, shrimp and fish… with or without the bun.

Social media helps by tipping off customers as to what will be served, when and where. In Los Angeles, “Grilled Cheese Truck” has almost  40,000 Twitter followers. There is even a Facebook page devoted to food trucks!

But just how clean are those trucks and how do you know if the dumplings will make you sick? The truth is, you don’t… no more than you  know about the safety of the food in a white table cloth restaurant. In many cities, legitimate food trucks have to pass the same rigorous health and sanitation inspections as restaurants. Some trucks are required to display their inspection “grade” for all to see. But since the trucks are mobile, it’s difficult for inspectors to make sure sanitation violations are corrected. For consumers, it’s a crap shoot. You can only hope the truck sanitizes its cutting boards and that the chicken is cooked to the proper temperature.

Food trucks have moved up-scale…the days of day-glo sandwiches are a thing of the past. But that “wonder and magic” I referred to? It’s still out there. More than ever.

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  1. Pingback: Mama's High Strung™ » Blog Archive » The Kitchen Think: Top 5 Food and Dining Trends So Far This Year

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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: