Explore Chicago

Food Trucks Roll Into Chicago

Twitter is loaded on my iPhone for one reason: to track food trucks. Though still rare in Chicago, there are 7,000 of the vehicles in Los Angeles; likewise, in New York and Portland, mobile food vendors are integral to street life. There’s no denying we’re behind in the Windy City. Current city regulations require truck-based restaurateurs to serve only “packaged” foods (i.e., no on-site cooking allowed), which reduces the creativity and freshness of what vendors can put out on the street. These regulations also raise business costs because truck owners must sometimes rent commercial kitchens to prepare food they then sell from trucks.

Despite the challenges, Chicagoans love the idea of grabbing grub on the run from mobile vendors. At Chicago’s first Food Truck Summit at Goose Island Brewery in April, under torrents of freezing rain and hail, huge crowds descended upon a convoy of food trucks.
5411 Empanadas (@5411empanadas on Twitter) quickly sold out of their Argentinian-style turnovers; same story at the Southern Mac (@thesouthernmac): mac, cheese, everything was gone in 30 minutes.

There’s huge pent-up demand for food served à la truck, and a fleet of vehicles is hitting the streets this summer. The most eye-catching/scary food truck is the
Tamalespaceship (@tamalespaceship, pictured here), operated by “charros” wearing Mexican wrestling masks and garish sombreros; the most provocatively named has to be Meatyballs (@FossFoodTrucks), run by Phillip Foss, formerly chef at Lockwood in the Palmer House, serving up seemingly endless variations on a theme as well as suggestive commentary about his, um, you know.

As in other cities, Chicago trucks leverage social networking sites to alert fans about their shifting locations. That’s part of their appeal; you’re never 100 percent sure where they’ll be. There’s a bit of luck and joy in the hunt.